Sane EnvironmentalismTo Save Earth
By Aaron Wissner
29 April, 2009
How can we save Earth from our global culture?
By understanding the mechanism by which our global culture is damaging Earth, and then by acting to replace this destructive mechanism with a creative, restorative one.
Our global culture is held together and connected by our economic system of money, laws and enforcement. This economic system is structured in such a way that it automatically and unintentionally motivates and perpetuates behaviors that are damaging to Earth.
In a very small, close knit culture, everyone can see the impacts of the entire economic system, and respond appropriately. A classic example is the Pacific island of Tikopia, on which a steady population of about 1,200 people have lived for over 3,000 years.
On Tikopia, everyone can see the impacts that everyone else is having on the island and the natural environment. Before any action is taken, each person considers the impact it will have. For instance, when a family is considering whether to have another child, they will determine the productive capacity of the land which they tend, and whether there will be sufficient food to feed another person.
Our global culture does not have the great benefit of being able to see or understand all the damage it is doing around the world.
A starving person who has moved deep in the Amazon in search of lumbering or cattle ranching jobs has very little sense of the scope of the destruction which they are directly causing. By the same token, the wealthy first-world person who purchases the grass-fed cattle of the Amazon, or the mahogany furniture, are likely unaware of the destruction which they are financing through their spending.
By extension, each of us is generally unaware that as we spend, we motivate damaging behaviors, perhaps not in the person to whom we first give the money, but that same money disperses and spreads, and eventually lines the pocket of someone doing destructive things.
The solution is to create a system that does precisely the opposite. When we spend money, the all future recipients should be motivated to restore and protect Earth.
This new money system is sorely needed because our global culture has so heavily damaged Earth that massive amounts of restorative work is needed to return to a state of natural sustainability.
One such system has been proposed by Richard Douthwaite in his book “The Ecology of Money”. Douthwaite’s plan focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by implementing a new monetary system based on a global “cap and share” program.
The “cap” would set the absolute upper limit to how much greenhouse gases that our global culture could release in a given year. Each year, the cap would be lowered by perhaps 5%.
The “share” part is where the emission rights are distributed on an equal share basis to everyone in the world. Each country, in turn, would be able to either emit their per capita limit, or they could buy or sell their emission rights to others.
Combined with a system of global, national, and local currencies, Douthwaite’s proposal is a serious, comprehensive and realistic solution to a serious and growing climate crisis.
As to what individuals can do right now, the answers are surprisingly simple: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Renew.
Reducing consists of decreasing ones consumption and spending as much as possible. In today’s economic situation, this seems to be a natural fit. People are already reducing their spending and consumption in order to prepare for the tough times ahead.
Typical examples are reducing purchases of goods and services, or purchasing similar products that are less expensive. Another technique is to produce some goods or services oneself, which allows reduced spending. A practical example is growing food in a garden and using that food to reduce one’s grocery bill.
A simple and concise measure of success of reducing is how much less money a person or family spends from this year to next.
Reusing focuses on the repeated use of goods and services that are already in existence. This includes purchasing used items, such as clothing, furniture, automobiles, homes, and practically everything. In also means sharing with others: family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, church and club members, and even strangers.
Again, reusing items helps to decrease spending, and this decrease in spending is the measure of success.
Recycling is the last option. If the use of a product isn’t avoided, and if it is impossible to reuse (which includes selling, donating or giving away) then at the bare minimum sending it to be recycled is an option.
One consideration when acquiring a product in the first place should always be the likelihood that it will remain in long use, be able to be reused, and if the time comes, to be completely recycled.
The final goal for those who seek to save Earth is to help renew it. The most visible example of this is planting trees and allowing plants to grow, rather than cutting or killing them. An important consideration here is choosing native plants and trees. Plants help to build native habitat and have the natural capacity to absorb pollutants, most
importantly carbon dioxide pollution.
Saving Earth begins with us.
Sane environmentalists recognize that money system of our global culture inherently encourages damage to Earth; and that a new money system which does just the opposite needs to be devised and adopted.
Until this new system is in place, they seek to minimize their use of money; work to renew and restore Earth; and gently invite, encourage, and support others to join in this mission to save Earth.
The Ecology of Money by Richard Douthwaite
The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard
Aaron Wissner is a professional educator and founder of http://localfuture.org nonprofit. Aaron Wissner has taught public school students for seventeen years. He is the founder of the international Local Future Network http://localfuture.org, a non-profit educational organization dedicated to saving Earth through cultural change. In his spare time, he writes articles (http://valuesystem.livejournal.com organizes educational conferences and events, and gives presentations. Aaron lives in Michigan with his wife Kimberly and his son Michael.