Friday, January 21, 2011

”Sustainable Development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". (the Brundtland Commission)

"We are the people we've been waiting for."  --Van Jones

On January 15th I attended an "Awakening The Dreamer" symposium, hosted by the West Hills Unitarian Church click here to see a video trailer of the symposium.

The Inter-religious Action NW is planning to host this symposium for its annual Faith Forum in April, so I figured I'd better attend one first, see what it's like!

I have to admit being impressed, which isn't easy. I say that because my nickname around my house--possibly my whole neighborhood--is "Recycling Zealot". Which is really a misnomer because I am a much bigger drum-beater for reduced use than recycling. If you just have to end up with that plastic packaging in your hand, by all means recycle it when you're done with it (I bet you didn't know you could recycle packaging, or any of this other stuff: But real change of impact on the planet is better achieved by not having that packaging in your hand in the first place!

The symposium is essentially a series of beautifully filmed videos on four topics, starting with what is the existing planetary condition (not just natural resources, but also the state of cultures and peoples), how we got to this point, what's possible for the future and what each of us can do personally from here. In between videos were short interactive exercises and conversations.

"If you wouldn't trade places with any segment of human society,
there's work to be done." 
--Van Jones
One of the (many) things that struck me was a section that compared how we use Earth resources to living your daily life on credit cards. We live at a level of consumption much higher than our "Earth bank account balance," so we borrow against the future. We use today the oil, crystal, coal that's supposed to be sitting there in 50 years when our grandchildren are to use it.  In the process of getting to them, we destroy the automatic Earth systems that create these resources, so they can't replenish.

The symposium lets the audience choose their forms of action at the end.  From my perspective, I think what's really needed is for us all to change how and what we consume; if a product just can't be made without dipping further into the Earth's credit card, then, well, skip it! Live without it.  Find one made without the use of slaves for example.

If you knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that an asteroid was heading toward North America, or some plague had been released (fill in the plot of your favorite disaster movie), and you had only four years to be ready to live in the resulting world...what would you be doing today to get ready?   Figure out how to capture and clean rain water (think The Road, now there's a cheery piece of film)? How to eat without freight trucks and supermarkets?  Wouldn't we be doing everything we could to use the technology, communication systems and innovative thinkers we have right now to figure out how to not need them in four years when we know for a fact they will be gone?

So how do we get ready?  The good news is, if you do even a brief Internet search on sustainability topics you end up with a HUGE LIST of people working on this topic. From incredibly bright-minded thinkers and inventors to incredibly brave-hearted champions.  You have many competent teammates waiting for you in both the "reverse the damage" and "prepare to live post-disaster" teams.  Although, they aren't really separate teams because everything we do to figure out how we'd survive post-disaster will contribute to the reversing the damage, which is basically the whole point.

They had this book for sale at the symposium that I am convinced is a KEY tool for the "reverse the damage" team:  The Better World Shopping Guide ( It grades product-makers A to F according to their impact on the planet and the people on it.  It tells you which corporations are doing everything they can to create their goods in new ways that can actually be sustained into the future, and which ones are doing everything they can to get in the way. Which ones are using child slaves, and which ones are spending profits to fight slavery. I was outraged to find that my hard-earned money is being used to enslave others via the products I purchase every week.  Armed with this book, each of us has a way to reverse and repair.

"Human rights must be made a fact, not an idealistic dream."  -- L. Ron Hubbard

Once you know about something, you are in the terrible position of having a responsibility for that thing, and must choose to do, or not do, something about it. This book gives you back that power to choose. Very concrete, effective action each of us can take to make a considerable impact.

"As citizens, on average, we might vote once every four years, if at all. As consumers, we vote every single day with the purest form of" 
 --Ellis Jones, Author of The Better World Shopping Guide