Archive for Sustainability – Page 2

Ideology > Humanity

You can’t write about the drinking water debacle in Flint, Michigan, without first recognizing the depth of the tragedy. For more than a year, an entire city was exposed to the risk of lead poisoning. Of the people we already know have been poisoned, more than half are children under the age of six. Those children will suffer neurological damage for the rest of their lives. Long after you and I are gone, some of them will still be living a life diminished. No matter what happens now, that cannot be undone. No overdue apology, no grudging mea culpa, no release of emails, and no state-of-emergency declaration can undo that damage. Take a moment and imagine how you’d react if you were that child’s mother or father.

That terrible fact makes it all the more infuriating that this disaster can’t be called an accident. Instead, it was the inevitable result of a callous and reckless disregard for human life — specifically, the lives of the people who live in Flint, most of whom are black and many of whom are poor. When Governor Rick Snyder released 274 pages of heavily censored emails about the crisis this week, the cruel arrogance on display only made you wonder about the redacted parts that were so much worse they couldn’t bear to make public. Here’s how the New York Times summarized the released portions:

A top aide to Michigan’s governor referred to people raising questions about the quality of Flint’s water as an “anti-everything group.” Other critics were accused of turning complaints about water into a “political football.” And worrisome findings about lead by a concerned pediatrician were dismissed as “data,” in quotes.

The consequences for the people of Flint, though, are but one especially horrible example of what is happening to minority and low-income communities everywhere and every day. Pick any type of pollution — then look to see who is the most exposed and the most harmed. Take lead, for instance. Although lead exposure had declined overall, African American children are five times more likely to be poisoned than white children. Why? In part because the neighborhoods where they live are more likely to have been exposed to lead when cars still used leaded gas. Decades later, children are still paying a price.

Governor Snyder and his Department of Environmental Quality are rightly being castigated not only for ignoring the problem but also for actively denying, in the face of all evidence, that Flint’s water was contaminated. But their culpability for this tragedy extends even further. Before Flint’s water was compromised, its democracy was.

Read more…

Privilege, Pathology and Power

by Paul Krugman, New York Times

Wealth can be bad for your soul. That’s not just a hoary piece of folk wisdom; it’s a conclusion from serious social science, confirmed by statistical analysis and experiment. The affluent are, on average, less likely to exhibit empathy, less likely to respect norms and even laws, more likely to cheat, than those occupying lower rungs on the economic ladder.

And it’s obvious, even if we don’t have statistical confirmation, that extreme wealth can do extreme spiritual damage. Take someone whose personality might have been merely disagreeable under normal circumstances, and give him the kind of wealth that lets him surround himself with sycophants and usually get whatever he wants. It’s not hard to see how he could become almost pathologically self-regarding and unconcerned with others.

So what happens to a nation that gives ever-growing political power to the superrich?

Modern America is a society in which a growing share of income and wealth is concentrated in the hands of a small number of people, and these people have huge political influence — in the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign, around half the contributions came from fewer than 200 wealthy families. The usual concern about this march toward oligarchy is that the interests and policy preferences of the very rich are quite different from those of the population at large, and that is surely the biggest problem.

But it’s also true that those empowered by money-driven politics include a disproportionate number of spoiled egomaniacs. Which brings me to the current election cycle. Read more…

The Sustainable Spirit

Finding Balance as Part of the Whole

Dawn is just cresting the mountain ridge as you hike silently up to your favorite spot, a perch where you can see – unseen by other hikers. Here, you position yourself to meditate. The golden rays paint the rocks, and trees glisten with their own energy. You reach out to embrace the view. Suddenly, it feels as if your spirit leaves your body and becomes a part of all around you. Then, just as suddenly, you are back inside your own skin wondering what just happened.

You had a transcendental experience, leaving this “mortal coil” to join with all that is the universe, to become one with creation. It is an awe-inspiring experience that may last for only an instant but leave its impact for a lifetime.

If you are lucky enough to have had an experience similar to this, you have had a vision of the world as it truly is…where everything is connected to everything else. As Martin Luther King said, “we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny…” This is the core tenet of sustainability, understanding that we humans are not the masters of the Earth. We are part of and connected to everything that exists. When we understand this most basic concept, all that we do to pursue sustainability becomes almost self-evident. Read More→

Paul Hawken’s 2009 Commencement Address University of Portland

When I was invited to give this speech, I was asked if I could give a simple short talk that was “direct, naked, taut, honest, passionate, lean, shivering, startling, and graceful.” No pressure there.

Let’s begin with the startling part. Class of 2009: you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation… but not one peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that statement. Basically, civilization needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades.

This planet came with a set of instructions, but we seem to have misplaced them. Important rules like don’t poison the water, soil, or air, don’t let the earth get overcrowded, and don’t touch the thermostat have been broken. Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no need for seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and really good food—but all that is changing.

There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn’t bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: You are Brilliant, and the Earth is Hiring. The earth couldn’t afford to send recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here’s the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done. Read More→

Objectivism vs. Sustainability

Rand & Objectivism, a Shortcut to Extinction

(Note: I wrote this in 2009 in response to some rants after the financial collapse. It seems timeless given the propensity of many to rewrite history.)

First, I have to say that, in my lifetime, I never met or talked with Ayn Rand. I have read her works a bit. Truth to tell, her prose bogged me down, and I never enjoy slogging through dialectics, especially those that tend to ignore reality when attempting to make a point. That’s one reason why I find it interesting that her works and philosophy are experiencing a renewal in interest. Today, the Rand philosophy of Objectivism has become an excuse to continue the pursuit of a particularly ravenous form of capitalism and to castigate the new administration and their effort to restore the economy to some sort of balance.

I also find it interesting that some people are again trying to justify greed. “Greed is good,” said Gordon Gekko in Wall Street. Meanwhile, one could argue that it was the greed of a few that once again brought financial calamity to us all – spurring the “socialistic” actions taken by Washington.

At the core of Rand Objectivism is the belief that a person can and should pursue his own “rational self-interest” supported by a laissez faire form of capitalism and a social structure where individual rights reign supreme. The concept of altruism is anathema. Sharing is bad. Taking for oneself is good. At least, this is the theme offered by self-proclaimed new Objectivists and the burgeoning Rand Fan Club.

So let’s look at this Objectivism from the standpoint of Sustainable Development, because both share some underlying terms, though the definition of those terms may be very different. Sustainable Development means thriving today while ensuring that future generations may thrive. It insists on altruism and sharing as essential for survival on “Spaceship Earth.” As such, it seems diametrically opposed to Objectivism and redefines “self-interest.” Read More→

Companies Join Climate Pledge

Sixty-eight of the largest and most iconic U.S. corporations from steelmakers to retailers to technology giants joined a White House-initiated pledge Monday to reduce carbon emissions and support a strong United Nations climate deal on global warming.

American Express, Alcoa, Facebook, Siemens, Best Buy, the Walt Disney Co., Kellogg and Xerox are just some of the companies that signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge Monday, joining an original group of 13 U.S. multinationals that pledged in July to mitigate global warming and back a U.N. pact. The original group included Apple, Goldman Sachs and Google.

In announcing big carbon reduction pledges and supporting  U.N. climate negotiations, the companies seemed to have intercepted the political football that climate change has become in Washington and carried it firmly into the economic zone.

“At Mars, we believe that our growth is not only linked to, but dependent on, the protection of the world that we all call home,” said Mars Inc. Chief Sustainability Officer Barry Parkin.

 “It is simply not an option to stand back and do nothing,” he said. The candy maker, which sources ingredients from all over the world, committed to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from across its global operations by 2040 and by this year send no more waste to landfills. Read more…