Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sticks and Stones May Break Your Bones but Words Can Freakin' Kill Ya

In a previous post, I brought up the term “green” and the potential for it to become a meaningless buzz word to be bandied about without making an impact in our overall effort to change our consumption habits in this country. Well, along comes another word with the potential to hang up our efforts. Have you noticed that the term “sustainability” is creeping into our vocabulary at an increasing rate? Don’t get me wrong. I have studied this term, know of its origin and don’t discount the value of it in the academic and environmental arenas. However, as with the term “green”, the danger lies in the everyday use and marketing of the concepts that these two words tend to front.

For years, those that would discount the environmentalists as a bunch of left wing wackos have used tools of logic to their advantage in arguing against change and reform in the areas of conservation, energy, and global warming. Their tactics have been very simple. Divide and conquer the environmentalists by pointing out discrepancies in their research and then scoff at their claims as non-quantifiable. And, it has worked. Now, think about the term “green”. How is “green” measured and what does it really represent. Originally, the term green, referred to conventional environmental conservation efforts involving our land and trees. Now we have everything from green cars to green MP3 players. Not only is “green” becoming watered down as a buzz word, how does one measure green? If a light bulb is designed to use 1/8 less energy than a conventional one and another bulb uses half as much, is one considered light green and the other dark? These types of fuzzy distinctions will thrill the pants off anyone that wants to discount our efforts. The same is true to a larger extent when we start throwing around the term sustainability. We can argue till doomsday over that one. What is to be “sustained”, how sustainable is it, and to what degree of sustainability applies? Put that term in the wrong person’s hand and a naysayer is going to have a fun time making that person look like a fool. In the meantime, nothing gets accomplished and everyone loses except Rush Limbaugh and the rest of his sanctimonious clones that make millions of dollars from industries that stand to lose everything if our habits as consumers change.

Before we, as advocates of social change, open our mouths we need to be sure of what we are proposing and what the outcome of our efforts will be. This effort can begin by speaking in terms more measurable than “green” and “sustainable”. In other words, what do we want to sustain… humanity, the environment, the fish, the economy? And, how sustainable is it? Is it worthy of our effort to sustain it? I fear that we are all doomed to failure if we don’t take a step back and pick our battles wisely. Our world and its complexities can be used as a strong weapon of argument by government and the economic giants that control it. If we as change agents continue to think of the environment as this warm and fuzzy “thing” that needs to be “fixed”, we will be ill equipped to fight those whose very life depends on the status quo. I’m afraid just having a cause that is right and noble won’t cut it. Sadly enough, for those that are firmly satisfied by their beliefs and define themselves by conviction, not everyone thinks that way. Most of us humans would rather not think about our imminent demise. Now, give us a specific problem and solution, and an exact way to get there and, by god, we will crawl over ourselves to accomplish what is necessary. Hanging our hats on the “green movement” or the “sustainability” bandwagon is not going to get us where we need to go. We will just feel good about our efforts to coin meaningless terms to put in the new dictionary of Newspeak.

Those that are in the position to make decisions and make things happen in our world usually have a common way of operating. These folks usually measure things in economic terms like cost effectiveness, cost efficiency, and bottom line. These types of measurement usually trump the arguments of the world’s greatest scholars and experts when it comes to action. This is why we must risk the luxury of being unified as a “movement” and begin to fragment our efforts toward each specific battle that needs to be fought, armed with specifics rather than rhetoric. This is why unifying terms like “green” and “sustainability” should be used as internal jargon within the world of those that are of a like mind; but, protected from those that would use those terms against us to make us look like “tree hugging buffoons”.

OK, I’ll stop ranting now. As usual, I feel better. Time for a beer to sustain me.


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