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You, your money and the environment - Mazingira Safi Initiative
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When I visited France last year, I opted to go to Lyon instead of Paris for two reasons: one, to see my friend, Joy and two to see another part of France that isn’t Paris. This article made the decision easier. As a result, I passed over the opportunity to visit the Notre Dame Cathedral, one of the most iconic buildings in Europe. It now seems that I shall have to wait much, much longer to see it after a fire ravaged it recently.

Magnificent public buildings around the world play an important role in the country where they’re found. They carry hundreds of years’ worth of history and are a part of the country’s heritage. In fact, Lewis Powell Jr., a former U.S. Supreme Court Justice aptly said that “public buildings often reflect accurately the beliefs, priorities and aspirations of a people.” Losing the Notre Dame must have thus been a great loss because, no sooner had the fire began than donations started pouring in to restore it. At the time of writing this piece, donations stood at $1 billion, collected from billionaires, corporations and ordinary citizens.

Right around the same time, something else was happening. As the vast amount of money was pouring in, people began questioning why the donors hadn’t donated to environmental causes like climate change; causes that need far more attention and are to be taken far more seriously than the Notre Dame fire. One of the pictures I came across was that of a burning forest with the statement, “My cathedral burns everyday….” These people’s argument was that the earth has been burning for decades (and still continues to burn) and yet very little is being done to save it. As an environmentalist, I found the donors actions very perplexing too and the questions raised by activists were valid. I have to admit that I almost jumped on this band wagon. However, I didn’t because of two very hard-to-hear truths.

First, it’s THEIR money. That means, I have no right to tell them what to do it. I can only tell myself. Secondly, the donations were a well-calculated BUSINESS DECISION. On the outside, it may look like a very generous act but a further look inside, tells you that it’s all about business. Do you know that they stand to gain more than they have donated? The donations are tax-deductible and the “good works” will continue to endear people to their brand. Smart, right?

As long as capitalism and self-interest drive the world’s economy, the environment will continue to be in danger. If we are to change this, we need to change the entire system. Let me explain using plastic bottles. In school, we were taught about the principle of demand and supply. Business thrive or die based on the decisions of the consumers. Plastic bottles continue to flood our drainage and water bodies because we still buy products packed in plastic bottles. As we do this, the manufacturers continue to pile on wealth. Why shouldn’t they spend it as they please? Aren’t we the ones keeping them in business? We use our money to fund practices that destroy our environment then expect the rich to use their money to protect it? It’s not going to happen. To them, it’s not a wise business decision. You want to stop plastic pollution? Starve plastic production. Anything else is nonsense!

So here’s a thought to ponder. As consumers, we have the power to dictate who stays in business and who doesn’t. We do this using our consumer choices; demanding environmentally friendly products. If capitalists want to remain in business, they either do as their clients want or die out. “Use your money wisely”. It’s really that simple. If we’re not willing to do this, let us keep our mouths shut and watch as the wealthy few set the agenda for the rest of us to follow!

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