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Archive for the ‘media stories’ Category

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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That’s the New York Times’ novel editorial spin on the ‘war’ between owners of a domestic solar power system in Sunnyvale, California, and their immediate neighbors, who owned redwood trees that had grown to shade the solar panels.

The dispute, which we noted last week, is evidence of the Golden State’s leadership in all things environmental, says the Times. It goes on:

Obviously, there will be costs associated with all this virtue, and for some — like the Sunnyvale couples — there will be shoving and pushing. Given the alternative of a less hospitable globe, these seem to be small sacrifices.

That’s certainly preferable to seeing the dispute as evidence of a laughable green hypocrisy — which the Christian Science Monitor tells us, it isn’t!

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Two recent British news items are cause for, alternately, hope and despair.

For hope, we can look to the Daily Telegraph’s news that “Cheap solar power [is] poised to undercut oil and gas by half.”

The bad news comes from the Guardian, which warns that our “Climate target is not radical enough” — referring to the targets set by the EU for CO2 emissions.

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Here at EarthQuaker’s suburban world headquarters we like to keep in touch with the world of hip, urban parenting, so we receive a daily email digest from Babble.com, the New York-based online parenting magazine.

That’s how we learned recently that even hipster parents find parenting a costly business these days.

Quoting parent Allyson Mazer, writer Melissa Rayworth tells us in a lengthy Babble feature:

“My husband and I were just talking about this with friends. You can make $300,000 a year and you’re just getting by. You’re not saving anything,” says Mazer, all traces of enthusiasm draining from her voice. “You’re paying the bills, and it’s not like you’re living the highlife.”

The bind Rayworth sees such wealthy parents as being in is paradoxical, she says. Parents are spending on things “that are clearly unnecessary but that [they] now feel all but mandatory. The optional has become the inescapable.”

Among those mandatory expenditures are not just tuition and childcare but:

“truckloads of consumer goods — kid-friendly groceries, kid-centric versions of family staples like bath products, even furniture — much of it emblazoned with Elmo, Thomas, SpongeBob, Spider-Man and the rest of their intensely marketed brethren.”

So what’s to be done? Rayworth seems to suggest that the proper — and only — response is to throw one’s hands in the air. “Call it crazy, insane, ridiculous,” she says, but “When it comes to parenting and purchasing, the definition of “necessity” has expanded to include just about everything.”

The parenting culture Rayworth depicts appears to have no self-control, no ability to determine what experiences are truly worth giving their children (which perhaps needn’t include Elmo shampoo, a Thomas bedset, an iPod or a $500 birthday bash) and no ability to critique an economic culture that regards it as a triumph when people buy things they don’t need.

All this expenditure doesn’t even make the parents doing it feel good, reports Rayworth.

“The obvious answer is to stop spending,” she says. “But that’s something our culture, our economy — and, after 9/11, our president — literally beg us not to do.”

When your culture drives you into debt and brings you no joy, all the while depleting the world of resources, perhaps the answer isn’t to acquiesce. Rather,might it not be better to work actively to change that culture in a more positive child-affirming direction — whatever your president may say?

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