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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 26/11/2007 | 2 Comments

One of the things I like about Martin Seligman’s approach to optimism is that it doesn’t encourage mindless positive thinking. Seligman is very clear that it pays to use optimism techniques (if you have a tendency to pessimism) where the cost of failure is not high. This means that it is useful to encourage optimism to rise round sport, education or where there are issues about long-term health outcomes.

The reason for this advice is simple: pessimism helps keep us alive. It is by thinking that the worst might happen that we take steps to avoid danger.

If we apply this thinking to ecological issues we can see the need to strike some kind of balance. We need to be optimistic enough to think that by taking action now – at both the individual and collective level – we can manage to avert potentially catastrophic climate change, if not for ourselves then for our grandchildren. However, we mustn’t be so optimistic that we think the worst won’t happen: taking this view will only lead to complacency.

In recent months there has been a huge increase in coverage of sustainability issues in the press and much more of an interest from businesses as well. The organic section of supermarkets has grown substantially and no doubt many consumers genuinely believe they are making the right choice when they buy organic. However, when you actually pay attention to where this food comes from you get a completely different picture. For example, when iceberg lettuce is imported to the UK from the USA by plane 127 calories of energy (aviation fuel) are needed to transport 1 calorie of lettuce across the Atlantic. Similarly, 97 calories of transport energy are needed to import 1 calorie of asparagus by plane from Chile, and 66 units of energy are consumed when flying 1 unit of carrot energy from South Africa. Organic might be the better buy, but what is much more important is locally produced organic, rather than buying fruit and vegetables that have circumnavigated the globe. For more great info like this see:

www.powerswitch.org.uk/portal/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=563

Another trend we’re seeing in shops is what is being called ‘green fashion’ – clothes made out of organic cotton, for example. However, green fashion is a contradiction in terms. The point about fashion is that it aims to make consumers dissatisfied with existing goods. It is not about whether they are worn out or don’t fit anymore: no the emphasis is on having a new style, and so new clothes, for the sake of it. Again such thinking is at odds with sustainability.

I’m all for businesses doing their bit to promote sustainability but I think as consumers we have to become much more clued up and sceptical.

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