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Posts Tagged ‘action’

A great story about the accidental birth of a grass roots environmental activist and a great new coinage — culdesactivism — from James Glave today in Salon.

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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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Mental health issues are a bit off-topic for us here at EarthQuaker. But we are interested in ideas that, to quote the Preamble to the US Constitution, ‘promote the general welfare.’

So here’s an interview with Charles Barber, author of the new book Comfortably Numb, which argues that too many American doctors now view mental states that are part of (and essential to) normal life as illnesses to be treated with psychotropic drugs.

When it comes to treating mild depression, Barber recommends following a European model:

The clinical guidelines to the National Health Service for mild depression recommend watchful waiting, diet and exercise, self-help and counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, and then if all those things don’t work, to try antidepressants. Our de facto practice in the United States is pretty much the opposite.

But feelings of unhappiness or mild depression brought on by identifiable life circumstances (divorce, losing a job or moving house) are not, Barber argues, mental conditions at all.

Says Barber,

our American sensibility is to be uncomfortable with unhappy feelings and root them out as quickly as possible. I want to be very clear not to romanticize suffering, but there can be a utility to some difficult emotions.

The right to pursue their own happiness is something that Americans rightly hold dear. And yet that happiness has also proven elusive, despite the nation’s enormous success in building its citizens’ wealth.

We’ve noted elsewhere that shopping doesn’t seem to do much to make people happy. And plenty of researchers have found that happiness fails to keep increasing after we reach a certain level of material comfort.

So is taking drugs the solution? It seems fairly obvious that however much those drugs might keep us ‘comfortably numb,’ they won’t do much to change whatever circumstances limited our happiness in the first place.

More broadly, it might also help to rethink our expectations of what can make us happy. In that context, Barber says, it’s ironic that

if you set happiness to be your primary goal, it tends not to work out very well. The late Canadian novelist Robertson Davies said that happiness is a byproduct, and that you become happy when you’re engaged in productive activity or when you’re in a relationship with someone you love. So this idea that we have to be happy is a highly American thing and highly problematic concept.

If our relationships are poor, and if we find that the activities that motivate our lives are more destructive than constructive, we can choose to stay unhappy and self-medicate for it. Or we can seek to be constructive, and to redefine the relationships we enjoy with our fellow planet-dwellers, and our planet.

Imagining what such a redefined-life might look like — and asking what we can do to achieve it — is very much our topic here.

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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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We’re glad to see that John Tierney gets what we were saying about climate change and behavioral economics the other week.

In his ‘Findings’ piece this week, Tierney points out that:

“We’re not good at making immediate sacrifices for an abstract benefit in the future. And this weakness is compounded when, as with climate change, we have a hard time even understanding the problem or the impact of our actions today.”

He quotes the University of Chicago’s Richard Thaler, co-author of a new book “Nudge,” in  suggesting that people need help when it comes to actually acting on any desires they have to do something about climate change.

“Getting the prices right will not create the right behavior if people do not associate their behavior with the relevant costs,” says Dr. Thaler, a professor of behavioral science and economics. “When I turn the thermostat down on my A-C, I only vaguely know how much that costs me. If the thermostat were programmed to tell you immediately how much you are spending, the effect would be much more powerful.”

No word, though, where (or even if) we can buy ourselves such a device.

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Here at EarthQuaker, we have a lot of time for Rebecca Solnit. She’s a Bay Area neighbor of ours and simply one of the most interesting authors currently writing on the history, mythology, economics, politics and ecology of the American West — and how they all intersect.

But Solnit’s interests, and abilities, range more broadly. As evidence, check out the new issue of Orion. Her feature article on environmentalism and class in America is a essential reading for anyone wishing that environmental preservation could be more successfully pursued in America.

The modern American environmental movement has hobbled itself, Solnit argues, thanks to its puritanical admiration of ‘wilderness’ at the expense of the people who actually live there.

While she rehearses much that’s to regret about the past, Solnit also points to new trends (like environmentalist-rancher coalitions) that suggest how we might secure real, and lasting protection for America’s vast rural hinterlands.

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A group of prominent Southern Baptist leaders today declared that their denomination has been ‘too timid’ on the issue of climate change.

The authors take pains to note that they’re not necessarily saying that humans are responsible for Global Warming. But they do make the following observation:

“There is undeniable evidence that the earth—wildlife, water, land and air—can be damaged by human activity, and that people suffer as a result.”

We EarthQuakers might have added that it’s not just people who suffer as a result (we’re thinking of the phrase, ‘all God’s creatures’ and adding His plants as well), but we’re glad to see these Southern Baptists following the essential logical of their professed Christian beliefs.

After all, even if you believe that human action is not causing global warming, it’s hard to make a Christian argument for pollution. Indeed, if you believe that “creation serves as revelation of God’s presence, majesty and provision,” to quote the declaration, you should be more conservation-minded that just about anyone else.

“Humans Must Care for Creation and Take Responsibility for Our Contributions to Environmental Degradation,” is the first of four ‘statements’ in the declaration. The last states that “It Is Time for Individuals, Churches, Communities and Governments to Act.”

The document isn’t too clear on exactly how that action should be made manifest, though. It does make very clear that it’s unlikely to involve action on population control, for fear that would sanction abortion (although one could imagine a nuanced, yet robust and still-Christian approach to population control that, for example, does nothing to aid abortion but instead looks to provide every family on Earth with enough security that they don’t need to have a large number of children).

But when it comes to concrete action, the declaration’s a little fuzzy. The group pledges to promote “biblical stewardship habits and increasing awareness” in churches, homes and offices. And it will, it promises, henceforth “give serious consideration to responsible policies that acceptably address the conditions set forth in this declaration.” But that’s as far as it goes.

So we at EarthQuaker certainly applaud the sentiment and salute the logical theological analysis in this declaration. And we recognize that just the fact of it being stated is both momentous and welcome.

But until this traditionally Republican-leaning denomination starts to push back, hard and en masse, and in very specific ways against the many, equally-specific environmentally-destructive actions of Republican-run agencies such as the EPA, we’ll hold off on singing our own loud choruses of Laus Deo!

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