A while ago I was involved, together with a group of people, in putting together an exhibit focused on sustainability. It’s still on display in the open gallery at the Kamloops Art Gallery downtown. Among others, the exhibit features 11 interviews with local people, some better known than others, each with their own twist on sustainable living.
One interviewee was Charles Hays, professor of journalism at TRU. Something he said in one of the interviews stuck with me. He is among the people whose life will be turned upside down by the Kinder Morgan pipeline as it will cross through his orchard that him and his wife worked hard to put together and maintain over many years. (A side note: Dr. Hays and his wife have been donating part of their crops to the hungry people of Kamloops for many years.)
Dr. Hays said he inadvertently shocked his students by making them aware of the high price of their smart phones. He was referring to the slavery that accompanies mining for metals used in electronics we so nonchalantly buy, upgrade and discard as we see fit.
The devil’s advocates among us will point to the fact that, compassionate or not, most of us use smart phones, laptops and tablets. That includes people who are aware of the actual price. True. The second part of Dr. Hays’s remark though is where the hard truth hits: it’s about how we use the technology that often involves human sacrifice (yes, people die mining for those rare metals used in smart phones, and children as young as seven are among the workers, according to a recent report by Amnesty International).
I have encountered that dilemma many times in my adult life. After publishing a feature regarding the effects of increased tanker traffic along the coast of British Columbia a few years ago, I received more than one email from people asking if I drive a car and if yes, how dare I speak against oil extraction and the environmental perils of yet more of it coming out of the ground.
Yes, I do drive a car and yes, I do have a smart phone. I use both, but I also opt to speak up about things I discover as my family and I travel through our province on occasion, or the many heartbreaking stories or facts I read about on my smartphone or my computer (you might have guessed by now that it’s not the tabloid news I focus on.)
Among other things, my sons got to know that their birth province is a beautiful place worth defending against more pipelines, badly planned mining projects and hydro dam constructions that are meant to provide energy for yet more liquid gas extraction; all of these have potential devastating effects that we should all be aware of, as we should be able to sift through promises and realize that many sound good on paper but often translate into the opposite in reality.
A charged topic indeed, as all discussions revolving around the environment, ethics and social issues often are. For all these reasons and more, our family rarely buys new or based on wants. It seems to work fine.
I do not believe in upgrades and new models either. I am severely aggravated by the concept of planned obsolescence and how it is used to make consumers bite into a brand-new offering, more so when the price includes the invisible human sacrifice (which a smart phone can reveal through a simple search) and the future environmental damage.
Yet we live in a society that offers myriad of tempting items. Just imagine if every one of the items we purchase would have a tag that next to the price in dollars it would also show the price in human slavery and environmental damage, present and future. It sounds absurd but so is the absence of such information. Or the option to use without being aware of the privilege.
A conversation I overheard in the downtown Save-on-Foods store the other day reinforced my belief that knowledge and awareness serve a necessary purpose in a society. As the chain transitions to charging 5 cents for each plastic bag to encourage customers to bring their reusable bags when shopping, the cashier reminds each customer of the changes ahead.
An elegant elderly lady right behind us said she will take her business elsewhere should the store charge for bags. The cashier replied that soon all businesses in Kamloops (and likely Canada) will do the same. To which the lady replied in an angry tone: ‘What the hell? I am not going to walk around carrying a reusable bag.’
It was sad to hear that, and hard not to turn around and say that the price we’ll have to pay in carrying a couple of reusable bags around is so small compared to not caring enough to do it. Would it have mattered to her? I don’t know. I often prefer to lean towards thinking that it might’ve.
Once we know something we cannot unknow it, more so when so much depends on it. We live in an era where information is abundant and spreads like wildfire due to social media. Imagine using it all for the benefit of all people and to counteract the perilous climate change reality our planet is slowly sinking into.
Once we know the true cost of something we choose to use in our daily life, we are morally obligated to use it in a way that makes up, partially at least, for how it impacts life at different levels in other parts of the world. Awareness of that kind will take care of most of the careless habits of today that rely on unsustainable and perilous activities, taking us to where we take fewer things for granted. Life in the first place.