No Waste Living, Reflections on an unsustainable world, Resilient Living and Choices, Simply Living, Social Justice, Sustainable Living

Because we can…


It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
~ J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Last week, I attended a movie-night organized by Village Surrey  . The documentary we presented was “Do the Math”  with Bill McKibben from 350.org.

It is a powerful short documentary on Climate Change that I recommend everybody to watch. The key issue presented is that we are already beyond mitigation: we can’t stop Climate Change, is already too late. However, we can stop ruining our children’s and future generation’s lives by switching from unsustainable fossil fuel abuse to alternative, more sustainable ways to “fuel” our lifestyles.

While I enjoyed the movie and agree with most of the facts and issues presented, I am concerned by other factors: Climate Change is not caused by the fossil fuel industry (and our consumption of oil, gas and carbon) only. It is also caused by industrial agriculture, bad waste management and ultimately, by unsustainable, unjust lifestyles of most of us.

Another important fact is that fossil fuels are not only energy sources. Oil is also the foundation for most of the things we use and carry everyday: from plastics to fertilizers to cosmetics. Fossil fuels are needed to manufacture solar panels and wind turbines; they power the machines and processes behind the hybrid and electric cars.

Many people also seem to ignore the fact that things such as solar panels and wind turbines or wings are made with rare metals and other resources that are either difficult and expensive to find, or unsustainable due to the fact that they are (also) non-renewable resources. While the sun and the wind are “free” and “renewable”, the machines and devices to obtain the energy and distribute it are neither…

Have they taken the time to explore what it takes to build a wind turbine or a solar panel? Have they explored the same for other “alternatives” such as nuclear or hydrogen?

It is painful to see people still believing in conspiracy theories (such as the idea that peak oil is an invention to keep the oil prices high, or that the oil is actually renewable, etc.) or in the apparently unlimited power of human ingenuity and technology…they seem to forget the facts: no human ingenuity or technology will be able to create rare metals or any resource at all from “nothing”. Once these things are gone, they are gone…that is why they are called “non-renewable”.

The other fact many seem to ignore is that the problem of fossil fuel unsustainable exploitation is that it hurts the planet. We don’t have another planet to move to, and our lives depend on complex ecosystems, not just on iPads and plasma TVs.

The second point I observe is that most people are clinging to the concepts of “growth” and “progress” as if they were kings or gods. It seems as unthinkable that are our lifestyles the ones who created all this mess, and not the other way around. This “problem” we now have (a conglomerate of sensitive issues such as climate change, resources depletion, water scarcity, food crisis, unmanageable debt, social injustices, soil depletion and so on…) has been created, in the first place, by this single line: “because we can…”

Basically, human beings have done what they have done to the planet and themselves, because they had the ability (and opportunity) to do so…

Human beings are also incapable of seeing the long-term consequences of their own actions: most of us can feel our “needs” and our “wants” and they seem very urgent. But we are usually lazy and unable to see the end of the road: that is we eat in excess and buy stuff. We tend to use “magical thinking”: we trust that the future will always provide for us, there will be another credit card, another job, another government, “somebody” or “something” magically will come and rescue us. This is called hope, but the type of passive and (have to say it) delusional hope, because it is not based on realistic facts and because doesn’t include us as proactive designers and builders of that future we expect to have.

When you ask a person why they live a certain lifestyle when thousands of others are starving or struggling to survive, they start by telling you how they haven’t hurt anybody, how they have studied and worked hard to get what they currently have, and that ultimately, it is not their fault and it is not in their hands…

When you ask about climate change and resource depletion, they come up with quick and illusionary fixes that “somebody out there” (usually called “they”) will magically create out of nothing…

Their key point is: their lifestyles won’t be affected, no matter what (or so they believe).

A curious question floated around after the documentary ended and we met for a short discussion: while everybody there expressed their concerns and different ways they were trying to “fight” this particular issue (climate change), everybody wondered why, when this is so wide spread, so few take real actions and so many stay the same…

I have thought and re-thought this…why?

One important thing that surfaced from the movie and the discussion was that if you are ignorant, you can’t be blamed (you just don’t know all the damage your lifestyle is doing to others in this world and future generations including your own children). But once you know, you can’t stay inactive or remain silent. You are now accountable to yourself, to future generations, to those you don’t know and will never know but who are affected by your actions…you can’t “unlearn” what you have learned about the state of the world…

So, why is that we got into this? And why is that we stay here even when most of all know is not sustainable not fair or just?

The response is again: because we can…

Let me explain:

We drive our cars and use gasoline because we can pay for these things. We eat high processed foods because we can afford them. We take flights to Disney World because we can afford the tickets. We watch TV and buy lots of stuff because we can (or our credit cards and banks want us to think we can)…and big corporations and businesses buy lands and put a fee on seeds and crops because they can, and they destroy entire forests and take all the oil or coal or gas inside because they can. And they hire people across the ocean and pay cheap wages and don’t care for their workers wellbeing because they can.

It is all about ability, availability, access and opportunity: as long as there is not enough or strong enough opposition, as long as the costs are cheap (or not considered, such as the cost of polluting and degrading the environment and killing species) and nobody complaints. As long as the resources are still there and haven’t depleted yet (and when they do, the exploiters will probably move to another place to dig in more). The abuse will continue as long as nobody speaks up.

What can we do? Are we too small? Too powerless? Too ineffective? I don’t think so.

I think we have the power to change our choices (like what and how much we buy or do).

I think we have the power to change ourselves, so others may eventually follow.

I think we have the responsibility to speak up and make noise and complain.

I think we have the mandate to be accountable to our children and to other human beings whose lives are affected by our choices now.

I think we can do all these above because we also can…choose how to react and behave.

And a step backward, after making a wrong turn, is a step in the right direction.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano

This is what we can do:

  • Consume less and consume wisely: become informed about what is behind what we consume (including food, clothes, how we travel, how we communicate and where we live)
  • Contact our universities, colleges, churches and other groups and ask them to divest their investments towards sustainable, alternative energy sources
  • Support local and global initiatives that focus on conservation, energy efficiency, greenhouse reduction, pollution reduction and cleanup, recycle and waste reduction, awareness and education on these topics, etc.
  • Stop hurting and start healing: from ourselves to our communities and beyond: stop those behaviours and approaches that increase waste and pollution and start those which create healing and regeneration of the environment and local communities
  • Work on your own resilience and sustainable ways from the inside out
  • Speak up, participate, join groups, stop being passive
  • When things are not right, get involved, that is true democracy

On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right?

There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.”

~ Martin Luther King Jr