Thanks for Your Sustainable Thanks

Do you know what happened in the year 1621? If you guessed the First Thanksgiving, you would be correct! 1621 was witness to a successful harvest season for our pilgrim friends (finally!), and their Gourdswanting to thank their Native American contemporaries who had so graciously taught them how to manage the land and its yields. Today, close to 400 years since, Thanksgiving is still a time to be with family and friends and give thanks for all the good things we have in life. Something to think about this holiday season is how important the earth is to each of us. The oxygen we breathe, the water we drink, the sunshine we need to stay healthy, the snow we ski in, the mountains we hike in, the soil we garden with; all are a valuable part of the earth that we should stop and give thanks for. And what better way to give thanks to the earth this Thanksgiving than by making our Thanksgiving dinners more eco-friendly?! In honor of the earth and in the spirit of thankfulness, I have composed a list of things you can do to say ‘thank you!’ to the environment this holiday season.

First of all, consider buying an organic, free range turkey. Not only are you ensuring that your turkey had a lovely little life outside of a cage, enjoying organic food, but you are also making an investment in the environment: organic farming practices are way less harmful to the earth than standard bird farms. You might even try to buy your organic turkey from a local farmer, thereby purchasing a great tasting, healthy bird for your table, and also racking up the good karma points by supporting local business.

Secondly, and on the same note, why not buy your green beans, pumpkins, cranberries, and sweet potatoes from a farmer’s market? Not only will you be supporting your local food producers, you’ll also be saving fuel and carbon emissions caused by shipping. Can it get better?

Third, if you are having a large gathering over for the holidays and are dreading doing dishes, consider buying compostable disposable plates and cups, instead of Styrofoam and plastic tableware.

These are just a few ideas to get you started on your eco-friendly Thanksgiving dinner. Remember to say ‘thank you!’ to the earth and all the good things that come with it this season, and have a wonderful and safe break!

And finally, because I am an anthropology major and a total nerd, here’s a small list of food typically eaten at this time of year that was domesticated in the Americas: turkey, chocolate, squash, and maize. If you’re eating any of these things over the holidays, think of the Neolithic people domesticating them thousands of years ago, and be sure to thank them too.J

~ Anna Crona

What I Learned in McCarthy, Alaska

After spending a summer living on the edge of the Wrangell St. Elias National Park, I’ve learned a couple things about a simpler, less wasteful, more self-sufficient (and therefore more sustainable) way of life.

First of all, have a garden.  It gives you bragging rights as well as food.  Good food that’s not wrapped in multiple layers of plastic, that hasn’t been shipped across the Atlantic ocean in a gas guzzling ship, and that devoid of chemicals/fertilizers/pesticides (unless you chose to use that nasty stuff).

Second, park your car for several months and see what happens.  Pretend there is a river with no bridge across it between you and your car (it was actually for the most part like that in McCarthy).  A little biking, a little walking (sometimes running if you’re late) and “VIOLA”:  you won’t need to pay hundreds of dollars for those aerobics classes.  You may also get to see the way moonlight illuminates the surface of a swift-moving river, or smell the roses in your neighbor’s garden three doors down…if you would only get out of your damn car.

Third, pretend there isn’t a recycling or trash service FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE. Imagine that. Can you?  What if that service existed only hours away (like in McCarthy) and so you had to be a little more careful about your consumption and your waste or else you’d be driving 6 hours in one day to drop off your egg shells and old newspapers.  If the options were either burn it or bury it in your own backyard, I’m pretty sure most people would try to burn it.  Would you buy less plastic wrapped products if you had to stand over a smoking burn barrel once a week? …I bet you would.

Fourth and finally, see the people that are within a 5 mile radius as part of your life…after all what they do probably impacts you.  You are breathing the same air, drinking the same water, using the same roads, etc.

Written By: Andrea Sokolowski

Why Bother with Economics?

Sustainable_Business_IconI told a friend of mine I was pursuing sustainable economics, to which she replied, “Oh, you mean spending money on green stuff.”

Her response left me with the sensation we’d just successfully lobotomized centuries of economic thought.  Money is to economics, as humanity is to the sheer weight of the universe, an interesting vantage point, but, ultimately irrelevant.  She did reveal, however, a peculiar vocabulary failure in modern economics, and one that has the potential to render international co-operation, and discourse, utterly mute if not accurately understood. What is sustainable economics, and does it amount to anything beyond trendy PR? 

For a crash course in the cryptic nature of grasping what sustainability is, look no further than how the Global Citizens Center, the international think tank behind the South Korean International Protocol on Climate Change, assessed the issue.

“Environmentally sustainable, based on that our biosphere is a closed system with finite resources and a limited capacity for self-renewal.  We depend on the Earth’s natural resources and therefore we must create an economic system that respects the integrity of ecosystems and ensures the resilience of life supporting systems.”

This is supposed to definitively lead the world to a more conscious and sound future.  Yet it nearly epitomizes design by committee and reads more like a checklist for mission statement buzzwords.  People are led to nod smugly rather than encourage nations to endeavor on a constructive sustainable path.  Economics deal with choice under uncertainty, so to dig down to what differentiates sustainable economics, start with the foundation, choice.

According to economists humanity exists in a limited, self interested, nature.  Directed by the “invisible hand,” humans act in coordination with their values.  Because we are not all knowing, we make decisions that satisfy our individual values often with obnoxious unintended consequences.  Over time, the choices we make and the interests we pursue begin to overlap and order evolves, which economist understand in terms of rules, incentives, actions, and outcomes.

Rules are the expectations, cultures, and traditions of people that bring about incentives.  Incentives are reactions, consequences, and coercion, which civilizations promote to inspire or discourage actions.  Actions are exactly that, the choices you make every minute of every day.  Outcomes are simply what’s we’re left to live with, and in turn they sculpt and adapt the very rules they’re derived from.  These are the functions of economics, far more fascinating than currency alone.  Economic policies tinker with the incentives that construct and constrain the choices people ultimately get to make. 

The outcomes sustainable economists seek are those that limit the uncertainty of the health and resilience of not only humans, but the human habitat, earth, as well.  Since no one can know the epic consequences of each decision they make, sustainable economics wants to build rules that demand greater accountability, transparency, and consciousness when making choices, economic, or otherwise.  The goal is a tipping point, a world-wide “dur” moment when sustainability becomes one of the rules of being human.

– Ryan Riebau

Ryan is a member of the Sustainable Business Team at the Fort Lewis College Environmental Center.  He is majoring in Business Economics at Fort Lewis College.