Friday, August 10, 2012

The Power of Making a Purchase - by Lauren Campbell Kong

My mom came over the other day to help me clean. We were in need of a good deep cleaning and my mother offered to help granted that I help her do the same for her house.  It never feels like cleaning when my mother is around; we got to catch up on the family and spend time together. As I get older, I am beginning to understand spending time with my mother becomes more important with each passing day. It is also during these times that I get the opportunity to share my passion of sustainability with her.

Since Jin and I have jumped on the sustainability train, there has been a huge learning curve in both of our lives. We both learn new things and attempt to relate that knowledge to the all-encompassing cloud of sustainability. We enjoy sharing that information with as many people as possible (hence the blog) even if that means at times, others don’t want to hear what we have to say. Becoming a ‘greeny’ has been a transformative experience for both of us and sometimes those closest to us have a hard time relating to our new found passion.

This is how I know that I have the most loving mother in the world, because no matter what I am passionate about, she is willing to learn as much as possible so that she can relate to me. It is during these times that she will ask me questions or just listen to my ramblings about sustainability and it was during this specific cleaning extravaganza that I began talking to my mother about some of the statistics I came across.

As I have previously disclosed on this blog, the United Nation Environmental Programme (UNEP) took a multitude of climate and environmental measurements in 1992 as a baseline for observing climate and environmental change. This year was the 20 year report and some of the facts were very disturbing. After reading the 110 pages on our environment and climate, I was surprised by many things: the sheer amount of deforestation that is still occurring, the large increase in meat consumption globally, the evidence that our oceans are more acidic than what they have been in 400,000 years, and the fact that the Amazon basin doesn’t really exist anymore. (Many scientists believe it has already reached a tipping point and would not, even if allowed to, continue to grow rainforest. Instead they theorize that a savannah like environment would flourish.)

I was also taken back by the amount of greenhouse gases that are still emitted into the atmosphere. The number has been on a steady rise, increasing by 36% (from 22,000 million tonnes to 30,000 million tonnes) since 1992; 80% of those tonnes are created by 19 countries. The report blatantly states that carbon emissions must decrease or the planet will continue to heat up, reaching a 2°C increase by 2100. This will be catastrophic to our ice sheets as well our livelihood. The report also mentioned that the global mean temperature has increased by 0.4° C since 1992, that quarter increase happened in only 20 years, which means that the 2° increase may come sooner than 2100.

One reason that emissions have continued to increase is developing countries such as Brazil, China, and India is because they are investing heavily in infrastructural and manufacturing developments. Everyone knows that development of any kind requires the use of energy and often it requires building materials; but I think the majority of people, myself included, fail to recognize the toll that this has on the environment.

Take cement for example:

Cement requires an enormous amount of energy to make and also releases CO2 directly into the atmosphere due to the heating of calcium carbonate, which leaves two by-products: lime and carbon dioxide. Because of the huge demand for cement in developing countries, cement has experienced an increase in production and has become the fastest growing source of CO2 emissions, increasing by 230% since 1992; that’s huge! And it’s a problem; especially when we begin thinking about other countries wanting to join the development frenzy.

After reading those statistics, I threw up in my mouth a little…then…

Realized that the cement industry, and industry as a whole, must make some serious large scale changes and we, as members of society, as intellectual and creative creatures of this earth, and as CONSUMERS, must recognize that we have the ability make these changes happen. It is up to us to begin seeing the necessity in changing our behavior and then to act on that necessity.

But how do we begin making such a huge change?

Well, I think a great place to start in America is by addressing our incessant need to purchase and to own things.

·         If we are going to use our money to buy stuff regardless, (because it is a global obsession to own material items), let’s buy the things that are made in an environmentally responsible way and support those companies with our purchasing power. If we begin supporting pro-environmental companies we then have more of a chance of pushing the not so environmental companies out of the picture. And I know, those products sometimes (but not always) can be more expensive, but look at that extra money you’re spending as an long term investment on our planet. Those paper towels may be a dollar more a roll, but that dollar is going toward helping our planet bounce back giving our children a chance to have a place to breath and grow.

·         If you can’t afford to purchase items that are made from recycled material or in an environmentally friendly way every time you shop, then purchase them every other time; and begin thinking about how you could consume less of that item so that you can afford it when you need it. Jin and I really wanted to begin supporting cage free eggs, which cost about 3-4 dollars more a dozen than the non-cage free eggs at the grocery store. So, instead of consuming a dozen eggs a week, we now consume a dozen eggs in 2 or 3 weeks. We are spending the same amount of money on eggs each time we shop, but we are just consuming less. There is nothing wrong with consuming less, even though our society tells us differently…

·         Don’t be afraid to ask a company if they offer environmentally friendly alternatives, if they reply no, let them you would be happy to look into their services again once they start and then look for a company that does. Jin and I just experienced this when looking for a landscaper for our yard.

·         Keep the stuff you already have and reuse it. Jin and I wash our aluminum foil and our plastic sandwich baggies to reuse them again.

·         If you know that a company or corporation is operating in an environmentally and socially responsible manner, then go out of your way to purchase their products or buy their stock.

Now, I know that this advice isn't the ‘end all cure’ to our sustainability crisis and it is far removed from the cement problem in developing countries. But the point is not how do we solve the isolated symptoms of our sickness. What I'm recommending is only a place to start. It's where I am starting and Jin is starting, maybe my mom will start there too. I hope that with more awareness of our consumer power, we can begin to use our purchases to make a difference in this world and begin supporting the GREEN industry, not just THE industry. Maybe then we can show the Chinese or the Africans that it's not so important to own that new car or have that new factory to produce the next useless gadget; maybe we can convince them to make more fair-trade indigenous goods and share their culture instead of sharing our greed. Maybe together, we can make a change in this all consuming culture; pun intended.

I will leave you with a thought from Food Inc:

“Every time you scan an item in the checkout lane, you are placing a vote. A vote on what you want …”

What do you want for this common planet of ours?

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