Editorial: Sustainability embedded in everyday life: Lessons from ‘Moana’

When living in Vancouver, one can’t help but notice an obsession with being green and environmentally friendly. There is an insistence that, for example, food should be locally grown to reduce car emissions, as well as be grown organically to reduce the use of pesticides. Yet another example is the strict recycling and garbage sorting for households and institutions like UBC. Sometimes it feels like a riddle placing my garbage into the right container, though I know it’s for a good cause.

In other words, what I’ve observed since moving to Vancouver is that it seems like the city wants to make sustainability a part of its residents’ everyday life. It certainly makes an effort for it, as seen in the strict sorting rules.

This then brings the following question to mind: how can we make sustainability a part of everyday life?

How can we make being sustainable a habit and the norm rather than the exception?

Why don’t we take a look at Moana?

Coconuts and insights from Moana

 

Using a Disney movie for an argument may seem weird, but I would argue that Moana has some vital lessons to teach us.

Consider this part of the song Where You Are:

Consider the coconut
Consider its tree
We use each part of the coconut
That’s all we need

We make our nets from the fibers
The water is sweet inside
We use the leaves to build fires
We cook up the meat inside

Here we can see that no part of the coconut is wasted – every single aspect of the fruit has an intended purpose. We can also see that the people are content with the island’s resources, and have no want of anything more.

Now compare this with modern capitalist, consumerist societies in North America like Vancouver. It’s quite the contrast. Instead of being content, we want more – whether it is coffee, or electronics, or food, we want endlessly more of it. Being wealthy and well of in this type of society means having an abundance of everything you can possibly want.

Certainly, we have all heard this before – the excess we have in this part of the world being compared to poorer societies and the few they have, and as contributing to the strain on the earth, manifesting as climate change. Perhaps it is a rhetoric that we are getting tired of as well.

However, if Vancouver and all of us want sustainability to be an integral part of our society, as a habit rather than the exception, than this is something we need to consider. We must rethink our relationship with our planet to be successful in this goal.

Rethinking our relationship with the Earth

So the argument I’ve posed to you here is that one of the main lessons to be gained from Moana is that we must rethink our relationship with the earth.

I would also extend this argument to include Indigenous peoples, first because Moana is a story portraying the ancestors of the peoples in Polynesia today, but also that Indigenous societies can be an example for the type of relationship we want with the earth.

We have much to learn from Indigenous peoples like Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh on whose lands Vancouver sits on, who have had this knowledge for thousands of years.

Overall, it’s grand to say that we must make sustainability a part of everyday. However, when being green is still the ‘good alternative’ or exceptional task, it’s hard to do that. We must therefore rethink how we interact and engage with the earth and our environment.

We must fundamentally change how we think of the environment, ideally moving from a thing from which we can extract resources and wealth, to a provider of these resources and our needs that thrives when we respect and take care of it.

What can we do?

Work is being done to this end already, such as with IC-Kindness, whose president I interviewed a couple of weeks ago. Their message is that just as we must be kind to each other and ourselves, we must also be kind to the earth, forming this triangle of kindness that will hopefully lead to a better world.

But of course, more needs to be done. We must carry the sentiment we have here in Vancouver of wanting organically grown food and strict garbage sorting rules into our everyday interactions and how we think about the earth, whatever position in life, in work, or generally that we’re in.

Let’s take some guidance from Moana, a story about a girl who loves to sail, and respects the water and environment around her.

Campus Innovator: Zamina Mithani on IC-Kindness and Social Sustainability

Campus Innovator The IdeasXChange Campus Innovator is a forward-thinking, proactive individual who has kickstarted their own sustainable initiative on the UBC Vancouver campus. Their involvement surrounds the core values of a sustainable, innovative and interdisciplinary mindset, which they are eager to share with the rest of the UBC student body.

If you would like to nominate yourself as a Campus Innovator, or would like to interview another Campus Innovator you know, please send your pitch to: magazine@ideasxchange.org.


(Interview by Phebe Ferrer)

On Friday, February 17, I sat down with Zamina Mithani, President of the IC-Kindness Foundation, to talk about her work on social sustainability. IC-Kindness has recently been involved in the SLC as well as the UBC Sustainability Fair, where its social approach to sustainability was highlighted by the fair’s organizers. It has also done projects towards helping Syrian refugees and residents in the DTES.

Zamina and I talk about these and more in the interview below.

 

P: So to start off, tell me a little bit about yourself, what you do, what you’re passionate about…

Z: My name is Zamina Mithani, and I’m the President of the IC-Kindness Foundation – the Interfaith Collaboration for Kindness Foundation. I’m also the President of the Thaqalayn Muslim Association. Both of those things really embody two values which are important to me, and that’s identity and diversity. So identity – being authentic to yourself, understanding what your values are, and then leading from that.

My background is in Science and Master of Management, so I really enjoy business, but I also enjoy business with a purpose, and business with social responsibility attached to it, which I think is where sustainability fits in really nicely, and where the themes of the main two clubs I’m working with right now fit in, in terms of diversity. Embracing different ways of thinking, embracing the whole idea of social sustainability and empowering communities, but also embracing the idea that it comes from within, and it comes from having a good sense of who you are, your values and what’s important to you, and then building from that.

So those are the two main things that I’m doing on campus!

P: Sounds great! So focusing on IC-Kindness, tell me a bit more about it. What does the name mean, why did you set it up, what work does the organization do, and what do you hope it will accomplish.

Z: Sure! So the IC-Kindness Foundation is kind of a punny name. It stands for “I see kindness,” but also Interfaith Collaboration for Kindness, and that’s exactly what our mandate is. It’s to bring together and unite youth of different backgrounds, different races, religions and cultures towards a common goal of social responsibility and doing good.

We really have a triangle approach to how we try and do things in the organization. It starts off with being kind to yourself, and so that includes mental health, random acts of kindness, embracing that within yourself, then being kind to others, obviously again, through having wonderful conversations, doing events like how we did for the Syrian refugees. We had a big fundraiser for them and we actually volunteered with an organization that helped give out food to those families. We have done work with the DTES in the past as well. And then the environment – the Earth and being kind to the Earth, but the environment can also mean society, and raising awareness about global issues and how we can be kinder.

P: Cool! You also mentioned before to me in another conversation that part of your passions and the organization’s mandate is towards social sustainability, and I was wondering what work IC-Kindness is doing towards that, or what maybe you personally are doing towards that?

Z: Yeah! So IC-Kindness is still pretty new, so it’s an area we’re still exploring, and it’s still something we’re working towards. We did have a booth at the UBC Sustainability Fair this year which was really awesome. We really got to talk about the whole idea that sustainability and the culture of sustainability. Often we just link it to the environment – recycling, being clean and being green – and those are all very important and absolutely necessary for our efforts to lobby governments and mitigate climate change, as well as work towards adaptation, mitigation, and public awareness. But in that whole idea of sustainability also comes people’s attitudes towards it and towards their environment, not just being something that they can take for granted, which is sometimes what we do here, but part in parcel of how you live your life, and you live your life with kindness and respect of the Earth around you.

I think different cultures, and also in terms of IC-Kindness and the spirit of the organization being interfaith and intercultural; different cultures have beautiful variations of how they are sustainable. You look at India, you look at China, you look at the Philippines, you look everywhere – you see different ideas of what the Earth means to different people. It’s about embracing that and allowing that to guide how people form and engage their communities, in acts that protect our environment with the spirit that you’re also doing it for each other. I think that’s so important, because we need strong communities who are respectful and kind, and have that sense of empathy and aren’t divisive. Division is contrary to the goals of sustainability, if we want to be united in our effort towards global change, environmental sustainability, and social sustainability.

Social sustainability is really connected to environmental sustainability, but it can also exist by itself, because I feel like it’s about having sustainable communities. I think that social sustainability is such a cool term, it’s like adopting this mindset where whatever you do comes back from a set of values, and our societies are governed always by values. Social sustainability is then having those values be enduring, having those values be a driving force for continual progression for a community. Take UBC as a small example, with our values of being together when horrible things happen, like what happened in Quebec, and then coming together and doing protest and other activities – that all comes from a sense of value, and that value contributes to the drive of social sustainability, and how as people we’re ultimately affected by everything, be it to other people, ourselves, or be it to the environment.

It’s a pretty broad concept and I think IC-Kindness is a very small, small part in that whole movement, but what I hope to do is just empower people to embrace whatever they feel they can impact and whatever their passions are in that sort of web in how we can make sustainable communities. This would be different for different people, but I think that’s what makes it such a cool concept.

At an IC-Kindness event, Feb 17 2017. Image courtesy of Phebe Ferrer.

P: I was going to ask you how you would define social sustainability, and you kind of allude to the fact that it’s a very broad concept, though not in a bad sort of way.

Z: I think that it’s something that’s still very new, and I’m still learning about how different people define it too, but it’s generally part of a whole idea that protecting our world is a systemic thing. You can’t just look at one aspect of sustainability and say like, c’est la vie and that’s it and call it a year, but it’s a movement of people getting together, the environment and different factors. It’s a whole systemic approach to knowing that everything is a system – something you do affects somebody else.

P: So IC-Kindness is focused on the value of kindness – what role do you think kindness plays towards social sustainability, and towards sustainability in general?

Z: I think kindness has a huge role to play in sustainability, because I think part of the movement that drives consumerism, and drives this extra spending and waste, is this movement that we’re not fulfilled with our lives, and we’re not fulfilled with what we have. But we have this obligation to look after the environment around us, and that comes from adopting a mindset of kindness. The problem is, when you ask how kindness fits in with social sustainability and sustainability in general, is that it’s a very feel good term – it’s very ‘kumbaya’. Of course, the two fit together because you have to be kind to the Earth, but I think the challenge is defining what that really means.

Being kind to the Earth is a series of actions that need to come after that. One needs to prove that kindness is within their mindset, and sometimes it sounds so big to be kind to the Earth and adopt this mindset, that it seems almost unattainable. I think part of our challenge is how to take these big ideas and break them down into things that we can do on a daily basis. We talk about these issues a lot, like sustainability, what kindness is, what it means to be a good person…but how do you actually achieve this? For example, when you see a homeless person and you don’t look at them, or you don’t smile at them, is that you being kind? That’s not a question I can answer – that’s something you have to constantly strive for within yourself, like what decisions you make and how these impact the world around you.

P: I was also wondering since IC-Kindness is an interfaith organization, what role do interfaith organizations like IC-Kindness play towards sustainability, in that specific aspect of collaborating with other faiths and religions?

Z: Yeah! I also talked about this at the SLC workshop that I did – right now, diversity is very important in people’s lives, be it sexual diversity, race diversity, even ableism, so the ability of people, that kind of diversity as well, but we don’t often talk about faith-based diversity. It’s always a question to me of why that is, and I feel like the reason behind it is when you talk about faith and religion, it taps into ideology, and it’s difficult to discuss how to be kind and how to collaborate within that. Whenever you believe something, and you get together with someone who thinks something different, you’re always going to have that subliminal bias that what you think is slightly better. That’s really going to prevent you from having actual collaboration, because you’ll likely think ‘oh that’s really cool, but my thing is slightly better.’

So I think that the challenge and the beauty of interfaith, and how this comes back to the whole idea of sustainability, is that it’s about understanding each other’s identities and ideologies, in a way that’s beyond appearance, how people act, but what they really think and how their minds work. I think that once you can collaborate on an ideological basis, you can collaborate on any term. That’s a bit of a generalization, but I think it’s very possible, because once you break through the ideological barrier, you really open yourself up to a lot more of an acceptance based mindset than you would otherwise.

That’s what I think is important with sustainability as well, like if we want to have a greener planet, if we want to work towards food security, empowering communities, working with Aboriginal communities, then we need to understand how they think, and understand their ideology. We can’t go into scenarios thinking we’re better, and I think that’s what interfaith really teaches you, is how you can look at someone who believes different things, and understand that and learn to see the beauty in it. I feel like once we learn to do that, we’ll learn how to see the beauty in how everybody looks at the environment, and then learn about how we can change it.

Part of IC-Kindness’ projects are kindness notes, where people write notes with a kind message and give it to someone else. Image courtesy of IC-Kindness.

P: That’s beautiful. So in terms of IC-Kindness’ goals, in cultivating collaborations between different religions, making connections between different people, and looking at sustainability through a social, community-based lens- what has the organization done in achieving those goals?

Z: I think the prime example was our fundraiser that we did for Syrian refugee families, in that we really just wanted to humanize their struggles. One of our biggest values is tangible humanitarianism. I know that sounds vague, but basically what it means is like, good things that you can do, and know that you’re doing it. So instead of buying a donut for a dollar and not knowing where your money is going, it’s about actually giving the food to a Syrian refugee family, and having that human interaction with them, which I think is so valuable.

When we did this for these families, people on our team, who have never been to the Middle East, or Syria, didn’t really know anybody from there. They thought it was a super cool experience because they got a glimpse into another way of thinking, and into the real people behind such a horrible humanitarian crisis. I think that when we see something bad happen, like floods and political migration crises, you think of the people and you see them on Facebook, but we’re so passive in how we like posts, share posts, without really thinking or acting upon that after.

So I think that that’s really important, and for IC-Kindness, we’re still a young organization and still growing. We’re doing a lot of different things and still working towards that goal. But that’s my vision for it, to eventually create this beautiful culture of tangible humanitarianism, to humanize the people within the issues we see around us. This again goes back to social sustainability, because we are social beings, and we stop being social beings once we start dehumanizing each other, like believing stereotypes and dogmas about other religions. I think that the mentality we should have is a unified mentality – that we all are human, and that we all should try our best to be kind to each other.

 

Special thanks to Zamina Mithani! Find IC-Kindness at their website, as well as on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Editorial: On Abortion and A Look into Social Sustainability

In March and December of 2016, the Genocide Awareness Project (G.A.P.) set up shop on the UBC Vancouver campus, presenting large posters and distributing fliers which argued that abortion was an act of genocide. As it does so every year with its presence on UBC, the pro-life group sparked a debate on campus.

This featured heated arguments in the rain in front of the Lasserre building, and in December, G.A.P.’s presence in front of the AMS Nest. Both incidents were accompanied by counter pro-choice rallies that advocated for the right of a woman to choose to abort her child. Whether women should be allowed to stop a pregnancy, the human right of a fetus to live, and the availability and accessibility of child care services that would help a woman take care of her baby were all called into question.

The actions of the G.A.P. and a discomfort over their message were what made Kacey Ng, a third year student in the Department of Sociology, decide that this needed a conversation. I first met Kacey at a conference presented by the UBC Asian Canadian and Asian Migration Studies program called “Sexual Violence in Asian Communities in Canada.” Amongst discussions of discrimination against Asian communities and sexual violence in Asian histories, the G.A.P.’s presence on campus became a topic of interest for the panelists and audience.

It was during this discussion that Kacey introduced her plans for a reading group, where in addressing her own discomfort with G.A.P.’s actions, she planned to further discuss abortion, contraception and more broadly, reproductive rights in Canada. I signed up for her group then, and excitedly took my best friend with me to the first meeting. The group met throughout the summer of 2016, and addressed issues such as the discussion of reproductive rights in society and popular media; access to contraceptives and health services in Canada (with comparison to the U.S.); and the choices or lack thereof for women regarding support and services.

Students holding a protest sign during the GAP’s visit in March 2016. Image courtesy of Phebe Ferrer.

Canada’s stance on abortion

Currently, the country has no laws on abortion. In 1869, Parliament had imposed a ban abortion with a punishment of life imprisonment; however many illegal abortions were still carried out despite the law, and many women died from botched procedures.

The Liberal government under Pierre Trudeau then passed the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1968-69, which legalized abortion on the condition that there was approval from a committee of doctors on the woman’s medical need and mental well-being. Henry Morgentaler, who was a doctor and activist for the right of women to choose abortion and carried out many abortions in his own clinic, started a movement against this legislation that resulted in the Supreme Court striking down the laws as unconstitutional in 1988. With no federal laws on the issue, the provinces were left to devise their own policies on abortion. This currently ranges from relatively easy access in BC, to almost no access to services in New Brunswick.

At this point, I would humbly ask the reader to let go of presumptions that they may have about the unicorn rainbow love of Canada’s policies in contrast to the bleaker reality in the US. Canada, for all its good points, is not completely different from its neighbours to the south. There remains a challenge to access to vital health services required by women such as in New Brunswick, and it is crucial that these are not forgotten or remain unaddressed by the public and provincial governments.

An interview with Kacey Ng, and discussions on social sustainability

I sat down with Kacey in summer of 2016 to discuss her reading group, as well as her own perspective on abortion and women’s reproductive rights. She described her interests in current feminist issues like the issues covered in the reading group, and how her initial impetus in starting the group was “remembering that the fight is not quite over,” specifically how women are still a disadvantaged group and considered a minority group.

However, the main trigger was on Women’s Day, March 8 2016, when G.A.P. first came to UBC with their message and graphic stands. She spoke of how she had never felt so much emotion towards taking action as she did then. She recognized that there was not much use in just approaching and yelling at them, instead understanding that she must arm herself with information to have a conversation with the group and others, and taking on an approach that recognized the group’s perspective and right to free speech. She realized that this may be problematic and harmful to others.

She spoke to me about her position in being pro-choice, distinguishing this term from being pro-abortion namely in how she advocates for the choice of having an abortion, but not necessarily for abortion itself. She observes most UBC students’ opinions on the issue to be unsure or “on the fence”, and the possible danger of G.A.P. in convincing them that women should not have autonomy over her body because abortion is a genocidal act.

In light of this, her goals for the reading group include inclusivity in discussion, particularly how men must also be included and not just women, and in arming herself and others with the information needed to have informed conversations about choices for women and others capable of reproduction. Though she is unsure of where to begin for action towards the issue of abortion and reproductive rights, she hopes that at least by gaining knowledge towards these issues through the group, she will be able to relay it to others and give support to those who need it, and change the culture and discourse towards abortion a little bit at a time.

Kacey’s group and the discussions generated over these issues are a crucial part, I would argue, of social sustainability. This term does not have a set definition, but one that is offered is the following; that it is “the ability of a community to develop processes and structures which not only meet the needs of its current members but also support the ability of future generations to maintain a healthy community.”

There has been much discussion lately of environmental sustainability, but the social aspect, in terms of relationships between people and communities, not also needs attention. Here I would argue is where initiatives like that of Kacey are needed, in sparking discussion and promoting inclusivity and informed opinions towards issues like abortion so that society may move towards change in this respect.

Concluding thoughts

Abortion is not an easy topic to discuss. Whether it is because of personal experiences or religious and cultural views, we must recognize that for some people there will be difficulty surrounding the discussion of this issue. However, it is still important that we have a discussion of abortion, access to contraceptives and services, and overall, reproductive rights. Even with established policies on abortion, contraception and others, if there is no conversation, action, or translation of policy into everyday reality – especially that of the people who need it most – we won’t see whether these are effective and if they are properly addressing the issue.

To take care of our current society, and ensure the care of our future generations, we must realize and discuss the realities of abortion, and most importantly take action.

If you are interested in contacting Kacey Ng and/or joining the reading group, please contact the author of the article or leave a comment. Additionally, included below are a few documents from the reading group.

 

Further Reading:

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

 

Editorial: The people have spoken: Introducing the new President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte

On May 9, the Philippines held its national and local elections, electing a new President and Vice President, as well as senators, mayors and other local officials. Though the official results will be released later in June, presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte is the presumptive winner of the presidential race with a 6 million vote lead over his main contender, Manuel Roxas II. It is notable that the popular vote has chosen Duterte as the new president, despite of allegations of murder, of his infamous “Davao Death Squad” (DDS), and outspoken willingness to kill criminals and anyone who dares to defy his rule. Why has this been so?

To understand Duterte’s popularity, one must understand the mood of the majority of Filipinos towards their government and place in society. For one, his rise comes at a time of increasing anger against the rampant corruption in the Philippine government. This corruption is represented by the candidates themselves, in terms of dynastic families continuing to hold power, as well as in the corruption of tax funds, bribery of officials, and others. Manuel ‘Mar’ Roxas II, the second ranked candidate, is the grandson of former President Manuel Roxas. Grace Poe, another close contender, is the daughter of Fernando Poe Jr, a famous figure in Philippine politics and popular culture. Jejomar Binay, another candidate, has various family members in different levels of government as well as many charges of corruption against him.

Duterte appears to be the antithesis to these candidates. Formerly the mayor of Davao City, he will be the first President who hails from the Southern Philippines in a position dominated by candidates from the North. He is from a lower socioeconomic class than his opponents and has declared to have a simple lifestyle, though recent reports have shown that he too has unaccounted for wealth. He is not part of a dynasty in national politics, which has been a main source of frustration of Filipinos against government officials. He stands firm against corruption, and has vowed to file an executive order to implement Freedom of Information (FOI) regarding the government’s executive branch, which was started by President Ninoy ‘NoyNoy’ Aquino Jr but had failed to pass in Congress. Most of all, the dominating feature of his platform is his promise to solve crime in the Philippines in 3-6 months, allowing for the possibility of assassinations, death squads, as well as the dumping of bodies in Manila Bay. His apparent ability to keep order in Davao City with similar methods seems to give credibility for this promise.

He is what the majority of Filipinos have seen as the saviour the Philippines so desperately needs. Indeed, while Aquino has managed to spearhead the largest economic growth since the era of martial law and earn the Philippines the title of a ‘Rising Asian Tiger’, this has largely not been felt at the lower layers of society. About a quarter of the Philippines’ population remains in poverty. With the governmental corruption, recent disastrous storms that have devastated the country, and lack of visible change, the frustration has grown. It is evident that a hero is needed to save the nation.

But can Duterte save the Philippines? A president’s term lasts only 6 years, and as reflected in other parts of the world such as the US, change can be slow, frustratingly so, and it can bring criticism on the leader’s apparent inability to make it happen faster. But this is also what makes Duterte so popular – he is promising quick, immediate change for problems the nation, especially its lower socioeconomic classes, have experienced for so long.

The people have spoken for the Punisher, the so-called Donald Trump of the East to become the new President of the Philippines. Experts fear that this new regime can bring an end to democracy in the Philippines and cause ripple effects across Southeast Asia. Others worry for the Philippines’ foreign relations during his rule, especially with consideration to the conflict in the South China Sea. Only time will prove to tell whether Duterte was the right choice.

The Philippine election results can be found at this link, provided by the news outlet Rappler. The overseas votes are the remaining ones to be counted.