Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Who Would Have Thunk It?

It is always most gratifying when positive developments occur at a place where they were least expected to happen. Environmental awareness is an idea that is not expected to be compatible with the operating philosophy of the largest retail establishment in the world; WAL MART. The company had become a symbol for profligate consumption, wrong labour practices, stingy health care, irresponsible corporate behaviour and a monopolistic price fixer. To be candid with you, the above is an adequate description of my views regarding this firm. But then I learned about the relative success that they have had with their sustainability initiatives over the past 2-3 years.

Wal Mart is so big and so powerful that no one, and I mean no one, can afford not to play by its rules, not even General Electric or Proctor and Gamble. When the retail behemoth adopted its sustainability initiatives it forced GE to supply it with 100's of millions of CFL (light bulbs that save 75% on electric use and last for 8-10 years). Thanks to Wal Mart's new policies P&G has was encouraged to reinvent the way laundry detergents are produced. As a result the consumers have saved millions of gallons of water,millions of pounds of plastic, millions of pounds of cardboard in addition to the millions of gallons of diesel fuel.

Am I seriously suggesting that these few developments are enough to lift Wal Mart into the pantheon of environmentally friendly companies? Of course not but I am suggesting that we need to commend Wal Mart for what it has done and we need to make sure that management understands that they have an obligation to continue to implement "sustainability initiatives" all across the company and all across its departments. To pick up the low fruits is not enough.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Arguably the most eloquent case for biodiversity , sustainability and environmental justice has never been made clearer than in the words of Aldo Leopold when he wrote:

"A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."

But is it possible to liberate nature and preserve its integrity without first liberating ourselves from discrimination and injustice? Of course not. But this time around there is more optimism in the air than at any other time. I know that the honeymoon would not last for long but maybe, just maybe this time will be different and this land will be really and truly made for you and me. Pete Seeger has managed to restore to the glorious Woody Guthrie song the two stanzas that have been excised for decades:

As I was walkin' - I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress passin'
But on the other side .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!

In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office - I see my people
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me.

We are all in your debt Pete Seeger for having the courage to use the above words as you lead thousands of US citizens in a sing along during the pre Obama inauguration festivities.

Frivolty is in the eye of the Beholder

Only the Necessities of Life

I have always found it sad and amusing at the same time that very few, if any, practice praxis. It seems that individual humans are endowed with an uncanny ability to ask others to abide by certain principles that they hold themselves to be exempt from. The sad thing about the above is that, more often than not, they do not realize the logical absurdity of their position.

These seminal contradictions are found across all fields and they span all regions. One of the most absurd positions is to be found among the practitioners of the new religion of environmentalism. Often the strongest advocates of the need to act in an ecofriendly way are the rich and the wealthy. They campaign for alternative clean energy, take a strong stand against industrial farming and demonstrate to prevent deforestation.

Each of the above is a noble goal in itself but the irony is that those who are the most vocal in their demands are often the largest abusers of what they want us to protect. Many of these advocates who favour a smaller footprint are the most extravagant consumers. They are more often than not the ones who take the ski trips to far away places, live in homes of over 5000 Sf, but with an expensive PV system on the roof, subscribe to every imaginable magazine and do their food shopping at WholeFoods.

The same phenomenon is to be observed among those who advocate high tariffs against imported goods. They are the jet set that drives the Benzes, Beemers in addition to the Lexuses and Infinitis. This is often the same crowd who is worried about the trade deficit and wants measures that would reduce the availability of Chinese made goods at Wal Mart as long as the availability of the $50,000.00 Patek Phillip watches , the $2,000.00 Gucci hand bags and the $500.00 Italian shoes is not reduced.

This disconnect between what we say that we want and what we do has become so widely spread as to not spare anyone. Infamous Judge Robert Bork [linked story] whose failed nomination to the Supreme Court preoccupied the nation for months has written, lectured and campaigned vigorously against frivolous suits brought up by individuals against corporations and other large institutions. What is unbelievable is that the same judge, Bork, slipped as he was leaving the dais at Yale University during one of his appearances and he promptly sued the University for negligence and for physical pain and psychological traumas. The same person who has campaigned tirelessly against frivolous law suits brought one himself asking for a million dollars in compensation. Ironically he denied, with a straight face, the contradiction when he was confronted with it.

I guess that frivolity is in the eye of the beholder.