The economics of sustainability

This editorial is not a partisan piece. And though it contains political references, in no way is it meant to advocate for or against any specific person or political party. I advocate for the environment and the environment alone. The earth does not care if you’re a Democrat or Republican; neither do I. That said, here goes.

The de-facto leader of the free world and head of the largest economy is a climate-change denier. Scary. So far, he’s overturned many climate-friendly regulations and policies put in place by his predecessor. Double scary.

Aside from the glaringly obvious, here’s my biggest concern: we are on the verge of eco-ruin. If business as usual — the way we produce and consume — continues unchecked, then we will not survive. For our specie to live on, we must prioritize environmental sustainability sooner rather than later. For this to happen, we’ll need to incentivize more sustainable practices and industries while holding leaders to account — in the private sector and in government.

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done, especially under an administration that appears to be motivated by corporate cronyism, in-your-face nepotism, unfettered greed, and, of course, settling personal scores with President Obama. Not only have we not “drained the swamp,” it appears we’ve dumped a million tons of toxic waste to it, stirred in a bit of plausible deniability, then set it on fire so we can watch it burn. Good times.

Meanwhile, environmentalists continue to grapple with effective ways to convey their message to the only people who can hold politicians and industries accountable: voters! Average, everyday, working class voters who — like the rest of the world — simply want to ensure a good life for their families.

Environmentalists (scientists, too) should do more to actively pursue middle America — the blue-collat working class voter, evangelicals, “country folk,” the “family values” voters, the heart and soul of the electoral college, those who are passionate about what they believe to be best for their country. We need them on our side because they are vocal and demand to be heard. They typically hold politicians to account, and they determine election outcomes. Yet, from an eco-advocacy standpoint, they are largely ignored and left to their own devices. Talk about a wasted opportunity?

Instead, we see the most influential eco-advocates giving speeches at fancy venues like the U.N and Davos, which, by the way, only further reinforces the notion of elitism rather than meaningful work. Being eco-smart and eco-conscious should never be perceived as elitist, yet to many, it is! We need to change this. It is imperative that we change this.

Eco-advocates have even managed to fail terribly at engaging leaders in industry and those who steer the economic ship. To their detriment, environmentalists are terrible advocates! They come across as preachy and self-righteous, constantly wagging their fingers at the powers that be. Instead, they should frame their narrative in ways that naturally appeal to those in high positions. For instance: There are more profits to be realized through investments in renewables than finite fossil fuels. Rather than waste time and resources trying to convince eco-skeptics like President Trump that climate change is real, why not compare and contrast the associated opportunity costs for eco vs unsustainable investments?

The Public and private sector respond to dollars cents, and costs associated with business-as-usual are infinitely higher than those associated with sustainable investments. This should be communicated on a grand scale more often, but unfortunately it’s not.

As a result, President Trump’s recent rollback of Obama-era environmental policies will have devastating effects on energy, air and water safety, biodiversity, food production, infrastructure and more. He got elected, in part, due to promises to restore jobs in coal, a proposal that makes just about as much sense as promising to do away with motor cars and reverting back to horse drawn carriages.

Coal is on it’s last leg — an outdated, dirty and unsafe sector with only about 60,000 jobs remaining as opposed to the estimated 650K better paying and safer jobs continuously being created by renewables. In fact, a study conducted by the Environmental Defense Fund, found that renewable energy creates jobs 12 times faster than the entire U.S economy. Yet, Trump got away with making these absurd empty promises because voters simply didn’t know better, and environmentalists failed epically to communicate these glaring facts to everyday Americans.

Now we’re faced with the reality of an anti-EPA, anti-regulation and anti-science hawk appointed to the very institution he has reportedly sued and/or tried to shut down at least 14 times before. An anti-EPA crusader now heads the EPA. In what universe does that make any sense? It would not be unreasonable to view this as a trolling effort on Trumps part, rather than a legitimate political appointment.

We will survive Trump but we cannot survive an irreversibly damaged environment that will likely result from harmful policies. We have got to change in order to survive. This isn’t a partisan issue, it’s an important issue that affects us all.

We can’t exist without a livable earth (at least, not yet). Human induced climate change is real. It’s not a crazy conspiracy theory deployed by the Chinese to manipulate trade (as Trump claims). It’s not “unsettled science”; climate and weather are not interchangeable synonyms; and facts are simply not debatable. Full stop.

Corporate profitability and eco-sustainability are not mutually exclusive, either. It’s high time we advocate the economic benefits in clear, simple and relatable terms. It’s time to start making a concerted effort to bring more into the eco-fold, and it’s time we become mindful about how we approach and engage consumers, voters, governments and corporations. Otherwise,  what’s the point in economic development if we end up not having the very basics like clean air and water…or a livable planet for generations to come.

About the Author
Michal Dinal owns a private-label garment distributor based in New York City. A passionate environmentalist and sustainability advocate, Michal lends her time and support to initiatives that foster eco-reform and transparency within the fashion industry. She made aliya in 2008. Michal is a Jamaican-American Israeli citizen.
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