Archive for the 'culture' Category

Getting Consumed By Sustainability

How do we sustain ourselves as we work on sustainability? There is so much work to do, how do we keep from being just another group of American workaholics, set apart only by a bigger vision and slightly different consumption patterns?

It’s 3:49 a.m. as I’m writing (I have insomnia). My upcoming day, my recent days, and entire upcoming summer all look packed with the Governor-backed initiative I am leading to reduce commute trips. Blogging itself, while I love it, [Read more →]

Advertisements

Death of Retail & Naked Ladies

Short post this morning on the deaths of many retail stores recently in the U.S. First, I really feel for the people who are losing their jobs, and in many cases, their retail businesses. This is painful and scary for them, and I wish stability for all the people affected.

In the bigger picture, the retail industry has simply got to get smaller. It (with help from all of us) consumes way too much of the earth’s limited resources. We in the U.S. are 4% of the earth’s population, consuming 25% of what the earth has to offer. And the research by Juliet Schor and many others is clear that added layers of consumption after our normal needs are met brings very little additional happiness.

That said, I’m keenly aware we have to consume things in order to live. And I admit I struggle with my own addiction to used — isn’t the euphemism ‘pre-worn’– clothes (see Unclothing the Horse and Juliet Schor). I played this out with more fun than usual yesterday when I bicycled to a Naked Lady Party. We all brought clothes we no longer needed, tried things on and brought new-to-us outfits home. I’m wearing one now, it’s beautiful. My point is that we need economic transformation, including an emphasis on community and sharing resources. We don’t need a return to how the retail industry used to be.

And to cover my biggest retail experience of this or any decade, I’ll write later this week about the new car Thor and I are actually buying and bringing home, after all our extended debate. (Want to purchase a pre-used 1993 Nissan Sentra)

Our Portland CRAG Launches!

Last night five friends of mine, new and old, got together at Colleen and Thad’s house in NE Portland. We had wine, a delicious potluck dinner and animated-to-hilarious planning of our Carbon Action Reduction Group.

Honestly, it would have been fun and funny even without the wine. The four sled dogs milling around our legs added a lot to the happy hubbub. Bottom line: We’re going to do it! We’re responding to global warming by measuring our households’ carbon footprints and working together to control and reduce them. This is the basic spreadsheet each household will use.

Probably because I was the initial instigator, I get to be the group’s ‘accountant’ in the first year. I accepted this role only because Ewan O’Leary, who is starting his own carbon-offset business, is going to help me. (I love teamwork.) We are naturally open to new members: please post a comment at top of this article if you’re interested.

If you are sitting there thinking you are definitely not ready for this CRAG thing yourself, don’t feel alone. Here is what some of my friends said at the prospect. And I am absolutely still friends with them; I’m even going hiking with Micki tonight. I do believe, though, that my frequent-commenter Mick down in Berkeley is thinking about starting a CRAG, himself. Hope he’ll keep us posted. 🙂

The Very Best Diet, Part I

You have probably read by now that our country has been getting dramatically more obese for twenty years now. Most people I know seem to want to lose weight and be more lean and fit. Diets, though, are famous for non-lasting results and nasty backlash effects.

My philosophy of the diamond-cut life naturally has a different take on weight loss and dieting than the mainstream culture does. (I’m not making any money on any of this after all, which can help with objectivity.) The little-publicized fact is that our body-weight is rising in conjunction with the miles we drive in our cars and the hours we spend in them. Incidentally our carbon emissions are on the same upward trajectory.

Think about it. Sit in a car more, gain more weight. Use your body to get yourself around, lose weight. Too simple, huh.

My conclusion: it is the car-use that needs the diet, not the well-meaning person. (You may think the car is well-meaning, but I like to give people the benefit of the doubt over inanimate objects).

photo by Jill Greenseth

photo by Jill Greenseth

Here is the very best diet I know. I would call it the Low-Car Diet except that my nice pals at the car-share company Zipcar already use that name for their fun summer program.) I subscribe to the diet below and am often asked how I stay so slim. (I don’t talk much about the time back in college when I got really fat, it’s too embarrassing.)

  • Use stairs instead of elevators and escalators
  • Bicycle for trips and errands of five miles and less
  • Walk for trips and errands of up to two miles
  • Use transit whenever possible (entails more walking than cars)
  • Pick a church or other steady destination that’s within walking distance
  • Use the car only when nothing else will work for the purpose at hand

Next week I’ll write about the other very best diet I know. It’s almost as fun and carbon-reducing as this one!

Love In The Time Of Global Warming

“Love In The Time Of Cholera” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is about a fifty-year love triangle. Love in the time of global warming is, for me, my own love triangle. The three players are the world, global warming and myself.

Perito Moreno Glacier calving, Patagonia.
Photo by Hanmi Meyer
Perito Moreno Glacier calving, Patagonia, photo by Hanmi Meyer

When I am even halfway happy I experience the world as my lover. I cherish it, I notice a hundred endearing things about it, I want to nurture it and help it flourish. Global warming threatens the world with pain, suffering, the destruction of species and millions of people. I feel about global warming the way I’d feel about a person trying to maim and mutilate my in-person lover. I want to do whatever is within my power to prevent my beloved’s pain and suffering.

I see what’s within my power as being both big-picture things like political and policy work (macro) and hands-on-in-my-own- household things (micro). The CRAG (Carbon Reduction Action Group) I’m starting (with Ewan O’Leary, Colleen Kaleda and their spouses) is largely the hands-on type. But I think it can spread and become a big-picture thing, also.

Our culture construes love as primarily a romantic one-to-one thing, but I find that an impoverished notion of love. I say that even as I am happily married. A narrow, couple-only focus can suck two people dry, in my experience, while a shared mission in the world can bring a couple into community with others. I actually met and fell in love with my husband Thor Hinckley in the context of fighting global warming. He was leading a workshop on renewable energy that I attended. Our relationship is the best one I’ve had (and I’ve had several).

Love feels like joy to us, like haven and happiness, and global warming way different from love, like doom, danger, a dark future. But love and global warming are wrapped tightly around each other in my heart. My love for the world means I cannot passively tolerate a business-as-usual life as global warming menaces it. Here I am, in an ongoing love triangle, but a healthy, vital one: love in the time of global warming.

Learning To Count Carbon

I posted my thoughts on Bear Stearns right after it collapsed. But a deeper problem even than the money-drunk nature of our culture is the way we count.

Our economic system hasn’t yet learned how to count in a way that reflects reality. Natural systems like air, soil and water (also known as the primary world) are holding up our whole civilization. Our economy is predicated on them and would collapse in their absence. Yet we assign them no value in our Gross Domestic Product, which unfortunately gives us every incentive to squander them in the course of making and consuming the things that are counted in GDP. Most of those things, in turn, contribute very little to our happiness.

The other thing we need to learn to count is carbon emissions. They’re the primary drivers of global warming and all of us are creating them every time we drive and fly and most of the time that we use electricity. If carbon emissions were counted and taxed we would create them more sparingly. They’re not taxed, partly because we haven’t figured out how to count them, and also because we lack the public and political will to do it.

All the market players, government, businesses and individuals alike, will be continuing to operate in economic unreality until we have a carbon tax and also accurate valuations of what natural resources actually contribute to the economy. The cost of these delusions, of our not knowing how to count, is exponentially escalating climate change with economic impacts that will make the Bear Stearns collapse look like a fond memory.

Late-Breaking News

So I’ve just read a Pulitzer-prize winning-writer’s account that we don’t have to worry after all. The scientists had been confused — the earth is just having one of those normal up-ticks in temperature it has every hundred millenia or so. And human activity has nothing to do with it.

April Fools.

Sometimes in my life I have been so happy to have found I was wrong about something. I wish I was wrong about global warming, and the moral imperative to change the way we are consuming fossil fuels. But I’m not. It’s real, and we do have to change.