Posts Tagged 'culture'

Greed and Good In the Face of Climate Change

Today I need to transfer $1,000 from Thor’s and my checking account into a savings account for taxes. Oh the joy. I’m doing a contracted project for Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center here in Oregon (joyful work, no joke) and of course as a contractor I’m responsible for my own taxes. Hence the need to save for them.

There is a greedy one inside of me that could resent taxes if I go down that mental trail. I don’t go down it because I know taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society featuring common-good things like roads and schools. Still, I think there is a greedy one inside each of us. I’d say human greed is a major player in our culture’s health care crisis, unsustainable use of resources, and so on.

But there’s much more to our nation than greed. For instance: seventy-five percent of people in the U.S. give to charity. Most of them aren’t even in a bracket to use those contributions as tax deductions. And low to middle income people give proportionately more of their income than more affluent people. Too, millions volunteer their time in any given year to ease suffering. I’d say humans are both greedy AND altruistic.

So what? So this: we’re at a pivotal point in global history where the consequences of undisciplined consumption and greed — that would be climate change — are forcing us to make a jump in our evolution away from greed. The common good now is a bigger animal than roads and schools; it is slowing climate change by using less fossil fuels. Altruistic in some cases, economically beneficial in other cases.

And the willingness to lower our national carbon footprint has to come from us, the citizenry, because governmental regulations in the end will reflect only our level of willingness, and no more. I know many disagree on that, so I welcome your comments.

Walmart’s Green Face: Are We Happy Now?

One time in my life, years ago, I went inside a WalMart store and purchased one item. It was a full-length mirror for $10. I felt grateful I could afford it because I was a self-employed artist at the time (read: poor).

I never went back to WalMart because I learned about the high cost of their low prices. For instance, many who receive relief food from the Oregon Food Bank have full-time jobs. At WalMart. Such stories are well-told in many places, and my thoughts today are actually about a more positive face of WalMart: their progress in sustainability.

(Think of sustainability as doing things in a way that can continue indefinitely across time without resources collapsing or other bad things happening.)

I’ve learned WalMart is using their famed control over their suppliers to require more sustainable practices of them. Here in Portland, my home, that is translating into huge warehouses being built to LEED certification (that’s Leadership in Energy & Ecological Design), including extensive solar panels.

That means these warehouses that will ship products to WalMart will use much less fossil fuels than normal warehouses — and fossil fuels, are course, are what’s driving global warming. Also, WalMart has done huge promotions of compact fluorescent light bulbs, shaping that market significantly in a much-needed way. It appears they’re putting some legs on the public commitment they made to sustainability about two years ago.

So would I personally recommend now shopping at WalMart? Well, the reason I won’t is the same reason I never darken the door of Costco: great volumes of goods at dirt-cheap prices encourage overconsumption. And overconsumption is, in my eyes, the root of our cultural problems and environmental problems — both sets of problems, intertwined in their causes and effects.

The research I’ve seen lately indicates that the happiest people are not the ones who consume the most, but the ones who are rich in loving relationships, community and service/volunteer work. If happiness is what we all want, more stuff at low prices is not getting us there.

I’m glad WalMart is becoming greener, but it doesn’t change their basic premise of unfettered consumption. Thor and I are continuing to shop elsewhere. I left my little art company behind, and have a ‘normal’ job now that I love. We can afford normal prices.

By the way, I gave away the full-length mirror I bought there to a friend. She has more stuff than friends, come to think of it, and is not the happiest person I know.

Two Birds, One Beautiful Stone

Maybe you’re like me in this respect: when I see problems, I want to find solutions.

No.

I don’t just want to find solutions, I want to live them out. I feel more alive that way, more connected. Lots of problems are both personal and public, both micro and macro. Ditto their solutions.

Here we have a national epidemic of obesity and a global climate problem of overusing fossil fuels. It doesn’t take a think-tank of Nobel prize winners to generate this little light-bulb: Ah . . . we need to use our bodies more and fossil fuels less. Two birds with one stone.

Some examples (please write me with your additions):

  • using stairs instead of elevators
  • raking, mowing & trimming our yards with human power instead of engine power
  • washing dishes and lightweight clothes by hand instead of machine
  • bicycling for short trips instead of driving
  • dancing for recreation instead of watching TV
  • planting seasonal foliage in our front yards instead of doing light displays
  • walking around to visit neighbors instead of a sedentary evening “chatting” on email

You and I can model these behaviors to others, or we can ask others to join us in developing these habits in the first place. The point is that the status quo is not working, folks. It’s not working for either individuals or our shared home, the planet.

Problems: Overweight Americans and a climate overheating with fossil fuel use. Solution: Use our bodies twice as much as we’re doing. It even makes us feel sexier, which is more than you can say for many solutions to problems.

Two birds, one beautiful stone.