Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Book Festival's Green Panel Wrestles With Consumer Decisions

In a panel entitled, “It Ain’t Easy Being Green” at the Brooklyn Book Festival this past Sunday — moderated by Ted Hamm, founding editor of the political journal Brooklyn Rail — environmentalists Colin Beaven (No Impact Man), Heather Rogers (Green Gone Wrong) and Anna LappĂ© (Diet For a Hot Planet) gathered to speak about the green movement.

Before starting the discussion, I was happy to notice that Beaven removed three of the Poland Spring water bottles from the table (the panelists had their own reusable water containers, Ted Hamm did not). It always frustrates me that these water bottles are supplied at so-called "green" events, sometimes even the same events at which stopping the use of said water bottles is discussed.

Anyway, the overall theme of the discussion was how corporations and consumers have misapplied the label of sustainability. As a case in point, LappĂ©, who has been working to change the country’s food system, spoke about how McDonald’s claims to be a sustainable company — a "community-building sustainability organization," in fact — in part because its Happy Meals have come with stuffed animal versions of endangered species.

"We cannot just let food be at the mercy of our market sources," she continued. "We have to change the food system from the ground up."

Rogers pointed out that "getting to environmental sustainability isn’t a product we’re going to buy. It's a process." She travels around the world looking at how other cultures tackle environmental solutions. "I don't know if we can solve the problems of mass consumption through more consumption," she said, mentioning an example of an organic sugar company that grew its sugar cane in the place of a forest that it had destroyed.

"Shopping isn't voting, it's shopping," she noted. "There are so many technologies we already have. And yet in the United States we're constantly focused on the technology that's just around the corner."

Beaven spent a year of his life living in New York City producing no environmental impact. That year produced a blog, a book and a documentary film shown at the Sundance Film Festival. He explained that if people start by making lifestyle changes, they can then get involved in the political process.

"We don't need to know much more that we already do. The question is whether we believe we can do anything about it," he said, "Our capacity to do more good is infinite. The question is: What do we use our resources for?"