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

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