Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Money where your mouth is...

I think in general people are pretty interested in doing the right thing. After a few months of this program – dealing with strategic sustainable development day-in and day-out – it’s difficult to put my finger in the wind and get a sense of awareness around the urgency of these issues. It seems that climate change is getting a lot of headlines. Some in the mainstream press are starting to connect the dots between things like fossil fuel dependence, international trade, social injustice, climate change, soil erosion, terrorism, water purity, break down in social fabric, hurricanes, deforestation, etc.

Still, I remember how easy these things are to forget. When I was living in New York just a few months ago I would forget. Even as someone who has been passionate about sustainability for years, trying to plot a long-term strategy as to how I could have the most positive impact, I would allow myself to become subdued, to put the problems outside of myself, outside of my control. I would sometimes remember, feel helpless, and then forget again. I would justify my lifestyle to myself because I knew the experience I was getting and the knowledge about business and financial markets would be invaluable to me down the road in sustainability work.

But as for the day-to-day – how could I really do anything about the state of the NYC waste streams? If I raised the issue, is the girl at Go Sushi going to stop and think about how much packaging is really necessary for my dinner? She could barely understand me when I asked for chopsticks. Was I supposed to jump out of bed at 3:30 on Tuesday mornings to ask the guys on the garbage truck if they could send word back to their boss that some kids on 51st want more recycling options?

I could legitimately see those kinds of approaches working if each one of us did them in our communities – but in New York it just seems ridiculous. I guess it speaks to the importance of strength in the social fabric – strong relationships, resilient communities – for sustainability. Businesses and organizations, the people in them, are far less likely to take actions that might harm people they know and care about. Clearly, this is too drastic a simplification – because we’re dealing with complex systems it’s difficult to identify the full impact of our actions (including indirect side-effects, especially when time-delays are involved) – still there’s a lot to be said for having a personal stake in people.

Anyway, back to my point, which stems from a recent conversation I had with a friend in the city who was frustrated by what he could do there. If there’s one thing that city has it’s a lot of options, especially when it comes to food. I’ve always been very conscious about the value of eating local and organic food – but when it came down to it I rarely did. If the option was convenient and not too much more expensive I would go for it, but I wouldn’t go too far out of my way.

Looking back it seems absurd. I would shy away from spending an extra buck on a $3 carton of organic milk – and then go drop $250 for a bottle of vodka. Here it’s been a lot easier – the “ecological” labeling is much more prevalent and the costs usually aren’t much more than the standard option. Plus when you spend all day contemplating the true costs of industrial agriculture and long-haul food transport, it makes you want to throw up, which makes throwing down a few extra kronor easier to stomach.

The impacts of industrial agriculture are huge. The fossil energy that goes into fertiliers, pesticides and production, the run-off of these chemicals and the soil degredation all threaten our civilization. The GMO debate is a whole other can of worms, I won't get into here.

So, I guess the point of this post is a bit of a reminder, a bit of a call to action, however modest. Buy locally produced food whenever possible. Every vote with your wallet for organic food takes it a small step closer to being the norm, which brings us a small step closer to sustainable agriculture system, which would bring us a pretty huge step closer to a sustainable society. Plus it’s way better for you. Stay going…

2 comments:

Shawn said...

Hi Georges -- My name is Shawn and I found your name (then blog) through the BIT web site. I grew up/went to school in the States and work in consulting. I was looking at the MSLS program to develop my interest in sustainability and Natural Step. I have a few questions I was hoping you might be able to answer. If you don't mind emailing me the thumbs up, I'll drop you a few questions. I'd really appreciate your perspective. My email is westcott(at)alumni.pitt.edu... Cheers.

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