By Dave Oswald Mitchell
IF YOU MOVE BEYOND the ADD-afflicted 24-hour news cycle, you will find there is no shortage of information about the environmental problems we face. Global warming. Peak oil. Declining global foodstocks. Ongoing destruction of the rain forest. Falling water tables. Depleted fisheries. Mass extinction of species. The blossoming potential of these events to halt human progress in its tracks serves as an urgent call-to-action for us to build something more sustainable for our children. This issue of Briarpatch highlights some of the ideas and initiatives that are leading the way in this search for sustainability.
These articles share a recognition that environmental issues cannot be tackled in isolation from other issues. As Tyler McCreary and Richard Milligan point out, “contrary to the tenor of much mainstream green rhetoric, environmental sustainability is impossible without social sustainability.”
Indeed, unless we strengthen the bonds of community, build bridges of understanding, and consciously strive to promote empathy, solidarity, and interconnectedness among diverse and disparate groups of people, then making peace with the Earth will prove difficult indeed. As environmental problems and resource scarcity become more pronounced in the coming years, the strength of the social bonds that unite us will largely determine how well or poorly we respond to these challenges.
We must not forget, however, that the majority of the world’s people are already dealing with issues of environmental devastation and acute resource scarcity—-largely as a result of the massive and ongoing transfer of wealth and resources from South to North. Brian Awehali, founder and editor of Lip Magazine, is right to issue “a call to realism for those of us in so-called developed industrial nations, who indulge in great horror at the gradual collapse of our own pathologically unsustainable mode of existence while ignoring the reality of the majority of this planet’s residents, who do not in fact share the same dread or anxiety about losing what most of them, frankly, never had to squander in the first place” (Summer 2006).
The consumer capitalism we’ve inherited is neither natural nor necessary—-indeed, if we think that we can somehow make our present “post-industrial” suburban lifestyle genuinely sustainable without drastically reducing the North’s dependence on the resources of South, then we need to take a lesson from the rest of the world on interconnectedness and full-cost accounting. For as William E. Rees argues in these pages, “no lifestyle is sustainable if it could not safely be shared by all members of the human family.”
If we can manage to get over our own sense of entitlement and privilege and own up to our responsibilities, we would do well to look to the global South for leadership on these issues. Latin America in particular is emerging as a shining beacon in this regard, with a groundswell of popular activism and increasing numbers of countries (Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, to name a few) taking control of their own resources for their own people’s well-being, rather than for the profit of foreign (North American or European) resource-extraction companies.
We hope that this issue provides you with plenty of inspiration, analysis, and practical tools to enable you to join us in the garden of hopeful possibilities as we plant the seeds of a saner, healthier, and more sustainable world—-the kind that can only grow from the grassroots up.
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