By Mark Haubner
Say my health insurance company called and wanted to talk about my latest ‘visit’ to the hospital.
If you go to the lobby and get a little sticky paper with your name on it to wear on your shirt for two hours while you comfort a friend on the third floor, that’s a ‘visit.’ You leave when you want.
If your name goes on a piece of paper which gets stuck to the wall next to the door in a room and your street clothes get stashed in a cubby, that’s a ‘stay.’ You do not leave when you want.
You can see a theme around conversations among people who have stayed in a hospital — the scare, the care, the outcomes. After the important stuff comes all the complaints about the food— and how bizarre is it that, in a place dedicated to healthy outcomes, bad inputs are still an issue.
I remember my mother saying, ‘If you want to get any rest, the hospital is not the place to go.’ Waking you up out of a sound sleep to ask you, ‘How are you feeling, Mr. H?’ seemed like it came out of a manual for sadists. Fine, the every-4-hour antibiotic was important, so I get that I had to trade off some sleep to maximize the medication’s effect, and the hospital is full of scientists, after all. But wouldn’t I be so much more rested and unstressed if I were skipping the 4 a.m. dose and getting a bowl of my favorite cereal at my own dining room table, surrounded by people who care the most for me?
The Story Matters
This small story, shared by millions of us, shows the choices with which we are faced almost every day. In our new world, we are realizing the outcomes of trillions of choices made by billions of people over the last 250 years. The cost efficiencies of a system (economics) are considered, along with the wellbeing of people (social) in the context of the thin crust and veil of our world (environmental). No clear decision is available. Do we let the patient sleep for an extra two hours but miss a dose of medication? Do we wake the patient up to make sure the medicine is making them healthy but they are exhausted?
Using the science of Drawdown, we have been working with a mountain of research directed at pulling CO2 (carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas that is causing a myriad of problems for us) out of the atmosphere. Planting a lot of trees is an easy example here: but where to plant them? In places which already have some? (restoration) In places where there were trees once but there are now none? (reforestation) Or in places where there were never trees before? (afforestation) What are the desired outcomes? What are the tradeoffs?
More and more, we are faced with discussions which (hopefully) incorporate all of the Social, Environmental and Economic (SEE) considerations of our decisions. Balancing these points at a table where there are vested interests in only one or the other of these priorities seems to be the norm for us, and this is only assuming that the three legs of the SEE stool are present in the first place — where only one or two stakeholders are at the table, the third party is guaranteed short shrift.
We bought an electric lawn mower to get away from the ozone-alert-causing effects of a gasoline-powered machine. Did the cobalt for the batteries come from child labor in the Congo? Did the lithium come from a ravaged lake in Peru? How much heat did it take to make the aluminum frame? What fuel does the electricity use to recharge the batteries in my outlet? I know it’s not solely wind or solar power on Long Island.
The healthy intersection between People, Planet and Profit is shrinking from our decision-making. If you can picture a Venn diagram with just these three elements (not including other critical circles of consideration like Legal, Government and Technology), the sweet spot in the middle seems like it was a lot larger not that long ago. Putting up a strip mall on plentiful woodland or farmland was not even problematic in 1950. But here we are, only 70 years later, and we’ve already trashed our woodlands and fertile soils for strip malls, housing tracts and soil-killing warehouses.
And there’s the rub: we are running out of options which will maximize the benefits for any concern. We have systematically painted ourselves into a corner in a world out of balance, where we once negotiated the best for something which created a compromise satisfactory to all. Now we negotiate for the best we can get via a compromise least distasteful for everyone at the table.
Regeneration is the Way Forward
There is another chapter to our book, another set of tales to tell: that of Regeneration. There are methods and systems which have worked for 300,000 years, and all we have to do is mimic them in order to achieve several goals at once: restore the damage done, bring the air, water, land and people back to health, and ensure that we continue to work in accordance with the entire system for the next 1,000 years.
It is in simple things that we can do, like a penthouse garden or roadside depressions (bioswales) to slow the flow of water into the street, into the river, into the bay. It’s planting acres of wildflowers instead of bee-less geraniums, it’s creating a vegetable garden instead of a massive driveway for a car I only use an hour a day.
But we have to start telling ourselves a much different story by using much more positive language to make the great Balancing Act a lot easier on ourselves. We have the words. Let’s talk.
Mark Haubner has been recycling newspaper since 1965, and not seeing his example being followed by everyone on the planet, started learning Science Communication in earnest about six years ago. He got a Certificate in Sustainability and Behavior Change from the University of California at San Diego (the daily commute was grueling) and now writes Community Based Social Marketing programs for the various nonprofits with which he is involved.
Climate Local Now is a partnership between the East End Beacon and two leaders of Drawdown East End, a grass-root group with a mission to inspire local solutions to reverse global warming.