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  • Paper or plastic, and ‘Glocal’ issues

Paper or plastic, and ‘Glocal’ issues

Written by Phil Noble on Wednesday, 03 February 2016. Posted in Opinions

A few years ago my company did some work for the city and mayor of Barcelona, Spain, developing innovative Internet and new technology strategies. Both the city and the mayor were wonderful. I thought about them today when I read an article in my local newspaper about plastics in the ocean globally – and in Charleston. First, Barcelona and the mayor. Barcelona is an old port town (like Charleston) that is renowned for its culture, arts, wealth, history and rebellious politics – all reminiscent of Charleston.

Today the city’s economy has a huge tourist sector driven by people who come to enjoy Barcelona’s food, arts and culture. The city has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and recently Charleston applied for this same designation. Barcelona has attracted a young, well educated, tech savvy population who want to live in a wonderful city with a great lifestyle (as with Charleston).

They are creating an innovative digital start up culture that is in turn driving the region’s economic growth (as with Charleston). And now the mayor. His name was Joan Clos and he (like Charleston’s new mayor) was not a traditional career politician. Clos was a cosmopolitan man – a medical doctor who has studied in Edinburgh, he spoke several languages fluently and he seemed to know more about just about everything than most anyone I ever met. Like generations of Barcelonians, (and Charlestonians) Clos loved to sail and every Wednesday afternoon – no matter what the weather – he went sailing. Clos had a different world view than most traditional politicians.

He wanted Barcelona to be known as an innovative, high-tech city but most of all, he understood the connection between global and local issues. Although he did not coin the term, Clos talked incessantly about “glocal issues” – those issues that are local but at the same time have a global impact – and vice versa. Clos understood that in the globalized world we live in today, the idea of global or local, left or right, more or less – are often outdated false choices. The answers are often both, neither or better.

Largely because of his advocacy of this idea of “glocal issues,” Clos became a leader in several worldwide associations of mayors. He was kind enough to take me along for the ride and I saw first-hand how one man with a powerful idea can have a huge impact – local to global. I thought about Clos and his “glocal issues” today when I read an article in the local newspaper and later went to the grocery store.

The newspaper I read with my morning cup of Joe had an article about the devastating impact that man has had on the oceans – and the impact in Charleston Harbor today. A study released at the World Economic Forum found that in 30 years, there will be more tons of plastic in the ocean than there are fish that swim in it. While in the last 50 years plastic production has increased 20 times, (only 14 percent is recycled) in the last 100 years the number of fish in the ocean have decreased by 70-80 percent.

And in our own Charleston Harbor, Citadel Professor John Weinstein estimates that today more than 7 tons of toxic plastics are breaking down and will find their way into our local food chain. This is a glocal issue. After finishing my paper and coffee, the first item on my Saturday to-do list was grocery shopping. After filling my buggy, the nice check out girl asked me the familiar question: “Paper or plastic?” While I stood there thinking about this momentous decision (with the news article still fresh in my brain) I was stopped dead in my tracks as I really didn’t know what to tell her.

I flashed on the foggy memory of some article I’d read long ago offering the pros and cons of each but I didn’t remember which came out better. So like an idiot, I asked the checkout girl which was better. Her answer was ‘Neither, you should bring your own reusable cloth bags.” She was right, of course. So, after my momentary meltdown in front of the checkout girl, I bought a few of the green cloth bags for $1 each.

When I got home and went online, I learned that reusable bags can replace over six plastic bags every shopping trip and that adds up to over 1,200 plastic bags every year that don’t end up in the landfill or become litter. As I drove home, I was again taken back to Clos and the stupid simplicity of either/or political arguments driven by either knee-jerk ideology, financial interest or misplaced political correctness. And it’s not just in politics but in our own daily lives as well, we – globally, nationally and locally – really do need to think about things differently and not rely on the outmoded thinking of the past. Think glocally.

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