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Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Tale of 3 S's: Where Do I Fit?

     Sustainability as a concept is a little more complex than just taking out the recycling. When I ask a lot of people what sustainability is, I get a lot of different answers- all of which usually fall under the category of ecological sustainability.

     So, what is the concept? I was first introduced to the greater concept of sustainability by one of Cincinnati's more brilliant minds (and literally the nicest guy you'll ever meet)- the the University of Cincinnati Sustainability director Shawn Tubb. What he referred to as the "triple bottom line of sustainability" is a comprehensive approach that requires three aspects: ecological, economic, and cultural sustainability.

     I've spent a lot of time considering exactly what this means, and as a concept in my mind it grows every day. Recently, the office of sustainability at UC (UC OoS) showed a film called Taking Root that beautifully demonstrated the interconnectedness of the three aspects of sustainability. In the film, a Kenyan woman (and Nobel Peace Prize recipient) named Wangari Maathai told her story, as well as the modern history of Kenya.
     When British rule came, there were many tribes which made up a very diverse culture. Functionally, they each served different sociological roles and were part of a very complex mechanism. The British officers noted that although there were several different tribes, and far too many warriors for the British militia to overcome, it would be quite easy to collapse the indigenous society by finding ways to cause tribal wars. Their plan succeeded. The culture was collapsed and eventually, the once diverse society which once was one of subsistence agriculture was transformed into a monocultural one which cut down trees for farming. These very trees had once been on object of reverence in the eyes of the indigenous... that may seem silly, but did this view sustain their livelihood?

     The economic value of the ecological services provided by these trees quickly became obvious. There began to be mudslides and erosion on a massive scale. The loss of the trees collapsed food chains. Soon, there were no waterways. Desertification swept Kenya. Once the water was gone, there was no way to water their crops. A great depression gripped the nation, and war quickly followed. Enter Wangari Maathai; planter of trees. The film shows how she managed to incentivize planting trees, and how this simple act has begun the subsequent restoration of Kenya's ecology, economy, and culture. The degree to which she has succeeded is absolutely incredible, and the story of Kenya is thus a parable of sustainability.

     Great for Kenya, but what about the United States? Since taking on the three tenents of sustainability and retrofitting them to my lifestyle, I've seen a lot of room for improvement around here. I think that shopping at a local farmers market, for example, beatifully exemplifies a way to accomplish all three at once: economically sustainable because I support local business, keeping my dollar in my neighborhood; ecologically sustainable because my food was not transported across the nation in a diesel truck, from a farm that used genetically modified seeds, and probably pesticides; culturally sustainable because I personally bought my food from the guy who grew it, and participated in a local community of friendly farmers seeking a positive environment for everyone involved.

     Diversity in all three aspects, seems to be the key. As biological diversity is the key to a healthy ecosystem; competition is a key to a healthy economy; cultural diversity and awareness is the key to harmonious societies. Wal-mart, on the other hand, is the destructive mechanism by which our keys are being taken away. Undercutting competion, local businesses, and shipping items half way around the world, which were manufactured in clearly questionable conditions is not the future of sucess in this nation. In fact, Keynesian Economics, the hyper-capitalist macroeconomic model by which Wal-mart has thrived, have widely been questioned by many people, including environmentalists, for quite some time. The fault with this model, essentially, is that it requires infinite growth to continually succeed. The world, however, does not have infinite resources. Living sustainable, then, requires us to rethink where we buy, who we buy from, and where the stuff we bought came from ("The Story of Stuff"). Graduated thought in this aspect will lead you to local farmers markets, and retailers (my favorite - park + vine), to name a few.

     So where do I fit into this picture? Clearly, reducing your carbon footprint is exactly the same as being ecologically sustainable. However, since the three S's are so closely related, it's impossible for my mission to not essentially include a greater mission of simply being sustainable as well. This is evident if you look at Ecological Footprint calculators, which always include whether or not you buy local or organic. In other words, by acting in an ecologically sensible way and buying local organic food, you are by nature being culturally and economically sustainable. Try it, you'll feel great about it- I promise. Cheers to a sustainable year ahead!


Sunday, December 19, 2010

One small step for man, a smaller step for mankind? 2011 Mission statement

     Sometimes you find yourself up against something you might not ever understand. It is in that moment that you just might discover the truth about who you really are.

     I recently watched a video on youtube about how some very radical "a-la-droit" convervatives believe that environmentalists- collectively demonized as "the green dragon"- are staging a coup of social and political power using "false science" and "lies". I seriously doubt that there are many people that actually believe that the best available science in the world is some sort of hippie conspiracy, but for me, it raised some bigger questions...

     The quote I have opened this blog with... "No single raindrop believes it is responsible for the flood" brings up something much scarier to me than a green dragon... a social ineptitude that some have called the "mob of the masses". Crowd Psychology is something long considered by eco-psychologists. How does one overcome apathy of the masses?

     It is interesting to observe the complicated devices that people use to contribute to their apathy. A lot of people still don't believe that global climate change is even real- much less caused by man- because 'one of their friends one time was telling them how they saw on TV this one time how global climate shifts have recurrently been observed in geological records, and that the Earth is in some sort of "phase"'. This resolves a big problem- having to do something about it.

     The big monster I face is this "kink" in human nature- a proclivity for inaction; apathy... In the face of this monster, the best that I can do is to provide a model for someone who has chosen not to succumb. Don't get me wrong - I'm no Colin Beaven, ("No Impact Man")- I'm just a regular guy, living in a small apartment near the University of Cincinnati, where I work and take classes. I am, in fact, going to use this blog to post direct measurements of my carbon footprint, starting on 1 Jan 2011, and continue until 1 Jan 2012. This number will be very important to me, and hopefully make an interesting statement to anyone who follows. I will essentially provide a "guide" for my followers who are interested in becoming more green. The real mission of this blog, then, is to show my friends and anyone who is interested some great ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

     So, yeah- I walk, ride a bike, use public transportation, shop at local farmers markets, buy local and organic, recycle, reduce, reuse, compost, and don't eat meat... I'm still no superhero. I contribute still more ambient CO2 than the average world citizen... mostly from burning coal to provide electricity to my heater, refrigerator, and gadgets. Where do I go from here? Well, hopefully you find that an interesting question, and I look forward to the many things to come this year. Just maybe this blog site can be a useful tool in the hand of the "green dragon" and together, we can defeat the much larger monsters of apathy and climate change...