Monday, January 9, 2012

Bridging the Rhetoric Gap on Sustainability

I start each day snooping.  Snooping for stories, information, and interesting cases of people making the connection between economic success and a sound ecology.  In my college years this was done at a place called a "library" (they still have those places too) with stacks of magazines, journals, and newspapers in front of me.  I recall one summer at SUNY Geneseo while I was taking summer classes, where each day started with a walk down to the library (after rolling out of bed by 10 a.m. or so) to soak up the latest news and information.

Not too much has changed so many years later to my routine... apart from the scope of information now available online all from my laptop on my kitchen table, oh, and my earlier wake-up time with two kids in the house (6:00 a.m.!).Weekly and daily e-newsletters, LinkedIn, blogs, tweets... these are the newspapers and journal of today.  The problem is that it's easy to get lost in this maze of information.  A click here or there and it's easy to get lost in the flotsam and jetsam of the information ocean that is the Internet.

For example, today after a few clicks from tweets to a tweet-generated daily paper to a website, I found myself on the "EPA Abuse" website reading this article and the comments from readers:

The reactions and topic got me thinking about language.  We use words to create meaning, a common meaning that we hope clearly communicates specific ideas, thoughts, feelings, etc.  The word "sustainable" for instance has taken on a new meaning for a segment of the population in the United States.  It just so happens this new  meaning, or really feeling, for this otherwise ubiquitous word is held by those who label themselves or could be labelled politically conservative.  The feeling is that this "sustainability agenda" also related to the United Nations  Agenda 21, is somehow linked to a plot for the UN to dominate the world in some new-world-order kinda way.  Somehow sustainability for some has become synonymous with The Book of Revelations and the rise of the Beast.  (I always thought that Biblical thinking of the 'end times' and the reactions by those who subscribe to this thinking to be a little backward.  If you think this is going to happen and lead to the second coming, wouldn't you want the Agenda 21 domino to fall triggering the chain of events that would lead to that Kirk Cameron-esque, Left Behind set of moments?  Why would you fight it?)

Now even I'm being a little simplistic on my portrayal of "Kill Agenda 21" movement and certainly the nature of this website and article.  But, I remain confused over some of the reactions.  As the article states, the European example, and likewise the EPA trend, is to include priorities such as: “climate change and clean energy; sustainable transport; sustainable consumption and production; conservation and management of natural resources; public health; social inclusion, demography, and migration; and global poverty and sustainable development challenges.”  OK.  So, the reaction is that this is outside the EPA's purview.  Maybe, maybe not, I don't want to go down that road, but just looking at those priorities, aren't they reasonable?  The problem is that it's government that's involved, I think.  Yet, there are a number of leaders in the private sector--leaders who like capitalism and like making money--who are on the sustainability bandwagon already.  So, it's most-likely a reaction to sovereignty and nationalism as much as anything.

It's also the words that are being used (or not used).  I don't think the word "sustainable" is as sustainable to use anymore.  It's been damaged, dinged, dented too often.  This and other buzzwords for our time, along with the speed and quantity of information availability and the ten-second news cycle, has forced many otherwise bright well-though people to boil things down to 140 characters.  The rhetoric on issues of sustainability is lost.  We're sound-biting each other in a rabid fashion.   There's no nuance or debate based on rationality and science... or the right words.  (Watch C-Span, it's true.)

No one is against a future that allows for continued used of natural resources for the betterment of humans in a way that does not exhaust those resources.  Everyone like clean air and water, safe food, spending less money on electricity or gas due to efficiency upgrades, etc.  Right?  The problem lies in gaining common ground on the state we're in, identification of problems, prioritization to solve those problems, and the tools to used to fix those problems.  You say it like that and there's no reason to be nasty towards each other.

I'm telling you, most everyone wants to same thing, the same future.  It's just that our words (and lack of them) keep getting in the way.


No comments:

Post a Comment