The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
In my upcoming movie, The Story of Change, I talk about how deep, lasting social change—the kind of change achieved by the civil rights movement, the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and the early environmental movement—always starts with a group of people committed to a Big Idea for how things could be better. Not just a little better for a few people, but a whole lot better for everyone.
And yet, these days, when we’re faced with huge threats—from growing wealth inequality to disruption of the global climate—we seem to get stuck in small-bore solutions that fail to get to the root of these problems: an economy that puts short-term corporate profits ahead of everything else.
The fact is that many of us already share a Big Idea for a better world. Instead of a wasteful, growth-at-all-costs economy that fails both people and the planet, hundreds of millions of us want a new economy that puts safe products, a healthy environment and happy people first.
Today, three-quarters of my fellow Americans support tougher laws on toxic chemicals and more than 80 percent want clean energy laws. Eighty-five percent think corporations should have less influence in government and more than six in 10 Americans say the government should attempt to reduce the gap between the wealthy and less-well-off. Maybe that’s why a 2011 Pew Research Center poll found ‘progressive’ to be the most positively viewed political label in America.
Now sure, we may not know exactly what a better future will look like—in many ways, we haven’t invented it yet. But every day we’re making remarkable advances in renewable energy and safer chemicals; more and more businesses are figuring out how to do well for themselves and their workers; and more and more citizens are standing up for themselves, and their neighbors, in their local communities and at the state and national level.
So, where are we headed? What’s our destination?
- Safe products. “Safe” goes beyond seat belts and airbags (although they save thousands of lives a year). I mean products that don’t trash the planet, the people who make them or the people who use them—products made without toxic chemicals, manufactured under safe and fair conditions, powered by clean energy, and that can be reused, repaired or recycled.
This may seem like a no brainer, but our economy has been headed in the opposite direction for decades now. And while there are great examples of companies both making products responsibly and making responsible products, the trend is still toward cheap products manufactured in ways that harm the people who make them and the planet. We can do better.
- A healthy planet. Currently we’re living as if we have more than one Earth—each year we use 1.5 times the resources our planet can produce and generate 1.5 times as much waste as the planet can assimilate. In How Much Is Enough? The Consumer Society and the Future of the Eart, Alan Durning says that in the last 75 years, Americans alone have used up more of the Earth’s resources as all previous generations combined. To prevent further damage, we have to start living within our means.
- Happier people. Stuff and happiness have an odd relationship. Up to a point, more Stuff does add to happiness. If you don’t have a roof over your head and food on the table and some other basic necessities, more stuff can make you happier. But after a point, after our basic needs are met, it gets more complicated. At some point, the value added by more stuff is outweighed by the added costs—the sales price, maintenance, storing, upgrading, insuring—of all that Stuff.
We have more and cooler Stuff than our grandparents, but less of what really makes us happy: leisure time with friends and family, meaning and purpose in our lives, a sense of community and connection to society. More than 70 percent of Americans earning a median income or above say they would give up income in exchange for more time with family and friends. Imagine that!
Setting our GPS correctly—toward an economy that supports safe products, a healthy planet and happy people—is important because there are going to be lots of bends in the road to that future, and sometimes, the road itself may not be entirely clear.
But as Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” We’ve got a pretty good idea where we’re headed. For those of us committed to that more sustainable and just world, the trick is turning that sentiment into action—even before we know all the details of the journey ahead.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
‘Companies Should Not Be Allowed to Use Hazardous Ingredients in Products People Use’: Michelle Pfeiffer Speaks Up for Safer Cosmetics
The beauty products we put on our skin can have important consequences for our health. Just this March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that some Claire's cosmetics had tested positive for asbestos. But the FDA could only issue a warning, not a recall, because current law does not empower the agency to do so.
Michelle Pfeiffer wants to change that.
The actress and Environmental Working Group (EWG) board member was spotted on Capitol Hill Thursday lobbying lawmakers on behalf of a bill that would increase oversight of the cosmetics industry, The Washington Post reported.
By Julia Conley
Scientists at the United Nations' intergovernmental body focusing on biodiversity sounded alarms earlier this month with its report on the looming potential extinction of one million species — but few heard their calls, according to a German newspaper report.
The climate crisis is a major concern for American voters with nearly 40 percent reporting the issue will help determine how they cast their ballots in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, according to a report compiled by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
Of more than 1,000 registered voters surveyed on global warming, climate and energy policies, as well as personal and collective action, 38 percent said that a candidate's position on climate change is "very important" when it comes to determining who will win their vote. Overall, democratic candidates are under more pressure to provide green solutions as part of their campaign promises with 64 percent of Democrat voters saying they prioritize the issue compared with just 34 percent of Independents and 12 percent of Republicans.
President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill that will help Americans still recovering from the flooding, hurricanes and wildfires that have devastated parts of the country in the past two years. Senate Republicans said they struck a deal with the president to approve the measure, despite the fact that it did not include the funding he wanted for the U.S.-Mexican border, CNN reported.
"The U.S. Senate has just approved a 19 Billion Dollar Disaster Relief Bill, with my total approval. Great!" the president tweeted Thursday.
"There was a lot of devastation throughout the state," Governor Mike Parson said at a Thursday morning press conference, as NPR reported. "We were very fortunate last night that we didn't have more injuries than what we had, and we didn't have more fatalities across the state. But three is too many."