First David Brooks, then Tyler Cowen and now Francesca Rheannon got me thinking this week about posterity and legacy and why they matter so much. Francesca, who is our guest blogger today, is a contributing writer at CSR Wire (where this originally ran) and a host and co-director of SeaChange Radio, an excellent over-the-air and Internet-distributed series of conversations about sustainability. I’m a regular listener on iTunes, and part of SeaChange’s advisory board.
Americans are inconsistent when it comes to long-term thinking. As individuals, we are able to plan for the future–we save for our kids’ college education, or our own retirement. But in business, people often focus on the next deal, the next headline or the next quarter at the expense of the future. I’ve found that when I’m facing an important decision, or even a trivial one (“Should go out for a muffin or a run?), thinking long-term points me towards an answer. “Thinking past ourselves” is the way Francesca puts it.
When my granddaughter starts kindergarten this September, she’ll be going to PS 11, a public school set in the heart of a predominantly African-American community in Brooklyn, NY.
The school has pledged itself to a sustainable future for children. The day I visited, enormous, colorful cutouts of animals and sea creatures festooned the halls. It turns out the displays were part of the school partnership with Amnesty International, which guides every grade in adopting a cause. The early grades chose the environment: preserving the rain forest, keeping the planet’s waters clean, and saving animals from extinction. The connection between human rights and the right to a healthy environment for all living beings was implicit. The kids also get the connection between a healthy environment and personal health: they grow vegetables together in the community garden next door to the school. All these activities show the core of the school’s philosophy: “the importance of children thinking past themselves,” in the words of the school’s principal. It seems to me to be the core concept of sustainability, as well.
“Thinking past ourselves” was embodied in an award given out this week to three young farmers by the nation-wide farmer’s cooperative, Organic Valley. The “Gen-O Award (for “Generation Organic”) honors farmers between 18 and 35 for their commitment to organic farming. Like P.S. 11, the connection between the environment and the community is made, as the award also recognizes the winnners’ contributions to the preservation of the family farm and rural community through their “leadership, stewardship and innovation“.
Mitch Lucero of Idaho was one winner. He’s an example of how the stewardship of older generations can preserve a sustainable future for their descendants: his family farm was founded in 1907, and went officially organic in 2006 (it was mostly organic before that). He’s also looking to new ways of using old technologies: wind power and water conservation in farming.
Casey Knapp also won the award. The twenty year-old farmer from Preble, New York, grew up on his family’s organic farm. In addition to working on the farm, he’s a “farmer ambassador” for Organic Valley, helping to spread the message of organic agriculture both here and abroad. In May, he was invited to the 17th session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, where he participated in the youth caucus to help change happen on a global level.
Meanwhile, back at PS 11, the kids are on school vacation. Most come from low-income families, and are therefore at high risk for obesity. The obesity epidemic among the poor is driven by the high cost of fresh produce and the low cost of high fat, high sugar/salt foods, as the new movie Food, Inc. makes clear. But it’s not just the lack of healthy food that’s to blame.
Kids in general are spending less time moving and getting fatter, sitting in front of TV, video game and computer screens instead of playing outside. Without sports or recess at school, they are tending to gain weight over the summer.
Poor kids who live in dangerous neighborhoods have even less access to outdoor play because they are kept inside for their own safety. Obesity is skyrocketing among children, as are its attendant ills of Type 2 diabetes, and even high blood pressure. That’s threatening the sustainability of our health care system, as these life-long illnesses will place a heavy burden on an already overstrained system. It also shows that access to safe neighborhoods, affordable healthy food, and outdoor play are basic human rights.
One organization that’s doing its part to promote outside play is KaBoom!, a national non-profit dedicated to bringing play back into the lives of children. It helps parents and communities build playgrounds and it is currently promoting “Play Day 2009“, a nine day event to promote play among the America’s families. The group also has guidelines for ecofriendly service projects you can do with your kids, so children can “think past themselves” and help the planet.
Creating a sustainable future happens one child at a time, but it takes all the generations working together to make it a reality. I’ll be thinking about that when my granddaughter mounts the stairs to her new school for the first time.