Steps Forward

Reading about the coming climate change is often a little depressing, especially with regards to what everyone is doing about it. While people in developed countries who are pretty comfortable are starting to become more green, that's mostly in end-consumer ways; buying different kinds of products that are better for the environment/energy usage. More organized efforts, both on general environmental fronts and specifically on mitigating climate change, are also starting to appear - Earth Hour, the Earth Day Every Day viral idea, and organizations like community gardeners (h/t Yglesias) are all examples.

But what gives me hope are some of the other social movements that seem to be moving forward in tandem. In the end, it's not just about mitigating climate change - it's about moving forward in terms of how we understand our humanity. Are we the master-species on this planet? Is it enough to just let anyone do anything? Or do we have to consciously construct our societies, and manage our interactions with the rest of the world?

I think we need to.

So there are a lot of things that are starting to give me hope. Thing like holistic health care - not even more people and doctors flirting with Eastern or non-traditional remedies, but things like Kaiser Permanente's "Thrive" ad campaign, that tries to get people to think about staying healthy by living well. To me, this is a sign that we're starting to back away from industrial-age ideas like technology is the be-all and end-all of health. If we start taking personal interest in our health - especially preventively - then it seems possible that we can start taking an interest in maintaining the planet's health, as well.

Another great movement are localized food movements. I think this is gaining more and more ground - and will gain even more if we ever get serious about making long-range, fossil fuel based transportation a little harder. But even if we don't, the local movement is still important. It's the first big step towards creating the kind of sustainable, 21st century city-communities that I think will be the next step in urban development. And I think there's going to be a lot of progress on this front, even if it's a little slow. Here, we can see that the public is mostly against big agriculture and all the subsidies its getting; and even though these subsidies are incredibly entrenched, I don't think it's going to be long before the absurdity of the system overwhelms itself.

And if local food production and distribution (i.e. farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture, and urban farming) continue to grow and be more accepted, then that's an important first step in terms of changing economic theory. The basic idea here is that local markets, in many ways, attempt to move away from the standard "economy of scale" model that has come to dominate the way we try to business.

Because our economic system is still oriented almost exclusively towards maximum profitability - even despite growing talk of triple bottom-lines (that is, companies attempting to do the most environmental and social good in addition to making lots of money). I don't think there's anything wrong with profit - to, to be sure, a lot of families in both the US and the world could use a lot more money - but the nature of technology and economies of scale mean that sometimes efficiency and maximum profitability doesn't necessarily line up with what's best for the social and environmental good. And they don't have to!

Now, many a senator would argue with me on that, and say that the greatest economic growth - achieved by as many firms as possible making as much money as possible - is the ideal for a society. I would, of course, disagree - because there's more to life, and pursuing max profit diverts resources from finding that.

The idea I'm trying to get across is that society seems like it's starting to shift. Not in a sudden, revolutionary way, perhaps - who knows whether it'll come to that. But in the myriad of things going on, I feel like there are some important, good trends.

Or maybe I'm just too optimistic. Time will tell.

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