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

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Entries in environmentalists (2)


Sustaining Our Health and the Planet: How Local Consensus Helps Get Things Done

In little over a month from now, those of us who are concerned about the health of our planet will be observing Earth Day, on April 22, 2011. Each year, Jan Huston Doble, who blogs at Thanks for Today, organizes a communal cyberspace celebration of this event. Fellow bloggers are encouraged to post a relevant item on their own sites with a link back to hers. Alternatively, readers may leave a comment about sustainability on Jan’s blog. This cyber-event generates so much traffic that several suppliers of gardening products and services are eager to contribute prizes to wining entrants. Yes, there is a contest! To participate in this unique observance, or to read additional thoughtful comments and opinions on the subject, click onto this link.

Preserving the earth and our health is a serious matter. Wherever it is realistic to contribute to sustainability, concerned citizens have been making incremental changes in the ways they conduct their lives. It is surprising how effectively local commerce and communities can rise to the occasion, without assistance from distant federal agencies, where and when there is a consensus among the citizens, that a status quo is no longer acceptable.

In an earnest attempt to preserve our health, our planet and our precious resources, here are a few examples [and there are so many more] of what is being done in some communities in North America:-

  • In order to reduce pollution in the core of the city, municipal officials in Montreal voted to install a bicycle rental program whereby citizens can rent a bike in one part of town, and drop it off at their destination.
  • Massachusetts, along with the states of California and New Mexico, has set targets to reduce carbon emissions. With a program similar to that of Montreal, the municipality of Brookline, Mass. has introduced a car service, using miniature automobiles.
  • There is at least one supermarket chain in North America that has accommodated customers who demand organically grown produce and organically raised cattle and poultry. Those who opt for these foods are the same ones that consume health and beauty aids made with safe ingredients. Decisions are made, about which safe toiletries to buy, only after consulting the Environmental Working Guide website.
  • Some utility providers conserve resources by offering energy at discounted rates outside of peak usage hours. This encourages consumers to run their appliances when energy demands are low.
  • In the Mid West, where water in drought season has become a scarce commodity, some local communities have installed cistern-type collection systems to recycle rain water for irrigation. Here the watering of lawns is regulated through community by-laws. Other home owners are reconsidering the need for resource-hungry lawns altogether. For some, self-sustainable gardens are a viable option.
  • Plants that are invasive and that threaten local ecology have been outlawed in many states.
  • In an attempt to moderate consumption of unhealthy food, New York City banned the use of artery-clogging trans fats and ordered that the caloric value of food be displayed on restaurant menus.
  • Most states ban smoking in public places, both indoors and out, and post signs in rest rooms instructing employees to wash their hands after using the bathroom.
  • In many communities, homeowners have been legislated into re cycling kitchen waste that is later converted into compost, while other refuse is sorted and recycled in order to reduce the size of land fills.
  • An increasing number of gardeners are opting to use organic matter to enrich their soil rather than commercial fertilizers. Also, they are attempting to grow crops for their personal consumption, even on tight little plots in urban areas.

An example, that demonstrates how powerful citizens can be, may be observed in the way that huge, mass market retailers were forced to stop selling milk containing the growth hormone rBST, after female medical problems were reported in girls as young as 8 years old. Usually, too large a number of consumers deliberately disregard publicity about herbicides, pesticides, and other toxic substances found in the products that they use or consume daily. They also tend to ignore the nutritional deficiencies or health risks of certain food products. However, the disturbing side effects of pre-mature puberty in little girls were too serious to ignore and consumers voted with their wallets against purchasing the undesirable milk. That was a rare occasion when the powerful lobbying activities of a chemical company that supplied the growth hormone, were stymied by the actions of a surprisingly well-informed, determined public.

I’m not a big fan of rallies, pickets, protest marches, parades and other boisterous crowd scenes. I suspect that the only benefit from these manifestations is to supply camera crews with fodder for cable news and salaries for the bused-in professional protesters and their organizers. I am also skeptical of the actual net benefits of extreme ranting at the blog level. [Polite ranting is OK :)].

I believe in respectful grass roots initiatives that influence both consumer behavior and the agendas of local officials. Gardeners, farmers, conservationists, and citizens concerned about a large variety of issues that impact our health and our planet need to ensure that their opinions will be heard. In addition to educating the public, and voting with our wallets when we shop, it is important to remain active in our communities to make sure that somebody is listening. Politicians pay attention to their constituents. They also care about the number of bodies that turn out to vote for or against them. In most North American elections, only 35% of the population exercises that precious privilege. For the largest truly democratic continent on earth, that number is too low.


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.