Many scientists warned about DDT before Silent Spring but it was not until the public became aware that the government became active in its ban;
Silent Spring was a best seller, and public reaction to it launched the modern environmental movement in the United States. The year after it appeared, President Kennedy ordered his Science Advisory Committee to investigate Carson’s claims. The report the committee issued “add[ed] up to a fairly thorough-going vindication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring thesis,” in the words of the journal Science, and recommended a phaseout of “persistent toxic pesticides”.
Movements become successful when a critical mass of people become aware of an issue and put enough pressure on the “system” to change.
Back in 1993, the Dalai Lama introduced the concept of “environmental awareness”;
Because of the material wealth and resulting environmental problems seen in the West, some people say we need to discard the modern way of life. But I feel this is a bit extreme. We must use wisdom and understanding to tackle this ecological problem. I am very happy there are so many experts from different fields to inform the discussions of these issues.
I feel that it is extremely important that each individual realize their responsibility for preserving the environment, to make it a part of daily life, create the same attitude in their families, and spread it to the community.
To the degree we make environmental awareness a part of daily life, we have a chance.
Today, the one issue that is front and center among scientists and environmental activists is climate change caused by GHG, mostly CO2, emitted by industry and human activity. Many activists organizations including 350.org, Climate Hawks and others, are doing a great job at the grassroots level to fight the influence of the fossil fuel industry in DC.
The fight has long ways to go due to the massive amount of money spend by the fossil fuel industry promoting “climate denial”. The US is #85 when it comes to accepting the human cause of climate change according to this source. Only 49% believe so.
If environmental awareness became more prevalent, the system would be forced to change. But the “system” is not just DC politics.
One way of looking at the “system” activity is to do it from the point of view of the economy.
70% of the economy is consumption. The final stage of most of the economy is consumers purchasing products and services. When consumers spend on a product or a service they make a decision.
According to at least 2 studies, as many as 15% of all consumers in the US would make a purchasing decision based on the sustainability of a product. Here is one by the UN and Accenture. Certainly 15% is far from a majority. Most consumers live from paycheck to paycheck which makes it difficult to think in terms of sustainability including climate change.
But what if the information to make a purchasing decision based on the sustainability, again including climate change, was easily available? What if a consumer could obtain the environmental footprint of a product and compare it with other similar products? What if environmental awareness did not require hours of research about the impact on the environment of one product vs. another?
Once decision making about purchasing consumer products based on information about sustainability, climate change, animal cruelty, GMOs, recycleability, disposal, child labor and other issues is made easy, the environmental awareness required to save the planet may become a part of daily life.
When consumers can “vote with their wallets” for more sustainable products and services, the pressure on manufacturers and their supply chains will come from a different direction with no government involvement.
In future diaries we’ll discuss the different approaches to get this done.