Monday, October 22, 2012

Sustainability # 8: Handprints, An Empowering Context, and Deserving To Inherit The Earth

My Sustainability posts spring from my forum posts in the free Sustainability Course, offered by the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, which I am participating in.

After watching Jared Diamond's talk on TED, I was struck by his observation that the short term goals or views of the prevailing leadership of a society greatly impacts the long term survival of that society. Most of these societies did not see their coming demise because they (or their leaders, in particular), had horse blinders on and were focused on their short term goals. I see the same thing in my immediate environment. Most Filipinos have a vague sense that there is something wrong. This is why we have frequent floods in cities (more than in the past). We are starting to get a sense that the seasons have changed drastically, affecting our farmers and their patterns of planting and harvesting. But many of us go on with business as usual because we lack the education about sustainability and we lack alternatives. Sometimes, it's structural: not all cities practice waste segregation and recycling. Sometimes, it's prioritization. With all the bills that need to be addressed by the catch shares and proper implementation of automotive emissions are not at the top of the list. Overall, despite the Philippines being one of countries low on the list of GHG contributors, there is no sense of urgency in addressing sustainability.

It's easy to have a pessimistic view of our sustainability. There seems to be a mixed view: developed countries are lowering emissions, use of energy and consumption...but will they lower it to the right point at the time needed? Will developing countries also follow suit at a quicker timeline as well? It's also easy to see it as contentious: why should developing countries be forced to comply with new standards when it was the developed countries that created all the consumption and waste that has resulted in climate change? But neither pessism nor contention will get the job done. What is needed is an empowering context.

I go back to my first question when I started with this Sustainability course: Do we deserve to inherit this earth? There is no right or wrong answer. But the only answer that counts is the one that leads to action. So, for me, this earth is a blessing that neither I nor my children and my children's children is not deserved but it is a gift worth preserving. I look at my children and I know that I will do everything within my power to leave them an earth where they will be healthy, happy and productive.

Which leads me to handprints. There actually is a website and a movement called The idea of handprints was started by Gregory Norris, a lecturer from Harvard School of Public Health. He noticed that when his students learned about their footprints they started thinking negatively: they wished they were never born. This kind of thinking is self-defeating (and scarily self-fulfilling) which led Norris to start handprints...measuring our positive contribution to the earth vs. just measuring our rate of destruction. This is the kind of thinking that I want to propagate with my children and my own community: we can do something to preserve the earth (and ourselves) and we can do it NOW.

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