Archive for the ‘environmentalism’ Category

What, exactly, is the world coming to? How worried, precisely, should we be about the state of our climate, our energy system, our food supplies, our water, the air we breath? What really is — or might soon — be the problem with any of these?

It’s hard to keep track and easy to feel overwhelmed.

A good place to start feeling a little less swamped and a little more informed this Earth Day might be this useful round up from the folks at AlterNet: “Eight Reasons Our Changing World Will Turn You Into an Environmentalist, Like It or Not.” To quote the editors:

Alternet picked eight topics — water, global warming, food, health, energy, pollution, consumption and corporations — that pose real dangers to the future of human life and selected a series of recent essays that illustrate these problems, along with links to organizations and further resources that address these issues.


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Gloom — appropriately perhaps — seems to be the theme this Earth Day.

Joseph Romm in Salon thinks it’s already too late to save much of the flora and fauna on our planet. It’s time to worry out ourselves, he says.

Over at Alternet, Michael Klare worries at length about a ‘new world order in energy.’ The comments are as interesting as the article: some alarmed, some thoughtful, others desperate, crazy, excited even.

In the New York Times, Paul Greenberg reviews two novels that conjure ‘ecological end-times.’ Ecotopia, first published in the 1970’s, imagines a better life (for a part of America, at least) emerging from eco-crisis. The more recent novel, The World Made by Hand, is based in an East Coast town of the future in which most people return to laboring and can now only dream of driving. Says Greenberg:

I would prefer to live in Ecotopia, but the verisimilitude of Kunstler’s world leads me to think the future is Union Grove. Thirty years from now, it will be interesting to see if that little town seems excessively sad, richly luxurious or spot on. But for now, I’m hedging my bets. Where I live, one block east of ground zero, I’ve started keeping a compost bin and am thinking about adding a micro wind generator.

Meanwhile columnist Paul Krugman fears that we’re running out of commodities. That won’t mean the immediate collapse of civilization, he reassures us. But

rich countries will face steady pressure on their economies from rising resource prices, making it harder to raise their standard of living. And some poor countries will find themselves living dangerously close to the edge — or over it.

No critique from Krugman, though, about whether the way we’ve come to define a good life is part of the problem. And no ideas for how we might resolve the crises that will come when countries do tumble over the various precipices upon which they teeter.

Over in the UK, the Independent is doing its usual best to add to the bad news. Yesterday they mourned the decline of birds that usually migrate to the UK.

So what are we to do? For an exhortation not to give up — but to act both personally and politically we can turn, thankfully, to Michael Pollan — writing in the Time’s magazine this Sunday.

Whatever we can do as individuals to change the way we live at this suddenly very late date does seem utterly inadequate to the challenge. It’s hard to argue with Michael Specter, in a recent New Yorker piece on carbon footprints, when he says: “Personal choices, no matter how virtuous, cannot do enough. It will also take laws and money.” So it will. Yet it is no less accurate or hardheaded to say that laws and money cannot do enough, either; that it will also take profound changes in the way we live.

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Every week some 32 million copies of Parade Magazine — the popular (and populist) insert to many US Sunday newspapers — get printed. So it’s hardly a paragon of environmental sustainability. As wikipedia notes, one of its signature features is also “a significant amount of advertising for consumer products.”

So we say ‘God Bless’ to Parade for this week running an article that points out a truth rarely acknowledged in the commercial press: that truly green activities are often more about not spending than buying something new.

In describing some ‘better ways to go green,’ author Christie Matheson reminds us that while you might feel good about redecorating your home with eco-friendly furniture, it would be better to reupholster and refurbish what you already have. Better to drive less than buy a new Prius. Better to drink tap water than water from plastic bottles that you assiduously recycle.

None are earth-shatteringly original ideas. But thanks to their emphasis on restraining consumption as opposed to enabling more of it, they’re ideas that get aired all too rarely in commercially-supported media — including a great many outlets designed specifically to appeal to people who see themselves as environmentally aware.

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A green death is the logical successor to a green life and, as more of us become more environmentally-minded (and older!), we can expect the subject to gain more attention.

At the moment though, as an AP story today reminds us, the subject still seems to warrant the ‘those-kooky-greens’ treatment from the mainstream media.

Still, it’s already easy to find resources that can help us achieve a natural death.

And a ‘green death’ is not just a question of eco-vanity.  According to Everett Sizemore at Gaiam.com:

It is estimated that the more than 22,500 cemeteries across the Unites States bury 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid every year. Embalming fluids can include chemicals and additives like formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, phenol, methanol, antibiotics, dyes, anti-edemic chemicals, and disinfectant chemicals.

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San Francisco journalist David Curran has an odd article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle.  Under the title “Eco Worriers,” Curran describes an environmentally-aware neighbor whom he fears — without having ever spoken to this person.

The simple fact that this neighbor sports a cute license plate (‘ECO BRAT’) on his or her Prius, it appears, sends Curran and the neighbors with whom he does speak into paroxysms of guilt.   “We fear his opinions,” Curran writes, although those opinions seem entirely imagined on his part.

It’s obviously an attempt at humor.  The neighbor stands in as a scold to his conscience whenever Curran does something that is less than environmentally friendly.

Since the neighbor doesn’t appear ever to have actually been a scold, though, the humor falls rather pathetically flat.  But the rhetoric is interesting.

“I’m trying and I want some credit for it,”  seems to what Curran is saying.  Fair enough.  Changing your lifestyle is no easy thing.  But inventing what could be called an eco-scold as a form of self-justification is something else.  As tensions over climate change start to impact political decisions, can we expect this figure to become a rhetorical favorite of anyone who’s seeking to push back against what they perceive as (to coin another term) ‘eco-correctness’ ?

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Actions that could help the environment don’t just regularly lose out to actions demanded by people with competing agendas. There’s plenty of potential for conflict within the environmental movement itself.

Take the case of the neighbors in Sunnyvale, California that pitted a family generating solar power in their backyard against the family living behind them, who wanted to grow redwood trees. Before long the trees, which were planted first, were shading the solar panels. The panel owners asked the tree owners to cut their trees, which they refused to do. The two sides went to court and only now, some seven years later, is there a resolution — which sees some of the trees being cut by court order.

Both families drive electric or hybrid cars. Both see themselves as environmentally-conscious. Yet, neither could agree on a compromise. That’s delighted pundits all over the country — seeing this as a classic case of green hypocrisy.

In the version of the story referenced above, the Christian Science Monitor takes a more insightful line.

“The truth lies more in shades of gray than chlorophyll green,” suggests writer Douglas Fox. Neither family are what detractors could describe as hardcore environmentalists. One family owns several SUVs along with their electric car.

That, he argues, reflects:

“a broader public appetite not for energy-saving habits, but for technical fixes: ethanol, solar, fuel cells, and hybrid autos that sometimes consume as much gas as many nonhybrids. You might call it the low-fat cheesecake approach to carbon dieting.”

While, as Fox says, it’s wrong to conclude from this story that “there is an inevitable conflict between trees and solar power” — mostly because most trees don’t grow as fast and tall as redwoods — we are likely to see more conflicts arising from competing environmental interests.

Bird lovers decry the impact of wind turbines, after all, (though not everyone believes it’s such a problem). Biofuels have many detractors. Nuclear power is a salvation to some environmentalists and an evil to many others.

The challenge for environmentalists, then, will be to help resolve these conflicts quickly, so that they don’t become an excuse to prevaricate on environmentally-beneficial action any longer.

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A few weeks back I was attending our local Friends meeting and thinking about light.

Specifically, I was looking at the many lamps hanging in the meeting room and wondering if they should ever be turned on during a meeting for worship. Why not, I thought, always hold our meetings in the available light — however dim — and simply enjoy whatever luminance nature chose to offer that day?

That led me to the value Quakers place on holding each other ‘in the light.’ It’s a wonderful concept, referring to the inner light that guides our spirits and helps us lead lives of integrity.

And that led me to literal human illumination which, surely, is something else entirely.

Take the intrusion that human lighting now makes upon the night sky. What we aptly dub ‘light pollution’ not only represents a huge waste of energy — most buildings and streets illuminated all through the night are not inhabited or traveled upon.   But it also means that there are few populated places upon the Earth where we can see anything like the true magnificence of the universe.

An effort this coming weekend — EarthHour — aims both to draw attention to the energy wasted in our excessive nocturnal illuminations, and to let us simply see the stars again.

Modesty and thrift are both Quaker virtues. Reigning in the man-made light we shed on ourselves so that we can see the natural world better — and helping save that world from the harm such profligacy causes — fits well into the Quaker way of doing things.

In that Meeting I recalled that James Turrell, one of the world’s great connoisseurs of light (both natural and man-made), is a Quaker. Turrell’s Live Oak Meeting House in Houston, Texas is justly admired both by Friends and art buffs of the highest brow. It’s a piece of modern art of extraordinary resonance, simplicity and depth.

Here’s hoping that EarthHour will be observed in Houston and that the Live Oak ‘skyspace’ will be open to the heavens that night.

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