Tuesday, December 15, 2009

robin hood of 2009: taking back the environment from the rich

Admittedly, I’m no Pollyanna, but for the most part I believe in the best of people. However, there are some days that just derail that optimism and leave me wishing that we had our own version of Robin Hood. Other days I just think people need to learn to be less greedy. Right now they’re having the climate talks in Copenhagen and world leaders are all supposedly working together to find a solution. I admit it; I have little to no faith that anything is actually going to come from this conference/summit other than a bunch of hot air. The reason I have such little faith is because over and over again we’ve been told that we need to change the way we live in first nation countries and yet no political party in power is actually willing to take the risk and do what needs to be done. And on some level I don’t blame them because obviously the general population isn’t really willing to make the necessary changes.

Oh sure, we’ll learn to recycle and try to buy things that are fair trade and ethical, but the big, hard decisions that actually demand us to rethink our values and comfort; I’m afraid that I can’t point a finger to blame others when I myself am guilty. Convenience and comfort never cease to trump need and ethics. It’s true. I mean, I could be taking the metro every day to work, but that hour long commute killed me so now I own a car…. I love my car, but is my car environmentally ethical? No.

This resistance to taking ownership and responsibility for our actions is creating what Naomi Klein dubs “climate debt,” owed to the countries we pay to produce industrial goods for us at cheap prices. It’s all fine and dandy to insist that China changes its ways. But we are the ones that created the situation in China, thus we are partially responsible for paying the price to fix the environment (and maybe even social) problems that have been created there (and in other nations). Let’s face it. It’s one thing to say that China, India, and Taiwan must regulate their industries and clean up their acts, but quite another when the price of such efforts is felt by the average consumer. We all love our cheap goods, even if unsustainable business practices are what are keeping the prices artificially low. Given what we make versus what we pay for items like clothing, we actually pay less now than we did 20 years ago. When I was a child it cost less for my mother to make clothes for me, when my baby brother (who is 12 years younger than me) was young, it was cheaper to buy clothes (especially when you factor in time).

Nowadays, when I want to go buy fabric or wool to make something, I’m left with little doubt that I could purchase the item in question for far cheaper than I could make it. I craft/sew for pleasure and quality, not affordability. Pledging to buy handmade versus store bought goods is, in many ways, a luxury because it doesn’t always translate into savings for the consumer. The problem is that that cheap store bought item, manufactured in a factory that is unsustainable, is not a quality good and we are becoming increasingly a culture focused on quantity over quality. All the environmental advocates (from Suzuki to Klein in Canada) remind us that less is more, and yet we are inundated with more, more, more in all that we do and own: from homes to cars, from money to gadgets. It’s no wonder that politicians are reluctant to make us face the cold hard facts when we are so unwilling to hear them. (Don’t get me wrong, I know that there are many out there who are making a concerted effort to bring about change, both personally and publicly).

Inasmuch as I cringe with shame over Stephen Harper’s lax environmental policies, I don’t necessarily blame him for his apathy. However, in order for things to change we need to start dealing with the hard truths now, not later. We need to stop always thinking of our convenience and putting ourselves and our country first, and start thinking about others. It’s not enough to insist that others change their ways if we aren’t willing to make a change. It’s ridiculous to make small efforts that really miss the mark (like a famous Hollywood star boasting that they drive a Prius, yet live in a huge mansion, or buying organic produce that comes from California when you live on the east coast and could buy it local). The same can be said for our governments. It’s not enough to say we’ll start a cap and trade initiative when the levels are so ridiculously high that they bear no significance. I don’t have an answer, I’m still working on figuring it out for myself, but it’s time for some tough changes.

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