Winding mountain roads spread the community of Palma Sola out along the ridge lines of the Sierra de Cayey, the southeastern spur off of the central interior mountain range of Puerto Rico. A church and store at the crossroads holds the small community together. Small 10- to 20-hectare plots of steep, broken agrarian reform land provides the sustenance and some cash income for the families tending them. The main export of this Caribbean community, though, has long been its people.
Material poverty didn’t hobbled the proud people there. They managed to find the wherewithal to raise their families between modest returns on their crops or animals, work off the land and cash sent from family members who had migrated to the mainland of North America. The requirements of life there instilled in the locals not only a respect for the land but also a clear sense stewardship and community.
Nothing was wasted. When a pig was slaughtered, I remember them saying that the only thing they couldn’t find a use for was the squeal. Neighbours readily shared tools and expertise as well as the bounty of the land. The concept of common good was not abstract for the people of Palma Sola but rather a lived reality.
In all our abundance sometimes it becomes difficult here in the Yukon to see alternatives to our Earth-consuming way of life. Our wealth, at least temporarily, has insulated us from a pressing need for change. Development still often means the pursuit of more individual material wealth now rather than more community well being for us and future generations.
Reshaping fundamental attitudes requires first of all a recognition of the need for change. Experts and studies have pummeled us for over a half a generation already on the threat of a pending environmental cataclysm. Knowledge of eco-footprints and use of natural resources way beyond the rate of bio-sustainability only modestly slow usage rates if at all. Some pundits believe that only when people experience real suffering and pain as a result of a global environmental disaster or the socio-economic shock waves generated by it will they be open to alternatives.
On Earth Day next Thursday we will again see actions and activities focused on stimulating our collective consciousness on the need for change. There are no simple solutions. Growth by itself won’t save us. Edward Wilson noted: “If the gross world product, set today at 60 trillion dollars, were to have a moderate increase of 3.5 per cent a year, it would reach 158 trillion dollars in 2050. But that won’t happen. There are not sufficient resources and services for that.”
As the Brazilian journalist Washington Novaes states, “We absolutely have to change our life style, to put into practice a new model of consumption that saves resources rather than wasting them.”
This will not be painless for those of us wed to our consumer lifestyles. It, however, is necessary. We must shake ourselves out of our collective daze and do what needs to be done.
The Christian churches of Whitehorse are again organizing a city wide spring food drive for our community food bank. Paper bags will be dropped off across the city from April 19 to the 23. Volunteers will return from the evening of Tuesday, April 27 to Thursday, April 29 to pick them up. Please be generous.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.