You can’t boil the ocean

You may not be able to boil the ocean, but you can boil your own pot. Here  is an example of one funder who has chosen to focus on one over consumed product in one country: paper products in America.

Human population will probably hit 9 billion by the year 2050. If everyone used the same amount of

stuff as those of us in the most developed countries, we’d require anywhere from 1.7 to 5 planets to meet our needs. Can 9 billion people each have the same ecological footprint as Americans and Europeans… without major losses to biodiversity? Is it even possible at all?

It’s not so much how many people there are on Earth, it’s how much each of us uses: land for crops for our bread, trees for our chalets, fish for our sushi dinners, ores from the ground under tropical forests for our cell phones, petroleum for the plastic of our shampoo bottles, non-renewable fuels to produce just about everything we own, and the list goes on*. So to me the elephant in the room is probably not population control, it’s consumption control. And Christmas always makes me think about what a challenge we face in trying to move from a culture of consumpution to one of sustainability.

Today I found an organization** that has decided to boil one pot of the problem: over-consumption of paper products in North America. Paper production has biodiversity and carbon emission impacts that need to be reduced so this foundation is concentrating its ‘consumption’ funding stream on one issue in one country. They give money to various different organizations who will address American consumer habits related to paper products. By focusing how they spend their money, they will move one area of the economy towards sustainability by tackling all different levels: trying to get major industries that use paper (from magazines to fast food packaging) to commit to minimum levels of recycled paper, raising awareness in kids through redesigned school programs, introducing paper policies in major commercial consumers of paper and promoting conscious consumerism.

From the Weeden Foundation: “promoting sustainable consumption patterns has only recently become a high priority. This new emphasis is largely the result of a fuller understanding of the factors driving biological impoverishment, in particular the rapid pace with which U.S. industrial corporations must exploit resources all over the globe to supply the insatiable American consumer.

[… ]the Foundation’s interests are centered upon a new and rapidly growing movement to challenge and redirect American consumer and consumption habits. In particular, the Foundation has chosen to build upon its historical interest in native forest conservation by supporting projects aimed at promoting greater efficiency in the use of wood products, particularly paper. This includes encouraging a concerted shift away from wood fiber as a resource where other equally adequate and less damaging substitutes exist. Currently, the Foundation is focusing on the area of sustainable paper consumption and production. Grantmaking in this area aims to expand the market for environmental papers through consumer-targeted education and efforts directed at the book & magazine publishing industries and corporate & government procurement practices.”

I’m inspired. What pot will I boil? And what about you? And how can we let the people with money to spare know that they could use their money to fight threats to biodiversity?

*I know someone will say that these things are what our economies run on and I don’t disagree, but we have to draw the line somewhere and shift some of the basis of our economy to production of things and services that replenish rather than deplete our natural resources. Feel free to comment.
**The Weeden Foundation is a grant-making organization based in the US. I recommend reading their webpages that explain: Why they focus on consumption and What kinds of actions they are supporting