The “New-thinking” leaders with a green agenda MUST do a better job articulating sustainability, so said Ralph Nader yesterday during the Valley Forward Livability Summit in Phoenix, Arizona. I had an opportunity to sit down with Mr. Nader, former presidential candidate for the Green Party, and get his thoughts about the power of communication to help save the planet from pollution, global warming, resource depletion, etc.
Q. What do you mean by being “more articulate”?
Nader: We need to express our views of ecology differently to shift the reality. For instance, most people typically look at a roof and think of it as something that just provides shelter. But a roof can serve so many more ecological purposes. It can function as a power source, garden, water collector, work of art, and home for recycled and renewable materials. We need to get people to shift the way they view and interact with the world around them if we’re going to be successful curbing global warming and the other ecological atrocities we’re perpetrating on this planet.
Q. How should we use communication to shift that reality?
Nader: We need to use the language of the marketplace. Paul Hawken and Amory Lovins are some the best at this with “Natural Capitalism,” which categorizes natural resources needed for manufacturing as true capital. Help companies understand the impact natural resources have on their bottom line, shareholder value, market value, etc. It’s the only way to get the bean counters’ attention. Again, change their view of reality by attaching the direct cost of their environmental impact to their profitability.
Q. Obama’s campaign demonstrated the power of the web and social media to rally a community. How effective can online media be for green and sustainable causes?
Nader: The web is a nice “rah, rah tool” when you have a stated deadline and singular focus, such as a candidate in an election where there’s a winner and a loser. But it hasn’t proven itself as a “civic motivator” for larger, less-focused causes. Without the focus and deadlines, it just becomes an email campaign to notify people of what’s happening. “How do you use virtual reality to effect reality?” Time will tell.
Q. Which companies or leaders are effectively articulating the greater importance and urgency for sustainable practices?
Nader: In addition to Paul Hawken of Smith & Hawken, and Amory Lovins, you should look at Guss Speth, of the Yale School of Forestry, and read Barry Commoner’s book: Making Peace with the Planet. One should also follow what Ray Anderson of Interface is doing. These are corporate and civic environmental leaders who get it, and are doing a great job sharing their ecological vision.
Mr. Nader singled out a speech given by Ray Anderson in 2005 as one of the most eloquent, simple, and transforming speeches he has heard relative to our human footprint and the responsibility we all carry to preserve our planet.
I have asked myself over and over for nearly 11 years, and I ask you, how would a living planet—the rarest and most precious thing in the universe—lose its biosphere, i.e., its essential livability? We take it for granted and don’t want to believe losing it is even possible. But, think about it, and you know, if Earth, someday in the distant future, has lost its livability—its biosphere—it will have happened insidiously:
One silted or polluted stream at a time;
One polluted river at a time;
One collapsing fish stock at a time;
One dying coral reef at a time;
One acidified or entrophied lake at a time;
One over-fertilized farm at a time, leading to
one algae bloom at a time.
One eroded ton of topsoil at a time;
One developed wetland at a time;
One mansion built on a fragile marsh hammock at a time;
One disrupted animal migration corridor at a time;
One butchered tree at a time;
One corrupt politician at a time;
One new open-pit coal mine in a pristine valley at a time;
One decimated old growth forest at a time;
One lost habitat at a time;
One disappearing acre of rain forest at a time;
One political pay-off at a time, resulting in one regulatory roll-back at a time;
One leaching landfill at a time;
One belching smokestack or exhaust pipe at a time;
One depleted or polluted aquifer at a time;
One desertified farm at a time;
One over-grazed field at a time;
One toxic release at a time;
One oil spill at a time;
One breath of fouled air at a time;
One-tenth of a degree of global warming at a time;
One exotic disease vector at a time;
One new disease at a time;
One invasive species at a time;
One perchlorate contaminated head of lettuce at a time. (Perchlorate is rocket fuel, and it is in the ground water of the San Joaquin Valley of California thanks to Aerojet General.)
One chloro-fluorinated or methyl-brominated molecule of ozone at a time,
creating a deadly hole in the ozone ultra-violet radiation shield;
One poorly designed carpet at a time;
One thoughtlessly designed building or building interior at a time;
One misplaced kilogram of plutonium at a time;
One more ton of spent nuclear fuel at a time, looking for a safe and secure home for 240,000 (!) years;
One advance of urban sprawl at a time;
One insensitive or uninformed architect or interior designer or facility manager or manufacturer at a time;
One songbird at a time;
One PCB-laced Orca, one whale, on dolphin, one trumpeter swan, one mountain gorilla, one polar bear, one leatherneck turtle at a time;
One entire wild species at a time; and
One poverty-stricken, starving, diseased, or exploited human being at a time;
That is how it would have happened, and we know that it is happening already.
Mr. Nader applauded Valley Forward’s efforts and feels that Phoenix is way ahead of most of the large metro areas in country in terms of environmental stewardship. He said, “It’s not a question of direction, but speed.”