Fairness as a Way of Life

| 10/5/2011 2:31:28 PM

About 7,000 miles south of Pasadena, Doug and Kris Tompkins are securing the planet’s abundance in a different way. Doug and Kris got rich in business. Doug co-founded the North Face outdoor-equipment company and the Esprit fashion dynasty. Kris was CEO of Patagonia, Inc., the adventure-apparel company. In 1991 Doug bought 42,000 acres of temperate rain forest at the end of an isolated fjord in Chile. He started the Conservation Land Trust, a nonprofit set up to protect the land permanently. Then he and Kris went about acquiring – or convincing other people to acquire – a total of about two million acres of wilderness in Chile and Argentina to protect it, forever, from development. Their projects include the 700,000-acre Pumalin Park that grew out of their first 42,000-acre ranch; the 726,000-acre Corcovado National Park in Chile; and the ambitious Patagonia National Park project that seeks to connect national parks in Chile and Argentina to protect wilderness at the southern tip of South America. The land is purchased by private individuals, protected by private nonprofits and managed by the governments of Chile and Argentina. Once the parks are established, they are open for the public to enjoy, presumably forever.

Jules Dervaes experiences abundance in the cramped, leafy profusion of his Pasadena backyard. He’s proud to support his family on about $40,000 a year. Kris and Doug Tompkins find abundance in the vast wildernesses of South America. They invest hundreds of millions of dollars to preserve it. They are inspired by similar visions, but different definitions, of abundance in humanity’s future.

Photo of Open Sky by Bryan WelchWe’ll keep on striving toward fairness. It’s impossible to visualize a world in which all human beings agreed on a definition for fairness. Human affairs bubble with controversy.

I realize that if I provide an example for the pursuit of fairness in the world I will be inviting dissent. Any real-world example of the ideal of fairness will, no doubt, be contradicted by someone who has been marginalized.

But maybe an idealistic endeavor, an endeavor like the international Fair-Trade movement, can at least illustrate the aspiration toward fairness, even if we’ll never have a perfect consensus regarding its definition.

Fair Trade certifies the fairness of certain businesses by illuminating the supply chain all the way from original producers – usually farmers – to the ultimate consumers. Fair-Trade agencies certify that products were grown in ways that were humane and environmentally friendly, that original producers and their employees were paid fairly at values higher than commodity prices and that the products were transported by the most conscientious means possible. Fair-Trade certifications are currently available for dozens of products including coffee, fruits, vegetables, wine, soccer balls, tea and herbs marketed in about 50 countries.

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