The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing. – Albert Einstein
Is there a need for us to take action? Why? Who should take action? And how? It seems to me, considering we have wholesale environmental destruction, peak oil, one in four children alive today in Canada is slated for diabetes, and the average child born in Canada has about thirty known carcinogens and neurotoxins in its umbilical cord, not to mention climate change and war, that it is time we take real action.
The first step is to slow oneself down, in order to stay open and not immediately begin spouting feel-good platitudes like, “I do my part, I recycle.”
Allowing ourselves to go into our trauma response causes us to retreat into an almond-sized part of our brain called the amygdala (this is well studied and available on the internet). This is our fight or flight, cave-person, survival response centre. (The cave person, when faced with short-term danger, such as a saber-toothed tiger about to eat them: thrust spear, throw rock or run; long term danger, such as an ice age: go south or, as many people do, remodel the cave.)
Connect as a human being
The more complex our societies have become, the more complex the problems and the solutions. This is compounded by a myriad of competing interests and information, and further compounded by the western disease of “busy-ness”. I think there is a direct correlation between how deep we allow the information around us to permeate our being and the degree to which we act or don’t act, as it were. The hierarchy, as I see it in ascending order, is: information, knowledge, understanding, awareness, consciousness. A lot of people “know” about the recent massacre of banana plantation workers and will say to you, “I know that”, but they have not allowed or chosen to have that knowledge to percolate into their consciousness to the point where they, as a human being, are touched deep within their being, beneath the many superficial layers and crap of modern society. Touched in such a way that they connect as a human being with other human beings, in this case murdered ones, in the name of profit, by keeping wages, the cost of production and ultimately the price of bananas in the grocery store as low as possible (so people buy more bananas and proportionately less B.C. apples, therefore making company and shareholders more profits, and we, being complicit in this system by virtue of our inaction). When we are truly “aware”, our empathy response compels us to act.
Simply put, how can we say that we want fresh air from the rainforests, yet eat beef grown cheaply where what was once Amazon rainforest, but now is bulldozed and burned to grow beef or soy for biofuel, the soil washing away after very few years. How can we say we love animals, treating our pets as well as our children while we continue to eat factory farmed meat – PETA videos abound on YouTube showing the literal torture of millions of animals in factory farms so our chicken can be as cheap as possible. How can we say we care about people, or even that we love children, yet continue to purchase clothing and toys that are made in slave-like conditions for slave-wages by people who live in shanty towns with open sewers, poor water, poor food, no healthcare, no social assistance, no EI – nothing. Why? So we can have our clothing, food, toys and other consumables (many of which we don’t need) as cheaply as possible.
Are goods really “cheap”?
Upon further examination, none of these goods are “cheap”, are they? There is a lengthy, global price tag attached that includes many hidden costs; foremost of which, as already touched on, encompass destruction of soil, water, air, forests, farms, cultures and some pay with their very lives. Why? As pointed out, so we can enjoy, at least by comparison, an extravagant lifestyle.
To put this into perspective, Canadians spend approximately 9% of their income on food, Europeans 18 – 35% (due in part to their awareness and the connection they make between food, family, culture and health. Rather than quick foods they are into slow food, a movement spreading from Italy), and Turks and Vietnamese spend 85% of their income on food.
At this point in the article (if you are still reading), are you still open? Or are you defensive – blaming corporations, politicians, governments and the rich? If you are open, thank you for staying with us. If you are feeling defensive, rest easy, it is a natural human reaction. Defensiveness and denial is the precursor to the next step: responsibility (respond-ability, the ability to respond). All real change, in thousands of years of recorded history, has happened from the ground up, not the other way around. Power is almost always taken, rarely given. Why would a corporation, whose sole purpose is to generate profit at virtually any cost, give up any power? Why would governments, that are bought and paid for through lobbying and donations, want to give up any power?
Step 1: real, wholesale change requires that you and I are truly honest with ourselves and each other, admitting to ourselves and one another how things “really are” (I call this, having an honest conversation, which means we move beyond blaming the system and/or “feel good”, joining-things-on-facebook babble).
Step 2: we talk about real, doable solutions, both on an individual and societal level. This means, we understand that our ideas need to appeal to a broad enough base of society and through using a collaborative approach, others will want to be part of positive change.
Step 3: we lay out a plan and then agree to what we are actually going to do. This means we commit to taking immediate steps, again both individually and work towards larger cultural shifts within our society. This is what corporations and governments do through advertising and other public relations campaigns. This is them telling us what we want rather than us thinking, “What do we want?” and then expressing that. Taking action may mean starting something brand new; it will often mean putting more or new and fresh energy into an existing movement, rather than reinventing the wheel.
Step 4: Taking action.
The number one “evil” in the world is international finance. We can all do our part by moving most of all our financial business from banks to community credit unions. This alone would revolutionize Canada overnight. This, and other points, are articles by themselves.
The second greatest “evil” is fossil fuel. And when I say “evil” here, like gold and diamonds, millions of people have and will continue to die because of our thirst for this liquid and the many products we derive from it. It is our responsibility to ourselves and the earth to incrementally and dramatically reduce our use and dependence on this waning resource.
The third, overarching and all encompassing “evil” is very close to home. Our consumption. We must all incrementally and dramatically reduce our consumption now. This includes what we eat, wear, drive and live in. It also includes travel – how, where, how far and how often. The way to speed up these changes so that they actually “make a difference” is to at least cut off cable vision (skip the boring stories about educational channels), if not virtually eliminate TV-watching altogether. Television is by far the single greatest source of brainwashing and stupification in our culture. It bombards you with images, telling you that you are too tall, too short, too fat, too skinny, too weak, too stupid, out of style, out of sync and most of all, lacking in some way. This feeling of lack is ameliorated by agreeing to purchase the products shown, not only on the commercials, but also by products ingeniously placed in shows and movies. Make no mistake, television has virtually nothing to do with being entertained per se and everything to do with advancing our current, sick system of unlimited growth and consumption. It sells us foods that make us fat, diseased and stupid; more than that, it sells us cigarettes, alcohol, status, violence, war and that corporations and governments are looking out for our interests.
Personal finance – credit. Get rid of all credit cards except for one. If you are married, you can have two, but only one gets used – the other is for emergencies only. Buy nothing on credit. If you use plastic to purchase something, it must be paid off that month. Points and “air miles” cards are scams that only truly work for people who have a business and spend more than $2,500.00 per month.
Food. Along with clear-cutting and urban development, our food system is every bit, if not more destructive. As an example, 94% of Vancouver Island’s food is imported, the vast majority of it having travelled 2,000 to 3,000 kilometres. If we want to be able to feed ourselves in the future, especially since the price of petroleum is going to go up and almost all food is in essence grown with petroleum (pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer, cooling, transport, more cooling, more transport), this requires that we reduce our footprint by reducing the food miles attached to what we eat. The easiest and most economical way to do this calls us to grow our own food and be more supportive of local food production. It also means that we reduce our meat consumption to minimal amounts.
Community. All of us are essentially, to whatever degree, “takers”. In order for us to be more “socially sustainable”, it is necessary that we give more than we take. At this point in time, all of us will be better served by finding ways that we can give of our time, energy and money so that at the end of the day, or our life as it were, the proverbial community pot has more in it, not less.
These are just a few points in an attempt to “move beyond recycling”. After all, recycling is a last resort. It is actually, 5 R’s: rethink, reduce, reuse, repair and finally, recycle. We can all be newly and freshly inspired to direct and redirect the energy that we currently use in our survival mode, where we notice things, feel upset, talk about it but do nothing. We can all recommit as individuals to get off the hamster wheel of insanity – doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. We can be more than “talkavists”; we can be activists! Let us change our lives now, today, by taking conscious action each and every day, increasing the degree, the number and frequency of the actions, creating critical mass as was done with the civil rights movement. We can all do this – together – making real connections between drinking coffee, eating bananas and every living thing and person involved in those products touching our lips.
Dirk is an organic farmer, agricultural advocate and public speaker whose interests include how auyervedic body types and birth order affect communication and relationships.