Friday, February 15

Consumerism and Alternatives

Another point raised in The 11th hour is that our economy is based on consumer transactions. We buy things, consume them, and trash them. We create money at the purchase point of that transaction, and that's what we base our national performance numbers on. So when Dick Cheney says that responding seriously to global warming will harm the economy, he's talking about this kind of economy.

As the movie puts it, the problem with this is that it is an expanding system dependent on a finite resource.

An alternative economy might recognize the value created by personal interactions. In this case, we might go to a store that stocks used and re-made clothes. We know the individuals who own the store, we know that the clothes are well cared for and we're going to walk out with a great outfit. We've had the experience of being seen, being cared for, and that's what creates the value. An economy like this would use far fewer resources than even organically grown new cotton, but it would create less in the GDP scale.

The question is, can you pay the bills in one economy while earning your money in the other?

Thursday, February 14

So What?

I don't think a person who doubts that the climate is changing or who doubts that the observed change is human-controlled or who believes that Earth can recover from anything we do to her is in the same boat as a holocaust denier. So I don't want to call them Climate Change Deniers.... but I'm struggling for a phrase for folks who are less convinced because I'm going to talk about them today.

My family covers the spectrum on all things climate-related, with my Dad being the person who is most strongly against the idea that humans could permanently cause the Earth's climate to change. But one thing I love about my dad is that if we jump over the ontological argument, he's really fun to brainstorm with. He's an inventor/physicist/engineer who keeps a finger in all the pots he can manage. So while he wouldn't advocate putting solar on the roof of every building in the US for climate reasons, he'd get out and help install a system for the geek factor of it. I think what will work long-term for changing our lifestyle is arguing for this "so what" factor. We have really good reasons to believe that global warming is real, is human influenced, and that by reducing the human component of warming we can enjoy better lives. But there are hundreds of practical things we can do that we will benefit from whether it avoids global warming or not.

For example, we all benefit when there is less coal, Diesel, and gasoline residue in the air. We benefit when there is less sulfuric acid in the rain and when there is less cyanide in the water. We benefit when there are green places near our homes and offices because we need oxygen to live. We benefit when we walk more and ride in individual vehicles less. We benefit when we eat more fruits, veggies, and whole grains; and less meat and dairy. We benefit when we spend time with people instead of money on things.

Tuesday, February 12

The 11th Hour

I got to see Leo DiCaprio's documentary on the environmental crisis posed by global warming -- and what we can do about it -- a couple of weeks ago on campus. When it was in the theaters I was a little too overwhelmed and a little too down to make hearing more bad news a priority. But the film wasn't really about bad news... at least for anyone who's seen An Inconvenient Truth and March of the Penguins and Who Killed the Electric Car.

It was manipulative, and that was sad. There were moments when I was repeating the mantra "All that's happening is I'm hearing drums getting louder" because I felt the impulse to get all caught up in the sound track. But overall the movie is an amazing group of talking heads talking about their perspectives on the crisis and what they're working on in their specialty.

Some of the things I especially loved:

  • Paul Hawken saying that rather than despair over the depth of the crisis, he gets excited about living at one of the fulcrum points of history. In this generation, human beings will change how they live, and we get to play a part in that.
  • Think of yourself as one pixel in a huge digital mosaic. Your responsibility is for your one pixel. Maybe that pixel is to start a non-profit to pursue your passion. Maybe it is to protect one tree. Maybe it is to make one pre-existing house green and to fill it with people.
  • Seeing David Suzuki speak. I love his foundation's site (linked at the right) -- in part because Canada is so close to the US in so many ways, but they are a Kyoto signatory and so must make carbon cuts... so it offers a sensible and accessible template for US residents -- but I haven't seen him in motion before.
  • The green architect who talks about seeing buildings as individual trees in a forest city. If buildings can be made to filter ground water, capture solar energy, provide habitat for wildlife, put off oxygen -- technologies we have but haven't implemented -- then I think there's hope.
All the experts from the film and a few extras are listed on the film's website, under Ideas and Experts. It's good fodder for ideas about what to work on next.

Monday, February 11

The Power of One

It's a common theme on environmental blogs to talk about why one person's behavior makes a difference. I generally stay away from that, believing that folks who care to read blogs like this are looking for things to do and stories about what happened to keep them in the game. However, a couple of weeks ago, I caught a story about the American Airlines pilot's union. (Original story here.)

Here's the deal. In the months after 9/11, most US airlines went into bankruptcy because their business plans didn't have a clause for a sudden, dramatic halt in air travel. One airline that avoided bankruptcy was American, and part of the reason that they were able to was that the pilot's union agreed to pay cuts. In other works, because a whole bunch of individuals took less money, they saved their company.

And also notice that ads are targeted to individuals. Companies trust that if they make a good ad, they will get a whole bunch of individuals purchasing their product.

So, if businesses are convinced of the power of individuals, both as employees and customers, why do we lose heart?

Thursday, February 7

Biking input

A friend of mine reminded me a couple of weeks ago that unemployment is a great time to try out new things without the stress of wondering what bosses and co-workers might think. So I've been scoping out bike/bus options for places within my preferred travel range. I took two buses in to Whole Foods last night and camped out with Grist's "Wake up and smell the planet" and a cup of chai (soy milk) until my grocery-shopping buddy showed up. This test run put me very close to a whole bunch of employment options since there is a transit center nearby.

The other piece of the evaluation is looking at multi-modal travel... i.e. taking a bike on the bus, taking a bike from the bus stop to the destination, and possibly catching a ride home from there. Or, in the case of my summer vacation plans, take the bus to the train, take the train to local major city, and then spend 18 hours on my own until the shuttle shows up. Or, since Amtrak is bike (and especially folding bike) positive... take a bike? I don't know that this will become down the road, but I had a heck of a good time watching the "Gal from down unda"'s series on taking Bike Friday's new tikit folding bike around NYC.

And then I realized I especially appreciated seeing what a real bike commuter wears. There's a difference between when one is talking about it and seeing a whole bunch of vids of that person riding in all kinds of conditions.

Along that line, here's a piece from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune interviewing winter bike commuters.

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NotSoBigLiving is the story of a woman inspired by Sarah Susanka, Bill McKibben, Airstreams, Tumbleweed houses, Mennonites, Jimmy Carter, hippies, survivalists, Anasazi, Pema Chodron and Joko Beck, Scott Peck, Buckminster Fuller, and Al Gore to see what she can do to reduce her carbon footprint in her mid-80's suburban townhome. Strategies include roommates, alternative travel, organic eating, planting a victory garden, mindfulness, and a belly full of laughter.