Seeing Beyond the Obvious

I believe that compromise is more than just conceding on one thing we want in order to have something else we desire, but that it actually reflects the reality that we need to carefully balance perspectives to reach the optimum solution.

We tend to think that the best way to conserve wildlife stocks is to limit their use. But on NPR’s  Kojo Nnamdi show,  The Bounty of the Chesapeake Bay,  guests Steve Vilnit of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Mark Bryer of Nature Conservancy made a strong case for what initially seems counterintuitive; that encouraging local chefs to see the value of seafood from the Bay and to buy  more of it,  is exactly what is needed to preserve it for future generations. According to this theory, helping people see the value drives them to do more to protect it.

Kojo brought up the question of increased fishing and associated threat to fish stocks. His guests were clear that if we ever got to that point, it would be a much better problem to have than the one we have now; where the Bay is a sink for pollution because people don’t see the value it has for society. It is a compelling case for the counterintuitive that increasing fishing (up to a sustainable point) is a better solution for business, for society and for the environment than prohibiting fishing.

The common wisdom would have it that increasing prices for raw materials is a threat to business and so a threat to jobs.  I see a different perspective.

As a furrier, my grandfather was dependent on an extremely expensive raw material.   A customer would bring their fur coat in for a restyle and my grandfather would painstakingly cut the parts into pieces and sew them back together into a different design.  By the time my father took over the business (he is retired now, so please, no lobbying me on the fur trade) labor rates had gone up and the cost of fur had gone down.   It was far quicker and more cost effective to throw away the old material and start again. One more skilled craft job lost and one more virgin animal skin required.

The same is true in other businesses. My daughter just started in orchestra at middle school and I had to rent a cello for her. Renting a used cello is $30 per month. A new cello?   $35 per month.  It’s hard to resist for only $5.00 more.

I realize that this doesn’t necessarily translate into every sector and resource, but I cannot help but think that when I want to replace an old piece of furniture for example, it mightn’t be better both for jobs and for the environment, if the wood cost so much that it was more attractive for me to pay a skilled craftsman to fix or refresh what I already have than buy a new one.  Businesses need to think more about this as a model for success in a resource constrained environment.

This is getting too long for a blog so you will have to read about Jevon’s paradox yourself!

The moral though is the importance to sustainability and to our forms of discourse of looking past the obvious and considering the less obvious and even the counter intuitive in our thinking.




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