Written by Paul:
Last night in the local park, I was talking to a fellow dog walker and he volunteered his opinion on the 'green' movement. According to him, it is naive and senseless to expect people to adopt a more earth friendly lifestyle due to the fact that the majority of the worlds governments fail to implement 'green' policies. "If the people in charge aren't doing anything about it, why should we?"
It reminded me of a separate conversation I'd had with a couple who became parents shortly before we did. The father was saying that he had never planned on having a baby, and that he was reluctant about being a father. As far as he was concerned, there was little point in bringing yet more human life onto this already heavily overpopulated and struggling planet. He seemed to think that it was irresponsible to create an even larger burden for the earth to carry, and as much as he now loved his daughter, it was clear that he still didn't feel totally comfortable with his added complicity in this age of consumerism.
For me, the way in which you see the world and your role in it, all depends on which direction you are viewing it from. Of course, it is easy to see the immense negative impact that human beings are having on this planet. There are huge areas of raw, natural habitat disappearing in the name of economic gain, and taking with it entire ecosystems and rendering some species of plants and animals extinct. This not only happens in the name of industrial progress but also for countless landfill monstrosities dotted all over the globe, as well as creating the space for grazing livestock. Then there is the same principle applied to the ocean, emptying it of life, filling it with human waste and allowing the oxygen level to become unbalanced. And of course we must also acknowledge the billions of sentient creatures that we know have feelings and complex sensory systems, that we farm in factory style conditions and slaughter them at a fraction of their life expectancy in order to "contribute" to the economy. We know this is an ethical disaster, not only for the animals but also for human health, the environment and ironically for the global economy as well. It is becoming common knowledge that the grain used for biofuel is making the cost of food rise, but it is all too often ignored that the largest percentage of this grain is in fact fed to livestock. Perhaps if we fed this same grain to people and used it for biofuel we wouldn't be in this current state of global economic crisis. Of course, these are some major points to consider, but unfortunately the list of human-made atrocities to this planet and its inhabitants is virtually endless.
So, if you look you can't fail to notice at least some of the ways that humans are raping and destroying this planet. It is easy to be overwhelmed by it. The two people mentioned above are two such examples of being overwhelmed..... or are they just misinformed, or even lazy? There is no denying that human beings are leaving a legacy of tragedy on this planet, but that doesn't mean that humans themselves are inherently bad. As the man in the park last night said, "It is the governments and corporations of the world who are doing this, so why should we feel responsible for it?" Yes, it is largely the governments and corporations of the world who are responsible for implementing the mass of global problems we are experiencing, but placing all the responsibility in their hands will achieve nothing positive at all. It is not in their interests to be conscientious - ethical conduct is seldom conducive to profit after all. Blaming others and leaving it at that is a bit of an excuse to make no effort yourself.
It seems that when people actually open their eyes for long enough to start seeing what is actually going on in the world, the popular and easy reaction is to blame governments and corporations and accept no responsibility, instead choosing to live the same convenient lifestyle as before, and thus continuing to contribute to these same problems. By reviewing our lifestyle choices we can refine them to a degree where we are making very little impact on the environment and are consuming ethically and conscientiously. It doesn't actually take a great deal of effort to achieve this lifestyle, contrary to popular belief...
Consumer capitalism is of course orchestrated in a way that keeps the public in a constant state of desire, always wanting things we don't need, and always at dire consequences for other people in poorer countries, for animals both farmed and wild, and for the environment. Supply and demand is a basic rule of a successful economy, so it naturally follows that if we buy certain things we are generating a need for more production. The great financial super-powers of this world are not going to have an unexpected turn of heart and decide to have a compassionate, long sighted view of life on earth. No amount of whinging and complaining or blaming anyone else is going to change a thing. Only by setting the example and living the life you want to live can we instigate real change. Only by living for others as much as ourselves can we create the right conditions for the world we all dream of living in. Instead of mass produced, throw away convenience living we can create a demand for more locally produced, ethical and natural products. Better still we can make a lot the things we need ourselves. Even when we consume ethically, we will inevitably still generate waste, so the best approach is to completely reject disposable culture and instead re-use and recycle as many things as possible. Getting things second hand and giving our unwanted things away is also a good way to get by without buying yet more items whose production generates yet more pollution and waste.
Also, regarding the idea that it is wrong to bring yet more life into this overcrowded and chaotic world - I would completely agree that the vast array of terminal problems on earth are human-made, but the solutions are also found within the human realm, and nowhere else. Despite the common misconception that we can't achieve greatness on our own, the only real way to witness a more stable environment is to start with the individual. No-one will want to change because they are told to. Only by individuals realising their place in society and in the world itself will they understand the importance of cultivating a conscientious lifestyle for themselves, their family and the rest of society. Likewise, the future generations to come will determine the oppression or freedom of the world we live in, and which direction humanity goes in will be determined by how well educated our children are. I don't view having a baby as one more burden for this earth to carry, but rather one more solution to the diseases of ignorance and greed that this planet is currently suffering under. Our son will always be encouraged to have a balanced view of life which will encapsulate love and respect for other people, animals and the environment, as well as having a realistic sense of value, placing most importance on benefiting others as well as himself. By raising our children to care for others and to put the planet first, we can successfully weed out this egocentric, convenience culture of consumer capitalism within a couple of generations. There is no doubt that our children will grow into adults with their own views and opinions, but the upbringing of a child is of paramount importance in shaping the adult they will become. Feeding them TV dinners and sitting them in front of video games is one way of adding to the problems, and this is always due to the parents themselves having little-to-no concern for anything mentioned above. First we must start as individuals - educating ourselves and sculpting our own lives into the shape we wish them to embody. Only then can we begin to transmit a better ethos to the next generation. Without the right information, we aren't going to get very far, and this is precisely why the "individual" is so important. In fact, liberation of any sort only ever seems to have come about due to dedicated individuals and small groups of individuals who care enough to rebel against oppression. Slavery wasn't ended by any government or corporation, and women didn't get the right to vote by any authority figures either. People such as Gandhi and Nelson Mandela are held in the highest regard for their achievements in the liberation of others. In fact, it just isn't possible for groups of people to draw the same conclusion simultaneously, which is why people that are waiting for revolution will be waiting a very long time indeed. Revolution can be peaceful, and it can and will start with each individual regaining the lost control of their lives and directing themselves to a better future, without the need to be told what to want and what to need by organisations whose primary interest is to amass profit.
Someone else I know said recently that it is pointless trying to bring about any change by starting as individuals. His reason for it - believe it or not - was that capitalism is based on greed and selfishness, and encouraging the individual to consume ethically is just another form of selfishness... It's amazing how much people can warp their own views, just so that they can carry on doing absolutely nothing. The whole point of starting with the individual is that we can first set the example for others to follow in our footsteps. Plus, the overall goal is to create a better planet for humans, animals and the environment - what is selfish and capitalist about that exactly? I agree that as ethical consumerism grows in popularity, capitalism does and will continue to buy up pieces of the green movement, opening ethical superstores and creating "green capitalism" by selling organic and natural products at extortionate prices. This is where we need to be vigilant and mindful of our own laziness. Just because consumer capitalism may react in this way, does not mean we have to participate. With effort and awareness we can stop making excuses, stop blaming others, get our priorities straight, educate ourselves and our children, and turn all of these negatives into positives. It can be done, but it requires US to do it, and firstly as individuals. A revolution can occur through the simple act of shopping, cleaning and cooking, traveling etc... If the individual understands that, they won't be hoodwinked by clever adverts and marketing campaigns that are designed to keep them wanting more...
Some simple guidelines I follow are:
* always buy organic food/clothes/toiletries/household products
* never use disposable nappies - if you do, at least use biodegradable ones
* never consume animal products or products tested on animals
* always try and buy what you need locally or at least from your own country, and if you have to get something from overseas, specify that you want it sent by surface mail
* when buying products made overseas, never buy anything that is not fairtrade and ethically produced
* rely less on supermarkets or if possible, not at all
* never use plastic bags
* where possible, make things yourself instead of always buying
* if you can, grow your own fruit and veg
* always re-use, recycle and compost as much as possible
* conserve water - share baths etc
* get things second hand and give away/sell the stuff you longer need
* ride a bike and use public transport as much as possible
* travel by air as little as possible, better still don't fly at all
* stop allowing yourself to be victimized by advertising and marketing campaigns - they never meet the expectations of happiness they so frequently promise
These guidelines certainly don't limit the variety or enjoyment we get out of life, and we know that our impact on other people, animals and the environment is as low as possible, at a time when such matters are of the greatest relevance. Also, (as luck would have it!) it even feels good to do the right thing, and endeavoring to do what benefits more than oneself can even be the source of true, lasting happiness. Even if following all of these guidelines seems a bit daunting to begin with, it is worth trying to follow them one at a time until you are encompassing more of them into your lifestyle. After a short while it is easy to follow them without even trying to. This is how we can all start to educate ourselves and set a good example for others. Without this effort, we can't expect any change to manifest itself.