Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Become the Change

Last Sundays's New York Times Magazine is all about green. This so called low carbon catalogue has a number of ways to reduce your carbon footprint. It also has a defense of small, individual eco-actions entitled Why Bother written by Michael Pollan. It's a pretty good read. Here's a piece of it:

"Have you looked into the eyes of a climate scientist recently?

They look really scared.

So do you still want to talk about planting gardens?

I do.

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 [N.B.!], 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.


Because the climate-change crisis is at its very bottom a a crisis of lifestyle — of character, even. The Big Problem is nothing more or less than the sum total of countless little everyday choices, most of them made by us (consumer spending represents 70 percent of our economy), and most of the rest of them made in the name of our needs and desires and preferences.

For us to wait for legislation or technology to solve the problem of how we’re living our lives suggests we’re not really serious about changing — something our politicians cannot fail to notice. They will not move until we do. Indeed, to look to leaders and experts, to laws and money and grand schemes, to save us from our predicament represents precisely the sort of thinking — passive, delegated, dependent for solutions on specialists — that helped get us into this mess in the first place. It’s hard to believe that the same sort of thinking could now get us out of it. clip

In the judgment of James Hansen, the NASA climate scientist who began sounding the alarm on global warming 20 years ago, we have only 10 years left to start cutting — not just slowing — the amount of carbon we’re emitting or face a “different planet.” Hansen said this more than two years ago, however; two years have gone by, and nothing of consequence has been done. So: eight years left to go and a great deal left to do.

Which brings us back to the “why bother” question and how we might better answer it. The reasons not to bother are many and compelling, at least to the cheap-energy mind. But let me offer a few admittedly tentative reasons that we might put on the other side of the scale:
If you do bother, you will set an example for other people.

If enough other people bother, each one influencing yet another in a chain reaction of behavioral change, markets for all manner of green products and alternative technologies will prosper and expand. (Just look at the market for hybrid cars.)

Consciousness will be raised, perhaps even changed: new moral imperatives and new taboos might take root in the culture. Driving an S.U.V. or eating a 24-ounce steak or illuminating your McMansion like an airport runway at night might come to be regarded as outrages to human conscience. Not having things might become cooler than having them.

And those who did change the way they live would acquire the moral standing to demand changes in behavior from others — from other people, other corporations, even other countries.

All of this could, theoretically, happen. What I’m describing (imagining would probably be more accurate) is a process of viral social change, and change of this kind, which is nonlinear, is never something anyone can plan or predict or count on. Who knows, maybe the virus will reach all the way to Chongqing and infect my Chinese evil twin.

But the act I want to talk about is growing some — even just a little — of your own food. Rip out your lawn, if you have one, and if you don’t — if you live in a high-rise, or have a yard shrouded in shade — look into getting a plot in a community garden. Measured against the Problem We Face, planting a garden sounds pretty benign, I know, but in fact it’s one of the most powerful things an individual can do — to reduce your carbon footprint, sure, but more important, to reduce your sense of dependence and dividedness: to change the cheap-energy mind. clip

Chances are, your garden will re-engage you with your neighbors, for you will have produce to give away and the need to borrow their tools. You will have reduced the power of the cheap-energy mind by personally overcoming its most debilitating weakness: its helplessness and the fact that it can’t do much of anything that doesn’t involve division or subtraction.

The garden’s season-long transit from seed to ripe fruit — will you get a load of that zucchini?! — suggests that the operations of addition and multiplication still obtain, that the abundance of nature is not exhausted.

The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world."

Obviously, there is nothing in the piece about the corporate state's role in our current situation, but in the fullness of the author's point, it's not necessary.

His point about planting a garden is much like mine in how it feels to ride your bike to work.

You leave the radio, the controlled air, the separation of your car, and the lack of communion that it creates , and you find a new world that is outside of the Matrix.

Riding a bike, planting a garden, keeping your bird bath full.

These small eco-actions bring about a bonus

that is well beyond the simple sum of these actions.

For we truly must become the change,

we wish the world to be.

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Blogger Charlie Loving said...

The garden is a great idea but the fruit do not last all that long which means an old art has to be reborn. The art of canning and storing. In my youth there was a smoke house and a root cellar. The root crops went down into the dark. Onions and such were hung on hooks in mesh bags. The potato was in a sack in the corner. The squash, and all the rest were cooked up and canned. Lots of those funny jars were sterilized in a huge pot on the WOOD STOVE. The water came from a cistern out back. And there were a few hogs and a passel of chickens. And my uncles had goats too for the milk.

If you live in a condo or the city going back to that sort of life will be tough. None of my kids have ever seen any of that technology. One has hunted deer and cut it up and put it in the freezer, they have never dried it or made jerky like my dad used to. There will be a few who adapt but were are way too locked into getting everything from Whole Foods and depending on those trucks and the government to save us.

4:34 AM  
Blogger oZ said...

I made a few changes to the post on Wed for readability and I fixed a typo or two

11:19 AM  

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