This time of year many of us take time to reflect on the passing year and start to contemplate resolutions and goals for the coming year. For me the passing year was one of the most challenging of my life, both personally and professionally, but if I had to sum up the year in three words they would be Awareness, Optimism and Action.
One of my most powerful lessons this year has come from asking myself a simple question, and then researching the answer to the question to the best of my ability. The one question? It's simply asking WHY?
Why can't I surf after a rain? Why is the urban runoff polluting the ocean that I love? Why have certain populations of fish along our coast declined by so much? Why are agricultural toxins allowed to pollute our rivers, lakes, streams, bays and oceans? Why is one of the most isolated beaches in the world piled high with plastic trash? Why are such high levels of plastic particles being found in zoo plankton, fish, and turtles?
Over the year I've watched over fifty documentaries, and what I've found is a commonality among all of them. Whether it was a documentary on food and agriculture, economy and business, or the ocean, the theme was the same. Humans are extracting more resources from the Earth than the Earth can reproduce.
The formula was Earth Resources - Human Consumption = A "Big Negative Number". And I think we can all agree, with population growth, and a growing consumptive middle class in China and India the "Big Negative Number" will only continue to get bigger and bigger in coming years.
Which leads to an interesting question pondered by one of the documentaries, Ethos (free on Youtube) narrated by Woody Harrelson, they asked: Who's more powerful? Big Business Corporations or Government. And do they have the power to reduce the Big Negative Number and lead us to sustainability?
Regardless of your political orientation I think most would agree that Big Business Corporations trump the Government when it comes to the power of shaping consumer behavior, with billions and billions and global supply chains to source the lowest cost resources they simply aren't going to be the ones to reduce the "Big Negative Number." And the reason is simple, Big Business Corporations are required by law to put the financial interests of the owners (stockholders) above all else. With these entities required by law to be driven by short term profit it sets the stage for morality (unsustainable resource depletion or human collateral damage) versus quarterly earnings (finances), and there are plenty of case studies to plainly see finances generally win. (see Capitalism Is The Crisis: Radical Politics in the Age of Austerity).
Whether it's Lee Iaccoca stating "Safety doesn't Sell" and justifying the cost of human life through the use of a cost-benefit model, Monsanto holding back research on the negative effects of Bovine Growth Hormones in cows (see FRANKENSTEER: The Passionate Eye), Monsanto's denial of the negative effects of genetically modified seeds (see Seeds of Deception), the mortgage loan debacle of recent years (see We All Fall Down: The American Mortgage Crisis), or the the most astonishing systematic corporate deceit of all time, the Tobacco companies denial of the correlation of lung cancer to smoking, it's pretty clear that shareholder value has a greater value than morality, some might call this Fundamental Capitalism, but there might be a solution, and it's not in the form of Fundamental Capitalism (see The Naked Brand).
This stranglehold of corporate and government power, or the incapability of the government to force Big Business Corporations to serve the individual needs of its citizens has been written about many times during the last hundred plus years. One of the books on my 2013 reading list is: Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics by Reinhold Niebuhr, which was published in 1932.
One reviewer of the book commented:
"My primary takeaway is that governments are incapable of behaving on moral parity with individuals, and that they should not, and that looking to them to do so is a futile endeavor that misses the point of effective government."
He (Niebuhr) judges society and any corporate body to be patently incapable of making moral decisions. In light of recent events, I don't know that any American today would disagree with him.
And these same people might also agree with Walter Lipman. He believed the notion of a public competent to direct public affairs was a "false ideal." Quoting Lipman "the mass of the reading public is not interested in learning and assimilating the results of accurate investigation." and "The public must be put in its place, so that each of us may live free of the trampling and roar of a bewildered herd.". He certainly didn't live to see the chaos of a mall parking lot at 6am on Black Friday, but he might have used the phrase "Bewildered Herd" to describe those events.
So here's my takeaway from all of this. First and foremost, as Woody Harrelson stated in Ethos, it comes down to this: If we are to make decisions about the future of our society we need the truth. The truth is Big Business Corporations and the Government are not capable of taking action to stop us from using more resources than the earth can supply, they don't think far enough ahead, corporations are mostly interested in shareholder value and a thirst for short term profit, and government is complicit, therefore they will drive us off of a cliff before saving us. One only needs to have watched the "Fiscal Cliff" negotiations the past few months to see a recent firsthand example of this being played out.
And this is why Awareness was word #1 for me in 2012. It must be us citizens that drive the change, I believe it will be Consumerism that Saves the Planet in 2013 and beyond. The current structure of our Big Business Corporations and Government have us in a Progress Trap, (see Surviving Progress on Netflix), which Ronald Wright describes as:
The condition human societies experience when, in pursuing progress through human ingenuity, they inadvertently introduce problems they do not have the resources or political will to solve, for fear of short-term losses in status, stability or quality of life. This prevents further progress and sometimes leads to collapse.
That may have been true of past civilizations but we're smarter than past civilizations right?
Which brings us to the other words of 2012, Action and Optimism. I think optimism is pretty straight forward:
When given the choice of whether we can overcome the Big Negative Number of resource depletion or not overcome it, I choose to be optimistic.
Whether we'll be able to restore our farm lands biodiversity or continue to destroy it through the use of herbicides and pesticides, I choose to be optimistic.
Whether we'll continue to pollute our oceans and creatures with plastics or clean up the ocean through the use of more eco-friendly materials, I choose to be optimistic.
But the word Action is anything but straightforward. This is the word that keeps me awake at night. I've greatly increased my Awareness, and I'm Optimistic about our future, but what Action do I take. What the F*** do I do with my limited time and resources? What Action provides the best return on investment (ROI) to help me save my planet, help my community, and to ensure my families needs are met? My hope for 2013 is that I can take the right actions at the right time and that it meets all of these objectives.
If all goes well I hope to launch PuraKai in the coming weeks, I believe with the right actions I can build PuraKai into a corporation that will benefit society, that consumers will embrace our eco-friendly clothing. I'm optimistic that the time is right for growth in eco-friendly products and services. Consumers need to drive change in 2013 and beyond, they will be the ones that ultimately reverse our course and lead us back to sustainability.
We just need to keep questioning, as Trinity says to Neo in the Matrix, "it's the question that drives us, it's the question that brought you here, you know the question just as I did"... "the answer is out there, and it's looking for you."
Peace, Love and Happiness to the Consumer of 2013 and Beyond!! Carpe Diem!!