Are we greenwashing or really making the difference? From whose point of view development is sustainable? Are our actions mainly symbolic or do they have pragmatic meaning?
Uppsala municipality in Sweden, has an interesting 'ecological tourism attraction' in almost heart of the city centre. In the end of April it is recommended to arrive to these two specific spots by the Fyris?n river to see fishes called asps to swim upriver to spawn. This attraction is not just a small thing - the municipality of Uppsala has invested more than 2 million US dollars to build asp ladders that should help the fishes to migrate higher up on the river.
Due to interferences into the river, the asp has for 170 years been unable to swim upriver to spawn, and therefore the number of fish has decreased rapidly. The Asp is not a "eatable" fish, but an official marker of Uppsala County, which has hardly been seen at all for a century. The fish ladder was built to enable the Asp once again to spawn upriver and increase the number of fish.
However, it seems that when you arrive to these hotspots in Uppsala in the end of, you might end up mainlyanalyzing the real meaning of these kinds of manmade ecological initiatives. Sadly the actual fishes seem not to have found the ladders...
Instead of aiming to change the human behavior in order to slow down the environmental destruction, there has been a growing tendency of proposing technological solutions to remedy caused environmental damages. It is possible that the municipality of Uppsala wanted to implement the fish ladder project as there seemed to exist a concrete solution how previously caused damage to the ecosystem could be at least partially fixed.
But on the other hand this fish ladder can be also understood as a message of how it can be almost impossible to repair already caused ecological damages. The building of fish ladders can perhaps have the symbolic meaning, while the pragmatic meaning remains fairly weak. At the same time even the symbolic meaning of the ladders seems very broad - and therefore vague.
However, the small things add up, and this kind of symbolic instead purely pragmatic meanings should not be undermined. With the small choices we are moving towards more responsible behavior. On average, it seems like these kinds of symbolic acts of environmental friendliness are in any case very important. Still it makes sense to consider how much these kinds of symbolic acts can cost. When we make such large investments here in the rich industrialized countries, it is hard not to think if we should actually be concentrating on more relevant and acute matters.
By the way -- Remember the Earth Hour on this coming Saturday - the 27th of March. How do you understand the meaning of this global environmental act?
Text: Emily H?ckert