Growing the Green Economy

By Michael Kramer

Sustainability as a term has only been around a couple decades, but while it has become popular, including here in Hawai`i, the simple truth is it’s been poorly understood and quite widely interpreted, to put it nicely. Let’s face it, we don’t want to sustain things the way they are, and we don’t want to simply replace fossil fuel energy with renewable sources and continue on with the way things are, because this society isn’t working very well. For it is our belief in perpetual growth that is our true nemesis, and this is merely a state of mind. It is a system of Western thought that freedom is the ultimate value, that the ideal state of human nature is the capacity to do whatever we want, without consequence, because liberty is the foundation of happiness.
This mantra has led us to harvest every natural resource with such vigor over the past 150 years. We ship resources, and the products derived from them, all over the world now, and we also know the impact of all human activity on this planet is causing a plethora of challenges on a scale none of us has seen before. We’re running out of oil, forests, minerals, fresh water, and clean air. Our ever-expanding population means there aren’t enough resources available or enough people to manage them – hence rising global unemployment. So while there is freedom to choose, there are also many constraints on us all, and more are coming. With climate change providing clear evidence of its presence, we are beginning to see our vulnerability, in the face of nature’s power.

And yet, we continue on as if nothing matters. We continue to burn carbon, breathe and eat chemicals, exploit workers, ignore the needs of communities, disrespect people and culture, and largely escape through the myriad of distractions we’ve created. It’s as if our collective survival instinct has been numbed. Sure, it’s important to appreciate the beauty of life, of this place, and to have a good time and do what brings one joy. But love goes beyond the self, does it not? Are we not social organisms, tied together through a complex web of relationships? No one lives in a vacuum, and yet we act much of the time – in education, government, community, and business – as if only our needs matter.

When we acknowledge our interconnectedness, we understand the ripple affect of all actions – onto partners and children, neighbors and strangers, customers and employees, shareholders and citizens.

Part of maturation is understanding our obligation to others, that our individual freedom is not merely a right but a responsibility to create the shared context in which we can be free to be who we are. This does not infer, as many falsely believe, a competition among self-interests, because that translates into a society with winners and losers, haves and have nots, wealth and poverty, dominant culture and minorities, leaders and followers, the powerful and the impotent. Such arbitrary constructs of the mind maintain the illusion of separation and encourage people to “get theirs” no matter how it might hurt other people or the planet.

The cycle of disconnection will continue until we decide, individually, as an island community, and as a planetary civilization, that love extends to all aspects of our lives – to all people and to the natural world upon which our economy and survival depends. Because love is contagious, when we prioritize the health and well being of all, when we respect the environment, and when we observe and prepare for the challenges ahead, only then can we truly be free.

Most people tend not to change unless forced to do so, and so naturally there is resistance in this society to government attempting to legislate what doesn’t seem to come naturally. But when business selfishly assumes that its responsibility is only to owners, the rest of society – employees, customers, shareholders, communities –loses. This is not success. If the consequence of economic activity is pollution, toxicity, climate change, resource shortages, corruption, and concentration of political power, then how are we free? Shouldn’t the rights of individuals to be free from the harmful behaviors of others be paramount in something called a civilization?

If you think about where every dollar you spend goes, are you aware of how it impacts people’s lives or how it may harm this island or some other place on the planet? Having so much information about the state of the world at our disposal means we see how problems elsewhere truly do affect us and us them. We can pretend otherwise, but it’s time for us to accept our true responsibility as beings with incredible power to use it wisely and ethically. There is no there there, no way to truly justify “out of sight out of mind” behavior, for it all comes back around to us. Ultimately, we are all actors in the current story of creation. We make decisions each and every day about how we treat one another, what we buy and from whom, how we eat and care for our health, what rules and laws are needed, and how we help out in the community to make it safer and foster a higher quality of life for all.

It’s time to go beyond sustainability and cultivate a sense of resilience against all that interferes with the spirit of connection. As we face the realities of climate change, social and economic inequity, and all forms of personal, community, and corporate and geopolitical dysfunction, let us invest in solutions that empower and inspire ourselves, that allow us to live in harmony with one another and nature. Let us prepare for the next chapter of this civilization by assuring food security, energy independence, clear air, water, and food, and nontoxic buildings and goods. Let us create jobs producing, rather than importing, the clothing we wear, the paper we use, and the homes we build. There is enough to go around on this finite planet, we just need to be less selfish and share more with kindness. We need to think like nature, where there is no waste, no harm, and plenty of abundance.

This article first appeared in the Big Island Weekly.  Michael Kramer is Managing Partner of Natural Investments and is co-founder of the Hawaii Alliance for a Local Economy, the Think Local Buy Local Campaign, and the Kuleana Green Business Program.

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Michael Kramer

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