Saturday, January 7, 2012

Time to live

Time is an intangible element in life.  Humans are the only creature on Earth that try to quantify it.  This might stem from the idea of giving Time a measurable substance in order to control it.  Controlling time is rather a silly notion.  HOWEVER, we do have control over what we DO with time.  I could ramble on and on about the philosophical cliches about our use of time, but I transgress.

Sustainability is rooted in process of time.    Scientists predict into the future about the resource availability of the Earth in relation to human consumption and replenishment.  Sustainability is the when the consumption value equals the replenishment value.  Right now consumption is greater than replenishment and resource availability in the future is bleak.

But I don't like to focus on the negative doomday's prediction.  Instead, I want to promote change.  Change to become more sustainable in your every day lives.  I don't care if you are in a city, a farm, rich or poor.  I also don't care if you are super green or super ok, yeah...or super anti-environmental consumeristic.  It will just be easier for the super green people to be sustainable.

The one thing in people have in common is their time.  We all have 24 hours in a day.  Most of us are scheduled or busy for most of those 24 hours.  So how on earth are we suppose to change our behavior to be more sustainable while still being busy responsible people?  The simplest hard realization is our dependence and therefore, our responsibility to the planet Earth.  Scholars, religious prophets, environmentalists,  and scientists have been spouting these words for hundreds of years.  But we don't listen.  Why?

To some extent our biology and history.  No I'm not blaming biology, but it does help explain the problem.  As animals, our primitive fundamental behavior is to survive (and procreate but I'll get to that later).  Historically, resources were limited, unpredictable/reliable and seasonal.  Humans are innovated, but are also fundamentally lazy if given that option (what animal isn't?  All I have to do is look at my cat).  Together, we have created methods of harvesting, growing, and transporting resources with very little effort.  In a sense we use resources to move more resources so we can consume large quantities of resources previously restricted to time and space without lifting a metaphorical finger.  Therefore, we have this imaginary concept of everlasting surplus of resources.  Not only is this fictitious idea incorrect, but also the this idea of more is better.  This is where the second animal behavior comes in, procreation or reproduction.  A good non-human example is the Bowerbird (ok, I'm a little biased, I really like these architectural artists of the animal kingdom).  Bowerbird males build these 'bowers' or structures out of plant matter and decorate the bowers with colorful objects like flowers and berries.  The sole purpose of these bowers are to impress a female Bowerbird to mate with him.  Humans have the same mentality.  Throughout history the wealthy have always been dominate.  It is not restricted to mating anymore, but power and influence.  Wealth is measured in resources.  Be it a lot of money or a lot of stuff that costs a lot of money.  Interestingly, the wealthiest in terms of money are rather frugal people, and don't foolishly buy stuff.  Anyway, the ideology of the wealthy (having loads of stuff and the newest stuff) is the heart of consumerism.  That, and not being able to wait which ties into the whole unlimited supply idea above.  It's quite the nasty cycle.

Now how do we stop this unhealthy cycle?  Most people don't have the time let alone the inclination to research alternatives to the brand names.  Not only that, they don't see the value of taking that extra time, which would cost them, to find, make or change behaviors to these alternatives.   AND most of the alternatives are more expensive and don't always work as reliably as the standard products (like rechargeable batteries).

The key to slowing down and hopefully eventually stopping this consumerism downward spiral is finding the Incentive to change.  Some people promote 'simple living' styles, other promote eco-friendly everything.  I think a merging of those styles is the most effective, sustainable and 'green'.  However, neither include incentives for the amount of time, money and changing the current everyday lifestyles besides being 'green' and to some extent saving money.  Going 'green' will only change the people who care about the environment.  Saving money will great in this bad economy, but a lot of the simple living ideas take a LOT of time which most people don't have.  If I had to chose between the two, saving money would probably be the broader incentive.  I guess I feel there is a big philosophical gap between the 'simple living' lifestyle people and the rest of society who just want to save money.  People who just want to save money will buy the cheapest thing they can find, regardless of the how much of it they get (opposite of minimalist thinking) or the environmental impact (opposite of 'naturalist, non-toxic' thinking). 

Government regulation is probably the only truly effective method of changing large masses of peoples' behavior.  That, and making the bad stuff more expensive (yeah, probably not going to happen anytime soon).  So, how do we change government regulations?

A recent example: plastic bag ban in LA county.  In 2008 Malibu was the first city in LA County to ban the use of single-use plastic bags (the ones you get from stores).  Long Beach, Santa Monica and Calabasa have also banned the plastic bags, and more LA cities are starting to follow suit.  This ban is a huge step towards changing peoples' habits to decrease pollution.  The ban didn't just spring out of nowhere though, and would never have passed 5 years ago.  One of, if not the biggest reason this ban was written and subsequently passed in the city legislation is the increase awareness of the alternative option to bring our own reusable bag.  People started TALKING, and not only talking but DOING.  From the conversation started by a few common people, the alternative was implemented.  Those people told and were examples for other people who kept the conversation going.  Soon it reached the companies who started to actually SELL reusable bags (like Trader Joes) making reusable bags 'cool' and 'hip'.  Now it is more common to bring reusable bags in, not to mention some places actually have monetary incentives through ticket drawings if you bring them in!  Once the alternative became more common the legalization of a plastic ban became a realistic possibility.  In this happy ending, cities in Los Angeles have started to ban plastic bags!

The lesson of this story is that with a conversation followed by application enables future government regulations.  Government regulations change people's behaviors, so start talking, but more importantly start acting and make it hip!

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