Reciprocity (Part II of II)

In the

last blog entry

I suggested reciprocity as a concept for consideration as a value on which to build our response to the environmental degradation of the terrestrial and ocean systems on which we depend for survival. Reciprocity is a state of mutual exchange, the categorization of an action by its motivation and consequence in relationship to another.  I asked these questions:

What if we accepted the power of reciprocity as a standard of behavior at all levels, in all areas of exchange, with Nature? What if we acknowledged that the land and sea provide us value, not for the taking and exhausting as an entitlement, but as the giving of a gift, the making of a loan, with a consequent obligation that we give back that value through complementary behavior, equitable patterns of consumption, and forms of exchange that sustain Nature through accepted future obligation? What if we accept such a reciprocal relationship and system of connection with Nature as our obligation, our contribution, to ourselves, our children, and the public good?

Let me offer three illustrative statements, with examples of what I mean.

First: By not taking, we are giving back. If we choose to forego or reduce our consumption of fossil fuels or plastic bags or tuna, we are leaving that value for others, a collective choice that taken to scale will extend or conserve that resource at a sustainable level.

Second: By paying a fair price for what we need and use, we are giving back. If we pay for our consumption at a level of true cost – withdraw subsidies for fossil fuels, reinvest such underwriting in clean technology, price water as the most valuable commodity on earth, include insurance payment for disaster response and reparation from environmental destruction as part of regulatory requirement and permit fees, evaluate government investment projects based on a neutral or positive comparison of public benefit versus private profit, increase taxes and royalties to establish financial disincentives for polluting industries,  allocate penalties to support of non-polluting alternatives, and many other financial calculations and market applications based on the value added by environmental protection and sustainability outcomes.

Third: By acting and applying these values, we are giving back. Modify personal, family, and community behaviors in every way possible to affirm these values through action.  Become a “sustainability” citizen, A Citizen of the  Ocean. Set an example. Sign petitions. Vote. Demonstrate when necessary. Communicate your commitment at every level, and hold others accountable in your daily purchases, your employment, your investments, civic organizations of which you are a member, schools that you attend or have attended, churches that you belong to, recreational activities that you enjoy, and politicians that you support. Communicate. Advocate by example. And amplify your voice by joining other exemplars into a movement of giving back.

Now, of course, I can easily anticipate the reaction to these ideas: as politically naïve, impractical and impossible, too radical, too whatever – all the predictable response by those who don’t care, whose personal benefit is threatened, or who are afraid of any change. But in fact, it is their behavior that exemplifies these accusations: the simplistic political recalcitrance that sustains the status quo, the impracticality, indeed impossibility, of sustaining our way of life at present levels of consumption, the radical inflexibility and fearfulness that have brought governance to a standstill. What I am describing here actually is a democratic process and expression of popular will based not on narrow ideology but on our understanding of the consequences for us all if we fail to act.

Reciprocity makes every one a winner, everyone a builder, everyone a giver. It is a simple framework that allows us to understand another way of being, how to support, individually and collectively, a shift from our present way that is making us all losers, all destroyers, and all takers until we have nothing left. Is that really what we want for the land, for the ocean, for ourselves and our future?

Reciprocity. It seems so clear. Think what the land gives us. Think what the ocean gives us. Are we not obligated to respond? Let’s start giving back.