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Where should we invest when it comes to environmental health?

I have taken exactly one Environmental Studies class in my life. In grad school, I was exposed for the first time, to the complexities of our impact on the environment and just how strong it is. That’s not to say that, before that, I didn’t know the basics. A lifetime of school assemblies and bleak newscasts showed me that our polar ice caps are melting, the ozone layer is perforating, and reducing, reusing, and recycling is our only way out…right?

So, what can be done?

I can’t begin to pretend that I am an expert on sustainable living or how we should proceed to protect ourselves for the future. I can only draw on my background in Sociology, which ultimately taught me that to intervene in one system is to intervene in all of them. When I started to think about environmental investment, I was brought back to an excerpt of the Statement of Interest I submitted to Western’s Master of Public Health program:

“In our increasingly globalized world, it is important to render deep understandings of the political, economic, and social institutions that govern. The plain truth tells us we are heading toward cataclysmic change. Growing societal struggles such as the Flint, Michigan water crisis and the Standing Rock Pipeline mark not a change in attitude, but a change in the physical reality of our Earth. Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, and advancing economic growth are all part of one fight.”

 So, while this may sound like a cop out, I think we should invest in, well, investment. Invest in raising those in poverty out of those conditions, invest in urban transport, and invest in the rewriting of the core beliefs of corporations to include ecological and social goals in their ethos. All systems must be targeted in order to truly build our capacity to lead sustainable lives.

Ethical investing that is based on environmental, social, or corporate governance concerns has gotten increasingly popular recently, and represents about 38% of the Canadian investment industry as of 2016. If our economy relies on the cycle of income and spending to prosper, then we must redefine prosperity.

 But where does that leave the individual?

 There is a running joke in my friend group about my constant use of the Marxist phrase “there is no ethical consumption under late stage capitalism.” And it is difficult to be, but I’m not so sure anymore that it’s impossible, and Hera & Co is a perfect example of why. Instead of making people accountable for the actions of morally bankrupt corporations, those living zero waste lifestyles are empowered to take control of their environment. What I’m slowly (and painfully) coming to realize is that to make change, we can’t bank on a revolution to just happen. The revolution lives in us.

A good friend of mine with a Master’s Degree in Environmental Sciences came up with a brilliant metaphor to help. Think of it this way: if a car drove through your house, your first reaction likely wouldn’t be “those damn car manufacturers” and leave the damage as it is. You would fix your house, because you can’t live with a hole in your house. It provides you with shelter and protection and warmth. And like our homes, it’s time we treated our environment with the same fierce loyalty to preserve the foundation of our lives.

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