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We have to be much more rumpled… and muddy

This summer, I found a great blog at This Magazine.  The webpage (supported by folk such as Margaret Atwood and David Suzuki) tells me that it's the leading alternative Canadian magazine of politics, pop culture, and the arts.  The Earth Archives has some very well written posts - including this one, that I have tried to insert below - about how doing lots of small sustainability-motivated acts won't really help us that much.  The author, Graham F. Scott,  is probably right. But,  the question is whether these acts end up enabling much larger actions - such as, changing our views on ironed clothes on a large-scale.  Why's this large?  Well, I am very fed up with being in meetings full of people dressed in well-pressed clothes.  I do not iron on the principle that it's a waste of energy (all round).  We also need to stop washing stuff so often.  I insist that when we rent very small cars for field work, that my local Hertz gives us dirty cars - they're never going to be as full of mud as they end up with us.  If this all sends a message to industry (as in, we could boycott companies where staff are forced to dress inappropriately in ironed shirts and blouses, and in wool suits in hot summers), then small acts COULD lead to big changes.

Dawn R. Bazely - dressed below right, in an outfit that I would happily wear to a boardroom meeting, to make a point, bug shirt and all.from the field to the boardroom

"January 08, 2009

Rinky-dink ink tinkering isn't the answer

Posted by Graham F. Scott at 11:57 AM ET | Comments (0)

EcoFont alphabet

A Dutch design firm has released a new computer font, Ecofont, that they say uses less ink, and can therefore reduce the e-waste that results from depleted toner cartridges. It's a regular-looking font except that it's riddled with holes, and the firm, Spranq, claims this reduces toner use by up to 20 per cent.

Their hearts are in the right place, but this is clearly public-relations bunk. (And I realize I'm playing into it by linking to them.) There are plenty of environmental problems in the world, and technology waste is some of the most difficult to deal with. But the real effect of this font is statistically insignificant, and no one should be fooled into thinking it's a real solution to any of our pressing environmental problems.

This kind of "environmental" measure is increasingly common — easy to implement, emotionally gratifying, socially acceptable, and totally ineffectual. You would be better off turning on the ink-saving features now available in every modern printer; even better would be choosing not to print that two-line email in the first place.

This morning on Twitter I linked to a new advertisement from the World Wildlife Fund that makes a crucial point: consumers and end-users are being constantly scolded to change their behaviours and reduce their environmental footprint while government and industry continue to allow damaging beahviour to go unchecked. Individual efforts like installing compact fluorescent lightbulbs and downloading an "Ecofont" are fine, but they won't get us where we need to go unless the biggest and baddest polluters are brought to heel."

A Revolution of Values

Fourty years ago, Reverend Martin Luther King echoing his mentor, Mahatma Gandhi, took to task materialism in the same breadth as the racial oppression he had been fighting his whole life. King knew that materialism, or more accurately, consumerism, was a slow acting poison that once entrenched, would forever control the destiny of his people. Furthermore, he foresaw how it had already taken root in American society along with the militarism that was then subjecting Vietnam to hell on earth:

"if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered." (April 4, 1967)

José Ramón Machado Ventura, First Vice-President of Cuba’s Council of State, reiterated this same prophetic theme in his address to the 5th European Union / Latin America and Caribbean Summit meeting in Lima, Peru, on May 16-17. In a session on “Sustainable Development: the Environment, Climate Change and Energy,” Ventura remarked:

"Sustainable development requires a revolution in our values and in the way we confront the inequalities of today and the challenges of tomorrow. We must launch a global energy revolution, sustained by savings, rationality and efficiency."

Cuba has stood for this alternative world free of King's giant triplets of racism, militarism, and materialism. In doing so, its people have made enormous sacrifices, going without for the greater good of all citizens and countries around the world who have benefited from the small island nation's famous generosity and humanitarian aid. Sadly, Fidel Castro recently had to remind Barack Obama of Cuba's record of international service, as American politicians of all stripes have become used to heaping calumny on a country that has dared to resist and retain its dignity.

Personally, I too have long believed that only a revolution of values can begin to address the challenges of sustainability. For as long as our lives are measured by material success and possessions, there will always exist powerful pressures to consume upwards. This is stoked by our consumer society that consumes us by engaging in the limitless production of wants and desires (a Buddhist nightmare for sure), all in the name of driving a capitalist economy based on borrow and spend. Moreover, the peer pressure is exerted from generation to generation. How many of us have been judged by the size of our house or car? (And if you rent and use public transit, forget about it!)

The consumption in turn serves to displace higher pursuits and to fill the yawning spiritual void in our lives as noted in the whimsical yet deadly serious road documentary "What Would Jesus Buy?" Channeling the theatrics of evangelical holy roller preachers, Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping takes on the "Shopocalypse", which has turned the holiday season into debt-engorged consumer armageddon. The message of this "church" however resonates with both believers and non-believers alike, as the plague affects us all. In this regard, King and the Cuban Vice-President are also one in calling us out of our Koyaanisqatsi.