DUTY TO COMMUNITY

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So here we are, at the end of our ten weeks, as a sustainable communities class. Shortly, we will complete our final and continue on our college journey at CPP. I am very confident and grateful that I will continue my journey with a much greater understanding of our world, because of this class. At the beginning of the quarter, I did have an understanding for the term sustainability, but now it is so much greater. Put simply, sustainability is the ability for something to sustain, and to sustain is to supply with nourishment. We live in a time where we are supplied with products and systems far from nourishing or beneficial to life. Our food is corrupted, our water is polluted, our soils destroyed, our air and climate altered. Humanity, as a whole, is better than this. I can now be sure of it after taking this class. Learning about corporations, through systems, The Price of Sugar, and The Corporation was very useful. Our current democratic system worships the corporation, granting them the same rights as individual humans, as if their needs and morality are equivalent. Also, learning and experiencing the importance of community, through discussion and community service events, was extremely useful. At Annie Leonard’s lecture, she emphasized the importance of citizens and community to bring about a better world. Technology to do so is here, citizen involvement, however, is not. By completing the 20 hours of community service for this class, I experienced, shared, and learned a lot. Citizen involvement is simple, yet so rewarding and so important for a better world.

I checked out a few blogs on the topic of sustainability including: Sustainabilityconsulting.com, frugallysustainable.com and SustainAbility.com. The language was very similar to the kind we used in class. For example, the blogs contained the terms: emerging answers, system-level challenges, re-envision, re-purpose, social equity, adaptability, etc. Similar conclusions were also reached in the blogs compared to what we talked about in class. The importance of the triple bottom line for sustainable development, the integration of social, economic, and environmental goals, was mentioned in two blogs I read. SustainAbility.com provided an informative and insightful blog about ‘businesses, cities, and the urban sustainability imperative’. It relayed how business and social agendas are overlapping in the city of San Francisco. Author/manager of the blog, Mohammed Al-Shawaf, says because of this, we are turning a corner on the greater sustainability challenges. I am very glad to hear (or read) so.

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Community & Civic Engagement are Key

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Community was once a very central, vital aspect of society. Today, it has become less centralized. However, it’s importance is still very evident. In the documentary The Take and the reading by Robert Putnam “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital,” community and civic engagement are highlighted. The article by Putnam tells how civil society, or associational membership is on the decline, despite the numerous circumstances that foster associational involvement. I enjoyed this reading, because I witness and am in some ways part of the disengagement. It’s quite sad. I feel a large reason people have become disengaged is because our society fosters that. We foster competition and greed. How can we bring about knowledge, understanding, and collaborative action if our political and economic system reward the contrary. It would be wrong of me to blame corporations, politics, and the media; although, they have such a huge impact on the typical American. Putnam states there is a “widespread tendency toward passive reliance on the state.” I am guilty of this, at least up until just recently. Through this sustainable communities class, I have come to understand how our world is being run. I know our planet can’t sustain this system, and I know to achieve change I MUST engage in community and civic engagement because I can no longer passively trust the state.

The Take presents the story of a group of people who have engaged in associational memberships. Many factory workers in Burkman have come together to reopen the factories that were shut down by their owners. These people displayed emergent behavior with the reopening of the factory by the workers. All individuals working in the factory are now payed an equal salary. Also, they all meet at assemblies to vote on decisions regarding the company. There is no concentration of power or wealth within the factory, all the individuals are autonomous and self correcting. Emergence within a community is an initial step for a sustainable life. We must not underestimate the importance and strength of community and civic engagement. For that is how we can begin to change our world.

What does our future hold?

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This is our future we’re talking about. All the current generations have been screwed by the “1%,” but the young generations are the ones left with the devastation. We not only need to redesign for a sustainable future, we have to clean up the mess of the past generations. Mainstreamed, irresponsible, degenerative systems drive our economy at this time, all in the name of wealth, or should I say greed? It is VERY evident that our environment and political structure needs help. I’m making these statements after viewing the Warsaw Climate Summit Broadcast and RIP! In the broadcast, climate scientists discuss the dire need for “de-growth” strategies. They emphasized the fact that carbon dioxide emissions accumulate, so goals in place for implementing low emission technologies by 2050 is not enough! The sooner emissions can decrease the more hope we can have for a livable Earth.

In addition, the documentary RIP! made some interesting points about our culture, the past, and the future. Copyrights are another greedy system in place. Billion dollar corporations are requiring a ridiculous amount of money to use their material. I think what Girl Talk is doing is very interesting and artistic. Copyright laws are not only making the rich richer and the poor poorer, they are suppressing creativity in society. This is definitely unsustainable. “They” as in the corporations/government truly are facilitating a stupid population. I am very glad to see people like Bret Gaylor and the individual from Bidder 70 who are willing to break the law for just reasons.

 

I WANT CHANGE

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Recently, I attended two community service events: the screening of The Price of Sugar and a lecture by Annie Leonard. I am very grateful to have been exposed to the knowledge that was shared at these events. The Price of Sugar was emotional. It depicts the very crooked system of sugar production in the Dominican Republic. The footage and stories of the Haitians from the plantations were shocking. I feel the next few statements from the documentary are worth relaying:

“The Dominican Sugar Industry has a preferential trade deal with the U.S. government. The deal obligates Americans to buy Dominican sugar at up to double the world price. The U.S. imports more sugar from the Dominican Republic than from any other country.”

I don’t know how to describe the feeling I get when reading this and remembering the documentary. The greed of the few has driven so so much cruelty, and I am deeply troubled by it. Americans benefit from this modern-day slavery yet I’m sure the large majority have no idea. I hope they find out soon, and I hope this system changes soon too.

The lecture by Annie Leonard was certainly more inspiring. Most environmental knowledge and documentaries are somewhat depressing in my opinion. Our generation faces so many challenges, injustices, and a degraded Earth, that is evident. What we need is change. Annie Leonard gave some stats: 84% of Americans believe corporations have to much power in politics; and 74% of Americans think untested chemicals should be band. The information is out there she said. Although we can all make individual change for the health of the environment, like bring your own bag to the store,  that is not enough! There are “non-informational barriers to change.” She said two of which are structure and culture. If we really plan on saving the planet, we need to restructure it, we need to save it from the completely destructive power of the corporations. Annie believes that’s possible, after all 84% of Americans already believe the same thing. I left much more hopeful than the way I left The Price of Sugar screening. I have hope that I will see the change the world needs in my lifetime. Image

Prejudging is the kiss of death

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Chapter 3 of Blink, The Power of Thinking without Thinking had several interesting statements and findings from psychology studies. For example, the exposure to certain words, ones as simple as “Florida,” “gray,” or “wrinkles,” can cause a change in our behavior. Also, the study preformed with the car salesman was surprising. The discounts offered to the different candidates were significantly different in my opinion. The reason for different behavior as the reading enforces is a result of the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind can lead to some quite unfortunate or disadvantageous behavior and circumstances. Near the end of the chapter, author Gladwell does point out that we can change our first impressions or unconscious mind by changing our experiences and environment. I think this notion of thin-slicing of the unconscious mind plays a role in the field of environmentalism and sustainability. For people who reject science/nature and value material things/profit, words or people associated with environmentalism and ecological worldviews may already be deemed nonsense or stupid. And in this sense, Gladwell’s statement holds very true, “Prejudging is the kiss of death.”

“Treat people like people, not smaller, better smelling horses,” says Dan Pink in his short video animation, Drive. It’s a great idea, don’t you think? Autonomy, mastery, and purpose lead to better performance and personal satisfaction. This is definitely true for me. I would much rather direct myself than be directed, get better at something rather than repeat the same process every day, and make a meaningful contribution to society over a meaningful contribution to my bank account. Pink doesn’t talk about just one study that concludes rewards for rudimentary cognitive skills leading to poor performance. It’s  a widely accepted finding now. Perhaps more organizations, businesses, and schools ought to put these finding to use. After all, it could lead to a better world a lot sooner.

Emergence in Slime Mold Cells & ARGs

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Steven Johnson’s introductory chapter to Emergence has some similarities with Jane McGonigal’s points on gaming, which was covered in the article “Play Peak Oil before You Live It”. In a real life, slime mold cells required the attention of people from multiple disciplines to solve the mystery of how they operate. This was due in main part to the display of “such an intriguing example of coordinated group behavior.” In McGonigal’s alternate reality games (ARG), people with a collection of interdisciplinary views coordinate among each other as well to help solve problems. Solutions/explanations to complex problems require the knowledge of more than one field. Yet there is no clear set of rules or objective. Each component has a contribution to make, in the case of slime mold cells and ARGs. The components aggregate based on alterations in the environment, and coordinate in a “bottom-up system.” Emergence is the result. A better or more intelligent system then previous comes to be. This occurs with both the slime molds and alternate reality games. McGonigal’s bold goal to reduce human suffering in the world by gaming doesn’t seem so far-fetched to me. There are some valuable tools and interactions to be gained from bottom-up systems. Perhaps we should strive to understand them and behave like them to solve environmental problems.

Nature provides for us all that we need <3

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Biomimicry and the economy is the main concept of the reading by Jane Jacobs and the video The Next Industrial Revolution with William McDonough. I found both of the material very interesting.  Personally, I am interested in getting into the business of biomimicry and retrofitting businesses, schools, etc. I find it so logical and efficient, and surprising that it is has not become more popular. After all, the Herman Miller retrofit was finished almost twenty years ago, and it was clear very soon that it was a great business shift. I think there is A LOT to be done in this field. Additionally, I found McDonough’s explanation of the biological and technological cycles very important. We can shift the detrimental effects of consumerism without stopping consumerism altogether, which is nearly impossible anyways. Consumerism needs to be based on biodegradable, nontoxic “products of consumption” and “products of service” which are left in their own closed loop system. This basis is much more ideal and sustainable than our current patterns of consumerism. I can’t wait to employ these fundamentals in the future.

Unfortunately, many people look at things linearly today. They think the choice is jobs/productivity OR the environment. When, essentially, we cannot have one without the other. We have gone on exploiting the environment and having jobs. However, if we don’t stop exploiting the environment soon there will be no resources or jobs. As Jacobs says in her reading, “Nothing is more unforgiving than nature… it isn’t reassuring to realize that nature’s solution for maladaptions is extinction.”  If humans don’t adapt to nature, nature will not be able to forgive us. We have already made the connection though. Prosperity needs to be established in imitating and learning from nature. Jacob’s book has much more great insights about this topic.