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What's Next: Zoe Chafe

Crucial information is available to us in unprecedented volumes, and at dizzying speeds. It sometimes seems that everything we need to know can be answered by a quick internet search. Despite a growing bank of information, easier and cheaper ways of communicating, and a tempting array of responsible purchasing choices, in 2007, we need to challenge ourselves to actively look beyond the easy answers.

We’ve worked hard to create the communication structures that we now rely upon: global cell phone networks, digital photo transmission, wikis, social networking sites, and blogs, to name a few. But we should resist the temptation to think that these communication structures inherently include the full range of perspectives that exist.

As we work to strengthen our local communities—as well as the global community—to preempt or counteract poverty, environmental decline, social injustices, and other important issues, we must ask ourselves who we engage in our conversations. Those who are vital sources of information and innovation may live beyond our immediate reach.

The same trend applies to responsible consumerism: while it has become easier to make responsible purchases, we need to push ourselves to be truly active consumers, to gather information beyond what is made easily available to us. We need to ask whether organic labels represent the stringent standards we expect, whether fair trade goods embody the social ideals we want to support, and whether carbon offsets are accomplishing what we hope they will.

If we focus on transmitting our expectations directly to the manufacturers, purchasers, and vendors who provide us with the products and services we choose among, we can reinforce our interest in more responsible products while, simultaneously, looking beyond the ever-expanding veneer of the responsible consumerism market—that which threatens to overshadow and dilute the impacts of thoughtful and innovative products. We must begin—or, hopefully, continue—to ask questions and consider which products we consider truly “responsible.?

In doing so, we will join voices to discern what is helping us move towards a more positive future and, more importantly, what remains to be changed—starting in 2007.

Zoë Chafe is a staff researcher at the Worldwatch Institute, where she writes for State of the World, Vital Signs, and World Watch Magazine, and coordinates Worldwatch University, the Institute's youth outreach project.

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Dear Zoe,
To count on consumers to change things is utopical: yes we must, we should, we really need to... and yet consumers invariably pick the cheapest eggs instead of the cage-free organic ones, the cheapest soap compared to the brands with no animal experimentation or toxic chemicals (who has time to read a tag, and who cares about those stupid rabbits anyway), and drive brand-new SUVs instead of picking a smaller but environmentally-friendly hybrid for the same cost. When I look around I feel I am from another planet: nobody bothers to bring their own reusable bags to the grocery store: please give me twenty plastic bags that I will throw away as soon as I get home... life-expectancy of the bag: 8 mns...And move over, I am dropping my kids off at the bus stop in my huge and shiny Hummer, my dear children who own TVs, computers, cellphones, DVD players, video cameras (I love them so) but whom I poison and the rest of the world with my exhaust...Really let's not rely on consumers for this change: it is amazing to me that America still thinks that change will come freely: when people are rich and really un-informed I find, compared to other countries, they will keep indulging in anything they can afford without bothering to reduce their material comfort. Where are the responsible, visionary and courageous officials who need to make the drastic decisions and enforce them? Enough waiting and hoping. We are destroying the world with our cupidity and passivity. I am tired of waiting for people to "voluntarily" recycle: this is not happening, so fine them, for our kids' sake,

Posted by: Dominique. on 11 Jan 07



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