Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day: Thoughts Inspired by My Father on Social Responsibility

Today is Father's Day, and many people are celebrating by the exchange of gifts and spending time with family. For someone that has had a rough relationship with his father over the course of the last year, a card and a blog post might just have to suffice.

My father and I do not agree on many things and often, when we do talk, argue about almost any topic that comes up. That is why I am writing this post, because we had a conversation last week in which we found agreement on a particular subject, and I have been thinking about it ever since.

One of the behavior's that my father can't stand is being told what he should do. This extends to how he should act, what he can spend his money on, and how he can choose to manage his private property. His vision of a Utopian personnel existence is living in seclusion far away from the nearest neighbor.

So during the conversation we somehow wondered onto the subject of environmentalists and how they advocate for a change in our Nation's behavior of consumption. He finds it hypocritical for large environmental nonprofits to be advocating consuming less and restricting CO2 emissions while people at the top level of such organizations fly in private jets to conferences and meetings across the world. His favorite person to rail against is Al Gore, whom in my father's view is a hypocrite for berating people about their behavior while still consuming large amounts of just about everything.

My father's problem with this isn't so much the act of being told what to do and what is good for the environment, but the messenger being someone that doesn't appear to follow their own advice. I fully agree with the statement he was making.

That is why I have committed myself to not driving for an entire year; I am trying to be the change I wish to see. And while my effort might make only the most minuscule dent in the world's problems, if everyone took minuscule steps to adjust their behavior those actions add up quickly. Change starts with personal action.

I think there is a large gap in the way different generations deal with something like global environmental change. People of the generation that started the environmental movement, while being heavily opposed to the "establishment" back in the 60's/70's, quickly became integrated into the mainstream power structure of this country and largely organized nonprofits and wider advocacy groups on an older social model.

Today, that generation heads up many of the nonprofits that call for change in our relation to nature. While many are starting to use the social tools that have been innovated upon in the last decade, the organizations are still built on these older models. And while those that run these organizations can feel better about themselves when flying around the country by purchasing carbon offsets, even that action is somewhat questionable as a lot of carbon offset programs involve the planting of trees which absorb CO2. However, we're talking about the sequestration of carbon over the lifetime of a tree when a person taking a flight from coast-to-coast is creating emissions now (see section 2).

While it is true that certain things just can't be accomplished without face-to-face interactions, there is also a lot more that people can do than just buying carbon offsets and driving hybrids.

A good proportion of my generation - I'm 25 - grew up without really knowing what its like to be deprived of essential goods. In fact we often grew up with an overabundance of everything. A lot of this came from the constant drive of previous generations to provide for their children a better life than what they had as children. For the most part my generation can't provide our future children with more than what we had growing up and instead need to focus, not on providing consumer goods, but a better quality of life and that includes leaving behind an environment that is less poisoned than it is now.

For a generation of people that have grown up in an era of over-consumption, displays of wealth and social status are a cliche. That is why many reality T.V. shows (such as Family Jewels and Real Housewives) are such ironic social commentary; they are supposed to show what the American ideal of hard work leads to, but just end up in a farcical cluster-fuck of depraved bouguoise extravagance. This point is made in a post at GOOD with the example given of a business person giving up their BMW because he was embarrassed by it when meeting with younger professionals.

I'm not saying that my generation holds the ultimate moral high ground when it comes to personal social responsibility; we still over-consume. But the younger generation does understand the power that personal choices have in shaping our reality. Individual baby steps can turn into giant leaps when pooled together.

So, I must thank my father, for teaching me the that a person must take responsibility for their own actions and the value of being honest.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

Maybe each generation takes steps toward change? An evolution in thinking and a redefinition of quality of life. Be careful you all don't turn into us as you grow older.

Bookmark and Share