Thursday, August 27, 2009

Choice is an Illusion

When discussing the issues that are prevalent in this blog - food policy, environmental degradation, conservation, energy policy - I often feel frustration with the general publics lack of interest or attention. Ever since former Vice President Dick Cheney said that "conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy," I have wondered how it is possible to relegate these values to the same category that contains, "cleanliness" or "frugality" (Benjamin Franklin actually listed 13 such virtues in his autobiography.) To consider such values ones of personal choice is abominable.

I don't consider these values to be issues of personal choice based on preferences. They are issues based on right and wrong. Careless, reckless, wasteful business or personal choices result in the destruction of our environment, depletion of natural resources, devastation of biodiversity, and as has been discussed more recently, harmful to basic human rights. The organization, Business for Social Responsibility ("BSR") published a short paper recently on this topic, and it points out that "climate change means more competition for fewer resources, and the future will favor those who are already well off, while affecting the disadvantaged the most." Oxfam's report "Climate Wrongs and Human Rights" goes into far more detail, and included the following powerful quotes:

‘The frequency of the flooding is worse compared to ten years ago. Last October we had water up to our knees for four days. We don’t know why the weather is changing. We are very worried about losing our home, about losing our crops, about going hungry.’
– Ho Si Thuan, a rice farmer in Quang Tri province, Viet Nam

‘In the past there was enough rain…but now things are different. The rains have disappeared. The drinking water that we used to fetch from the riverbeds can no longer be found. There is a lot of thirst; even the few livestock we own have so little water. What can I do to address this thirst? I get so anxious. There aren’t enough words to express the pain.’
– Martina Longom, a farmer and mother in Kotido district, Uganda

These are not issues upon which to tread lightly. When I hear that people don't have the time to recycle plastic bags, or don't feel that turning the air conditioning down makes a difference, or simply choose to remain apathetic, I have little to no tolerance.

A few weeks ago, the New York Times published a story "Climate Change Seen as Threat to U.S. Security." John Kerry said he's been talking about this for years, but it "has not been a focus because a lot of people had not connected the dots." The truth is, it hasn't been politically or economically popular to "connect the dots" until now.

Recently, my company sent out a firmwide email about the new color-coded bins for recycling, composting, plastic bags, landfill, etc. Shortly thereafter, I heard a chorus of voices declaring it as a "waste of time" and "stupid" and even "they make garbage too complicated here. It's all the same, who cares." People will deny or look for fault in anything that challenges their lifestyle. If sorting trash is the right thing to do, then that implies we've been doing it wrong. But what's wrong with poverty, hunger, disease, water scarcity, and war? Those are just "personal virtues" anyway.

1 comment:

  1. This really gets to the heart of the matter. Like you, I am sick and tired of people not giving a crap about our environment. Comfort and convenience rule; what a sorry lot we humans are.