Let's make the world a better place. *Props to Urban Octopus for the artwork ^
Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend a symposium at Case Western University in Cleveland, OH honoring Dr. David Suzuki with the Inamori Prize for Ethics & Excellence.
For those who are not familiar with Dr. Suzuki, he is a world-renowned environmental activist, sustainable ecologist, and Doctor of Zoology.
I’d like to share some of his thoughts through these quotes:
“Thinking we can bioengineer our planet is madness”
This thought came on the subject of innovation. For decades, the dominant American ideology has been that no matter the obstacles in our way, we will innovate a solution. With regards to carbon emissions and climate change, many believe we can simply innovate solutions to sequester or nullify the negative effects on our biosphere that we have caused. For Suzuki, this is indeed madness. The biosphere (Earth) is the most resilient, complex, and beautiful solution to providing life - so much so that the majority of its networks and capacities are unknown to humans. Why force our inferior engineering onto an extraordinary, bewildering system that is Earth?
“We are animals”
Suzuki says this is the most important idea we should take away from his talk. On Earth, we are a part of a greater network of living creatures. Human quest for superiority stems from human’s inherent inferiority within our biosphere. We have learn to manipulate and navigate our planet through a perfect combination of luck and skill. Apart from that, humans lack in nearly every other attribute to many of our fellow animals. We are not the fastest, not the strongest. We have a limited vocabulary for expression, we engineer with tools instead of making them biologically. Once we dethrone ourselves from exceptional status, our home - Earth - becomes the ultimate priority for human survival and prosperity. Suzuki believes this humility is a necessity.
“We ARE air, we ARE water”
We are all connected. The air we breath, the water we drink, is forever conserved. In this way, we are connected to every part of our planet - to flora and to fauna, from the deepest ocean to the highest mountaintop. Suzuki tackled the false dichotomy of “humanity” and “environment”. This dichotomy, he believes, is a fundamental failure of the environmental movement. By advocating for the environment, we ‘other’ the environment as something other than ourselves, something removed from human society. He argues, we must fundamentally change the way we view the biosphere and our place within - not outside - it.
“We can’t change nature, but we can change what we’ve created. Economies aren’t the laws of nature, we can change them!”
Since the advent of capitalism and possibly before, economics, its academic study, and the ‘economy’ exist as an omnipotent force that humanity must obey, less it run the risk of acting in an ‘uneconomic’ way. The fear of lacking economic growth penetrates near every aspect of modern human society and it sadly blinds us to the real truth. Economy is a man-made structure in order to value items of perceived worth. And as such, rewards actors who value self-interest over the complex connections within human society and within the biosphere. It is absurdity to equate economy with nature.
“Wealth is not quantified by stuff but qualified through shared experience”
Dr. Suzuki ended with a heartfelt anecdote. His father was dying. An old man now, his father had come to terms with his death and was just a few weeks from passing on. Luckily for Dr. Suzuki, he and his father were able to spend his last days together. They laughed, they cried, reminiscing about old friends and telling stories about shared experiences. Reflecting upon these final days, Suzuki realized they hadn’t mentioned the material items - their favorite Oldsmobile or the clothes on their backs. The things we remember most are stories and memories of the ones we love - friends, family, and acquaintances. We should prioritize what little time we have by making memories with loved ones, and yet-to-be-loved ones.
David Suzuki’s talk was throughly enjoyable - a breath of fresh air. By melding ideas of science, spirituality, humanity, and common sense, Suzuki eloquently advocates for a holistic perspective towards our life on Earth.
For more information on Dr. David Suzuki, visit his foundation at http://www.davidsuzuki.org/
Find a collection of his books here
What do Monsanto, Philip Morris, the IMF, and Argentine farmers have in common?
Agricultural giant Monsanto continues to ruin the lives of agricultural producers and consumers - this time with a partner-in-crime, Philip Morris USA. This week in Delaware, a suit was filed against Monsanto and Philip Morris USA, among its subsidiaries, on behalf of Argentine farmers, who claim the alleged culprits “knowingly poison[ed] farmers” giving the plaintiffs “devastating birth defects.”
The tag team of Monsanto and Philip Morris urged Argentine farmers to use Monsanto’s RoundUp Ready herbicide to clear tobacco fields. However, these farmers were neither informed on the dangers of the herbicide nor trained on how to handle it. What’s more, the farmers claim “leftover pesticides were discarded in locations where they leached into the water supply,” due to ineffective disposal training (which, is actually an oxymoron - there is no way to safely dispose of the herbicide). Rampant birth defects ensued, including “cerebral palsy, psychomotor retardation, epilepsy, spina bifida, intellectual disabilities, metabolic disorders, congenital heart defects, Down syndrome, missing fingers and blindness.”
In addition to these horrendous human defects, native Argentine tobacco fields are being replaced by genetically engineered tobacco crops. According to the plaintiffs, Philip Morris and its subsidiaries urged the farmers to stop growing native tobacco in favor of a new type, which requires more pesticides. This new type of tobacco has not been disclosed.
This is a classic case of economic bullying of a first world corporation over a third world raw material producer. Although Monsanto and Philip Morris may claim they did not demand or directly force the farmers to start growing the new pesticide-intensive tobacco crop and applying RoundUp Ready herbicide, the farmers risked Philip Morris moving business elsewhere had they not complied.
This case of bullying can be opened a bit more. Argentina underwent a massive economic crisis at the turn of the millennium. As a result of the crisis, the IMF and World Bank stepped in to aid the country towards economic recovery. In the case of Argentina’s crisis, debt restructuring called for a devaluation of the Argentine Peso, in the hopes of increasing foreign investment, because well, the economy was so bad that there was little-to-no opportunity for immediate domestic investment. What’s more, the Argentine government and the IMF awarded export credits to industries like manufacturing and agriculture to jump-start recovery.
Enter Philip Morris and Monsanto. In 1984, Philip Morris created Tabacos Norte, a tobacco subsidiary based in the Argentine province of Misiones, in which Tabacos Norte is a primary employer. As the Peso is devalued, Philip Morris can purchase more exported Argentine tobacco for less. In addition, its subsidiary can take advantage of export credits from the government that incentivize even cheaper selling of its tobacco. On top of those incentives, the Argentine government also supports a Tobacco Special Fund that subsidizes the tobacco industry.
Large multinational corporations can take advantage of debt restructuring in countries that produce the raw materials needed for first world consumption. These attempts to benefit the struggling country end up incentivizing predatory economic tactics and harm individual producers economically and, as in the recent lawsuit, with respect to their health.
We need to be aware of the deep scars that exist in our world system. Seemingly unrelated nodes in the global socio-politico-economic network can be connected.
Monsanto and Philip Morris have more than enough legal firepower to put up a fight against Argentine farmers. We will learn more in the days to come…
Are humans culpable in climate change? Are the problems human-induced?
The following is a video from 2008 by Greg Craven, who challenges us to dissect the climate change debate and acknowledge we only have one decision: to try our best to counteract it.
The video is a phenomenally simple diagram of cognitive reasoning. However, I’d like to come to a similar conclusion, but from a wider lens. Since this video was made, millions of dollars in research have concluded that the planet’s climate is changing. So, I’d like to amend the discussion a bit by supplanting Craven’s question of whether climate change is going on, with is climate change the fault of humanity?
I propose the idea that instead of using climate change as a zero-sum doomsday scenario to influence policy and lifestyle change, we should emphasize fundamental socio-politico-economic shifts that must happen in our modern society regardless of climate change. What’s more, I believe using climate change as an argument may prove a disservice to real change.
With respect to climate change, whichever set of beliefs you have on the subject, it simply doesn’t matter. Beliefs should not determine action.
Why? Because regardless of culpability, the very political and economic systems in place that may or may not be causing catastrophic climate change are the very political economic systems that negatively effect our human society and perpetuate our failed attempt at human self-determination and happiness.
I can’t say for certain humans are causing rising sea levels and a hotter (in some places cooler) planet - and no one can, not even scientists can be completely sure. However, for the sake of this segment of my argument, let’s say we are. Humans are 100% the cause of global climate change.
If so, what’s causing this climate shift?: 1) Emissions from fossil fuels, 2) deforestation, desertification 3) methane emissions from landfill waste (among others).
Who are the main culprits in this scenario?: 1) Oil usage in planes, trains, and automobiles, 2) Coal and natural gas power plants, 3) Petrochemicals used in many ways (namely agriculture), 4) international logging (clear-cutting, burning), 5) large-scale farming conglomerates, 6) waste management (or lack thereof).
These industries are directly related; however, nearly every facet of our political economy relies on these industries - multinational corporations, military-industrial complexes, energy sectors, manufacturing, et cetera.
Now, I have written before on the dangers of these industries and the need for more local ideas and industries to benefit people, planet, and profit.
Why? Because these industries perpetuate what be altered in our society - overdependence on personal and dirty transportation, mass-produced and centralized food production, top-down economic order, a growing divide between first world and third world, reliance on harmful and finite energy resources, negligence to all waste issues, and toxicity levels in our air and water, just to name a few.
What we should be striving for is emphasis on walkability, denser and more vibrant communities, local and healthy foods, fair and mutually beneficial economies, global collaboration and unity, cleaner and more renewable energy, closed-loop and holistic waste systems, and insistence on making our environment cleaner, healthier, more diverse.
The socially harmful industries make billions of dollars. Whether they wake up every morning and decide to do their darnedest to pollute and continue society down a dangerous path is up for debate (I’m pretty sure they don’t). However, they are waking up every morning wanting to do their darnedest for their company, and in turn, for themselves. They want to maximize the company’s profit so they can maximize their income to pay for their food, shelter, family, and the leisure activities they’ve been accustomed to enjoying. A cog in a well-oiled machine will not change the way it works. Any one of us, given that opportunity would do the same thing - it’s a product of our current society, which incentivizes capital accumulation and a narrow systems perspective.
To counteract this, we must utilize our wide, global perspective on the socio-political-economic world order and attempt to improve humanity’s quality of life. Focus outside energy toward changing the system, not toward the blinded individual cogs that reside inside the system.
Everything that these industries do is supported by political economic dogma and policies that reward maximized profits and higher yields.
Our addiction to finite fossil fuels, and the political economic systems on which our addiction thrives, perpetuates deeply harmful global problems.
Locally, multinational corporations out-price local competition and concentrate wealth. A process that governments incentivize.
International MNCs have the money to manufacture in third world countries - a process which mires the third world in poverty due to wealth concentration, mostly due to involvement in economic restructuring programs and domestic political-economic corruption, which encourages short-term thinking. The more powerful MNCs get, the more resources they exploit. From political backing, to legal council, to technological investment, to public relations, to natural resources, global behemoths emerge that can act without restraint and without remorse.
Their influence can be felt throughout each community. On a local level, a town or city will invest in a strip mall or tax breaks for a certain industry over public transportation or other community building initiatives. While looking good in the short term with slight “job growth” or capital investment, these community investments do just the opposite - funnel capital to a select few and burden the rest. We must investigate the pros and cons of reliance on these investments, not just over one political election cycle, but over the lifetime of the community.
In Brazil, among other countries, slash and burn clear-cutting is incentivized by a global industry that demands the cheapest logging possible. Regardless of the emissions created by the practice, it contributes to huge losses in biodiversity as well as poor labor conditions. In fact, as of 2006, the Brazilian government acknowledged at least 25000 Brazilian laborers worked under “conditions analogous to slavery” when clearing Amazon land for farming and logging conglomerates.
Take sweatshop labor. Many acknowledge that worldwide shipping via container ships and planes contributes to a large amount of emissions that may resulting in human-induced climate change. But are the risks involved with harmful emissions more insidious than the ramifications of the frenzied pursuit of cheap resources, which causes the third world to prostitute itself with cheap labor and textiles? Or the complementary hyperconsumerism that destroys the first world through credit addiction and loss of cultural identity? Or the hegemonic power enjoyed by MNCs and the politicians who are rewarded for maintaining and growing that power? These poignant issues will cause change.
From Greg Craven’s video there’s a decision between “guessing” and “choosing” our future. If we accept that climate change is happening, regardless of culpability, human action must be to choose an alteration of the current systems to benefit humanity.
So, when we take away the climate change negatives from evaluating harmful industries, we are still left with deeply cutting global problems. As such, moving away from the these types of industries that control our world and sustain global injustices should have nothing to do with climate change. In my view, the negative effects of these industries are abundantly more pernicious to human society than to climate change. If we tackle the harmful practices and systems that plague our society, potential human-induced climate change will take care of itself, because the necessary changes are inherent in a paradigm shift that focuses on a local, sustainable, pluralistic socio-politico-economic system.
Using climate change as an argument to shift political economic policies turns a simple and all-inclusive idea of a better, more just world into an abstract, zero-sum game where there are believers vs. non-believers. When it comes to belief systems, people rarely change. So, instead of forcing a belief change, we can take it out of the equation altogether.
Whether you believe in human-induced climate change or not, it doesn’t matter. Choose whether we should continue down a road with more obesity, dirtier air, diminished connection to fellow man and its planet, less biodiversity, but maybe a little more money for a select few in power… or will we live in a more just world, with vibrant, happy, prosperous communities, a cleaner planet to inhabit, and a healthier population, with respect and integrity.
The choice is yours, but I’d prefer the latter.
Watch Benefit Corporations Aim to Make Profit, Positive Impact on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.
One of my favorite initiatives, B Corporation, and its backing non-profit B Lab, recently got national television publicity. On PBS Newshour last week, Paul Solman investigated the assessment firm (B Lab) that certifies companies as B Corps, which are businesses that walk the walk and talk the talk of social business innovation. What’s great about these B Corporations is that the social mission is directly integrated into the business plan and culture. Unlike some companies who have Corporate Social Responsibility divisions, B Corps companies are inherently socially responsible.
So why all the publicity now?
Last month, New York State followed six other states in creating a “Benefit Corporation” class, which grants specific legal rights to companies who benefit others in addition to its shareholders. This type of corporation exists in contrast to the standard corporation, whom is legally bound to maximize profit before all else. Benefit Corporations are now legally protected against shareholders who could sue on grounds that the corporation did not maximize profits (see Ben & Jerry’s or eBay v. Craigslist). As corporations and businesses look to achieve environmental and social profits, in addition to economic profits, this law presents a welcomed shift in the corporate law arena.
These are the states which passed laws providing a separate corporate class for Benefit Corporations: California, Hawaii, Virginia, Maryland, Vermont, New Jersey, and now New York.
Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, and Washington D.C. have legislation pending.
The new class of corporation is giving entrepreneurs the legal clout to sustain socially responsible businesses.
The challenge now will be to ensure the long term economic viability of these B corporations, whom still face stiff competition in the marketplace from traditional corporations.
The emergence of these new businesses and supporting legislation are steps in the right direction towards a better future.
Currently, there are 512 B Corps with nearly $3 Billion in revenue.
Learn more at: http://www.bcorporation.net/
The phrase “People, Planet, Profit” - coined by author John Elkington - promotes the idea for businesses to succeed in a number of different ways, rather than the traditional ‘bottom line’. Elkington’s Triple Bottom Line brought on a reluctant swell of Corporate Social Responsibility - the idea that corporations should embrace the TBL to benefit themselves, as well as the greater planet. However, as all swells do, CSR and the TBL is sure to dissipate.
Why, do you ask, would CSR die? I thought it was just gaining momentum?
While some intentions may be good, CSR has an achilles’ heel - a tragic flaw - because it is tied to public relations.
Since the advent of ‘responsible’ business over the past decade and a half, thousands of companies have spent millions of dollars on ‘sustainable’ practices, through self-imposed audits and consultations.