Let’s be Pioneers

Mindfulness leads to awareness of our surroundings as well as our impact on the world and other people. When you are aware of what is happening inside yourself as well as around the world, you are more likely to choose sustainable practices. Mindfulness also builds empathy and compassion, caring deeply for the other people in the world would also lead to more environmentally friendly practices. Our actions impact the environment, but the environment impacts the health of people across the world.

Marc Cohen’s talk about mindfulness, wellness, and sustainability focused quite a bit on illness and wellness, most importantly that when someone is ill they are focused on themselves, on the “I” and when a person is well, they are focused on others and bettering the world, the “we.” He presented the idea that you can only devote yourself to taking care of the environment and other people when you are well, and that mindfulness is one way to get there. He also touched on the dangers of consumerism and how every time you buy something you “vote with your wallet.” I’ve known for quite some time that it’s important to know if the company you are buying from is conducting itself in a way you want to support, but I had never thought of it as a vote before. I wish that sentiment was more widespread, not just to encourage people to be smart with their purchases, but also because there are many young people who want to make a difference in the world now, but they are still too young to vote. I think if I had been told between the ages of 14-17 that I could make a difference just by being mindful of my purchases, I wouldn’t have felt so powerless in being able to affect my world. Another thing Marc Cohen said that I thought was interesting was to “imagine a world where the main industry is tourism and there are only two classes of people: guests and hosts.” Though he only briefly touched on this topic, it caught my attention. If everyone had the mindset that they were either a guest or a host, I think they would take much better care of the environment. From the perspective of a host, you would want to make sure that everything is in good condition for your guests, that everything is clean and well taken care of. For example, someone who is expecting guests at their home takes many precautions to make sure everything is presentable. From the perspective of a guest, it would be terribly rude to enter someone’s home and trash it, so most guests are extra careful to be considerate of their environment. Although it wasn’t expanded upon, I thought it was a very intriguing idea

One of the things we’ve talked about in class is biophilia, or the love of life. I feel like everyone has at least a little bit of biophilia in them as a fundamental part of being a human being, but as we’ve become a more urban society, I think many of us have lost touch with that aspect of ourselves. It reminds me of Native American practices that leave no waste, and often focus on being kind to the land. For example, Cherokees traditional beliefs were based on the idea the plants and animals were every bit as special as people, and animals are often found at the center of creation stories. Essentially, the plants and animals gave us what we have today, and it is our duty to take care of it. Today, I think so many people are so far removed from nature, living in their “concrete jungles” that it’s hard to have a personal relationship with nature and the other forms of life that coexist on this planet with us and many of us forget about our inherent biophilia. But I also think that having more greenery in cities and taking time to sit and enjoy being with nature, taking the time to be mindful, could help people remember their love of life and want to do more to protect the environment.

One of our readings for class was a debate on if Western Values are compatible with sustainable practices. I read the “YES” article that claimed values like globalization and free market economies can help create a more sustainable environment. I understand the idea that after a certain point, having a high income can lead to a reduction in carbon emissions and other types of pollution, but the article also said that until income reaches that point, pollution output rises with income. The article also said that there is no way to what the exact turning point is because it changes depending on what kind of emission is being studied. Since there is no clear turning point, there is no way to tell how long it would take to reach it, and our environment simply doesn’t have the time for us find out. This approach to sustainability seems too hypothetical for me to get on board with it. Not to mention that if emissions rise along with income until reaches the magic point, we would be doing even more irreparable damage to the environment before being able to backtrack. I think the article had some good points, and it might be possible for Western values to coexist with sustainable practices, but I think we need to take action that will work faster than anything discussed in the article.

The TED Talk by Leyla Acaroglu is possibly my favorite TED Talk that I’ve watched in a while (and that’s saying something because I watch a lot of TED Talks). When she walked through the entire lifecycle of a paper bag, I was shocked to learn the different impact paper and plastic bags have on the environment, and that we need to take into consideration not just what the material is, but how much of it was used. I was also surprised to learn about what happens when we throw things away. Of course I knew about landfills, but it had never occurred to me that things are so tightly compacted that there would be no oxygen to help biodegradable trash decompose and that it would result in the emission of methane instead of carbon dioxide. One thing I especially liked about Leyla’s talk was how she was inspiring and able to make me feel like the things I do truly make a difference. Most of the time when I learn about what is happening to our environment, I feel paralyzed, like the world is too far gone and there’s nothing I can do to stop it, but I didn’t feel that way after watching this TED Talk. A point that I really enjoyed was when she talked about designing to solve the problem, like with the tea kettle that makes it less likely that someone would use too much water when brewing their tea. Design-led system change, as she called it, seems like one of the best options we must make major changes in our environmental impact, without losing all of the consumer lifestyle that people (especially Americans) are so fond of. If we can design our consumer goods to behavior-changing, I think we could make a lot of progress towards a more sustainable future.

The problem I chose to focus on for the investigative report is energy consumed by buildings, both commercial and residential. Right now, most of our energy comes from nonrenewable fossil fuels like oil and natural gas. Not only are these fuel source not going to be around forever, they negatively impact the environment and contribute the abundance of greenhouse gases that are causing climate change. Although sources of “green energy” exist such as solar energy, wind energy, and hydroelectricity, making the full transition to these energy sources will be difficult. One of the main problems being the powerful grip oil companies have on the national and world economy. Not only that, but clean energy can create its own set of problems. For example, dams are great sources of hydroelectricity and clean, renewable, and inexpensive energy. However, building dams create man-made lakes which can affect the river and the land it runs through in unexpected ways.

Leyla said in her talk by saying that a colleague wasn’t doing sustainable design because that’s what pioneers do and “pioneers have arrows in their backs.” She closed by saying that she hoped everyone listening would be a pioneer. So, let us all go forth and be pioneers, the world certainly needs it.

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