Hope?

Do I think that there is hope for a sustainable future for our country? For our planet?

In short, yes I do.

But obviously, changes have to be made. Enormous changes. Most people report a high valuation of the environment and a concern about the effects of global warming, and claim that they would like to be able to change their ways in order to work towards sustainability for our planet. They report these values, but do not reflect them in their actions. This is known as the environmental values – behavior gap. In order to fill this gap, major paradigm shifts have to take place. The way we value high income, the way we define ourselves as consumers, the way we live out the fundamentals of our every day life. All of these things have to change.

My faith comes from my understanding of the malleability of the human mind. I remember when I first learned about the holocaust in my grade seven social studies class. I was profoundly shocked and disturbed when I went home and talked to my parents about it that night, after having been shown a video of the massacre at school. I was dumbfounded. How could that have happened? Less than 70 years ago? How on Earth was an entire country convinced that the destruction of an entire race was not only acceptable, but compulsory.

Enormous, widespread paradigm shifts are possible. For the better, and for the worse.

I use the same reasoning when justifying my reasons for choosing vegetarianism. I always get challenged with remarks about humans being top carnivores and therefore having the evolutionary right to eat meat.

I love my dogs like family members. They feel. They love. They get scared.

Pigs are just as intelligent, if not more intelligent, than dogs.

Just because we were brought up in an environment where we learned that killing animals for food is okay… doesn’t mean it’s actually okay. But it’s the norm, and most people are fine with that. Once again, the malleability of the human mind allows it to adapt to diverse ways of thinking.

In my opinion, the two most important factors that will cause the paradigm shifts we need in order to achieve a sustainable future include:

Influential figures and figures of power

And

Media. In all of its forms.

We have the science to back up the detrimental effects of climate change, but it is not widely recognized because it is not widely backed by figures of influence. The headway that we have been gaining has been majorly due to the influence of media. After all, Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth”, is credited with bringing the issue of climate change on to the international agenda.

So get out there! Make a documentary!

In the meantime… read this!

“In 1851 Seattle, chief of the Suquamish and other Indian tribes around Washington’s Puget Sound, delivered what is considered to be one of the most beautiful and profound environmental statements ever made. The city of Seattle is named for the chief, whose speech was in response to a proposed treaty under which the Indians were persuaded to sell two million acres of land for $150,000.”
— Buckminster Fuller in Critical Path.

Chief Seattle’s Thoughts:

How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us.

If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?

Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memories of the red man.

The white man’s dead forget the country of their birth when they go to walk among the stars. Our dead never forget this beautiful earth, for it is the mother of the red man. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters; the deer, the horse, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadows, the body heat of the pony, and man — all belong to the same family.

So, when the Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land, he asks much of us. The Great Chief sends word he will reserve us a place so that we can live comfortably to ourselves. He will be our father and we will be his children.

So, we will consider your offer to buy our land. But it will not be easy. For this land is sacred to us. This shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you the land, you must remember that it is sacred, and you must teach your children that it is sacred and that each ghostly reflection in the clear water of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The water’s murmur is the voice of my father’s father.

The rivers are our brothers, they quench our thirst. The rivers carry our canoes, and feed our children. If we sell you our land, you must remember, and teach your children, that the rivers are our brothers and yours, and you must henceforth give the rivers the kindness you would give any brother.

We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land whatever he needs. The earth is not his brother, but his enemy, and when he has conquered it, he moves on. He leaves his father’s grave behind, and he does not care. He kidnaps the earth from his children, and he does not care. His father’s grave, and his children’s birthright are forgotten. He treats his mother, the earth, and his brother, the sky, as things to be bought, plundered, sold like sheep or bright beads. His appetite will devour the earth and leave behind only a desert.

I do not know. Our ways are different than your ways. The sight of your cities pains the eyes of the red man. There is no quiet place in the white man’s cities. No place to hear the unfurling of leaves in spring or the rustle of the insect’s wings. The clatter only seems to insult the ears. And what is there to life if a man cannot hear the lonely cry of the whippoorwill or the arguments of the frogs around the pond at night? I am a red man and do not understand. The Indian prefers the soft sound of the wind darting over the face of a pond and the smell of the wind itself, cleaned by a midday rain, or scented with pinon pine.

The air is precious to the red man for all things share the same breath, the beast, the tree, the man, they all share the same breath. The white man does not seem to notice the air he breathes. Like a man dying for many days he is numb to the stench. But if we sell you our land, you must remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports.

The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also receives his last sigh. And if we sell you our land, you must keep it apart and sacred as a place where even the white man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow’s flowers.

So we will consider your offer to buy our land. If we decide to accept, I will make one condition – the white man must treat the beasts of this land as his brothers.

I am a savage and do not understand any other way. I have seen a thousand rotting buffaloes on the prairie, left by the white man who shot them from a passing train. I am a savage and do not understand how the smoking iron horse can be made more important than the buffalo that we kill only to stay alive.

What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of the spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected.

You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of our grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin. Teach your children that we have taught our children that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves.

This we know; the earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected.

Even the white man, whose God walks and talks with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all. We shall see. One thing we know which the white man may one day discover; our God is the same God.

You may think now that you own Him as you wish to own our land; but you cannot. He is the God of man, and His compassion is equal for the red man and the white. The earth is precious to Him, and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator. The whites too shall pass; perhaps sooner than all other tribes. Contaminate your bed and you will one night suffocate in your own waste.

But in your perishing you will shine brightly fired by the strength of the God who brought you to this land and for some special purpose gave you dominion over this land and over the red man.

That destiny is a mystery to us, for we do not understand when the buffalo are all slaughtered, the wild horses are tamed, the secret corners of the forest heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires.

Where is the thicket? Gone. Where is the eagle? Gone.

The end of living and the beginning of survival.

Sustainable Development in Practice – local eating initiative

This week, student groups in my sustainability class made presentations on different sustainability initiatives being taken around the globe. I really enjoyed learning about all of these great initiatives, and have high hopes that many will be adopted for widespread use. Sustainable development initiatives like these are the key steps that we are going to have to take to ensure the generations after us can enjoy a quality of life that is similar to ours.

One presentation that particularly drew my attention was made on the concept of the 100 mile diet. As a … well, …let’s be honest,  ‘Part time’ vegetarian for mostly sustainability reasons, sustainable eating has always been somewhat of a personal interest. One reason why this presentation struck a chord with me may have to do with the fact that my attempt at sustainable eating practices has definitely taken a backseat these past few months. I like to blame this neglect on my rather hectic student lifestyle, although I know this is not a great excuse when it comes to something that I have defined as belonging to my personal morals. Suffice to say… the presentation gave me a much-needed kick out of my lazy, selfish attitude.

The concept of the 100 mile diet spawned from the non-fiction book written by Canadian authors Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon. The book follows the trials and tribulations of the authors as they attempt to restrict their diet to only foods grown, produced, and sold within 100 miles of their home in Kitsilano, Vancouver for an entire year. Although the book the idea of local eating by no means a new concept, this book helped to popularize the locavore movement, which has been gaining even further population as of late, with spin off’s of the book occurring all over the place.

I have realized over recent years that the idea of food sovereignty – the right to have a say in where our food comes from, what is added to it,  how it is grown, harvested, produced, and transported – is and extremely important one. I simply wanted to take this opportunity and advise you all to give this idea some careful consideration. All Canadians need to have a say in where our food comes from and how it is being grown and harvested. We are importing far too much of the food we eat into the country  while local family farmers and food producers are struggling to compete. It would be far more sustainable for our environment AND our economy, not to mention healthier, to concentrate on producing our food locally for consumption within our country. Please take the time to check out the video below. It is sponsored by Hellman’s, but it delivers a really great message that I don’t think a lot of us are aware of as consumers.

Eating sustainably, and as locally as is possible is an important sustainable development initiative that needs to be practiced if we hope to achieve sustainability as a nation. In order for this to take place, we need to actively make an attempt to buy locally and demand local foods at our grocery stores.

Use this local food finder on the eatrealeatlocal.ca website to get started!

http://www.realfoodmovement.ca/latesttalk/get-involved/local-markets/

The (Ugly) Truth About Stuff!

This week in my sustainability class, we watched Annie Leonard’s “The Story of Stuff.” If you haven’t seen it, I HIGHLY recommend checking it out here:

This twenty-minute cartoon video outlines the consumerist regime that governs our society. The story of stuff covers the corrupt path of the materials economy, the path traveled by everything that we buy: from extraction, to production, to distribution, to consumption, to disposal. This linear system chugs along indefinitely, reaping our mother Earth of her natural resources, pumping them full of toxins during production, forming them into products designed for limited use and quick, ugly disposal. Corporations have made it so that society evolves around this wasteful path. We are consumers, through and through, in and out. But we don’t need to be. It is plainly clear that our Earth is not capable of supporting business as usual for much longer.

So what are our alternatives?

One answer is to make the producers of goods internalize all of the costs associated with their products. We can do this if we make it so that a company is completely responsible for the products that they produce, from cradle to grave. In addition, they should have the responsibility of replacing their products once they fail.  If this is the case, they will have more incentive to create long-lasting quality products that can be recycled over and over.

Another quite fascinating answer is a relatively new discipline that links our natural world to inspiration for product development: biomimicry.

images.businessweek.com

Nature is perfect. Everything living on our planet today was selected for by evolution because it is not only good at what it does; it is the best in its field. Biomimicry is the concept of imitating nature’s designs in our products. In this way, we will be able to develop goods in the most efficient and long-lasting form possible. This will make our products safer, free of toxic chemicals,  enduring, proficient, and highly sustainable.  Check out this fascinating TED talk by Janin Benyus on Biomimicry. She has a really close and seemingly emotional connection to the field. Pretty Captivating!

Designing the Sustainable City

For the past two awful, busy, stressful weeks, the bane of my existence has been an unshakable, disgusting cold. I wake up on a Monday morning after a restless night of sleep and quickly snatch up the Kleenex that is littering my bedroom floor. I look at myself in the mirror. My stuffy, red nose and my bloodshot eyes are making me feel even less like dragging myself into public for several hours of lecture and an evening in the library working on assignments. I feel unhealthy, gross, tired, depressed, defeated, and anxiety ridden. So what do I do?

I shower. I put on nylons, a skirt, a nice top and a cardigan. I blow dry my hair, do my makeup, and put on my favorite earrings. Instantly, I feel uplifted. I take pride in myself. I feel healthier and ready to conquer my day.

Although perhaps a bit of a far removed metaphor, a similar concept comes into play when concerning physical space. When a space is designed to have ambiance, people will be drawn to it, take pride in it, and feel the desire to take care of it.  We define physical space in cities with quality and character by the use of buildings. A city that is sustainable is one that is aesthetically pleasing with social offerings and openness – a vibrant public realm ignited with pedestrian activity rather than the throughput of automobiles. Places like these are filled with people who have an emotional connection with their community. This lends to happiness, low stress levels, higher productivity, and an increased GDP.

A conference called Creating Tomorrow’s Livable Cities was held on January 19th, 2011 in London. This conference brought together designers, urban planners, and influential thinkers in a wide variety of fields from architecture to psychology in order to stimulate ideas and thinking about the future development of cities in the UK. Architect Yan Gehl, who has had great influence in new urban design in both Copenhagen and New York delivered a great talk at this conference on creating cities for people.

Check it out here:

[http://www.economistconferences.co.uk/video/creating-tomorrows-liveable-cities/4832?video=4816#comment-74]

Here are a couple photos from these places illustrating many of the concepts Mr. Gehl talks about in his speech.  The first is of the Latin quarter in Copenhagen, showing the cities widespread adoption of the bike lane system, and the second of a pedestrian and bike only section of Broadway in New York:

I experienced many of these sustainable design concepts first- hand while studying French and living in Montreal this past summer. The Montreal city center (emphasis on center) is an excellent example of sustainable urban design. I fell head over heels for the city this summer and plan on returning as soon as I can. When attempting to describe why I had such affection for the city to my family and friends back home, I couldn’t ever quite nail the reason down until now. I told them that I loved how I could just walk everywhere, and how the interaction between people was so open and friendly. I made more friends by exploring the city this summer than I have made in Saskatoon throughout my entire life. Even though the city is huge, I would run into the same people in the same places all of the time. I felt a huge sense of community and culture.  Montreal is famous for its “patio culture”, describing how all of the restaurants, bars, and coffee shops spill out on to the sidewalk. This creates an inviting atmosphere where people want to hang out. It is also compact, with most homes connected and above businesses.  My brother lives downtown above an art gallery, another friend lives above a pet shop, and yet another lives above a family run Italian coffee shop and bakery. Places designed like this are places with character, places where people want to hang out, places that encourage you to get out and walk or bike wherever you are going and interact with others.  Places like these are places people care about, places worth protecting.

Photos: Kelsey Rochefort

The Energy Issue

 

I highly doubt that you need to hear me prattle on about how both energy production and consumption compose a primary issue faced by society today, and how this issue will become increasingly prominent as the stores of non-renewable natural capital that we are plundering mercilessly to fulfill our energy needs are exhausted, dried up, dug up, and crusted over.  About how meanwhile, we continue to rape our planet of exceedingly large amounts of unreplenishable energy stores at the same time as we burn our pillages, releasing ozone-damaging carbon into the atmosphere, contributing the change in global climate that will be the ultimate demise of civilization. No? I didn’t think so.

Apparently, I have adopted a somewhat pessimistic viewpoint when it comes to our planet’s energy crisis.  I assure you, I am not alone in my less-than-optimistic attitude. Michael Ruppert, subject of the 2009 documentary film Collapse, writer and theorist believes that our energy management and reliance as well as economy management are leading us to the ultimate collapse of modern civilization. He points out that since we have adopted the use of oil as our main energy resource, the population of the planet has grown by close to 5 billion. He argues that when the effects of peak oil hit and oil becomes unaffordable, the planet will no longer be able to sustain the population that grew on and heavily relies on oil for sustainment. Check out a trailer for the film below, which was an official selection of the 2009 Toronto film festival:

 

 

So what is peak oil? Has it hit? Will it hit? Answers to all three of these questions seem a confusing and ongoing debate to me. I learned in my sustainability series class that peak oil is the point where more oil reserves have been uncovered than are yet to be found. Many believe we have already hit peak oil. Some believe we will never hit peak oil. Personally, I don’t know enough about the matter to come to an informed opinion, as all information I come across regarding the issue of peak oil seems to be contradictory. What I have learned, and what I think I agree with (I am finding it increasingly difficult to develop a firm standing opinion on any matter as a n undergraduate student in a field that encompasses such controversy) is that humanity always seems to find a way to dig itself out of all of the shit- holes it falls into, through innovation.  I learned in my environmental economics class of the famous sustainability bet between Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon, relating to a debate that has been going on for centuries. Ehrlich, writer of the book “the population bomb” argues that the resource consumption of our planet’s increasing population will cause many natural resources to become scarce or used up completely while we steadily climb toward the ultimate carrying capacity of our planet.  Simon argues that developed technology and innovation will always come through and find its  way around the scarcity of any resource. He reasoned that if a resource was actually “running out”, that it’s price should rise over a decade. To prove this, Simon bet Ehrlich that the prices of a basket of any five natural resources (of Ehrlich’s choice) would fall between the years of 1980 and 1990. It turned out that Simon won the bet; the price of every resource chosen by Ehrlic fell over the decade. If we were so sure that oil prices were going to rise over the next 10- 20 years, we could buy oil now to be sold in the future and reap the profits. Why don’t people do this? Because we’re not sure that the price of oil will rise. Given enough incentive to develop new forms of energy (such as the pressure of the rising price of oil), human innovation will pull through as it has throughout history.

 

Check this TED talk to see what Juan Enriquez thinks needs to happen in order to drive the innovation of alternative energy forward!

 

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Sustainability and Communities

Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.  ~Vince Lombardi

Coming together is a beginning.  Keeping together is progress.  Working together is success.  ~Henry Ford

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.  ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

We can build an economy that does not destroy its natural support systems, a global community where the basic needs of all the Earth’s people are satisfied, and a world that will allow us to think of ourselves as civilized. This is entirely doable. ~ Lester Brown

One of the paramount foundations for any type of sustainable development is the support of a community. In this sense, a community can mean several things; it can be people living in a close, defined area, a group of people with common beliefs (ethnic, cultural, religious, etc.), a group in a shared profession, a group with shared ownership of something, a school or university community, or a group of people or countries with common interests and goals.

Sustainability is not a static concept. The ideals and values of a community need to be molded around supporting this goal so that it can be maintained in its ever-changing state. In order to do this, studies on communities and the ways that groups of people form their values must be performed. Engagement must be initiated at the planning level, and this planning must be inclusive and collaborative, to ensure full support is maintained.

Plans must be enacted at an enforceable yet controllable level. Too large of a group may contain too much diversity in interest, causing inability to harmonize, while too small of a group may not contain enough power and authority to move forward. I believe that almost any type of community can be engaged, depending on internal composition and organization. Schools, church groups, neighborhoods, cities, countries, and groups of countries can give forth to meaningful development at their own levels. Working together as a community toward sustainable goals can encompass all aspects of sustainability, including economic, social, and environmental sustainability. In addition, cooperation, collaboration, and interaction will increase the internal sustainability of the community by increasing social capital.

There are many cases within today’s society that illustrate the concept of power in numbers. Most recently, the revolution in Egypt serves as an inspiring example:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/12/world/middleeast/12egypt.html?_r=1&hp&emc=na

An insight into the lives of the young revolutionaries can be seen in this amazing sample of photojournalism :

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/02/08/world/middleeast/20110209_DREAM_GOBIG.html?ref=middleeast


Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThvBJMzmSZI#t=45s

Another example of a rather large community working together to achieve sustainable goals is the global initiative by the UN and the word- wide Academic community in a project called the United Nations Academic Impact. This project includes over 500 institutions in more than 90 different countries that have committed to 10 key principles from the Charter of the United Nations. The principles cover the areas of human rights, literacy, sustainability, citizenship, economic stability, and conflict resolution. Each institution involved is committed to yearly projects that will encompass these principles. When speaking about the project at it’s announcement, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, expressed that “By sharing ideas, across borders and disciplines, we can find solutions to the interconnected problems that cause so much suffering.”

Check out the New York Times article titled “UN wants Universities to Help Foster Development” here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/29/world/europe/29iht-educBriefs29.html

And the project website, including a full list of principles, activities, and participation here:

www.academicimpact.org

Overpopulation or Overconsumption?

 

What is the propelling force of the unsustainable nature of the world we live in? Obviously, unsustainability has to do with the ever-increasing amount of output, which is fueled by an increasing use of our natural capital. Both of these factors play a role in a cycle that needs to be capped off and minimized. There is a debate over whether this unsustainable cycle is driven by over population of our planet or the overconsumption of our planet’s population. This debate is controversial and often quieted due to the potential ethical issues involved. It can be argued that these two concepts are parallel; that overconsumption is a result of overpopulation. In part, this is true. The growth rate of the world’s population is at a record high, currently laying around 6.6 billion and projected to reach close to 9 billion by 2050. Obviously, such a rapidly increasing population will lend to increased use of natural resources as a means to meet the needs of people around the world.  However, this concept is complicated by the different levels of consumption by people around the globe. The population growth rate in developed countries has slowed in latter part of the past century while women are building better careers and having children later on in life with smaller desired family sizes while the growth rate in the developing world continues to rise.  The slower birth rate in the first world is an outcome of increased economic prosperity. Women are building better careers and having children later on in life with smaller desired family sizes.  This difference in population growth rate can be seen by observing the areas underneath this population growth curve:

 

 

read more about world population growth here:

http://www.worldbank.org/depweb/beyond/global/chapter3.html

 

 

It is not that I make an attempt to center the majority of my blog posts on the issues surrounding the wealth gap between the developed and undeveloped world, but the concept always seems to tangle tightly into worldwide sustainability issues. When considering the debate on overpopulation and overconsumption, one must (heavily) take into account the fact that the portion of the world with the highest population (and highest population growth rate) has the lowest ecological footprint:

 

Countries have been stretched to indicate their effective consumption based on Global Footprint Network 2006 and corresponding 2003 CIA World Factbook data. © Jerrad Pierce. Click for full-size image

 

Learn more about differing levels of consumption world-wide at:

http://www.peopleandplanet.net/?lid=26071&section=33&topic=26

 

This low consumption rate in the developing world is not by choice, but due to a lack of access to resources. The overconsumption of the lower-populated first world is causing the majority of the issues that are leading to unsustainability. Of course, as the ways of the developed world must be corrected, practice of sustainable development in developing countries must be a top priority, as we do not want these places to develop into sustainably corrupt societies as we have. In order to achieve this, a paradigm shift must take place so that people no longer equate wealth with happiness.

 

According to the happy planet index, we may very well be on our way. This index shows the relationships between happiness and ecological efficiency around the world.

 

 

The Happy Planet Intex illustrates that happiness does not necessarily equate with a country’s economic prosperity (as measured by GDP) and with high levels of resource consumption. It firmly supports the idea that achieving a long and happy life can be done harmoniously with sustainable, resource conserving practices, which is good news for us!

 

Check out the Happy Planet Index website here:

 

http://www.happyplanetindex.org/