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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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Saving the Planet is Not an Easy Task.

Some people believe that humans were placed on earth to be caretakers of the planet and that we are obliged to pass it on to the next generation in the same good condition as we found it. However, it is also clear that our civilization has evolved to a level of sophistication that has done some harm to the environment and any attempt to reverse that harm will create adverse consequences to the advanced economies of countries like our own. There is a real threat that, if we attempt to heal the planet unilaterally, the cost will make us uncompetitive worldwide. As a result, economies of weaker countries will benefit at our expense. That is not an acceptable scenario because we cannot afford to lose any more jobs to emerging nations. Our economy is suffering enough. The threat to our commercial well-being is one of the issues that make the debate about protecting the environment so controversial. Here is an interesting perspective on the subject:

One of my favorite garden bloggers is Benjamin Vogt at The Deep Middle. Not only is he passionate about gardening and the environment but he is also a gifted writer. Recently, he suggesting that we do so little to stop further damage to the environment because we do not have the right language to motivate. He refers to that as not having the right metaphors to inspire others into action. Mr. Vogt observes that we have the right metaphors to incite the population to demand equal pay for women and to demand protection from street muggers but we do not have the right metaphor to communicate the serious consequences of abusing the environment.

In a dialogue exchange with other readers of Mr. Vogt’s blog, I wrote that metaphors do not inspire politicians. America exists because the signers of the Declaration of Independence needed a country free of interference so that they might conduct their business affairs in a profitable and unfettered manner. That set the tone for business and government, a long time ago. Today, a tangible benefit is what motivates movers and shakers into action. Ideologically driven legislation that does not translate into profits for some, or that weakens the commercial competitiveness of others, is enacted rarely because, I suspect, idealism and altruism are not the American way.

The challenge for those who want to prevent the further degradation of our planet is to learn the language of business. Demonstrate how saving the environment will either benefit the economy, or might be profitable for industry, and politicos will perk up their ears and listen. Continue to beat the drum about the woes of pollution or the disappearance of wildlife and only environmentalists and tree huggers will take notice. Here is a portion of the population that, on one hand, is still too small and ineffective to make a difference. On the other hand, it speaks in a voice that does not command sufficient respect; it focuses solely on ideal solutions and ignores the negative consequences these solutions might create. Furthermore, an environmentalist preaching to other environmentalists is not the way to get things done because only a few are listening. Those that care about our planet need to start over by finding a voice that will resonate with Those That Can Make Things Happen. To date, they have not been very successful.

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Reader Comments (4)

Allan, This is a really interesting perspective. The challenge is particularly great because, in recent decades, the prevailing ideas about business have focused almost entirely on the short term (e.g., quarterly profits or quarterly growth). If we focus on the longer term, the tension between what's best for the economy and what's best for the environment pretty much disappear. It doesn't take much imagination to see that the economic costs of even a modest rise in sea level will be enormous in all the big coastal cities of the United States (think Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Miami, Los Angeles) . Imagine, also, the costs to the European economies if the Gulf Stream stops flowing that way and tempering their climates. Perhaps environmentalists not only need to learn to use the language of business but to help refocus that language on a longer term economic calculus. -Jean

February 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJean

I haven't though of it like this before. I've always viewed the "smaller picture" and just did my part. One thing I'm doing to contribute is gardening organically. I just have to find an organic solution for insect control. I've found this organic insect killer while searching online, but wanted your input:

February 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDan

There have been books written in the need to have a more business-type langauge to the appraoch of environmentalism. Perhaps it is necessary, in the very least in concert with a sense of metaphor--ala Abrams in The Spell of the Sensuous and Knopp in The Nature of Home. I wrote an essay that's part of my book manuscript about how are language is the same language as that of every other species. Native Americans and other indigenous peoples say we once spoke the exact same language (as per their creation myths). We've forgotten how to speak, either because "business talk" has supplanted it or because we've lost the metaphor.

February 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBenjamin

You are spot on when talking about politicians only paying attention, when money is being mentioned. It is depressing that we, as a species, haven't evolved enough to see, that we are a just a small part of nature, and we can not continue to take without giving. The human ego always craves for more ..well..everything! The whole mentality of the modern human being needs to change. Too bad that we have to see the consequences of our egoistical acts, before we realize, that we have to do something serious about our way of living.

February 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJesper

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