Within a democratic society, ballot initiatives are considered as powerful tools that enable the voters to amend the constitution or to pass policies that they consider effective in their various contexts. It involves a signed petition in support of a specified legislation, which is then passed without having to be debated by the legislators. During the Sustainability Week at Santa Monica College, it was discussed that a ballot initiative, though rare, is one of the most functional ways that the society can fight for change. This week was focused on how people can contribute towards a better environment and most of the activities and discussions that took place focused on the role of the people in making the planet better. Only 24 states in the US allow for ballot initiative. In the rest of the states, the legislators and policy makers are the only ones who can directly pass policies and make amendments to the constitution and must thus be lobbied. The problem with lobbying is that corporations have more money to spend on it and this leaves out the society. Capitalism in this case is the greatest enemy to social and environmental progress since corporations are more interested in making profits even at the expense of the planet’s future. While the interest of unscrupulous business seems powerful in the war against climate change, the ballot initiative is the best tool for achieving environmental sustainability as it will enable the society to effect relevant and effective changes against capitalist inclinations that are destroying the planet.
Defining Environmental Sustainability
In the documentary, Lewis presents a scenario where the concept of sustainability with regards to environmental conservation has been redefined and simply taken away from the control of mankind. For the keen eye, the documentary by Avi Lewis is not just another boring stance on environmental activism. The documentary tells a story about the story of the environment and how mankind has been unable to impact any changes due to the wrong narrative that the people have propagated in over 400 years. Protecting the environment, according to Avi Lewis, is more about caring about how economic resources are used and shared amongst the world population. The exploitation must end and in its place a collection of core human values like care, compassion and concern among other things. Ballot initiatives are seen as a way of getting the people to come together and make change happen rather than sitting back and being scared by other environmental documentaries. Thus, in order to change anything, the mindset that people have towards the environment should be the first to change.
A great example in the role of mankind with regards to improving the planet’s sustainability can be seen in the biodiversity issue. Humanity has over the past few decades worked towards restoring the planet’s forest cover in some parts of the world. Ideally, this would restore the plant and animal life that was declared extinct in the face of the initial deforestation. The reality however is that once a species is extinct there is not mechanism to reverse it. This means that human interference in the environment is always in a destructive capacity thus the best that people can do is to avoid the interference. This is the only way towards environmental sustainability.
Capitalism and Government
The American government is largely capitalist, with the corporations being by far the most influential institutions in the country. While the US is lauded as a democracy, it can be noted that business organizations are very powerful when it comes to making decisions especially in relation to the environment. Lobbying and trading favors seems to be a part of the politics in Congress and the House of Senates. This gives the corporates an upper hand when it comes to legislation as the lawmakers are forced to comply in exchange for campaign funds and other advantages, usually monetary in nature.
In the book that informs the documentary by Avi Lewis, Naomi Klein carefully explains the role of capitalism in the current state of affairs in the environmental sustainability. Companies destroy the environment in one location and pay for reclamation in another location, making it seem like the earth is a ‘machine’ that can be steered at will. As the president of Canada said recently, it is time for governments to change the energy paradigm and introduce measures to speed up adoption of clean energy (“Canada’s Trudeau steps up on climate change”). Ideally, the law should prohibit any activities that destroy the environment but companies like ExxonMobil tend to wreak havoc every now and then with no recourse or consequences. This clearly spells out the role of the government in the destruction of the environment. Economic gains precede the sustainability of the planet.
Relying on Legislators
Democracy in most parts of the world is designed to be indirect, with the people relying on legislators to act on their behalf. The problem is however that the legislators’ opinions are not always incorruptible. Lobbyists have mastered the art of manipulating legislators by offering them a bargain that they are unable to resist. Campaign funding is only one of the baits that the corporations use in order to manipulate the bills that get passed into law. This means that even in democratic states, the society cannot rely on legislators. It is left upon the society itself to fight for the change that they need through more direct activities like is shown in the documentary.
When people in Indian used their bodies as a shield to protect their land, it can be taken as a symbolic declaration. The environment is worth more than we may accept at the moment. Humanity has been conditioned to value the environment only based on how much they can exploit it. This can be seen in the value of land based on what natural resources can be derived from it. The reality that is being pushed to the light in the documentary however is that the planet needs to be left alone because it is too valuable and humans cannot even begin to understand its value. Legislators however seem to believe that they have the power to put a price on everything including the lives that are lost when oil exploration contaminates the soil and water and leads to severe illnesses in the local communities around the exploration site.
In order to be sustainable, the environment does not demand anything from humanity except to be left alone. Human interference has always led to more destruction and it is about time that we learnt not to pretend that we understand the planet more than we actually do. The planet it going to outlive each and every human being, with the best bet for sustainability being an appreciation of the planet’s capacity to regenerate itself if given the space to do so. Continuous exploitation and destruction is what humanity has been known for decades on end and it is about time that is stopped. However, this can only be achieved through direct democracy and ballot initiatives. The people that are elected to government are meant to represent the electorate but in a capitalist state, they rarely do. They are better off working with corporations than worrying about the people that they represent. This means that the only way the people can effect change is if they participate directly in decisions that are meant to protect the environment from capitalist institutions that only want to exploit and destroy.