Friday, March 29, 2013

Waking up to Responsibility

Image from Moonty used under Creative Commons
Image from Moonty used under Creative Commons
The germ of this post sprouted sometime in 2012, I'm not sure when and I'm not sure what it was, it's not important.  With my previous post on spirituality and sustainability, teasing out the theme of "connectedness" along with a few recent articles shared by friends I respect with themes that relate to these ideas it was time to reconnect with the idea and see where it goes.

So, here we go.

I've known it for a long time.  It's one of those things that we know and bury beneath our existing identity and worldview because it raises big questions about who we are as individuals, what we believe in, and our role in our local and global communities.

What is it that I know?

I'm responsible for Fukushima
I'm responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
I'm responsible for reality television
I'm responsible for type 2 diabetes in children
I'm responsible for pink slime
I'm responsible for lead paint
I'm responsible for the plastic in the oceans
I'm responsible for the production of carcinogens

The list could go on, and I'm not sure that's helpful.  We could argue about the term "responsible" being replaces with complicit, culpable, or some other less in-your-face word.  Again - not helpful.  The point is that this list of social problems (some might categorize them as "environmental" and/or "social" as well but I'm not sure that the distinction is relevant) are all symptoms of my activities as a consumer of, and investor in, products and/or services that contribute to them.  Ultimately, if we see the news about any of these issues, do we not have a shared responsibility to do something about it?  Otherwise, I must come to the uncomfortable conclusion that I am, indeed, personally responsible.

"What's the point?" you might ask - rightfully.  How do my actions in my ______________ [insert city, town, company, family, community, etc.] affect things happening at these scales or other countries or even other parts of my own community?  The question is, how do they not?  We're all connected in the same socioeconomic system that at its core seeks to extract and amass wealth.  We do this by extracting raw materials from the biosphere, investing energy in the process of manipulating it (this involves many, many steps) to increase its value in the marketplace and then slowly extracting that value in the form of financial capital as it flows through the distribution chain to the end-user.  The challenge is that the value extracted is not proportional to the net effects of the damage caused by its production.  In other words, the people living near the oil wells in Nigeria and adversely affected by the pollution associated with the oil's extraction receive a small portion (if any) of the overall value of that resource.  Where does then rest of it go?

We take some of it when we buy the item and use it. The rest goes to various organizations along with way, businesses that may or may not have a desire to use what they've earned (extracted) in restorative activities.

So...what's the solution?

It's time to take a step back from the day-to-day and ask serious questions about what our role is in this world and what we're willing to do in the short and long term to right the wrongs listed above.  It's daunting, absolutely daunting, sobering, and massive.  Most of the time when I think about these issues I fall into despair - feeling completely helpless in their depth and scope.  But...I am sure there are others out there, others watching the news or reading the paper and feeling the pang of sadness and/or responsibility and then burying that feeling below the myriad activities that keep us busy.  After all, we all have our own lives, families, and communities to look after.

Here is one of the articles that I referred to that might make us think a bit differently about our impact, responsibility, espoused values, and actions.

Want to save the planet? Shrink your habitat — not just your apartment

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Is Spiritual Connection Necessary to Save the Planet?

From CC nasrulekrom
One of the great mysteries I continue to wrestle with is the contribution of individual spirituality and spiritual institutions to creating an environmentally sustainable and just world economy.

Pretty minor topic, right?

This has come up for me at a very personal level as I seek out my own spiritual connections.  I define spirituality/religion as - wherever there are deeply felt connections between people that share a concept and/or belief.  This desire sneaked up on me over the past few years as I sensed I had  become distant, disconnected, and pessimistic about the state of the world and my ability to contribute in a positive way.  I painted the whole of "developed world" humanity (myself included) as base organisms seeking enrichment through material wealth with nary a care about the social and environmental injustices these actions inflicted upon the rest of the world.  Let's just say that this world view was not working.

With that as background, I'd steeled myself to emotional and empathetic connections, yet found myself moved to tears in situations involving spiritual gatherings (as I defined them) and wondering what I was missing in my intellectual Cave of Agnosticism. The last time I felt connected to something was when I attended BGI a few years ago, only now do I appreciate what that connection meant to me.

Considering that many definitions of sustainability involve the concept of systems thinking and earthly interconnections - I wondered "how does my individual spirituality connect with sustainability"?  Or, more directly, how can it NOT?

I started reading on the topic again looking for answers (that's dangerous!) to my questions. I picked up "Spirituality and Sustainability" by John Carroll a few months ago.  I immediately connected with the writers ideas - what we pursue as "environmental sustainability" is woefully inadequate - more of a quarter-measure to make us feel better about maintaining a growth-centered economic model that tolerates social injustice even though we know something is wrong but we can't collectively deal with the massive shift needed in our thinking. The author posits that there is something missing in our conversations about what a sustainable business needs to be, and the something is spirituality.

Imagine the Pope coming out and saying that members of his Faith are damaging the Lord's Creation with their actions and that they are bound to take action to make amends.  What would happen? Anything?  Would individuals of this faith take action?

The next question becomes - if we experience a desire to build a sustainable and just world through our individual spiritual pursuits, why is it that these desires are "checked at the door" of most businesses (that are comprised of individuals)?  Is the business world operating in a sphere that we have collectively agreed is in its own space devoid of our shared morality and values with the overarching goal of increasing monetary wealth?  If so, how might it be shifted to encompass the values we profess in our personal spirituality reflected at a societal level?

Do B Corporations, hybrid non-profits, L3Cs, and social enterprises hold the key?  Do they go far enough?