Why reforestation is a crucial part of saving the environment
Climate change may be the focus of the environmental movement, but restoring the Earth, the theme of this year’s Earth Day, will play a crucial role in keeping global temperatures down.
The theme «focuses on natural processes, emerging green technologies, and innovative thinking that can restore the world’s ecosystems,» according to the Earth Day Network. Every year, more than 18 million acres of forests are lost, according to the organization.
Re-planting the forests of the planet, which have been cleared in vast amounts to make room for homes, transportation and agriculture, chopped down for timber and scorched by wildfires, will aid in getting Earth back to its equilibrium in more ways than mitigating climate change, experts told ABC News.
Forests are essential to life on Earth
Forests and the benefits they provide are of critical ecological importance to the environment, Owen Burney, director of New Mexico State University’s Forestry Research Center, told ABC News. They can alter the quality and quantity of drinking water. They capture and store carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. They provide the most habitat for Earth’s terrestrial species. And they provide irreplaceable recreational opportunities for humans.
«That list goes on and on,» Burney said, adding that in New Mexico alone, forests supply up to 75% of all the water used by municipalities and agriculture. Most of the drinking water in the country comes from forested landscapes, said Brian Kittler, director of forest restoration for American Forest, a nonprofit that aims to protect and restore healthy forest ecosystems.
Reforestation is the top nature-based climate solution in the U.S., Kittler told ABC News. Solomon Dobrowski, professor of landscape ecology at the University of Montana, believes that forests play a «pivotal role» in finding solutions for biodiversity and climate change.
«Those are two of the largest challenges we face as a planet,» Dobrowski told ABC News.
A population rebound of wildlife is already evident on the West Coast where nonprofit One Tree Planted has planned to plant 1 million trees from California to Oregon and Washington State, Matt Hill, president of the organization, told ABC News.
The domino effect began with the shade from the trees helping to cool and clean waterways, which has increased the presence of salmon and now the endangered Orca whales that eat them in the Pacific Northwest, Hill said.
It is essential to re-plant after wildfires
Wildfires in recent years have devastated enormous areas of land all over the world. Each year, wildfires in Brazil threaten more and more of its tropical rainforest. The bush fires that began blazing through Australia’s east coast in late 2019 either killed or displaced nearly 3 billion animals. The wildfires on the West Coast last year, record-breaking in several states, scorched millions of acres in California alone.
Re-planting trees in the land that was lost will help ensure the fires do not spread or burn so intensely the next time around. The soil provides moisture. Planting trees in clusters of «islands» with open areas in between will help limit a rapid spread as well, Burney said.
«If we begin to lose our forests, which we are because due to catastrophic events like wildfires, and we’re not replanting, we are losing all those valuable resources,» Burney said.
Why trees are so important in urban cities
Concrete jungles have been cleared of their natural landscape and vegetation, so what’s the point of replanting them?
There are about 20 million acres of land in the U.S. that can be reforested as urban forests, Kittler said. But while planting trees in urban areas will not make much of a dent in storing carbon, the trees serve a different purpose, Burney said.
With all the asphalt, metal and car exhaust, these cities tend to trap in heat, which then evaporates the moisture from water and increases temperatures even more. The tree canopies or «sun umbrellas» provide shade, reflect the sunlight and prevent more heat from getting trapped in, which then improves the air quality. The trees also intercept noise pollution as well as dust and any other types of particles.
The holistic benefits of trees are even more important in a setting where there are so few, the experts said. In New York City, Central Park and the dozens of other parks throughout the five boroughs serve as an aesthetically pleasing place for people to congregate to.
Parks also help to foster the community by providing a retreat for residents and opportunities for volunteers to come together to care for them, Hill said.
«And so trees can be a big part of basically improving conditions for residents in cities,» Dobrowski said.
Once land has been shifted to an urban landscape, it likely will never be a forest again, Burney said.
«If it becomes a road, good chance it’s gonna stay a road,» he said.
This is why One Tree Planted is looking to plant «random forests» in large urban areas such as Philadelphia, Detroit and New York City, in addition to its projects throughout the country, Hill said.
Lawmakers need to be smarter about zoning laws to achieve this, Burney said.
The socioeconomic impact of trees
The beautification aspect of living with trees nearby may offer a glimpse into the social divide and who gets to enjoy those views.
There is not an equitable distribution across all income brackets of an urban tree canopy, Kittler said.
Tree equity in cities is one of the issues the organization is trying to tackle because the urban heat island will continue to increase as the planet warms, Kittler said. The heat island is essentially a bubble of increased heat over an area resulting from the absorption from the radiation from the sun that is remitted at night, Dobrowski said.
«So having that shade is really, really important for people in cities, and if you look at a map of urban tree canopy in American cities, it correlates pretty well to income and actually race as well,» Kittler said.
Areas with more mature trees and parks tend to be in the neighborhoods with high home values, which creates a number of public health implications, Kittler said. Taking shelter under the shade of a tree for some respite from the heat is «an irreplaceable service that trees provide,» he said, but there also tends to be less pollutants in areas with more tree canopy, and higher electricity bills in those without.
Another benefit of large-scale tree-planting projects is that it creates jobs, Hill said. Sustainable management of forests could create $230 billion in business opportunities and 16 million jobs worldwide by 2030, the World Economic Forum’s 2020 report on The Future of Nature and Business found.
What can be done
Building brand new forests provides scientists with an opportunity to approach the replanting strategically, Burney said, describing the process as «climate-smart reforestation.»
Researchers have taken the idea of assisted migration — for example, planting a species of tree that is native to the area but sourcing the seed from a little farther south — to ensure that the forest will endure.
The reasoning is that, genetically, the seed source picked from the south will have evolved to withstand higher, drier temperatures, therefore giving the new forest the ability to withstand more heat as global temperatures continue to rise. It also ensures that the new plants do not utilize water too quickly, which could then create an overgrowth and provide fuel for any flames that may come through.
To really «drive climate change in the right direction,» it will be necessary to plant trees «on a very large scale» — to the tunes of «millions and millions of trees over millions and millions of acres — to aid in the sequestration of carbon, Burney said. American Forest especially focuses on areas where a natural regeneration is unlikely, such as a forest completely destroyed by wildfire or a severe disease or insect event, Kittler said.
But the distribution of these forests needs to be strategic as well, Kittler said, adding that no one is suggesting to put forests in places like the Serengeti Plain, a savanna in Tanzania.
Efforts can be made on an individual level as well.
While donations are great, what is needed most is volunteers to get their hands dirty at tree-planting events, Hill said.
«When you plant a tree anywhere, it’s having an overall benefit in so many ways — soil quality, air quality, helping with the local biodiversity,» Hill said.
Kittler described planting a tree as a «hopeful act» that is difficult to maintain.
«Caring for that tree for a long time, as it matures and grows, it’s sort of an active, inactive commitment and an act of love,» Kittler said.
Burney would argue that every country in the world, even those that are well developed and well resourced, needs a level of reforestation beyond what is already been done. But it will take support from private industry to accomplish what needs to be done, and the fight needs to start now, he said.
«If we don’t do it, the repercussions are huge. It’s going to affect everyone,» Burney said. «You think climate change is a big issue? What if we run out of water?»
Over the course of the 20th Century, capitalism moulded the ordinary person into a consumer. Kerryn Higgs traces the historical roots of the world’s unquenchable thirst for more stuff.T
The notion of human beings as consumers first took shape before World War One, but became commonplace in America in the 1920s. Consumption is now frequently seen as our principal role in the world.
People, of course, have always «consumed» the necessities of life – food, shelter, clothing – and have always had to work to get them or have others work for them, but there was little economic motive for increased consumption among the mass of people before the 20th Century.
Quite the reverse: frugality and thrift were more appropriate to situations where survival rations were not guaranteed. Attempts to promote new fashions, harness the «propulsive power of envy,» and boost sales multiplied in Britain in the late 18th Century. Here began the «slow unleashing of the acquisitive instincts,» write historians Neil McKendrick, John Brewer, and J H Plumb in their influential book on the commercialisation of 18th-Century England, when the pursuit of opulence and display first extended beyond the very rich.
But, while poorer people might have acquired a very few useful household items – a skillet, perhaps, or an iron pot – the sumptuous clothing, furniture, and pottery of the era were still confined to a very small population.
In late 19th-Century Britain a variety of foods became accessible to the average person, who would previously have lived on bread and potatoes – consumption beyond mere subsistence. This improvement in food variety did not extend durable items to the mass of people, however. The proliferating shops and department stores of that period served only a restricted population of urban middle-class people in Europe, but the display of tempting products in shops in daily public view was greatly extended – and display was a key element in the fostering of fashion and envy.
Although the period after World War Two is often identified as the beginning of the immense eruption of consumption across the industrialised world, the historian William Leach locates its roots in the United States around the turn of the century.
In the US, existing shops were rapidly extended through the 1890s, mail-order shopping surged, and the new century saw massive multi-storey department stores covering millions of acres of selling space. Retailing was already passing decisively from small shopkeepers to corporate giants who had access to investment bankers and drew on assembly-line production of commodities, powered by fossil fuels. The traditional objective of making products for their self-evident usefulness was displaced by the goal of profit and the need for a machinery of enticement.
«The cardinal features of this culture were acquisition and consumption as the means of achieving happiness; the cult of the new; the democratisation of desire; and money value as the predominant measure of all value in society,» Leach writes in his 1993 book «Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture». Significantly, it was individual desire that was democratised, rather than wealth or political and economic power.
Release from the perils of famine and premature starvation was in place for most people in the industrialised world soon after WWI ended. US production was more than 12 times greater in 1920 than in 1860, while the population over the same period had increased by only a factor of three, suggesting just how much additional wealth was theoretically available. The labour struggles of the 19th Century had, without jeopardising the burgeoning productivity, gradually eroded the seven-day week of 14- and 16-hour days that was worked at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in England. In the US in particular, economic growth had succeeded in providing basic security to the great majority of an entire population.
In these circumstances, there was a social choice to be made. A steady-state economy capable of meeting the basic needs of all, foreshadowed by philosopher and political economist John Stuart Mill as the stationary state, seemed well within reach and, in Mill’s words, likely to be an improvement on «the trampling, crushing, elbowing and treading on each other’s heels … the disagreeable symptoms of one of the phases of industrial progress». It would be feasible to reduce hours of work further and release workers for the spiritual and pleasurable activities of free time with families and communities, and creative or educational pursuits. But business did not support such a trajectory, and it was not until the Great Depression that hours were reduced, in response to overwhelming levels of unemployment.
In 1930, the US cereal manufacturer Kellogg adopted a six-hour shift to help accommodate unemployed workers, and other forms of work-sharing became more widespread. Although the shorter workweek appealed to Kellogg’s workers, the company, after reverting to longer hours during WWII, was reluctant to renew the six-hour shift in 1945. Workers voted for it by three-to-one in both 1945 and 1946, suggesting that, at the time, they still found life in their communities more attractive than consumer goods. This was particularly true of women. Kellogg, however, gradually overcame the resistance of its workers and whittled away at the short shifts until the last of them were abolished in 1985.
Even if a shorter working day became an acceptable strategy during the Great Depression, the economic system’s orientation toward profit and its bias toward growth made such a trajectory unpalatable to most captains of industry and the economists who theorised their successes. If profit and growth were lagging, the system needed new impetus. The short depression of 1921–1922 led business leaders and economists in the US to fear that the immense productive powers created over the previous century had grown sufficiently to meet the basic needs of the entire population and had probably triggered a permanent crisis of overproduction. Prospects for further economic expansion were thought to look bleak.
The historian Benjamin Hunnicutt, who examined the mainstream press of the 1920s, along with the publications of corporations, business organisations, and government inquiries, found extensive evidence that such fears were widespread in business circles during the 1920s. Victor Cutter, president of the United Fruit Company, exemplified the concern when he wrote in 1927 that the greatest economic problem of the day was the lack of «consuming power» in relation to the prodigious powers of production.
Notwithstanding the panic and pessimism, a consumer solution was simultaneously emerging. As the popular historian of the time Frederick Allen wrote, «Business had learned as never before the importance of the ultimate consumer. Unless he could be persuaded to buy and buy lavishly, the whole stream of six-cylinder cars, super heterodynes, cigarettes, rouge compacts and electric ice boxes would be dammed up at its outlets.»
In his classic 1928 book «Propaganda,» Edward Bernays, one of the pioneers of the public relations industry, put it this way: «Mass production is profitable only if its rhythm can be maintained.» He argued that business «cannot afford to wait until the public asks for its product; it must maintain constant touch, through advertising and propaganda… to assure itself the continuous demand which alone will make its costly plant profitable».
Edward Cowdrick, an economist who advised corporations on their management and industrial relations policies, called it «the new economic gospel of consumption», in which workers (people for whom durable possessions had rarely been a possibility) could be educated in the new «skills of consumption».
It was an idea also put forward by the new «consumption economists» such as Hazel Kyrk and Theresa McMahon, and eagerly embraced by many business leaders. New needs would be created, with advertising brought into play to «augment and accelerate» the process. People would be encouraged to give up thrift and husbandry, to value goods over free time. Kyrk argued for ever-increasing aspirations: «a high standard of living must be dynamic, a progressive standard», where envy of those just above oneself in the social order incited consumption and fuelled economic growth.
President Herbert Hoover’s 1929 Committee on Recent Economic Changes welcomed the demonstration «on a grand scale [of] the expansibility of human wants and desires», hailed an «almost insatiable appetite for goods and services», and envisaged «a boundless field before us … new wants that make way endlessly for newer wants, as fast as they are satisfied». In this paradigm, people are encouraged to board an escalator of desires (a stairway to heaven, perhaps) and progressively ascend to what were once the luxuries of the affluent.
Charles Kettering, general director of General Motors Research Laboratories, equated such perpetual change with progress. In a 1929 article called «Keep the Consumer Dissatisfied», he stated that «there is no place anyone can sit and rest in an industrial situation. It is a question of change, change all the time – and it is always going to be that way because the world only goes along one road, the road of progress.»
The prospect of ever-extendable consumer desire, characterised as «progress», promised a new way forward for modern manufacture, a means to perpetuate economic growth. Progress was about the endless replacement of old needs with new, old products with new. Notions of meeting everyone’s needs with an adequate level of production did not feature.
The non-settler European colonies were not regarded as viable venues for these new markets, since centuries of exploitation and impoverishment meant that few people there were able to pay. In the 1920s, the target consumer market to be nourished lay at home in the industrialised world. There, especially in the US, consumption continued to expand through the 1920s, though truncated by the Great Depression of 1929.
Electrification was crucial for the consumption of the new types of durable items, and the fraction of US households with electricity connected nearly doubled between 1921 and 1929, from 35 to 68%. This was followed by a rapid proliferation of radios, vacuum cleaners, and refrigerators. Motor car registration rose from eight million in 1920 to more than 28 million by 1929. The introduction of time payment arrangements facilitated the extension of such buying further and further down the economic ladder.
This first wave of consumerism was short-lived. Predicated on debt, it took place in an economy mired in speculation and risky borrowing. US consumer credit rose to $7 billion in the 1920s, with banks engaged in reckless lending of all kinds. While it was a lot less in gross terms than the burden of debt in the US in late 2008, the debt of the 1920s was very large, over 200% of the GDP of the time. In both eras, borrowed money bought unprecedented quantities of material goods on time payment and (these days) credit cards. The 1920s bonanza collapsed suddenly and catastrophically. In 2008, a similar unravelling began; its implications still remain unknown. In the case of the Great Depression of the 1930s, a war economy followed, so it was almost 20 years before mass consumption resumed any role in economic life – or in the way the economy was conceived.
The effect of media
Once WWII was over, consumer culture took off again throughout the developed world, partly fuelled by the deprivation of the Great Depression and the rationing of the wartime years and incited with renewed zeal by corporate advertisers using debt facilities and the new medium of television. Stuart Ewen, in his history of the public relations industry, saw the birth of commercial radio in 1921 as a vital tool in the great wave of debt-financed consumption in the 1920s – «a privately owned utility, pumping information and entertainment into people’s homes».
«Requiring no significant degree of literacy on the part of its audience, radio gave interested corporations … unprecedented access to the inner sanctums of the public mind,» Ewen writes. The advent of television greatly magnified the potential impact of advertisers’ messages, exploiting image and symbol far more adeptly than print and radio had been able to do. The stage was set for the democratisation of luxury on a scale hitherto unimagined.
Though the television sets that carried the advertising into people’s homes after WWII were new, and were far more powerful vehicles of persuasion than radio had been, the theory and methods were the same – perfected in the 1920s by PR experts like Bernays.
Vance Packard echoes both Bernays and the consumption economists of the 1920s in his description of the role of the advertising men of the 1950s. «They want to put some sizzle into their messages by stirring up our status consciousness,» he wrote. «Many of the products they are trying to sell have, in the past, been confined to a ‘quality market’. The products have been the luxuries of the upper classes. The game is to make them the necessities of all classes… By striving to buy the product – say, wall-to-wall carpeting on instalment – the consumer is made to feel he is upgrading himself socially.»
Though it is status that is being sold, it is endless material objects that are being consumed.
In a little-known 1958 essay reflecting on the conservation implications of the conspicuously wasteful US consumer binge after WWII, John Kenneth Galbraith pointed to the possibility that this «gargantuan and growing appetite» might need to be curtailed. «What of the appetite itself?» he asks. «Surely this is the ultimate source of the problem. If it continues its geometric course, will it not one day have to be restrained? Yet in the literature of the resource problem this is the forbidden question.»
Galbraith quotes the President’s Materials Policy Commission setting out its premise that economic growth is sacrosanct. «First we share the belief of the American people in the principle of Growth,» the report maintains, specifically endorsing «ever more luxurious standards of consumption». To Galbraith, who had just published «The Affluent Society», the wastefulness he observed seemed foolhardy, but he was pessimistic about curtailment. He identified the beginnings of «a massive conservative reaction to the idea of enlarged social guidance and control of economic activity», a backlash against the state taking responsibility for social direction. At the same time he was well aware of the role of advertising. «Goods are plentiful. Demand for them must be elaborately contrived,» he wrote. «Those who create wants rank amongst our most talented and highly paid citizens. Want creation – advertising – is a 10 billion dollar industry.»
Or, as retail analyst Victor Lebow remarked in 1955: «Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption.… We need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.»
Thus, just as immense effort was being devoted to persuading people to buy things they did not actually need, manufacturers also began the intentional design of inferior items, which came to be known as «planned obsolescence». In his second major critique of the culture of consumption, «The Waste Makers», Packard identified both functional obsolescence, in which the product wears out quickly and psychological obsolescence, in which products are «designed to become obsolete in the mind of the consumer, even sooner than the components used to make them will fail».
The commodification of reality and the manufacture of demand have had serious implications for the construction of human beings in the present day, where, to quote philosopher Herbert Marcuse, «people recognise themselves in their commodities».
This is reflected in current attitudes. For instance, the Australian comedian Wendy Harmer in her ABC TV series called «Stuff» expressed irritation at suggestions that consumption is simply generated out of greed or lack of awareness: «I am very proud to have made a documentary about consumption that does not contain the usual footage of factory smokestacks, landfill tips and bulging supermarket trolleys. Instead, it features many happy human faces and all their wonderful stuff! It’s a study of a love affair as much as anything else.»
The capitalist system, dependent on a logic of never-ending growth from its earliest inception, confronted the plenty it created in its home states, especially the US, as a threat to its very existence. It would not do if people were content because they felt they had enough. However, over the course of the 20th Century, capitalism preserved its momentum by moulding the ordinary person into a consumer with an unquenchable thirst for its «wonderful stuff».
Environmentalists say our species’ addiction to consumption is responsible for climate change and a host of other environment ills. It’s also a driving economic force. Can we reconcile the two?
The more we consume, the more the planet suffers. Soils are leached of their nutrients, forests felled and minerals ripped from the earth to leave gaping holes where little can survive.
The resources we use return to the earth as chemical waste, land-fill mountains and carbon emissions that are pushing the climate toward disaster.
At the same time, many of us still go without basics we need to survive — from clean air to enough to eat.
According to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDG) report 2018, «nine out of 10 people living in cities breathe polluted air» and «the number of undernourished people rose from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016, mainly due to conflicts and drought and disasters linked to climate change.»
And yet, politicians and economists around the world hail consumption as the economic driver key to keeping our economies thriving. Without consumption, the thinking goes, there is no economic growth.
All this points to why some economists are starting to question whether we should be pursuing growth at all.
Backlash against GDP
Federico Demaria, professor of environmental science and technology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, is one of them. He told DW our fixation on growth — as measured by gross domestic product (GDP) a major component of which consumption — is responsible for poverty, inequality and ecological disaster.
«GDP in itself is not an accurate indicator of progress as it leads to an increase in material and energy usage,» Demaria said.
Over the years, questions over GDP’s usefulness have come from everyone from radical ecologists to economically liberal former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and a host of alternative indices that account for things like welfare and happiness have been posited.
Giving up growth may seem like a radical proposition. But the argument that our current economic system needs a complete overhaul is gaining traction.
And this summer, a scientific report commissioned by the UN argued that «economies have used up the capacity of planetary ecosystems to handle waste generated by energy and material use,» advocating a shift to a world where, «Economic activity will gain meaning not by achieving economic growth but by rebuilding infrastructure and practices toward a post-fossil fuel world with a radically smaller burden on natural ecosystems.»
Still, many argue that growth can be «decoupled» from the endless extraction of raw materials and outflow of pollution into the environment. «Decoupling economic growth from resource use is one of the most critical and complex challenges facing humanity today,» the UN SDG 2018 report says.
Designing healthy systems
One model to address that challenge is the circular economy, which the proponent Ellen MacArthur Foundation says, «designs waste out» and reduces energy consumption by reusing products and recycling materials, so that economic activity no longer degrades the planet but actually «rebuilds overall system health.»
«The transition to a circular economy is a tremendous opportunity to transform our economy,» European Commission vice-president for jobs, growth and investment Jyrki Katainen told DW.
Katainen says with a rising global population putting ever-more pressure on land, water, food, raw materials and energy, «we cannot rely further on a ‘take, make, use and throw away’ approach.»
He says the Commission has started to apply a low-carbon, more resource-efficient, circular economy approach to EU policy. But that doesn’t mean sacrificing economic growth.
«Many industries have realized that doing the right thing actually saves them money in the short and long run and allows them to invest for the future and create new jobs and growth,» Katainen says.
«The potential for growth is significant,» he added.
A shift in values
But despite policies that encourage businesses and consumers to reuse resources rather than consuming more of them, even products that use recycled materials generally use virgin resources too, and so far they make up a very small proportion of what we consume.
Degrowthers argue that while recycling is important, we will only cut resource use to sustainable levels by consuming far, far less. And that just isn’t compatible with a system that demands we all buy as much as possible to keep factories running, workers employed and investments profitable.
But what is the alternative? Demaria says we «shouldn’t abandon economic growth entirely,» but argues that we need to contemplate a managed reduction of the economy that prioritizes greater equality and human and ecological wellbeing.
Welfare, communal sharing, volunteering, open-source innovation — and a shift from fulfillment measured in the accumulation of shiny baubles toward more intrinsic human values — all have a role to play.
According to UN-commissioned report, which is to inform the 2019 UN Global Sustainable Development Report, capitalism, at least in its current form, just isn’t up to the job of tackling climate change, pointing out that «dramatic reductions in emissions at current high levels of consumption are very challenging, if not impossible.»
Perhaps the question is less whether the economy can survive the death of consumerism, but whether the economic system we have now is one we’re willing to sacrifice the planet for.
With Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday upon us, the holiday shopping frenzy has officially started in North America (and increasingly around the world — thanks, globalization). From here till the New Year, we’ll be shopping online, traveling to malls, making and checking Christmas lists (twice) and finding enough money to buy it all.
But all that stuff isn’t necessarily a good thing for the planet. Like the weight gain, stress and food hangovers we get after a season of overindulgence, consumerism can have similarly harmful effects on the long-term health of our world.
“We’re now at the point in our lives where we can have sort of as much as we want of anything, and it’s like a good meal,” said former United States President Barack Obama, at a Greenbuild conference this month. “Sometimes just having a nice meal instead of keeping on going back to the buffet, you feel better at the end of it.”
What’s the problem with a little material overindulgence, though? Well, aside from the adage that money can’t buy happiness, this overindulgence is fueling climate change.
It’s (not) a wonderful life
One study published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology showed that individual household consumption — not businesses, government or industries — accounts for more than 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 50%–80% of total land, material and water use.
The problem, researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology reported, lies mostly in the carbon-emitting ways we produce and transport all the stuff (including food) we buy. And when we consider all the new stuff we’re going to buy (and all the additional food we’re going to eat) this holiday, that carbon footprint is only going to grow.
But this overconsumption is how it’s always been, right? In the last century — around the holidays especially — excess has seemed normal, even welcomed. We overeat, overdrink, elaborately decorate and, of course, frivolously shop.
How much of overconsumption is really our fault? I mean, our economic system does promote this kind of behavior: In capitalism, a company’s long-term success is driven by a growth model, where stockholders pressure companies to sell more stuff each quarter. No wonder so much advertising this time of year encourages overconsumption.
The last century, though, also saw an industrialized culture that burned ten-million-year-old organic matter into the air at unprecedented rates, wrecking our climate systems, fueling extinction rates and causing a whole slew of problems we’d rather not think about.
Well, the first step is recognizing that we have a problem (if you’re reading this, you’re on your way to checking this box). Whether it’s the stuff we don’t need from the mall or the food we bring for family gathering, all that stuff adds up, tallies against the long-term health of the planet.
The next step is doing something about it. It’s a fault in our system that as people get more money, they drive carbon-intensive consumerism. But aside from dismantling the capitalist system this holiday, you can make conscious individual choices to reduce your carbon footprint while slowly getting over consumer, and climate change-fueling, culture.
A Green Christmas
First, stop online shopping. Sure, it’s convenient, but all the packaging and transportation that goes into delivering that gift (next day!) to your doorstep leaves a way bigger carbon footprint than just going to the store yourself.
Instead, try a couple nearby shops with locally sourced goods. These goods travel the least amount so have a smaller carbon footprint. Plus, you may find that going to these shops and talking with the store owners is much more rewarding than a one-click experience. Just don’t forget your canvas bags to tote your new treasures home.
And then there’s second-hand gifts. For the book lovers in your life, used book stores can provide the perfect gift — pre-loved, rare or out-of-print books have more character anyway. So hit up the local consignment shop, record store or antique mall for some vintage hidden gems.
With all the talks of gift-giving, one can forget the other big carbon-emitter of the holidays: food. Food, especially meat and dairy, account for a huge slice of our individual carbon footprint, or foodprint, as we call it. And all that food we don’t eat turns into waste, another problem for the planet.
Finally, when you travel for the holidays, do so through public transit or carpools. Squeezing into Dad’s otherwise problematic SUV is better than all individually driving to Grandma’s house. And if you must travel far, consider trains and buses over planes.
The bottom line is this: We’re in a climate emergency, and emergencies don’t align with business-as-usual habits. In fact, business as usual will throw us deeper into a climate catastrophe. Have you seen the latest projections from the United Nations? They aren’t going to put you in a festive mood. They should, however, put you in an active one.
Of course, to avoid the worst effects of climate change, we’ll need more than just consumer swaps — we need an overhaul of our system, rethinking everything from politics to economics. That change starts with our individual habits, including those habits rooted in consumerism, and ends in transformational change, from leaders on down.
Hey, it’s the holidays — what better time for a miracle?
Global consumerism is driving our planet’s destruction.
Accelerated obsolescensce is a marketing scheme that encourages consumers to replace items before they become obsolete or are utilized for their full useful life. Often times these products are cheap to buy and cheap to make. Thus, they end up in landfills to degrade and destroy our water and soil “system” as well as contribute to global warming by methane emissions. This consumer spending pattern spans all retail sectors. Simply Environmental. is driven by the need for consumer spending to change and for us to embrace a Cradle to Cradle life cycle of recycling, repurposing, eliminating toxic chemicals within our food system and consumer products by providing you alternatives that make your wallet, your morbidity and the environment healthier for generations to come!
THE CLOTHING AND TEXTILE INDUSTRY IS ONE OF THE MOST POLLUTING INDUSTRIES. SECOND ONLY TO THE OIL INDUSTRY.
EDGE-Fashion Intelligence reports: 1. The fashion industry contributes to 10% of the global greenhouse gas emissions due to its long supply chain and energy intensive production model 2. The US is the largest importer of garments in the world; nearly 40% of all apparel products sold in America are imported from China 3. Nearly 20% of all global waste is produced by the fashion industry 4. Cotton farming is responsible for 24% of insecticides and 11 % of pesticides, despite using 3% of the world’s arable land 5. 20,000 liters of water is needed to produce one kilogram of cotton; equivalent to a single t-shirt and a pair of jeans. Source: https://edgexpo.com/fashion-industry-waste-statistics/
The staff at Simply Environmental implores you to watch, in full, «The True Cost» before spending one more dollar on a piece of clothing or adventure gear. Currently offered on Netflix or as a digital download on Amazon. Learn More. According to «The True Cost» filmmakers, global consumers consume about 80 billion new pieces of clothing per year! (Imagine the strain on our environment from pollution and waste!)
The staff at Simply Environmental implores you to watch, in full, «The True Cost» before spending one more dollar on a piece of clothing or adventure gear. Currently offered on Netflix or as a digital download on Amazon. Learn More. According to «The True Cost» filmmakers, global consumers consume about 80 billion new pieces of clothing per year! (Imagine the strain on our environment from pollution and waste!)
Check out Fashion Revolution an NGO that is changing how consumers buy fashion. They have great materials online to help you teach others the idea of #haulternative closet refreshment without buying new. They also have some great suggestions to become engaged in contacting businesses to clean up their supply chain and to contact your local authorities to influence how policies are written. Fair Wages. Clean Environment.
The fashion industry is a $1.2 TRILLION dollar industry. You can imagine the environmental impact of sourcing raw materials, manufacturing (dye, chemical protective treatments, etc.), unused scrap waste materials, packaging, distribution and «end of life» disposal related to this behemoth economic sector. Now imagine that on a global scale.
As the population increases, our impact on the environment increases. From our food choices- to our buying choices- we impact our environment. By consciously choosing how we spend our money, you and I (collectively), can reduce the amount of toxic by-products that are released into our water systems, soil and air. We encourage you to choose companies who’s business models prioritize sustainability and reducing social disparity. Human survival and a clean environment are infinitely connected.
The profit margins are staggering. Do you know that there are corporations making millions of dollars convincing you that you «NEED» that new pair of jeans to be relevant or that buying a new coat will somehow benefit you more than last years model did? Their bank accounts fill up and their stockholders buy nicer cars and bigger homes while your bank gently reminds you to make another deposit. The core of «Fast Fashion» is based on creating a repetitive market demand based on accelerated obsolescence. Additionally, the consumer market-based cost of «fast fashion» does not reflect the harmful social or environmental externalities associated with production. Every time you replace an item in your closet you feed this beast. We simply ask you to take a moment to reflect on your «needs» vs. «wants» before buying a new product.
We need a Fashion Evolution This shift toward sustainable life-cycle practices is being spearheaded by designers and brands that are developing environmentally and socially superior technologies and techniques across the entire supply chain.
Despite the exciting movement happening as a result of the innovators, however, environmental and social problems still exist for this trend-setting industry.»
(Vendor Disclaimer: Inclusion by Simply Environmental is not a guarantee of performance or integrity but merely a list of the least environmentally damaging goods on the market based on our review of third party certifications or personal experience.)
Make sustainability and your consumer buying power fit your ethical priorities (even if they differ from mine or your neighbors) – use your money just as you do your vote. Your buying choice is that important.
International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women
On November 25, 1960, three Dominican sisters, political activists known as the Hermanas Mirabal, were brutally assassinated for opposing the Trujillo dictatorship. The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women remembers this day.
Since 1981, as a tribute to the Mirabal sisters, as well as global recognition of gender violence, the date 25 November has been marked by women’s activists as a day against violence against women. Following the adoption of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women by resolution 48/104 of 20 December 1993, the United Nations General Assembly, by resolution 54/134 of 17 December 1999, designated 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, inviting governments, international organizations and NGOs to organize activities on the day designed to raise public awareness of the problem of maltreatment of women.
All 3 sisters were natives of the Dominican Republic and were fevently opposed to the cruel dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. There is a fourth sister who died on February 9 of 2014, her name is Beglica Adela Dede Mirabal-Reyes, known as Dede. She did not have an active role in working against the dictator, Trujillo. The tale of the Mirabal sisters is an ongoing legacy of bravery and compassion in order to save the lives of many many people in the Dominican Republic. They defied the flow of conformity and stood out as National Heroines.
An Introduction and Brief History of the Mirabal Sisters
The Mirabal sisters grew up in an affluent family and were will cultured and educated women at a time when most women did not receive a good education. It is important to recognize what the Mirabal sisters did for their country and how their past actions still affect and influence people today in the Dominican Republic.
The Mirabal-Reyes family was a prosperous family from a town in Salcedo called Ojo de Ague on the north coast, near to La Vega. Patria the eldest of the Mirabal daughters was born in 1924 to Enrique Mirabal Fernandez who married Mercedes Reyes Camilo (mum is also known as Chea). Don Enrique was a successful farmer and merchant who was born in one of the small towns in Santiago called Tamboril. He owned his own farm, shop, cofee mill, meat market and rice factory. His wife Dona Chea was also from a middle class family in Ojo de Agua.
Patricia Mercedes Mirabal
Born on the 27th February 1924, Patria was given her name as her birth date coincided with the anniversary of the Dominican Republic’s Indepedence Day. Patria means fatherland. Patria had an affinity with painting and art and at the age of fourteen she was sent to the Colegio Inmaculada Concepcion in La Vega, a Catholic Boarding School. Her sisters Dede and Minerva also went. When she was seventeen Patria married a farmer named Pedro Gonzalez and had four children, Nelson Enrique, Noris Mercedes, Raul Ernesto and Juan Antonio (who sadly dies 5 months after his birth). Patria supported her sister Minerva in her anti-government efforts and opposed the dicatator Trujillo and in their attempts to overthrow Trujillo had all their property and home seized by the government. Patria was concerned for the future of the country along with all of the county’s children.
Patria was famous for saying «We cannot allow our children to grow up in this corrupt and tyrannical regime, we have to fight against it, and I am willing to give up everything, including my life if necessary».
Minerva Argentina Mirabal
Minerva born March 12th showed signs of her great intelligence from a very early age. By the time she was just 7 yrs old she could recite the verses of French poets. She was also at age 12, sent to the Catholic Secondary School Inmaculada Concepcion with her sisters Patria and Dede. Like her sister Patria, she too appreciated and enjoyed art especially that of Pablo Picasso, her main love was of writing and reading poetry and favoured that of Juan Pablo Neruda. Minerva attended the University of Santo Domingo and it was there she met her future husband Manuel (Manolo) Tavarez Justo. They married on November 20 1955 and moved to Montte Cristi where they had 2 children, Minu and Manolito.
In 1949, she was taken to the capital and slong with her mother Dona Chea, placed under house arrest, meanwhile her father DonEnrique was being held in the Fortaleza Ozama. Minerva’s political influences included changes occuring in other Latin American countries, the Luperion Invasion (14 June Movement)and the revolution in Cuba.
Minerva admired the then up and coming revolutionary, Fidel Castro and would often recite his famous words of, «Condem me, it does not matter history will absolve me!» She was also influenced by her Uncle who had a pharmacy in Jarabacoa.
Minerva was famous for saying «….it is a source of happiness to do whatever can be done for our country that suffers so many anguishes, it is sad to stay with one’s arms crossed…»
Maria Teresa Mirabal
The youngest of the Mirabal sisters, Maria Teresa was born on October 15 1936, and she also attended Inmaculada Concepcion with her sisters. Mathematics was Maria’s domain and in 1954 she graduated from the Liceo de San Francisco de Macoris and then went to the University of Santo Domingo to study Math. On February 14 1958 she married Leandro Guzman an engineer and one year later on February 17 she gave birth to their daughter named Jaqueline. She looked up to her sister Minerva and admired her actions and later became involved in her sisters political activities. On January 20 1960, she was detained at a military base in her home town of Salcedo but later freed the same day. Two days later however she and her sister Miverva were arrested and taken to La Cuarenta. La Cuarenta was the infamous torture prison, they were later transferred La Victoria prison.
They were freed on February 7 1960, a short while later on the 18 March she and her sister Minerva were once again taken back to the dreadful La Cuarenta after having been sentenced to 5 yrs for «threatening the security of the State». This sentence was eventually reduced to 3 yrs on appeal and the sisters were freed on August 18, 1960.
Maria was famous for saying «…..perhaps what we have most near is death, but that idea does not frighten me, we shall continue to fight for that which is just..»
The Murder and Assassination of the Mirabal Sisters
The Butterflies posed a huge threat to Trujillo and his regime as their popularity amongst their fellow countrymen was at an all time high especailly after their recent release from jail. In Trujillo’s arrogance there was nothing else to do but to dispose of this threat to his nation and government. He thought if the sisters disappeared then so would their actions and beliefs from their followers. No matter how many times he had thrown them in and out of prison, no matter what he took away from them, as during their persecution Trujillo had stolen their property, land, houses, left their families with nothing, the three sisters Minerva, Maria and Patria refused to give up their fight for deomcracy and civil liberties to everyone on the island. In fact the more he took, the greater strength they gained.
Trujillo had many weaknesses and one of them was young women. He had built many houses and mansions through out the Dominican Republic and in each one he had a mistress. When he had first met Minerva way back in 1949, he had set his sights upon her and now all these years later, her spurning of him still angered him bitterly. He had planned to seduce her during the famous party where her whole family left in San Cristobol many years ago. With this in mind, and even the Catholic Chruch opposing him he decided that he would assassinate the three women, with his reign faltering what else was there for him to do?
Trujillo planned their deaths meticulously and carefully chose who he would use to carry out the murders. He had to choose men who he could ask to commit such a crime and also men who had the stomach to commit such a crime.
He chose Victor Alicinio Pena Rivera who was Trujillo’s own right hand man, also Ciriaco de la Roas, Ramon Emilio Rojas, Alfonso Cruz Vlaeria and Emilio Estrada Malleta all members of his secret police force.
The Murder of the Mirabal Sisters
Minerva, Maria and Patria were all returning from Puerto Plata on a heavily raining evening after visiting their spouses in jail. They had travelled from their home town of Salcedo with their driver Rufino de la Cruz. It was November 25 1960. As they drove back home along the main highway between Puerto Plata and Santiago their Jeep was stopped by the secret police as planned by Trujillo. There is no way of knowing exactly what happened that night however a narrative still exists from Ciriaco de la Rosa, one of the henchmen.
This is an exert from the Dominican Encyclopedia 1997 CD ROM…
He says..After stopping them we led them to a spot near the chasm where I ordered Rojas to pick up some sticks and take one of the girls, he obeyed the order and took one of them, the one with the long braids, that was Maria. Alfonso Cruz took the tallest one, that was Minerva, and Malleta took the driver, Rufino de la Cruz. I ordered each one of them to go to a sugar cane grove on the edge of the road, each one seperated so that the victims would not sense the execution of one another, I ordered Perez Terrero to stay and see if any one was coming who could find out about the situation. That is the truth of the situation. I do not want to deceive justice or the state. I tried to prevent the disaster, but I could not because if I had he, Trujillo, would have killed us all….
It was in this manner that the Mirabal sisters and their driver Rufino de la Cruz were clubbed, beaten and then strangled to death alongside a mountain road between Puerto Plata and Santiago.
Patria was 36 years old, Minerva was 34 years old and Maria was 24 years old.
After they were killed their bodies were then put back into their Jeep, the Jeep was then pushed over the side of the cliff at La Cumbre to make it appear like an accident had taken place in the bad weather. Everyone knew it was Trujillo though that had ordered the murders.
This act had far reaching consequences for Trujillo and was the last straw for the majority of Dominican people. It was now the beginning of the end for Trujillo.
Freedom of speech is the right to say whatever you like about whatever you like, whenever you like, right? Wrong. ‘Freedom of speech is the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, by any means.’ Freedom of speech and the right to freedom of expression applies to ideas of all kinds including those that may be deeply offensive. But it comes with responsibilities and we believe it can be legitimately restricted. When freedom of speech can be restricted You might not expect us to say this, but in certain circumstances free speech and freedom of expression can be restricted.
Governments have an obligation to prohibit hate speech and incitement. And restrictions can also be justified if they protect specific public interest or the rights and reputations of others.
Any restrictions on freedom of speech and freedom of expression must be set out in laws that must in turn be clear and concise so everyone can understand them.
People imposing the restrictions (whether they are governments, employers or anyone else) must be able to demonstrate the need for them, and they must be proportionate.
All of this has to be backed up by safeguards to stop the abuse of these restrictions and incorporate a proper appeals process. …and when it can’t Restrictions that do not comply with all these conditions violate freedom of expression.
We consider people put in prison solely for exercising their right to free speech to be prisoners of conscience.
Jabbar Savalan was imprisoned after calling for protests against the government on Facebook. We considered him a prisoner of conscience and campaigned for his release. Read Jabbar’s story Checks and balances Specifics Any restriction should be as specific as possible. It would be wrong to ban an entire website because of a problem with one page. National security and public order These terms must be precisely defined in law to prevent them being used as excuses for excessive restrictions. Morals This is a very subjective area, but any restrictions must not be based on a single tradition or religion and must not discriminate against anyone living in a particular country. Rights and reputations of others Public officials should tolerate more criticism than private individuals. So defamation laws that stop legitimate criticism of a government or public official, violate the right to free speech. Blasphemy Protecting abstract concepts, religious beliefs or other beliefs or the sensibilities of people that believe them is not grounds for restricting freedom of speech. Media and journalists Journalists and bloggers face particular risks because of the work they do. Countries therefore have a responsibility to protect their right to freedom of speech. Restrictions on Newspapers, TV stations, etc can affect everyone’s right to freedom of expression. Whistleblowers Government should never bring criminal proceedings against anyone who reveals information about human rights abuses. Rights and responsibilities Free speech is one of our most important rights and one of the most misunderstood. Use your freedom of speech to speak out for those that are denied theirs. But use it responsibly: it is a powerful thing.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But around the world, there are governments and those wielding power who find many ways to obstruct it.
They impose high taxes on newsprint, making newspapers so expensive that people can’t afford to buy them. Independent radio and TV stations are forced off the air if they criticize Government policy. The censors are also active in cyberspace, restricting the use of the Internet and new media.
Some journalists risk intimidation, detention and even their lives, simply for exercising their right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, through any media, and regardless of frontiers.
Last year, UNESCO condemned the killing of 77 journalists. These were not high-profile war correspondents, killed in the heat of battle. Most of them worked for small, local publications in peacetime. They were killed for attempting to expose wrongdoing or corruption.
I condemn these murders and insist that the perpetrators are brought to justice. All Governments have a duty to protect those who work in the media. This protection must include investigating and prosecuting those who commit crimes against journalists.
Impunity gives the green light to criminals and murderers, and empowers those who have something to hide. Over the long term, it has a corrosive and corrupting effect on society as a whole.
This year’s theme is Freedom of Information: the right to know. I welcome the global trend towards new laws which recognize the universal right to publicly held information. Unfortunately, these new laws do not always translate into action. Requests for official information are often refused, or delayed, sometimes for years. At times, poor information management is to blame. But all too often, this happens because of a culture of secrecy and a lack of accountability.
We must work to change attitudes and to raise awareness. People have a right to information that affects their lives, and states have a duty to provide this information. Such transparency is essential to good government.