Monday, March 30, 2009

Detaching Environmentalism from Politics

In understanding the term Green as it is used in the current environmental movement, we find out that it is based on the “Four Pillars” of the German, Gründ (Green) Party. The Four Pillars, written in 1984, represent the founding principals of the political party as ecological wisdom, social justice, grass roots democracy, and non-violence. I believe this is central to any discussion on current trends in making a more environmentally responsible world come to fruition.
Although I understand the logic of these core values and believe they hold true as goals societies should aim for, the political ties these pillars have are too strong and therefore have an inherent opposition simply because they are placed as political objectives. I believe that in order to have a clean environment, the motivation to change needs to be understood by all regardless of political leanings. The least politically tied goal of these pillars is ecological wisdom, it seems there can be common interests, profits, and benefits regardless of right or left wing politics. It is hard to say the same thing for social justice, grass roots democracy and non-violence.
The “best” solution, in terms of a broad reaching and effective one, in my view is a politically neutral solution and for this we turn to research, facts, numbers and charts. The benefits of a Life Cycle Analysis are key to helping companies recognize their ecological impact. A parallel can be drawn to the Nutrition Label Act of 1990 that created heightened awareness about the food eat and more importantly, the choice to make an informed decision as a consumer. If the government is to take a stance it has to be on behalf of the consumer because, especially in a country like the USA, it is the only way to encourage companies to change their methods of production.
In the natural world, a close look at an ecosystem shows the roles of producers, consumers, and decomposers where each is dependent on the other for survival and a return to earth means eventually becoming earth and feeding the system again. The EPA’s definition of LCA as a Cradle to Grave concept is “raw materials from the earth to create the product and ends at the point when all materials are returned to the earth”. There are two basic concepts that we can extract from this phrase that directly feed the more thoughtfully developed Cradle to Cradle approach. First, the phrase “returned to earth” implies that it is simply put back in the earth but not necessarily benefiting anyone or becoming anything else. This is reinforced by the second concept in the phrase, “ends at” these two words have a detrimental affect on our current approach and understanding of product life. If the term “ends at” needs to be used, then it should consider the point at which the raw material is formed again making the complete cycle the end point. McDonaugh and Branghart have explained this concept most successfully in their collaboration with Rhoner Textiles in Switzerland where they were able to produce cleaner water leaving the factory than coming in and the waste material was used as insulation for local agriculture.
Although the moral implications of social justice and environmental action are equally important, the politics involved in the resolution of the social aspects of our society are much deeper today than those implied by a more ecologically conscious world today.

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