Archive for the 'life' 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 →]

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High Energy Prices: Good

I’m sipping my coffee at 6 a.m. at Stumptown in Southeast Portland (joy). The Oregonian’s front page shows an ocean of the 72,000 faces that turned out to see Barack Obama yesterday (yes, I voted for him, too) and the lower right corner story is: “Who loves high energy prices? The environment.”

The gist is basic economics: when price goes up, demand goes down. And we have got to demand (use) less energy, because it costs the earth heavily. I’ve seen oil fields and coal mines described as war zones, and that makes sense, because we’re violently wresting fossil fuels from the earth that have been millions of years in the making (hence the term fossil). Moreover, burning them causes global warming, because the atmosphere cannot quickly absorb millions of years worth of carbon dioxide and methane. High prices help us slow all this down. In fact, slowing down is crucial all around.

The big problem with high energy prices is that they can make the poor suffer, which of itself is immoral and unethical. If you can’t afford to get to work or heat your house, then you deserve a price break or assistance. (But you also should carpool!) We need a more progressive tax system altogether, and those who have enough need to just voluntarily share more with those who don’t have enough. My household gives about 5% of our net income to philanthropy, but I think we can and should increase that.

If the earth loves high energy prices, let’s get it straight that we are part of the earth, too. Would we put a rock-bottom price on our own lives? No; our civilization is built on valuing human life. Because our fate rises and falls with the earth’s fate, we have to put a high price on energy and use it as the incredibly costly stuff that it actually is.

Food For Biofuel? Wrong.

 While President Bush and the biofuel industry are happy with the growth of biofuel, Columbia economics professor Jeffrey Sachs is not. Neither, it seems, are millions in the world currently starving who weren’t starving prior to the push for biofuel. The food riots in at least eight countries over skyrocketing food prices may have been our first clue.

A full third of U.S. corn is now being used not for food but for fuels like ethanol. This is not about classic capitalism, the free market and Adam Smith’s invisible hand. The U.S. government subsidizes the growth of that corn.

President Bush and the biofuel industry deny a cause-effect relationship between subsidizing vast amounts of food crops to make fuels like ethanol and sharply increasing worldwide food prices. Economist Jeffrey Sachs has determined there is a cause-effect relationship between food-based biofuel, rising food prices and starvation.

Who is more objective in their assessment: a highly profitable industry and the politician subsidizing it, or a world-renowned economist and expert on poverty — a person not being subsidized, elected or paid by special interests to say or do anything in particular?

Sustainability has a triple bottom line: environment, economy and equity, as in social equity. Growing food for biofuel violates social equity altogether (and isn’t good for the environment or economy, either). In my view, growing and using food for fuel is wasteful, greedy and plain wrong.

Note that I said both growing and using. The greed is just as much on the part of consumers as producers — and we can climb out of our greed and consume fuels with more integrity and more joy. More on that in my next post. In the meantime, remember that biodiesel made from recycled restaurant vegetable oil is a different animal from the biofuel discussed here. See Heating Our House With Biodiesel.

Also coming up soon: our final decision on which hybrid car we’re buying.

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. 🙂

I, A Tax Non-Begrudger

If you’re stressing over your taxes being due today, I empathize. I have SO been there (though not any more. Here are my tips on breaking free of credit card and consumer debt.) Now I am a tax non-begrudger. I willingly pay taxes because I want to live in the civilized kind of society they make possible.

I see roads and highways as the most valuable collaboration of all us U.S. taxpayers. They are also the biggest chink in the armor of the Ayn-Rand-libertarian-tax-begrudging folks. Try living a life without roads. We couldn’t get to work, school or grocery stores without the roads our taxes are buying. They cost trillions of dollars. Libraries and fire and police services are other cool value-adds that taxes buy, and that make me a tax non-begrudger.

HOWEVER. I do object to bad stewardship of taxes. The biggest offender is the Iraq war, costing us over 341 million per day. My strongest objection here is to the obscene loss of life. More insidious is the unprecedented national debt it is incurring, which my attorney friend Jack actually terms treasonous on the part of the Bush administration because it sabotages our nation’s future. I’d have to agree with his assessment.

That said, I still am a tax non-begrudger because taxes allow civilized society to sustain itself, allow things for the greater good to be financed. I reject the terms ‘tax burden’ and ‘tax relief’ because they pander to the irresponsible child in each of us. If you imagine you don’t need any greater-good things like roads, or fire and police services and a national legal system, please tell me your plan for staying alive. Taxes are just another cost of living that adults pay, like rent and utilities.

It’s easy to think we’d be happier if we got to spend all our money on luxuries instead of taxes. Read The Peak of Happiness to learn why that’s not true. Happy April 15th to you, and please post a comment if you like (right under the title of this post). Tomorrow I’ll report on my first meeting that I’m having tonight with my CRAG group (in which my household will pay self-imposed fines, like taxes, for using carbon over a certain amount.)

Photo courtesy of blmurch.

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.

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.