Sustainability simply means that the present generation (you and me) will leave future generations (our kids and grand kids) as good, if not a better environment. This principle sounds so simple but in actual living practice it is not. The scary thing is that things are getting worse faster than most of us realize. At times I look around and imagine others walking around with blinders on so that they do not see the damages being done.
A look at the recent headlines from any media outlet and in Bold (to catch our attention) we see declining reefs, increasing gas prices, shortages of fresh water, extended drought conditions all over the World, melting ice caps and glaciers, collapsing fisheries due to Ocean Acidification and the ever increasing prices of energy, food and sea level. The recent headlines from Yahoo and Google, The Wall Street Journal and Forbes, Nature and Scientific America, even the IPCC, and recent statements by executives from Exxon and other businesses, as well as scientists solidify that we, as a civilization, are in bad and increasingly worsening times. And yet the habits of over production, manufacturing of unsustainable products, Green Washing of products and the increasingly inability of our Congress to address the issues are all alarming.
The naysayers are influenced by corporate interests, corrupt representatives, lobbyists of one sort or another, and business and government think tanks which continue to preach that all is fine, perhaps certain events are cyclical and caused by Nature (till the next election) and that Climate Change is nothing to worry about. The oceans will not rise over night, food will be plentiful, the electric grid is just fine, GMO foods are the way of the future, top soil erosion is a non event, over fertilization is the farmers problem, air pollution is better than it was and freshwater is not an issue.
Reasoning with people that are paid to say and do unsustainable activities by corporations that do not live and breath is just a waste of time and energy. Markets that influence these entities are driven by the demand of the consumer. The consumer is the most powerful group in today's society and at the same time the most unspoken. As long as the consumer wishes to fill their homes with unsustainable products there will be more unsustainable products that the consumer gets to choose from. How many different Big Screen TV's do we really need to select from? Which form of genetically altered food will we consume? We have a difficult time discerning between the worst sustainable product and the lesser evil unsustainable product. We may eventually select the lesser evil which turns out to be worse due to Green Washing of the product and the company from which it originates. Which energy source should I pick, Coal or Oil? There is the option to not purchase and to do without, but in these times we have other options that are readily available and can send the desired messages to the mega corporations.
Eco Friendly products do exist and not only on the local level. An Eco Friendly product made in China is no longer Eco Friendly by the time it hits the shores of the USA or Europe. Transportation costs, energy costs, air pollution and even the inequities in labor have costs associated with them and all should be included into the real cost of the so called sustainable product. These additional and hidden costs are thrown onto the entire public as additional pollution, deteriorating water supplies, failing fisheries, deforestation, wasted energy costs, factors of Climate Change and eventually they influence the political maneuvering by our representatives and businesses.
Organic clothing produced in Taiwan is not Eco Friendly or Sustainable because we can buy cotton clothes here in the USA. Bring back Levi from Mexico and manufacture clothes here with less hidden costs. Global trade is good for some items and that is not the point here. I am not saying that all products made outside of our borders are not good choices. What I am saying, is that due to marketing pressures, trade agreements and other understandings developed by business to benefit businesses, that our representatives and businesses believe that almost all products that claim to be Eco Friendly are in fact good for the environment. The truth is that the products are not good for the environment and certainly they are not sustainable.
Misdirection and Reactions
A case in point can be made in regard to our coal reserves in Montana and Colorado. They are mined at increasing rates and shipped to the West Coast to supply China's coal burning facilities and factories to produce energy which is used to manufacture products that are eventually sold here. This is not Eco Friendly but rather economically based upon greed and shortsightedness. The businesses want to pad their bottom lines both here and in China and are allowed to because they influence particular laws or grant representatives favors in exchange for the status quo. Another case can be made of the Tar Sands in Canada and its effect on the environment. Economic considerations includes job development and supporting communities and yet, it is clear that development of this type of fuel is extremely hazardous to the Global Environment. If sustainability is one consideration of the Canadian and American Governments or for the oil and transportation companies then these jobs and community support would be of a different nature. The unwarranted behavior should not exist with the current technology and insight into the damages that they will ultimately cause.
I would argue that sustainability is not one bit important to our government nor to the many businesses that influence it and our laws. Unless We as a People get all riled up nothing will change dramatically enough to make a serious change in coming events. Protest time is over. Negotiations are coming to an end. Diplomacy has seemed to have failed. A time for reaction is upon the Global populace. There is certainly a stir in the air and the coming storm is going to get nasty.
Shopping from home is becoming more essential to those that are willing to live a Greener Lifestyle. The Internet provides a wide variety of online shops to do ethical business with. Sustainably minded individuals and groups are actively choosing those companies and products that truly make a difference in Eco Friendly Sustainable Products and sustainability issues.
Green Washing of many products still exists and the savvy shopper can see the difference. When a product is labeled "Green" and it is determined not to be true the company making those assertions needs to be held accountable. What would happen if all household cleaners that are bad for you and the environment were dumped back on the manufacturers door step? I think they would get the message. If the true costs of burning coal, like those associated with acid rain, water and air pollution, as well as Climate Change were added to it would it be able to compete in a Real Market, one that is not manipulated by corrupt business and government? I don't think they would. The consumer has a lot of power if they choose to wield it.
By Paul McGuinness