Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Year Resolutions and Human Social Responsibility

This is that time of year when a lot of us are thinking about New Year's Resolutions and how we want to change or improve our lives for the coming year (because when better than the arbitrary start of a new calendar year to make a commitment to change, right?). I've started tinkering around with a few ideas, having not gone much further than the usual first two: Eat Right, Exercise Better.

But as I sat down to start a proper list (because manic-spectra, obsessive-me LOVES lists) I realized that many of my resolutions are society-focused. "Treat People Better" would do wonders for the day-to-day stress level, but it would also, you know, remove one more jackass from the world stage. "Use less power" is great for my pocket book (and my brother's, since he shares the bills), but it's also great for the local arena, seeing as most of the power in Saint John comes from either the Colson Cove coal-fired plant or the Point Lepreau nuclear facility. I came to realize that New Years Resolutions can also be a form of social engineering, and that, if enough people adopted the same resolutions, they would have a profound effect locally.

So I went back up the list and I've picked out a few that I think a lot more people haven't considered (and probably should), or haven't realize the social consequences of.

  1. Treat People Better - This one's benefits are obvious. Being polite is a dwindling art in the modern North America, but politeness and eloquent handling are the surgeon's scalpel of affecting social relationships for the better. Be polite, speak reasonably, and study about logical fallacy like ad-hominem or ad-populum. Your interpersonal relationships will thank you for it.
  2. Eat Right, Exercise Better - Bad diet and poor exercise are some of the greatest health risks in our culture second only to sloppy driving and the use of drugs (including alchohol and tobacco). Staying in shape and eating "right" is both mentally and physically rewarding, and if you live in a country without a "socialized" health care system like us up here in the Soviet Republic of Canuckistan (I love sarcasm, I do), financially securing as well. Better, if the general trend across entire populations was toward a healthier lifestyle, such public health care systems would see a sudden decrease in both strain and cost. Examples include adopting high-plant diets, or going for a run every morning (particularly you lucky folks in sub-tropical climates.)
  3. Use Less Energy - I haven't done any real research lately into the amount of energy used by a single person in a North American country over the run of the year, but I know that the level is rather high, especially when you factor in the hidden energy costs that you don't see: telephone and internet use, the energy used to manufacture, farm, or fish everything that you wear, eat, drink, or use, and the energy use you represent at your place of employment. Every hour of the day, there is potential for you, as a single person, to use a little bit less energy-per-capita-per-activity. You could drive less, turn down the heat by a few degrees, keep the lights down, switch the lights over, or any of a hundred thousand other things. I believe I did a Green Wonk post or two about ways to save energy. They might be worth importing.
  4. Eat Local, Buy Local - If you're like me, you might be lucky enough to live near a grocery store that offers local produce, or even live close to a grocers that specializes in it. Transporting food is perhaps one of the biggest sources of the hidden carbon costs in our lives. You'd be surprised what's available locally, too: I was surprised to learn that New Brunswick actually does a thriving summer-time trade in hot-house bell peppers. It doesn't just stop with food, either. I've found local manufacturers of everything from soaps to glasswares.
  5. Learn how to "Do" - Growing up, I never really made much with my hands. I gardened a very little, and I learned a few recipes that I enjoyed, and even took a little metal-working in High School. It wasn't really until I was in college that I realized you can make just about anything with a little ingenuity and a willingness to clean up after yourself. A lot of the time, you can even make things out of things that would otherwise go to waste (in point of fact, all soup-making in this house is an exercise in waste food reduction), or make things that would otherwise bring significant waste, such as making two-dozen cookies and putting them in a tin as opposed to purchasing two-dozen cookies at the local grocery. Never mind waste reduction: it's good for the mind. I am particularly taken with people who can do what I consider "skilled crafts" in their own home. Cooking is something anyone can pick up, but I've seen people do everything from sewing entire wardrobes for their family (Cam) to my former boss's wife, who stretched her own canvases for painting, rather than buying high-priced ones at the store. Save money, save waste, make cool thing. Teach kids how to make cool thing. Society perpetuates.
  6. "Hack" your Transportation - I take public transit in a community where transit funding is constantly being cut back and routes and runs are disappearing. Very often, transit can't get me where I need to go at all, so it's either walking or bumming a ride from a friend who can drive. Fact of the matter is, though, that for 90% of whatever I need to do, the bus is perfectly adequate. It costs me less even to buy the most expensive of monthly bus passes than to maintain a car for a week, by a grand margin. Sure, being able to drive would be nice, but even if I could drive and had a car, most of the time the bus would be the more appropriate choice. People need to think of transportation as a net-net activity. Walk when you can, ride the bus when you must, and drive when there's no other option. Your heart, wallet, and our collective lungs will thank you for it.
Anyone have anything to add? Any thoughts?

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