Tag Archives: environment

Advertising: Are You Buying It?

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko
Special to the Surf City Voice

Here’s an inescapable reality: There are only two ways to be rich – make more or want less. This is known as “Rimo’s Rule,” though that’s beside the point.

Rather, the point here is to recognize, in our consumer-based, advertising-saturated society, how very hard it is to want less materially yet why we must to do so anyway. While it’s intuitive that most people – both the “99 percent” and the “1 percent” – could achieve greater contentment in life by better appreciating the non-material and material riches they already have, there are far-reaching, global consequences of which path to richness a society as a whole chooses.

Consider an often repeated fact, that Americans make up less than five percent of the world’s population but consume 20 to 25 percent of the world’s resources (like food, fresh water, wood, minerals and energy). This means that, on average, Americans consume five to seven times the resources per capita as the rest of humanity combined.

Renowned ecologist and agronomist David Pimentel of Cornell Universityhas calculated that the Earth’s resources could sustain a population of only two billion if everyone had the current average standard of living in the United States. His detailed analysis was published in the journal Human Ecology in 2010.

The world population is already at seven billion, and the latest United Nations projection is that the head count will reach 10 billion well before 2100. For all 10 billion to enjoy the American standard of living, Pimentel’s data imply that it would take four additional Earth planets to supply the necessary natural resources.

Even if that calculation is off by, say, a whole planet, it’s evident that the American lifestyle – with big homes, plasma TVs, multiple cars running on fossil fuels – is not a sustainable model. Serious threats to the environment, like global climate change, water shortages and pollution from industrial chemicals, continue to mount up, and well over half of humanity is already malnourished, according to the World Health Organization.

Our consumer culture is based on a belief that happiness derives from having more stuff, and advertising is the driving engine of consumerism. The primary aim of much advertising is to create need where none previously existed. Whatever is being marketed, the message boils down to either you gotta have one if you don’t already or, if you already own one, you need a better one.

Through his whimsical characters and rhymes, Dr. Seuss warned way back in his 1971 children’s book “The Lorax” of the threat to the environment when greed compels corporations to fabricate needs: Environmental devastation ensued when the book’s inhabitants were convinced they had to have “the needs, which nobody needs.” An animated film adaptation of the “The Lorax” is in theaters now. Continue reading Advertising: Are You Buying It?

Is Your God an Environmentalist?

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko
Special to the Surf City Voice

The presidential campaign season is in full swing and, like it or not, most candidates are pretty much in-your-face touting their religious faith as an essential qualification for office.

Though the candidates may spout, unsolicited, how their faith shapes their stances on many political hot potatoes, like women’s reproductive rights, gay marriage and even the economy, there’s nary a one talking about what their religion calls on them to do to fix all the environmental woes the nation and planet are facing: species extinction, toxic chemical pollution, global climate change and deforestation, to name a few.

In fact, candidates are largely steering clear of talking about the environment at all. Does this mean that religious traditions are silent on the responsibility of the faithful to protect the environment? Hardly.

For the first time in history, leaders of five major world religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism and Islam) gathered in 1986 at the United Nations to unite in developing a means to inform North American congregations about the serious environmental problems facing life on Earth. The result was a formal pronouncement from each faith tradition declaring how its followers are called upon to care for nature.

Excerpts from these so-called “Assisi Declarations” are reproduced below. Other religions, including Bahá’í, Jainism and Sikhism, subsequently issued similar declarations.

. . . As we all know, disregard for the Natural Inheritance of human beings has brought about the danger that now threatens the peace of the world as well as the chance to live of endangered species. Such destruction of the environment and the life depending on it is a result of ignorance, greed and disregard for the richness of all living things. This disregard is gaining great influence. If peace does not become a reality in the world, and if the destruction of the environment continues as it does today, there is no doubt that future generations will inherit a dead world. . . . We are the ones with the responsibility and the ability to take steps of concrete action, before it is too late.
          His Holiness the Dalai Lama

. . . But it is especially through man and woman, made in the image and likeness of God and entrusted with a unique dominion over all visible creatures, that the Lord’s goodness and providence are to be manifested . . . , man’s dominion cannot be understood as license to abuse, spoil, squander or destroy what God has made to manifest his glory. That dominion cannot be anything else than a stewardship in symbiosis with all creatures. On the other hand, his self-mastery in symbiosis with creation must manifest the Lord’s exclusive and absolute dominion over everything, over man and over his stewardship. At the risk of destroying himself, man may not reduce to chaos or disorder, or, worse still, destroy God’s bountiful treasures. . . .
          Father Lanfranco Serrini
          Minister General, OFM Conv.

. . . The Hindu tradition of reverence for nature and all forms of life, vegetable or animal, represents a powerful tradition which needs to be re-nurtured and reapplied in our contemporary context. . . . What is needed today is to remind ourselves that nature cannot be destroyed without mankind ultimately being destroyed itself. With nuclear weapons representing the ultimate pollutant, threatening to convert this beautiful planet of ours into a scorched cinder unable to support even the most primitive life forms, mankind is finally forced to face its dilemma. Centuries of rapacious exploitation of the environment have finally caught up with us, and a radically changed attitude towards nature is now not a question of spiritual merit or condescension, but of sheer survival.

Let us declare our determination to halt the present slide towards destruction, . . .to reverse the suicidal course upon which we have embarked. Let us recall the ancient Hindu dictum – ‘The Earth is our mother, and we are all her children.’
          Dr. Karen Singh
          President, Hindu Virat Samaj

. . . The encounter of God and man in nature is thus conceived in Judaism as a seamless web with man as the leader, and custodian, of the natural world. Even in the many centuries when Jews were most involved in their own immediate dangers and destiny, this universalist concern has never withered. . . . Now, when the whole world is in peril, when the environment is in danger of being poisoned and various species, both plant and animal, are becoming extinct, it is our Jewish responsibility to put the defense of the whole of nature at the very center of our concern. . . . , man was given dominion over nature, but he was commanded to behave towards the rest of creation with justice and compassion. . . .
          Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg
          Vice President, World Jewish Congress

Unity, trusteeship and accountability, that is tawheed, khalifa and akhrah, the three central concepts of Islam, are also the pillars of the environmental ethics of Islam. They constitute the basic values taught by the Qur’an. It is these values which led Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, to say: ‘. . . The world is green and beautiful and God has appointed you his stewards over it.’ . . . We often say that Islam is a complete way of life, by which it is meant that our ethical systems provide the bearings for all our actions. . . . They furnish us with a world-view which enables us to ask environmentally appropriate questions, draw up the right balance sheet of possibilities, properly weigh the environmental costs and benefits of what we want, what we can do within the ethical boundaries established by God, without violating the rights of His other creations. If we use the same values . . . as we do to know ourselves as Muslims – those who subject themselves to the Will of God – then, I believe, we will create a true Islamic alternative, a caring and practical way of being, doing and knowing, to the environmentally destructive thought and action which dominate the world today.
          Dr. Abdullah Omar Nassef
          Secretary General, Muslim World League

Atheists, agnostics, naturalists, rationalists, secularists and other nontheists are often grouped together as “humanists” when discussing their ethical code which derives outside the sphere of religious doctrine. The American Humanist Association has long been a voice for humanists and, within its “Humanist Manifesto,” has this to say about man’s responsibility for the health of the planet, lest one assume that only the religious feel thus obligated.

. . . Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity. . . . Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. . . . Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. . . . We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner. . . .

The Assisi Declarations reveal a clear consensus among the world’s major religious traditions that, no matter how spiritualism or a higher power might be conceptualized, being a good steward of the environment is deemed a fundamental article of faith. So for people of faith (and humanists too), the question that begs to be asked is this: Are you a practicing environmentalist, and what about your presidential pick?

The Orange County Interfaith Coalition for the Environment, a local non-profit, offers a venue for members of all faiths to unite in raising awareness and empowering people to actively protect and preserve creation through responsible stewardship (www.OCICE.org).


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Buddy, can’t spare a dime for the environment?

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko
Special to the Surf City Voice

How much are you willing to pay for access to clean air and drinking water?

What’s a fair price to keep toxic chemicals out of the food supply, to insure the future of ocean and freshwater fish stocks, to keep public parks open, and to stem the melting of the polar ice caps so our coastal cities remain above sea level and polar bears won’t go extinct?

Questions of this sort prompted me to investigate how much the federal government and my home state of California (and ultimately us, the taxpayers) actually spend on environmental protection. Turns out neither comes close to one thin dime on the dollar.

Federal outlay for environmental protection is one percent
Federal environmental spending, like defense spending, comes under discretionary spending which in 2009 amounted to $1.2 trillion or about one-third of the total $3.5 trillion federal outlay. Mandatory spending makes up the remaining two-thirds of the federal budget (nearly $2.3 trillion) and goes to hefty programs like Medicare, Social Security and interest on the national debt.

Discretionary spending is divided into two broad categories, national defense and non-national defense, with defense spending eating up 53 percent of all discretionary dollars in 2009. The government keeps tabs on federal environmental spending in a category called natural resources and environment (NRE) which totaled $35 billion or just 2.8 percent of discretionary spending and a meager one percent of total federal spending.

What this means in dollars and cents spent on behalf of each person in the country is easy to compute using the U.S. Census Bureau estimate that the country’s population in 2009 slightly exceeded 307 million: Per capita federal spending for NRE was just $114.49, dwarfed by the $2,139.24 spent for every man, woman and child on national defense.

That’s just 31 cents per day spent on my (or your) behalf to preserve the environment versus $5.86 spent daily in one’s name for national defense.

Historically, the picture has looked much the same (see graph), although there were modest relative upticks in NRE spending during Bill Clinton’s and especially Jimmy Carter’s presidency where, in 1980, funding for NRE reached an all time high of almost six percent of discretionary dollars.

Remember, Carter is the president who also installed solar panels on the White House, only to see them removed when Ronald Reagan took office. President Obama, by the way, has just pledged to reinstall them by spring 2011.

That relatively more was spent three decades ago than now on NRE seems backwards given that threats to the environment of herculean proportion in today’s headlines – like ocean acidification & fish depletion, deforestation, global warming, environmental contamination from endocrine disrupting chemicals in everyday consumer products, and a Texas-sized cesspool of plastic trash in the Pacific Ocean – were on the radar of far fewer scientists back then and had not yet entered the general public’s consciousness.

As example, the name “Cousteau” in 1980 evoked only captivating images of the ocean’s mystery and abundance, courtesy of the pioneering oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, whereas today his grandchildren Philippe, Jr. and Alexandra use the celebrity of the family name to bring attention to the serious degradations to vast bodies of both salt and freshwater wrought by human activities since their grandfather’s time.

The folly of the huge imbalance between discretionary spending on national defense and NRE is brought into focus by the concept of environmental security which has gained political traction in recent years, especially as relates to U.S. dependence on foreign oil. This concept cautions that political instability and turmoil can emerge wherever there is competition for natural resources (e.g. water, land, fossil fuels) or when masses of people are displaced as a result of drought or famine triggered by environmental degradation, as in desertification, deforestation, soil erosion, or declining marine fisheries.

Environmental security acknowledges that each nation’s environmental foundations – its soil, minerals, vegetation, water and climate – ultimately underpin all socioeconomic activities and consequently political stability. The United States is no exception, yet we fund environmental preservation as though it is the concern of some minor special interest group.

Colin Powell warned as early as 1999, “Sustainable development is a compelling moral and humanitarian issue, but it is also a security imperative. Poverty, environmental degradation and despair are destroyers of people, of society, of nations. This unholy trinity can destabilize countries, even entire regions.” One need only reflect on the modern history of the African continent to drive home the point.

California budgets six cents on the dollar for the environment
California is our most populous state and is generally regarded a progressive leader on environmental issues. Perhaps the dearth in federal environmental spending is compensated for at the state level?

California’s expenditures for natural resources and environmental protection accounted for six cents of every dollar in the state’s 2009-10 budget ($7.3 billion out of $119 billion), according to the California Department of Finance. Per capita, this amounted to $190.

Adding it all up, the federal government and the state of California together spent $305 in the last year to keep the environment safe for me. Given what a good pair of walking shoes or membership at a health club can set you back, this doesn’t seem like much.

And with unemployment and the economy driving most political discourse these days, the likelihood seems near zero that the pieces of the federal and state budget pies carved out for the environment will grow any time soon. Case in point: the allocation for the environment in the California budget just enacted for 2010-11 was cut to 5.5 percent, reflecting a spending drop of $415 million compared to the previous year.

I, however, am all for diverting a good chunk of the spending in my name on military defense and foreign wars to funding efforts to stave off very real looming threats to both national security and my own personal well-being from our fossil fuel-based economy, environmental contaminates, water shortages, global climate change and the like.

If only there was a spot on federal and state income tax forms letting us choose how our tax dollars will be spent.

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