A lot of people are interested in sustainability and climate change, but where do I begin learning about the issues? Often the science is confusing, and leads many lay-thinkers to the wrong conclusions. Its best to start with sources holding open discussions, and expressing different points of view. I like the dot Earth blog, recieve and read Sierra Magazine every other month, and hit some interesting blogs. Plus, I get an alumni magazine from one of the world’s premiere green campuses, UC Davis. Organizations of all sizes from The Environmental Defense Fund to The Sierra Club to The Nature Conservancy, to The Natural Resource Defense Council to Green For All, and a score of others (feel free to comment with your favorites), work on policy and structural change from global and national levels down to the local and regional on a range of different issues. They all work to change the cultural landscape on what it means to be Green.
There is no shortage of groups, people, and resources addressing the environment and sustainability, but they all seem to have slightly different points of view and goals. Who has the right approach? Who is worth considering? Which ones have the best ideas for the greater good?
In addition to all the information out there, there are hoards of people of are trying to live sustainability, and take action on our problems, but sustainability means different things to different people. Some groups and individuals are amazing while others seem to just be taking advantage of “Green” marketing. From informative science based articles from NASA to the often less-than-useful bunch at Treehugger.com, there is much thought going into our collective futures. Lately, though, as more and more momentum gets behind these movements, I have been finding that broad public change is still scarce, though not all meaningless. With individualistic economic concernes cycling into dominance over and over again, all over the world, few major institution seem ready or able to address the root causes of our problems.
You would think that with climate deniers slowly dwindling away there would be more political movement on the issues we face. According to a recent article by Sierra Club chief, Michael Brune, even Republican politicians, who have been silenced by the agenda-driven Right, are ready to address climate change if they can get out from under party politics.
The country is primed for action, but something is going wrong.
After the first rain, called the first flush, a lot of trash gets washed into the storm drains, at which point it’s usually out-of-sight and out-of-mind, but it does end up somewhere. In our case, it ends up in the Bay. Having kayaked through all the South Bay marshes over the years and having witnessed all the plastic junk and trash that ends up stuck in the weeds, it is never out of my mind. I can imagine the whole route of those little candy wrappers out into the great garbage patch of the Pacific. It’s a sad bit of knowledge.
After last night’s storm, and reading an article from Save The Bay, it occurred to me to go out and see what got flushed last night and maybe clean up some of it. So, on our way to the local running shop for a pair of shoes, about a mile or two away, we brought along a black garbage bag and picked up everything unnatural in the gutters and sidewalk along the way. The bag got very heavy very quickly.
Some highlights included a shoe, a razor blade, car brake shoe pad, steak knife blade, a feminine pad, and the remnants of human vice; cigaret boxes, lighters, beer cans and bottles, coffe cups, gatorade caps, and candy wrappers. We found very little trace of good stuffs like banana peals, or juice bottles. We got a lot of stuff that was about to go down the storm drains, but a lot was already down there, particularly outside Star***ks, and the local Chinese joint. At the end, it was too much to pick up by our hands, and most of it had been there a while. The street cleaners and other wakers-by don’t seem to help much, so there isn’t much to keep this from getting flushed into the Bay; a sad thought.
Maybe this should become an annual (or weekly) event. What could be the name? First Flush Walk? Fall Gutter Cleanup? What do you think?
With the horse and pony show going on during this election cycle, I can’t help but notice that there is a big nagging issue that nobody wants to touch for fear of letting the cat out of the bag. It’s the reason why they don’t talk about climate change, or the everlasting European debt crisis, or talk about the future at all.
The candidates and media assume that our goal as a country is to “get back” to unchecked consumption of our world’s resources. Economists call it growth.
Has anyone thought that “recovering” slowly and carefully is the best approach right now, until we figure out how we will deal with an overpopulated, overexploited planet?
I think Obama actually has been tending toward a slow, smart recovery, but can’t even come close to that admission in an election season. Last election he talked about a shock and awe economy. While gas prices are cheap and the credit is flying, no one thinks about what they are doing, but when prices spike and their cards are maxed out, people go into shock and start complaining. They start blaming everyone else for their short-sightedness.
If you look at his policies carefully, you might see a pattern of long term investment geared toward a lean future. His “all of the above” energy policy is actually a practical way to approach am energy cliff when nobody wants to admit there is a looming energy crunch. An everyone-gets-a-say educational reform, where states are encouraged to try out various reform approaches, is also a good way to get a diverse generation prepared for a tough future. Even his foreign policy reveals this forethought. In a future where the US can’t afford to be the world police, we will need all the worlds regions to be aligned without being directly dependent on the US.
Our general population is so amazingly shortsighted, it makes me sad that we can’t have a public debate about the (non-fanciful) future we are heading for. I wish more people could or would recognize the caliber of thought and effort Obama’s team is putting into buffering us from the consequences of our deep-seated problems (edit: or as it was originally posted “deep seeded problems.”) His policies are not necessarily what we need, but when there is no debate, the unacknowledged, between-the-lines approach is all we will get. And if he loses we won’t even get that. It will be back to a path straight over the cliff.
Strangely, what makes our problems hard to swallow is that they come from our success. We are much less violent as humans than we have ever been, and we are continuing to get more civil (Think of all the protests around the world that formed instead of wars, and the rebel groups seeking peace talks.) Our medical advances are saving ever more people and becoming more ubiquitous. And, our resource extraction/food production has become more efficient than our ability to consume (amazing to think that it is possible.) The result is overgrowth, overpopulation, and yet still increasing societal stability. We have done great things as humans.
It doesn’t always seem like it’s true, because we are so used to it, but humanity is progressing at an amazing rate. Despite the loud public whining about how bad things are, this growth has let the us get ahead, and live out our individual dreams of owning stuff and being entertained. It’s not just here, either. People all over the world have more material wealth and long term stability than ever. Over the last half century, world poverty rates have shrunk drastically, and the standard of living has improved for much of the world’s people.
Unfortunately, it has also lead to a new generation (by the real definition; people born within the 30 year peak, valley cycle) that is complacent, comfortable, and out of touch with the historic struggles that have defined humanity. This generation now assumes that an easy life (often, not even knowing that is what we have) is assured and is the natural human condition. We are delusional, in a word. (Edward Albee’s The American Dream, form 1961 is a great play about this generational legacy of delusion.) As much as this generation organizes protests for freedom and opportunity, and seeks the civil progress we all want, they are also generating an impasse.
We have become delusional to the fact that our way of life is actually an anomaly of generational success. We have lost touch with the fact that our joy-ride must come to an end, and that the piper must be paid. We are still stuck on this rock with a whole lot of people who all want more than they have, and more than the earth can provide.
Each election cycle seems to prove to me how screwed we probably are. It is not dire because we can’t solve or diminish most of our problems, but because most of us are so delusional that we can’t even recognize the signs of our dark future. In all the election hubbub, the “worst draught since the dust bowl” swept through 80% of our country and killed huge tracks of crops and natural land. No one seemed to notice. No one honestly accepts that the oceans will die, the carbon sinking tundra will completely melt, rain forests and coral reefs will be lost, the population will hit nine billion, and pollution will hit its highest levels ever all within a decade or two. The candidates we get seem to be drifting further and further away from these truths, and it is feeding the delusion.
For those who know my THT work, it was conceived of exactly 4 years ago, during the last presidential election for this very reason. We have been delusional for so long, that society is now based on it. We are upside down in our priorities and politics, and have been that way for quite a long time. In fact, probably for most of my life. Generational goals, like flying to the moon, or feeding the world, or preserving the last great places are long gone in favor of the monthly tick of the “jobs report.”
You will also know that over the last 4 years, I’ve also changed in many ways. I have been attempting to rid myself of my own latent delusions; the ones illuminated in my THT guides. I have to say it has been very tough, and it is far from complete, but the road has been a rewarding one. All of the things I enjoy like parenting, making, eating, playing, and others are so much better when they are the result of honesty, love, contemplation, and care. Four years ago, my family and I chose to stop chasing the typical American Dream, and as a result we ended up living in a place that lines up with our morality, ethics and ideals. It wasn’t a coincidence, it’s not easy, but it also isn’t an unmet Dream.
So, I guess we do face a choice about our future, and I hope more people catch on that it isn’t limited to electing a president. We can face the totality of the daunting challenges that will affect all aspects of our lives, or we can pick and choose what we want to see, and wonder years from now why it all went wrong.
If the “seed” connection from the title doesn’t make sense yet, it will in the coming weeks. I’ve been working for a while on a series of posts about a new way I have been thinking about Humanity. What if the humanity we have experienced through history thus far has just been a seed? What if humans are destined to use up the Eden we were given in order to become something larger and sustaining?
It has been 10 years to the month since I last worked a nine-to-five job and sat in a cubical day in and day out. It seems like it was only a few years ago, yet it is starting to fade. It was such a pinnacle moment in my life. It scares me to know that it is so far away and obsolete, now.
Since then, I have done a few interesting things, like traveling, working at NASA on a very cool project called SOFIA, going to grad school to earn my MFA, and most importantly raising my son. In these last ten years, I have also made decisions that have slowly eaten away at the opportunities I worked to create for myself. They aren’t what you would expect though. I didn’t get into anything seedy or indulge in a vice. I have, conversely, cleaned my life up, but I am starting to realize that I am now on the wrong side of society.
Where did it all start to go wrong? I think the first sign of my downward slide was when I gave up soda. It wasn’t much at the time but proved to be a gateway. That was right around the time I left my legendary first and only “real” job as a professional services engineer. Coincidence?
The next move in my downfall was to give up cable TV. Way back, after I started in that one and only job, I had ordered cable when I knew I would have a regular salary. When the AT&T guy didn’t show up twice, I said screw it. I told myself I would never order cable again. I am now hooked to the internet 24/7, but at least I am typing out my own thoughts most of the time, and not sucking up hours and hours of TV like I used to when I was a teenager.
A year or two later I was hooked on organic food. This was before Michael Pollen was even close to being in the public eye. I’m not totally sure, but I also think this was before there was even a corporate, I mean government, USDA organic standard. I remember talking to my brother-in-law about it whenever we would get a chance to see each other. It was new and sort of revolutionary back then. A rebellious move, but I only wish I knew what it would lead to.
Now, I buy organic cotton clothing, compost all our scraps, have a garden, can fruits, have no gaming system, live as a vegetarian, and drive a Prius. How far I strayed.
Over these years, I let my sports religiosity drift, too. As a kid I had a huge sports card collection, and would pour over the box scores each and every day. I played soccer, but I followed the main stream sports without question. At some point over the last ten years, though, I became a fervent “alternative” sports practitioner and dropped my fanhood. Can you believe it? I used to love the Sharks, Giants, Niners, and even the A’s, but if you asked me, now, to name a player on any of those teams, I couldn’t do it.
I’ve gone to a different major sporting event each of the last few years since my son was born, from hockey, to baseball and now football, in an attempt to maybe rekindle something. With my son growing up, I don’t want to deny him a chance at a normal life, so I feel it is my obligation to teach him how to play all these sports, and take him to professional games. I have to tell you though, at each and every pro game we have gone to, I have felt out of place, bored, and a little scared of the fans. At the football game, I intensely felt all three.
At first, I thought all this movement away from the main stream had to do with being a parent or a stay-at-home husband. I guessed it was all the kids songs and late nights reading Thomas the Train, or singing the ABC’s, but it went back further than that.
I started to blame all the artists I got involved with in grad school. They are a deviously “Unamerican” crowd after all, but again I think the seeds were planted long before my MFA program.
As far as I can tell, my current predicament began forming all the way back in grade school. I was told I would be “somebody who could make a difference.” It doesn’t sound like much, but to a wide-eyed sensitive boy like myself, that was a very dangerous idea to suggest. It was license to be myself, act responsibly, and make decisions based on my conscience (built up to seek social justice by those same teachers.) Going through high school the pattern was there, yet no one saw it in time to confront it.
I made decisions based on what I thought was right and wrong, and tried to not hurt or judge anyone, including my parents or family. As a result, I didn’t drink or smoke. I didn’t stay out late without telling my parents. I respected my teachers and wanted to learn, even though it was fairly boring. As a result, by the time I graduated, I had a job, a graduating GPA in the high 3′s, and one friend who wasn’t anywhere near my age. I was going to a good college, and I actually believed I would get somewhere important through being smart and doing the right thing.
Fast forward to today, and you can guess how out of touch I am, and how few people I interacted with, never mind friends. I am shut in my house doing chores, playing games with my amazing son, and without a job prospect or even much of a career path. I am an artist. Yikes! I kid myself by thinking that my artwork is relevant, and that I will have more time in coming years to get it out there for the world to soak up, but we all know that my work isn’t relevant, I won’t have more time, and no one will ever really care much for what I do. Without my wife’s grace, who knows what sort of depressing suit I would be.
I am on the outside after all, and time is not on my side. I am out of touch with the common experience, and therefore my timelines are off. My work talks to a different cultural site (if it even goes beyond my head,) and as a result little of what I make is useful or meaningful to anyone.
Beyond the basic question of how I will make a living in this type of life, there is a deeper question here. It is the question that I am getting at under my jest. How close to the cultural center does a person need to be for work to be valued? I am not truly an outsider; I speak the common language, I have the same middle class background and interests, but I am also not capable of being in the here-and-now. Being current is what cultural producers/employers/curators/etc. seek. Being in the here and now is what normalcy requires, and what sanity is based on is it not?
How far afield can a person stray before they become lost from society, I wonder?
This is how our new bed looked in our room when I brought it down from the truck.
Here is how it looked out of the box and unpacked.
Did I mention this is a Queen size full spring coil mattress?
We decided to go with this Keetsa bed, because it was surprisingly comfortable, reasonably cheap, has a very long 12 year full guarantee, and uses all organic cotton, bio-foam, is recyclable, and the packaging is pretty ingenious and Eco-friendly.
Here is a little vid of it poofing up. Just like a camp pad, only bigger. I’ll post back in a couple months to see if it gives us good nights of sleep.
When you drive through the desert you have a lot of time on your hands to think and get bored. I thought of lots of things, and this is what my wife and I thought of to represent them. Pink socks looking out at the road and a bunch of brown.
Outside of Primm, Nevada just on the, California side of the border, though, there was some neat construction going on. They were building three solar collection stations. They weren’t solar panels. They were thermal collectors that reflect light onto a tower, where either they pump some thick fluid through a turbine, or allow for liquid metal to pass through magnets. THey are less efficient than panels and need a lot of space, but a lot cheaper and more durable.
Obviously, there are lots of energy ideas for the desert, and lots of competing interests to go along with those ideas (for example the Mohave has a couple species of endangered tortoises that needs lots of open space,) but there is a lot of room to do some very interesting things. It’s good to see some developments, but there is still a lot of room out there for some creativity and innovation.
My big idea of the trip was to use the highway median to add a few gigawatts of solar panels. The big cost out in the desert for panels is the infrastructure. You need people out there to maintain them, and roads and power lines to get the power back to cities. The space in between highway lanes seems like the perfect place for the federal government to subsidize a lot of it. It wouldn’t cost the government much to just change the regulations for high land use, and it would provide revenue to a cash-starved government. Plus, it solves many of the issues about land and infrastructure for the companies who would install them. No need for power lines and roads; they are already there.The land for highways is already gone as a natural place, so it wouldn’t take away from pristine habit, and here’s another perk; it would cool the roads off a bit from the shade, and maybe even combat some the thermal island effects going on that contribute to global warming.
Next time you’re on a trip, think of possibilities. Its a good pastime and maybe could spark something that leads to something, that leads to something.
When I was younger I was really in to TV. Lots of TV! I’m pretty sure it rotted my brain, but I think it also spurred my visual imagination, and precursed some of the imaging skills I have today. As a teenager I liked the typical action movies, but I also really got into nature and technology shows. They gave me a vision of growing up and one day discovering or inventing something important for the world. Now, that hasn’t happened yet, but maybe one of these days I’ll get to it.
One of my favorite show on the Discovery Channel was an Australian show called Beyond 2000. They had segments on all the latest technological and science developments from around the world. As the 90′s progressed, the name seemed a bit passé, so they changed it to Beyond Tomorrow, but by that point the show was on its way out.
I remember seeing shows that featured techs like E-Ink, which is now in use in the B&W Kindle, wrist watch video screens (Ipod Nano) and futuristic vehicles. They had one show about the flying car, which I think is still in the works, and another one about hybrid transport trucks with aerodynamic spoilers and hydrolic, regenerative braking. Very cool and cutting edge stuff back then, and unfortunately even for today.
Nearly everything I saw on those show was in production, and at some point over the last 20 years some of it has popped up in our lives. The ones that never came to be, though, have always made me wonder about the politics and business side of what products make it out of the labs. For example: why haven’t trucking lines spent time and money upgrading their trucks. They are in the business of efficiency and energy use, so why has it taken so long to do the very, VERY simple things that save huge amounts of fuel and money. I remember from that TV show back in the 90′s that adding an aerodynamic cone to the back of a truck would save 30% in fuel costs, and a hybrid braking system another quarter. That seems HUGE, and cheap to implement. Why haven’t we seen them?
My guess has always been that fuel costs are unnaturally low in this country (A book I read on the subject as a teenager was Against Empire by Michael Parenti ), so truckers never bothered. My guess now is that there have been DMV regulations, and a set of anti-progress capitalists (An oxymoron?) that prevented anything from sticking out past the main trailer.
With the price of gas inching higher and higher with every boom-crash cycle, I suppose I was bound to see something turn up. On our trip to Arizona a few weeks ago I saw this truck, and a few others, retrofitted with some aerodynamic spoilers, presumably within DMV codes yet shaped to improve gas mileage. Finally; though not as cool looking as I had imagined.
Just think, some technology we will probably need today to beat the peak energy curve has been around for at least 20 years. What other simple techs are out there that might save our globally warmed butts? And that some schmoe buried for the sake of a quick buck?
When I posted about hot dogs in my vegetarian posts I kinda made an exaggerated claim (surprise!) about people who like hot dogs not eating vegetables. This month’s issue of Sierra, as if to smack down obnoxious bloggers, has an interview with Natalie Coughlin. In it she says,
Also, my guilty pleasure is a really good hot dog. It’s funny because I eat mostly vegetarian and I’m all about health, but one of my favorite foods in the world is hot dogs, which is terrible.
She also says she is an urban farmer. That much more to like. Even more to root for this summer. Go Natalie!
To open this part, I have to admit defeat, and I have to confess that my vegetarianism was giving me problems even as I wrote part 2.
I didn’t fail because I gave in to eating meat, though as I am sure many vegetarians do I did eat meat products several times by accident to my knowledge. I’ll explain that later. I failed, because I didn’t provide my body with what it needed.
As I wrote before, and as you know, humans store energy as fat, and we have a gene that makes us want to store as much fat as possible. It is the underlying biological mechanism with obesity, in fact. Another less known part of our biology is that our bodies also store a lot of minerals and nutrients in our bones. It is part of being omnivores, and red-blooded I suppose. Our biological development was one of scarcity and surplus, so we evolved to be able to go for long periods with little food, and/or poor quality food. This storage capacity is hard to monitor and can run out, though.
I still have plenty of fat stores, to be be clear, but my nutrient reserves are gone, and I have become very sensitive to my immediate diet. I made it through the holiday season simply avoiding meat and eating everything else because of these mineral reserves. But, I didn’t make it through the last couple of months of travels and events very well, though.
On a week-long trip last month, I did well to eat healthy and maintained a vegetarian diet, but I didn’t have access to what I normally eat at home, like Tempeh, Tofu, Ezekiel bread, and most importantly, my fortified breakfast cereal. Travel is already draining, so when I started getting a little more tired than usual I didn’t notice. And when I got sick to my stomach two days after getting back, I figured it was food poisoning, or a bug I caught. Both of these seemed plausible, since I was exposed to some sort of stomach bug, and I did eat a piece of questionable pizza, but what caused it isn’t the important part. What should have been a day or two of discomfort was a week of battling off sickness.
Anemia is a dangerous thing. I got lucky and figured it out before it spiraled out of control. Iron is a tricky and complex agent in our bodies, as I learned, because it is used in the digestive system along with every other major system. When I didn’t have enough, it cause a digestive impairment that made it hard to uptake the iron I was missing, hence the potential for a dangerous spiral.
What made all the pieces fall in to place was a trusty vegetarian beet salad. Beets have a wonderful side effect of showing me clearly (or maybe that is not clearly) whether I’m getting enough iron or not. Called Beeturia, (I kid you not) the condition color codes a certain bodily function, and makes it easy to know what’s going in my digestive tract. Once I realized the problem, and could eat properly at home, I recovered. But, it took a while, and it was pretty bad for a couple of days.
That was a failure. Under normal conditions I shouldn’t have been so sick, nor lost all those days. And, it wasn’t isolated. I just got back from another trip of only four days, and I have still needed to recover even if I haven’t been sick. On this trip I caused a lot of trouble trying to eat properly, but apparently still didn’t get it right. My host graciously cooked up some amazing vegetarian food (grilled nopales being the most memorable among them,) also stirring up some resentment and complaints from the natives, so-to-speak. Upon my return, I felt the need to stock up on certain foods again. It is discouraging that it took so little to drain me.
Obviously, limiting choice of diet is a struggle, and eating while traveling always puts a strain on my body, whether it is eating too much junk, just over eating, or simply stressing about what and where to eat. My recent trips were short and easy, though. Everyone (host-wise anyway) accepted my decisions about food and was very gracious. On future trips I can’t and shouldn’t count on good graces. I will have defeated many of the social reasons for being a vegetarian, if I become hard nosed, and truly start behaving as if I am different and better than everyone else (even if I am thinking it!).
Much of why I ultimately became a vegetarian revolves around that fact that I eat out of the house a lot. When I go out I have very little control over the quality and kind of food I eat, but being a vegetarian actually takes a lot of that back psychologically and socially. If I set hard lines about what I am going to eat based on my beliefs, it actually becomes easier to make choices while at restaurants or on trips. It is the same sort of effect that a diet (in the “Atkins diet” sense) has. If the choice is already made, I don’t have to be as strong willed with the menu in front of me. Convoluted and weak minded, yes, but it can work.
When I stock up my fridge and pantry at home I can do it with local, organic, food, or I can buy properly raised animal products from places where I have a direct line to the producers. This lets me just eat, and enjoy it, which is a very important part of who I am as a person. Food is as much about social connections and intellectual structures as it is about nutrients and biological sustenance. So, in that sense, my home is very food-peaceful. Out of the house is a whole different story, strewn with many of the problems I brought up in the other parts (1 and 2), and as such, requires careful decisions and thought, often involving conflicting motivations and politics. That eats into my enjoyment, and I like food and eating too much to play those games. But, low and behold, vegetarianism brought up a whole other more direct set of issues to deal with.
I recognize that becoming a vegetarian when I enjoy eating so much is a strange decision that may even seem self-deprecating, but it is consistent with my beliefs. Ultimately eating is a circular act. It is an ingestive private phenomena that also projects my beliefs out into society, and it is a momentary occurrence within life-long habits and traditions. I can’t isolate one side of the equation from the other for the sake of ease. Eating is about how I am living my life; not just in my mind, or just in my body, but in its totality. Knowing thine-self is no easy task, and never ebbs. I change, and how I know myself changes, so too must my eating. That is my point in all this.
My decision to not eat meat wasn’t a life long commitment. I am not, and don’t expect to be married to any one source of nutrition. Adapting tot eh local foods is how my ancestors lived, and so shall I. I don’t know when or where I will make the choice to eat meat again, but it will come eventually. As my life goes on, I am going to make decisions that are personal, emotional, and reasoned about what I eat, and I will enjoy that process. I find it absolutely amazing and exhilarating that I can get so much pleasure and satisfaction out of something I do several times a day, and every single day. Why would I give up any of that to a “strict” diet? Vegetarianism is just another way of exploring more foods and responses to foods. It is a way of satisfying my tastes and pleasures in food.
Per ton of product, animal products generally have a larger water footprint than crop products. The same is true when we look at the water footprint per calorie. The average water footprint per calorie for beef is twenty times larger than for cereals and starchy roots. When we look at the water requirements for protein, it has been found that the water footprint per gram of protein for milk, eggs and chicken meat is about 1.5 times larger than for pulses. For beef, the water footprint per gram of protein is 6 times larger than for pulses. In the case of fat, butter has a relatively small water footprint per gram of fat, even lower than for oil crops. All other animal products, however, have larger water footprints per gram of fat when compared to oil crops. From a freshwater resource perspective, it is more efficient to obtain calories, protein and fat through crop products than animal products.