Let's make the world a better place. *Props to Urban Octopus for the artwork ^
Two weeks ago, Vermont legislators passed a law requiring all waste generators (commercial and residential) to recycle both traditional recyclables (plastic, paper, glass) and organic matter (yard and food waste). The first of its kind at the state level, the law requires, at first, high volume organic matter generators to separate their waste into three streams: landfill, traditional recycling, and organic recycling. However by 2020, “any person generating any amount of food residuals will be required to manage on site or arrange for their transfer.”
This law follows other municipalities around the country, such as San Francisco and Seattle, which demand full recycling by law.
Haulers and processors of solid waste will be greatly affected. According to a timeline in the law, by 2017, any state-certified solid waste collection facility must collect and properly process mandated recyclables, yard waste, and food waste. As such, haulers and waste managers will need to shift operations accordingly.
In addition, municipal and county solid waste plans must implement variable rate pricing for collections by 2015, which may support economic viability for the state, solid waste processors and generators.
The State of Vermont has always been on the cutting edge of sustainable and green practices, and this law supports those aims. However, the ambitious law will cause restructuring of the Vermont waste management system and the upheaval certainly will not be without growing pains. Nevertheless, these types of laws are instrumental in making large-scale recycling and composting viable for citizens. Still in other states, cheap landfills, lax waste management policies, and lack of education prove roadblocks to environmental advancement. Let’s hope the rest of the country strives to follow Vermont in taking on our urgent waste management issues.
View the law - Vermont Legislative Bill H.485 - here
There are so many ways to digest today’s Supreme Court ruling that upheld the Obama’s healthcare reform.
Spin artists, on both sides of the aisle, attempt to claim victory or incite anger in defeat, rallying support for November’s election.
Surely though, the average American will rejoice this ruling, as it brings us a step closer to a country that enables all of its citizens to live a healthy, prosperous life.
But I believe this day begs a broader question: Are we, as a society, willing to sacrifice a small amount (of ‘freedom’ or money) to benefit our greater world?
Re: today’s topic, are you willing to allow our government to enforce a law, a law that helps to ensure your own personal health, so that citizens less fortunate can ensure their own health?
If you are a wealthier American, are you willing to pay more in taxes so that you can give back to your country and support programs and projects that fuel American prosperity?
Are you willing to relinquish the idea of marriage as one man and one woman, to ensure the happiness of a same-sex couple?
Are you willing to seek out and purchase a locally-produced food product, perhaps organically grown, to support your local economy and reward an environmentally necessary practice?
Are you willing to bike, walk, or ride public transportation to take cars off the road and lessen your climate impact?
Each day, there are so many instances in which we can decide to make a small change for the betterment of our society and our planet. Alex Steffen, one of my favorite writers, earlier wrote, ”The decision is a small victory for the idea that equity, foresight, and prosperity are symbiotic. Our interdependence means that if we want a prosperous nation, we need to think ahead and think about everyone. The same, it turns out, is true for the other species who coinhabit our planet and on whom we depend. In the end, it’s all one big community on one small rock. Perhaps PlanetCare can come next?” Alex is spot-on.
I do not believe this Supreme Court decision will be a landmark that propels our society’s paradigm shift. However, it may take situations like today’s ruling to understand the gravity of our actions, no matter how big or small, political or economic, easy or difficult they may be.
Each time we, both as individuals and a society, choose the collective over selfishness, the closer we come to sustaining prosperity on this small rock.
We all have agency in this life. Choose leaders who stand up for others, and policies that support those aims. Interact with strangers like a friendly neighbor. Be conscious of the environment - in all that you do. Actively seek peaceful resolution. Leave a place better than you found it.
Let’s hope ObamaCare’s victory kick-starts this realization for us all.
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.
Our age demands a paradigm shift, which can be characterized in a number of different ways - sustainability, green, the 99%, #occupy, human rights, human inequality, social innovation (…and the list goes on). These social expressions, in turn, create battlegrounds for the “future” in the form of industries, systems, and paradigms that must be altered or entirely revolutionized. These ‘battlegrounds’ offer the opportunity for social entrepreneurs, critics, and revolutionary thinkers to challenge the status quo to change a system they deem unequal, unfair, inefficient, or inhumane. As I’ve observed, these ‘battlegrounds’ come to mind: energy, environmental protection, economy, human rights, architecture, development, politics, climate change, technology, health, world trade. Each of these terms has a burgeoning industry or idea to which have paradigm shifts attached. Sustainable development, sustainable architecture, fair trade, environmental regeneration are very popular industries gaining momentum.
However, one battleground that doesn’t get much attention is what I believe to be the most important, the most comprehensive, and the most vital battle that we paradigm shifters face: Agriculture.
If you want an industry that envelops nearly every issue our society faces today, look no further than agriculture.
Particularly in the United States, the agricultural industry is completely out of whack and, if not revolutionized, agriculture will not serve a beneficial purpose as our society continues.
Agriculture is the most unequal battleground today.
The two staples of our diet - corn and soybean (both in more products than you think, check your nutrition labels) - are controlled by one company, Monsanto. 80 percent of corn, and 93 percent of soybeans are grown and sold by Monsanto. A host of other food products are controlled by Cargill.
The immense economic and political clout exercised by Cargill and Monsanto allows them to promote the harmful use of GMO seeds with deadly pesticides. Many people believe that after the downfall of DDT, pesticides were no longer used in the United States. This could not be further from the truth. Companies like Monsanto engineer seeds that are resilient to a specific type of pesticide, made by one of the powerful petrochemical companies. Through multi-million dollar lobbying, these companies then convince the government that these pesticides are safe to use, and convince farmers to purchase their farming techniques by saying that it’s the most efficient and profitable way to farm. What ensues is chemicals in our food, contaminants in our water, environmental degradation, and insurmountable debt on the farmer, whom is then forced onto a vicious treadmill run by big agriculture.
By reading the book “Organic Manifesto,” by Maria Rodale, you will get clear and cohesive perspective on big agriculture’s socio-politico-economic ramifications.
Rodale talks about the benefits of local, organic food production, which will aid our society’s challenges. Among many, these are a few of them:
Climate Change and fossil fuel emissions is directly related to agriculture. Our current system uses fossil fuel in every step of the food production process - from big tractors that run on gas, to the petrochemicals that we spray on the GMO seeds that are made using loads of energy, to the methane emissions from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), to the long distance transportation of the products from farm to table.
Human health is another issue. Big agriculture has a symbiotic relationship with fast food, and products containing high-fructose corn syrups. Big agriculture can afford to sell ingredients and food at an incredibly low price to vendors and brands that in turn sell these harmful foods to us. The low purchase cost creates a self-sustaining market. However, the harmful production practices and deadly pesticides in our food are externalized. We marvel at the high rates of cancer and illness in today’s society, yet we don’t look at what we are putting into our bodies.
Crony capitalism and big business politics are also perpetuated in our current agricultural system. We think ‘big oil’ is the only harmful industry getting preferential treatment on Capitol Hill. Cargill and Monsanto give thousands in campaign contributions to political figures, not including their effective lobbying abilities (Monsanto spent over $8 million lobbying in 2010 alone).
What’s more, these companies continue to demand enormous subsidies from the government. Not only do these subsidies perpetuate the dominance of agricultural monopolies, but they allow for the surplus dumping of food products overseas to developing nations. These developing nations see our products as cheaper alternatives to developing their own agricultural industries, and are also urged (often by law) to engage in foreign trade through IMF and World Bank economic restructuring. In Egypt, for instance, loans from the IMF have mandated increased foreign investment and trade. As a result, the agriculture they do have is exported to Europe and the United States, and all other food products are imported. The exported goods create profits for a select few, while the rest of the country is mired in poverty due to food insecurity and volatile market prices - precisely the cause of the Arab Spring!
Domestically AND internationally, big agriculture’s clout silences the voices of small, independent, organic farmers trying to grow healthy food at a reasonable price, and creates instability throughout the globe. Maybe the #occupy movement should occupy Monsanto’s headquarters instead of Wall Street!
By moving away from big business agriculture and supporting local, organic foods the consumer will have power over these companies. We need to start thinking about what we put into our bodies, and realizing what ripple effects our decisions have on everything in our society - from climate change to economic inequality. The battle over agriculture unites so many of today’s challenges that it simply cannot continue to go unnoticed.