Boston stole my glass

Posted on April 13, 2009


Last week I was in Bonn at the UN Education for Sustainable Development Conference.   In Bonn I was struck by the wide divergence of what sustainability means to different people.  At one session the representative from Malawi (I think) threw her hands up in dismay, saying that the North simply doesn’t get it – when the North talks sustainability we mean a little bit less consumption while maintaining the same lifestyle, she said.  When the South talks sustainable development, they hope to feed and school their children – sustainability is a path to living values and social justice.

So, two days later  I was in Boston at CHI (anywhere is on the way home to NZ!) and while Eli has done a great job of turning the CHI community (more later), it was the American public that got to me.   That lady from Malawi was so right.   After two days of dodging rampant consumption, and an addiction to the car that is truly incredible, I was prompted to change my status on Facebook:

 Samuel Mann is blown away by the ignorance, arrogance, greed, laziness and lack of altruism demonstrated by Americans. If the world needs them for sustainability then we’re in trouble. Main item on all channels today is the horror that Obama bowed to the King of Saudi Arabia.

So, is there any hope?     Prompted by my FB status, Barbara Owens sent me this link to to a grateful robot which does give some hope.  As she says,  Americans aren’t all awful.  Unfortunately local and global issues won’t soon reduce to the level of a cute cardboard robot.   Last year I was in Portland and came away inspired.  What has gone wrong in Boston?   They get the same green marketing on the streets and in the media, the same schooling (though look at the shocking PISA report), and work in the same economy.    

 I’m a glass half full person, but I’ve been quite shaken by a week in Boston.