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How to Conquer the World and Make it Green


Remember my submission to UNEP’s World Environment Day blogging competition? Well, I made the top ten! I’m now competing in a ‘blog-off’ against 9 other bloggers  to be UNEP’s official blogger for World Environment Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on June 6th. I would be delighted if you could go here and vote for my post  And if you have a few seconds to share the link to my post on Facebook or Twitter, I will be eternally grateful!

Picture my coronation:

All the world’s political leaders gathered before me—in a sunlit forest glade, where I have requested the crowning be held. Barack Obama gives me a wink as I raise my sceptre, which is made from 100% recycled materials.

I ask the gathered throng of presidents and prime ministers and monarchs if they are ready to end fossil fuel subsidies, and they raise fists in the air, chanting an Occupy slogan. I ask if they’re prepared to reach an international agreement on climate change. They go wild.

I kneel, and two doves descend from the sky, a crown of woven lotus blossoms clutched in their beaks. They lower it onto my head, and fly away. I am become Scott, Green Emperor of Planet Earth—here to make the 21st century sustainable, prosperous, and just.

And then, of course, I wake up.

Image credit: Carlos Gotay Martinez

I wake up to a world in which it isn’t just silly to think I’m likely to become some sort of global hegemon—it may also be naïve to think anyone with truly environmental priorities can attain that much political influence. With global politics swayed so heavily by corporations and special interests, how likely are the reins of power to be handed to an individual (or group) interested in prioritizing sustainability over short-term profits?

A world leader seeking to make the 21st century sustainable would want to stop using GDP as the sole measure of a nation’s health. Such a leader would also want to end government subsidies to fossil fuel corporations, which are not only the wealthiest companies on Earth, but are also destabilizing the climate our food systems depend on. As well, a truly environmental leader would probably want to mention the words “climate change” once in a while.

But these measures are not currently popular with the world’s most powerful business interests.

I’m not saying it’s impossible to put sustainability on the world agenda. What I am saying is we can’t afford to wait around for some environmental saviour to get voted in. We need to take this into our own hands.

The good news is that we’ve arrived at a time in which the people, when they want to, can wield more power than corporations and governments. The internet is helping decentralize power. It played a significant part in both Arab Spring and the Occupy movement, and when the U.S. government tried to pass legislation that would have restricted internet freedom everywhere, users worldwide staged history’s largest online protest to stop it. And they succeeded.

We have the ability to retake our planet. But we need to start getting as riled up about sustainability issues as we did about internet freedom.

The following four goals are vital to a sustainable 21st century:

1) Protect our ability to coordinate online. When governments try again to pass legislation (like SOPA) that would undermine free speech and innovation, we must be ready to rise up once again and defend our freedoms.

Image credit: Brian Sims

2) Preach climate science. Fossil fuel corporations are spending millions to confuse the public about climate change, much like tobacco companies fought to promote the idea that smoking is healthy in the 20th century. This confusion is the main obstacle to the outrage we should be seeing, over our continued reliance on fossil fuels as drought and extreme weather events become more common. Only when public perception aligns with scientific consensus—that human-caused climate change is occurring—will we be able to make the sweeping changes necessary to keep our planet livable.

3) Eradicate poverty. In 1998, the United Nations calculated that $40 billion U.S., invested wisely, could provide clean water, sanitation and other basic needs for the planet’s most impoverished people. Although that amount has likely increased since then, it is still well within reach. (It could be diverted from overgrown military budgets, or from fossil fuel subsidies.) Addressing poverty isn’t just the right thing to do—it is also central to sustainability, since widespread poverty is driving overpopulation. We need to make the internet roar with our will to see this done.

4) Strengthen local communities. Participating in large-scale activism is a worthy pursuit, but we must not do so to the detriment of our local communities. The Occupy movement strikes the right balance, here: participants worldwide share the goal of limiting money’s influence on politics, but each branch tackles issues on a local scale. We need to join forces with like-minded members of our communities, improving recycling programs, growing food and producing goods to sell locally, fighting deforestation, and taking polluters to task. As we do this—sharing our successes online—we will encourage each other to break with the unsustainable past, striding confidently forward, together, into a truly green future.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. 04/03/2012 5:58 PM

    Congratulations Scott, and good luck!

  2. Andrea permalink
    04/04/2012 9:59 PM

    Cool, I’ve never heard of a blog-off before!

    I like your fourth point, especially because it isn’t talked about much. I find that a lot of my strength to keep fighting the good fight comes from feeling like I’m part of a community and meeting others who want to make the community healthier and more vibrant. When you grow roots where you live you can take on bigger projects that extend outside of your local area.

    Keep it up!

    • 04/05/2012 5:18 PM

      I hadn’t heard of it either!

      I wholly agree. I’m hoping to get a lot more involved in my local community in the coming years. It seems the surest path to resilience and sustainability.

  3. 04/12/2012 2:38 PM

    We need an environmental saviour! I like the picture you painted there, right before you woke up. Could it ever happen?

    I really like this post – it distills the solution to 4 broad brushstrokes. I wish that politicians had the guts to stand up for the people, instead of the laying down before the throne of big business and the almighty “economy”. The good of the economy is almost a religion it seems, higher than human health, human rights, human happiness… When did we get so mixed up?

    It is interesting that many of the solutions to climate change also will make us happier, through increasing our connections with our food, with nature and with others. Community plays such an important role.

    Great post, I voted!

    • 04/13/2012 12:36 PM

      I’m dubious, but it sure would be nice! I would be happily wrong, if it happened.

      The funny thing about the obsession with the economy, and the prioritizing it over the environment, is that pursuing sustainability objectives is the best thing for the economy!

      Thank you for voting :D

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