Deflated Mylar balloons sag above the third tier of the schoolyard bleachers marking a memorial for three young victims murdered last summer in Newark, New Jersey. The news photo reinforces a common image of the city, a place where the crime rate was double that of the average U.S. city from 1999-2001, where unemployment rose to 12.5% in 2002-2003. So when Mayor Cory Booker of Newark recently appeared on a Bill Moyers special and articulately made a case for optimism about his city, I listened. This man had left the suburbs to live in a housing project for eight years and fight for better living conditions for the tenants. Moyers reported that after the three young people were killed last summer, Booker made changes in the police department that led to the longest murder-free period the city had experience since 1967. You may have noticed that my favorite quote on this page is by Mayor Booker and is taken from the Moyers program: “And if everybody stopped talking and started focusing on doing something more than I did yesterday in order to change tomorrow, then we're gonna have the America of our dreams.”
At the time of the Moyers report, I was still on the fence about whether to create WeBuyItGreen. Booker’s quote was the nudge that pushed me off the fence. If we all stop talking and “do” . . . well, if Newark's crime rate can be changed, then perhaps we can tackle other big problems like poverty and climate change. However, there is a fair amount of skepticism about this on the blogs and forums. Here are a few examples:
“It is unreasonable to expect the general public will accept major reductions in living standards or comfort and convenience. Simply put, it won’t happen – There is no point in debating the ethics of driving a big car and taking vacations versus making sacrifices to sustain the environment, because history shows that the public has a very limited tolerance for any measures which directly effect their comfort, convenience and other wants.”
“The poor farmers of the world will remain poor because they live in areas devoid of natural resources or with political instability and corruption . . . charity - markets, free or fair can't stop exploitation of the poor.”
“Fair Trade as we in the west know it is just a must have brand for guilt feeling liberals.”
“Every little bit does not help. . . . Putting a solar panel on your roof might make you feel good but that’s about all it does. Saying ‘someone has to start’ or ‘if everyone would do it’ or ‘every bit helps’ does not count for much when you know that everyone will not do it and ‘every little bit’ helps a very very little bit.”
Unfortunately, these beliefs create a self-fulfilling prophecy. If many peoplebelievethat doing little things will not solve big problems, then of course, many people will not do them, and they will not help. If webelievethat fair trade is just a way for liberals to free themselves of guilt rather than a real solution to problems facing poor farmers, then of course, it can never become an effective solution. If webelievethat most people will not make sacrifices in comfort and convenience to create a sustainable environment, then it makes little sense for us to make such sacrifices because we feel that doing so would have little impact.
Whether we call them “cynical” or “realistic,” these beliefs all judge people’s future behavior based on their past. But people do change. In the 1960’s, in rural America, people threw beer and pop cans from their car windows with great regularity. It was the norm. Recycling was unheard of. But people got tired of trash and did something about it. The threat posed by climate change is much greater than that posed by litter, calling into question a “realism” which predicts that people will not make significant changes.
This website is simply an attempt to grease the wheels of such change. It is true that people are not likely to suddenly become more altruistic. That makes it all the more important to discover and publicize creative ways that people can take small steps to confront problems like climate change and poverty. Genuinely green and fair trade businesses create opportunities for people to do that. Yes, a handbag that sends the child of a Guatemalan woman to school may cost a bit more than one that does not. But if people knew something about the child and could see the difference they can make, I believe most would stop ignoring the problem and act.
If we choose to be disillusioned because individuals have let us down in the past, we have lost. A few days ago, I learned that Mayor Booker’s administration purchased a brand new fleet of Tahoe SUV’s for himself and other members of his administration to commute to work in. I almost removed that quote from this page. But then I thought, no. That quote remains true regardless of what Mayor Booker does personally—even if he turns out to be just another politician using words to manipulate people. It is still time to stop talking and start doing.