The End of Suburbia?

Suburbia1 The morning air is filled with the mingled odors of honeysuckle and gas-powered riding mowers as I walk through an upscale neighborhood of old trees, shaded lawns, two- and even three-garage homes, and very few sidewalks, where the Northern branch of my immediate family lives. It is a peaceful village/suburb of Providence, RI, a city of greater economic diversity than you will find here.  This is one feature that makes a city like Providence a more interesting place to live for empty nesters, especially those seeking to reduce their carbon footprint, and for the Millennials which, urban planners say, will have smaller and/or very different families, and prefer cities as hubs of creativity and innovation.  There will always be people who prefer big homes and lawns, of course, just fewer of them than there are now.  And even here, a few signs of change coming, as this small act of  food independence in the neighborhood suggests.  Suburban acupuncture?Suburbia 2 tomatoes

We raised our own kids in the similar suburb of Montclair, 11 miles from New York City where we both worked, for similar reasons: good schools and safe neighborhoods, among others.  In our day, doors were locked only at night, you knew your neighbors, and milk, even eggs and butter, were delivered from a local dairy in glass and paper packaging.  Boys AND girls could, in many cases, walk safely to school, and pretty much had the run of the neighborhood.  You always knew where they were by the collection of bicycles and skateboards in the driveway.  Our kids got a very good start here, and express nostalgia for this time in their lives, even recreating it for their own offspring.

As a visitor to my former hometown, I was glad to see the Upper Montclair shopping hub holding its own on this sunny Tuesday.  We worried about how the proximity of Willowbrook Mall and the Outlets in Secaucus would affect business locally.  We shopped at Saunders Hardware and Keil’s Drugs instead of the Big Box chains out of a sense of hometown loyalty.  Climate activism wasn’t on the radar quite yet.

Keeping your local merchants — food growers especially — in business is an even better idea now as community resilience  becomes the new measure of thriving.   It remains possible where relative affluence buys some time and a wider range of life options.  So chances are that the Dariens and Maplewoods may adapt reasonably well to changing demographics that skew urban, plus the energy crunch and other impacts of global warming to come.  Suburbs less well-designed and with fewer advantages, not so much.  They may be the first to falter.

We who were fortunate enough to live in the leafy child-centered suburbs of a great city got through the OPEC crisis of the 70s and kept right on driving.  We know better now.

 

On Being Prepared

We are having a family conference this week on climate change and including grandchildren, three boys, 15, 13 and 11, and as it happens, all Boy Scouts.  The subject, while not exactly the elephant in the room, has been off-limits to date, even among the adults — as uncomfortable as money, politics, or the fact of death.  Environmental education exists in Florida, see Pine Jog Environmental Educational Center, despite deniers in high places.  But I wanted to know how global warming/climate change was being presented to young people by various groups, including the Boy Scouts of America.  So this morning I did some research (see links at the end of the post).  Laurie David,  a global warming activist and the producer of the Academy Award-winning film An Inconvenient Truth and the HBO documentary Too Hot Not to Handle, has collaborated with Scholastic publishing to produce an excellent guide to the science of global warming and what families can do to mitigate its impacts.  The graphics are delightful and on target.

be-prepared2There is a measured tone to this guide (and others) that reminded me of President Obama’s response to NBC 6 Chief Meteorologist John Morales’ ‘what now’ questions (upon the release of the National Climate Assessment): more fuel efficient cars and Energy Star appliances and letting one’s elected officials know ‘this is important.’    It all seems so sensible and doable, like doubling up on recycling and changing out lightbulbs, and in some ways easier to swallow than adaptation*, which is where most climate experts and savvy political leaders are beginning to put their attention.  For their part — and I commend them for it — the Boy Scouts of America have added a new Sustainability Merit Badge  to the existing one covering the Environment.  Eagle Scout candidates need at least one of the two to qualify.  Not so surprising given the 100 year old organization has been devoted to nature and conservation throughout its history.  There are 100 million scouts worldwide, making it the largest youth organization on the planet, so this is big news.

What lit a fire under my seat about getting the family together now was the release of the National Climate Assessment with its segments on regional impacts.  For Floridians, as I’ve noted here before, preparing for hurricane season is an annual ritual, albeit some people have been reassured by a succession of relatively quiet years. Preparedness is a mindset one can work with when it comes to serious talk about climate, simple as the Boy Scout motto.  Because as the Southeast regional report makes clear, Florida is exceptionally vulnerable to all the impacts of global warming, among which flooding due to sea level rise and salt water contamination of our drinking water and soil, are perhaps the most immediate and most worrying.  First, we have to be willing to get it all out on the table: confusion, denial (whatever form that takes), fear, distrust.  What will be important is to recognize that every day we waste politicizing the facts of climate science is a day we don’t take action.  We need to leave the ‘debate’ to those whose interests it serves, and get on the same page in terms of risk assessment.  You can bet the insurance industry IS paying attention.

“You won’t find many climate change doubters these days within the property insurance business.”  ~ David Kodama, senior director of research and policy analysis for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, or PCI. (Bankrate)

Our strategy so far has been to show more than tell (although we’ve done some of that, too), and it is by now quite clear to everyone in our immediate and extended family and circle of friends, that we are tree-hugging climate activists.  None of the things we have done so far — KXL protest march, EV, renewable energy for our utilities, tree-planting, vegetables from a local farm, no CAFO’s, organizing for Transition, feels like a big deal sacrifice.  It’s child’s play compared to what we — and that means every capable person — may yet be called to do.

*Mitigation and adaptation

Down to Earth (Scholastic), Laurie David’s guide

The National Science Foundation’s Exploratorium, great for older kids

The EPA’s Climate Change and Kids site, multi-age groups

Turn, turn, turn

The activist’s activist, Pete Seeger, left behind a legacy of standing up for social justice and the environment, and a collection of protest songs that still pack an emotional punch. Yesterday, at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Lauderdale, at a sold-out celebration performance of Pete Seeger’s music by local musicians, it was déjà vu all over again for me, and I suspect many of the mostly gray-haired Seeger fans.   As heart-felt and enjoyable as the event was, the fact that the issues that Pete Seeger spent a lifetime addressing are still with us — only more so — is not good news for the weary.

pete seegerBut that’s exactly why we need to celebrate our ‘preaching to the converted’ moment, in solidarity with street theater peace activists, Raging Grannies, Matt Schwartz of South Florida Wildland Association (raising the alarm about fracking), Occupy Ft. Lauderdale, Broward Move to Amend, Pax Christi (economic and social justice and respect for creation), the National Lawyers Guild, (lawyers, law students and legal workers for change in the political/economic system), and SOA Watch, (ending oppressive U.S. foreign policy in Latin America), among others.

I draw a lot of energy from a love-in like this one; we all do, whatever our political leanings.  The inconvenient truth is, we prefer to be with like-minded people and the more the merrier. It’s another form of confirmation bias, that is, our tendency to surround ourselves with people and information that confirms what we already believe. Uh-oh. It may be hard-wired into our species in service of the survival instinct, but it’s not working anymore..

I wasn’t thinking about this particularly when I landed hard last evening with a particularly unnerving episode of Years of Living Dangerously, but it’s coming up for me now as a major element of our difficulty as activists, and the challenges we will face.

If you’ve been paying attention to climate change, the Leslie Stahl segment in Living Dangerously carried few surprises, with the possible exception of actually hearing what ice sounds like as it begins to break apart. Terrifying. But it was the other report, about the stubborn (or I could say steadfast) denial of basic climate science by one large, well-funded religious sect, was especially disturbing for me, because 1. I am surrounded by and constantly reminded of this kind of thinking here in mega-church-land, 2. Florida is exceptionally vulnerable and denial now will be very costly later, and 3. I fear for my grandchildren, indeed, all grandchildren. So I have the deepest respect for climate scientist/evangelical Christian, Katherine Hayhoe, the star of an earlier Living Dangerously episode, for modeling a way of reaching out to those whose views differ from her own.   The world we have created in ignorance will demand nothing less.

Pete Seeger would approve.

Dog Days for Deniers

It has been a rough week for professional climate change deniers, and it couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch of people!  By professional, I mean those business interests whose deep pockets fund the status quo in all its forms, at the expense of the rest of us.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science—the world’s largest general science society—released a public information campaign called What We Know, to “present key messages for every American about climate change.”  Then, The New York Times, which is increasing its coverage of the issue, weighed in, stark visuals of disappearing deltas and threatened islands included: Borrowed Time on Disappearing Land,  Rising Seas and Worst is Yet to Come. If you donate to the Environmental Defense Fund or other environmental group, you’ve seen plenty of photos of endangered species.  But how do you respond when it is our own kind in the cross-hairs?  Example (albeit extreme): a Bangladeshi mother who loses her land and livelihood to rising seas, sells her son into indentured servitude.

“Climate change will soon be everyone’s problem,” is one comment to the Times reports.  “It already is,” says a friend and Transition colleague who heads up an ecological arts nonprofit organization.  She spends her time, much as I do, focused on ways to inspire and motivate community resilience in our vulnerable and deeply-in-denial adopted state of Florida.  We are both grandmothers, informally members of the local chapter of Grandmothers Against BS.

Yet who, on a tennis-perfect day in Miami, watching Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal for the championship, can be blamed for indulging in a little amnesia?Drive down to the recently opened Perez Museum and its neighbor, the under-construction science museum, check out a luxury, 154-unit condominium twin-tower with prices that start at more than a $1 million, all located on high-end Biscayne Bay.  What data points are developers using that underpin such hubris?

1541284_FI_1007_southbayteardown_001_RL

Real estate is big business here, so I am riveted by some of the strangest examples of  business-as-usual in full view, inspired by a real-estate craze on the California coast.  You could be fooled into thinking this photo depicts the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy or an earthquake.  In fact, it is a teardown,  a way to keep a high-value location — waterfront property, this being Florida — to destroy in order to create.  Is this any way to prepare for High Tide on Main Street?  Is any attention being paid to information readily available at the touch of a keyboard, e.g. a report to Congress by David W. Titley, Read Admiral USN (Ret.), Ph.D.?  “Today in Miami Beach at high tide,” Dr. Titley told the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Subcommittee on the Environment, “storm sewers routinely back up and flood seawater onto the streets they are supposed to be draining.”  Whatever you are building, doesn’t this sound like a good time to adapt to the risk of flooding, consider raising your structures on stilts, not to mention installing solar panels to capture all that free sunshine? Inside the business-as-usual bubble, no one is aware of risky behavior or motivated to consider a different set of possibilities for the future.  I used to live in a similar bubble myself, albeit on a smaller scale.

Full disclosure: Once upon a time, we had a vacation home on the San Andreas Fault.  Our kids thought we were nuts.  But we got used to frequent tremors, made it through the Northridge Quake, and after things returned to ‘normal,’ went back to casual speculation about The Big One.  It was a California thing.

Call it maturity or becoming an elder.  I don’t feel quite so light-hearted about my current home in coastal Florida, or the prospects for my family, friends and neighbors here, or anywhere, for that matter.   That’s why I do what I do, knowing that Transition is a social experiment with no guarantee of success. That’s why I keep Rob Hopkins’ Cheerful Disclaimer in my mind.

• if we wait for the governments, it’ll be too little, too late
• if we act as individuals, it’ll be too little
• but if we act as communities, it might just be enough, just in time.

 

 

 

End Factory Farming; Stop Runaway Climate Change

Will Allen, organic farmer ~ Change Your Diet ~ Buy Local

… the largest elephant in the room of climate chaos is our food and farming system. And hardly anyone is talking about it … We need to change our food habits. We need to stop eating factory-farmed meat and milk products. Since over 90 percent of all non-organic meat, dairy and eggs in the U.S. come from factory farms, we need a nationwide boycott and marketplace pressure, in the form of a CAFO labeling campaign.

Will-Allen-01-200x200Will Allen, Ph.D., organic farmer/teacher/activist and author of The War on Bugs, isn’t one to mince his words, and his keynote at the second Healing Our World and Ourselves Conference at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Vero Beach last week, documented exactly what kind of mess we are in and what we have to do to get out of it.

Like Vandana Shiva and the permaculture community, Allen delivers a clear message: since agriculture as it is currently practiced is “the single largest contributor of greenhouses gases,” we must eliminate the products of factory farms and create new markets for local, organic, sustainable agriculture by voting with our food dollars. That such a shift in diet could also eliminate some of the diseases of the so-called rich world is already in the popular culture via books (Michael Pollan. “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.) and television shows (the ubiquitous Dr. Oz).  (And yes, it will reduce belly fat.)

Compared to some of the latest techno fixes for “energy shortfalls” (some euphemism!) that come across my desk regularly, e.g. the moon as a solar plant, the switch to organic, locally-sourced crops and humanely-raised livestock seems like a reasonable strategy. The myth that organic food is too costly has been debunked, see my post Externalities.  And it wins the taste test, hands down.  But it would be naïve to imagine that Big Ag will give up without a fight, any more than Big Oil will suddenly switch to renewables.

What to do?  For one thing, you might post the link (see below) to Will Allen’s article to your social media circles.  You could pay a virtual visit to Cedar Circle Farms and see how he is training the next generation of farmers.  Perhaps you can fund a scholarship or two while you’re at it.  Educate yourself on the subject (see More Reading).  If you want to join the next march against Monsanto, have at it!  But look into your own eating and food-sourcing habits first.  With a 4°C warmer world already looming, we can’t afford the decades it took to make cigarette smoking decidedly uncool, or to get folks to routinely recycle.

Here are a few more things you can do today: check labels in your own pantry of staples and make a plan to eliminate all GMOs; don’t eat or minimize consumption of processed foods; ask your supermarket for more organic produce; let the meat and dairy departments know you want products from pastured, humanely raised livestock.

Here are a few things you can do in the coming weeks/months:  Go meatless as much as possible (here’s a great recipe for Hummus); grow something, however limited your space.  It just feels good; when you buy organic produce, SAVE YOUR SEEDS; compost your vegetable wastes; get familiar with the laws in your community – on the books or unspoken – against backyard vegetables and/or small livestock.   You don’t know until you check.  For example, most of us think we don’t have the right to solar panels if we live in an HOA.  Actually, this is not true.  Use your farmers markets to support the farmers and ranchers in your area.  Get to know your farmer.  Some, like our CSA Kai-Kai Farms, use pesticide-free sustainable methods, but are not certified organic.  We trust them.  That’s good enough for us.

If you have an idea for a good PSA on this or related topics, let me know.  If the idea of using social media to spread the word lights you up, let’s collaborate.  Let’s plant some virtual seed bombs around our neighborhoods and get this started.

More reading:

Climate Chaos: Boycott Genetically Engineered and Factory-Farmed Foods, Will Allen and Ronnie Cummins
Organic Consumers Association
Cedar Circle Farm
USDA Organic
Food Growing Summit 2014
Beyond Pesticides

Seeking Balance

DAncing-Warrior-2As a yoga devotee and Libran, I understand the importance of balance.  These days, it is especially challenging to find mine.  On Saturday, I gathered with a diverse group of artists, scientists, teachers, entrepreneurs, and community organizers in what I hope is the first of meetings that will breathe new life into the Transition movement in our area.  Flip the coin.  Today, I started a free, 4-week online course called Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C World Must Be Avoided, designed by The World Bank and with a multi-national enrollment of over 15,000.

Week 1 has begun with a series of videos and texts taken from a report for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics.  That this report by such an organization exists at all should be enough to stop the insanity of climate change denial.  But I live in Florida where fundamentalism infects politics and business-as-usual is everywhere evident in rampant coastal development, so I’m not holding my breath.

I’ve been reading extensively about climate change for the last two years, and watching it move from bad to much worse in the same time frame.  Turn Down the Heat has not yielded any big surprises so far.  It has just provided more statistics – presented in the level tones of academia – to better understand the catastrophe that is coming if we continue to live (eat, transport ourselves, consume) as we have been.  And if that ‘we’ gets bigger as more of the developing world enters the home- and car-owning status we consider our birthright in the wealthy world.

As I told the group of eight on Saturday (during our go-around), being introduced to the Transition movement by a friend pulled me out of a tailspin of despair that began with the Deep-Water Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  It drew me toward activism in a way that all the reading (Limits to Growth, 1972 and its sequels, George Monbiot’s Heat, 2006) and films like Food, Inc., and Gasland, Part II, had not.  So I beg to disagree with the course presenters that knowledge alone can bring about a transformation in society.   It will take a village, small town, and city — everyone in: one conversation,  vegetable plot, eye-opening documentary,  potluck,  book group,  vote,  policy changed — in short, a movement.  Our grandchildren deserve a revised standard of prosperity,  a slower, kinder, more mindful way of life, even if the future at 4°C were not so horrifyingly unthinkable.  The truth is, we all do, and many of us long for it.

Transition appeals to so many people because becoming more resilient as a community – supporting local businesses, growing our own food, sharing our tools and skills more widely  – is just that kind of revision, a welcome remedy to hyper-consumerism and outsourcing jobs and wealth, even if climate change were not a growing threat.  That was, I sense, what made our newly-forming group feel so exciting and full of promise.  We have so much to offer each other and our communities.  Gaining traction may not be easy, but it’s worth the effort.  May we be able to move ahead with a shared sense of urgency.  May we attract more people into the process itself, the fun of making new friends and learning new things, the power of just doing stuff.  

Want to know more about Transition?  Start here:

http://www.resilience.org/stories/2013-11-11/rob-hopkins-introduces-new-yorkers-to-the-transition-movement

Free pdf of The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins, http://www.cs.toronto.edu/~sme/CSC2600/transition-handbook.pdf

Rob Hopkins’ The Power of Just Doing Stuff, widely available and a book group possibility.

Will The People Who Need to Read it, Read it?

flight-behaviorThis question, from my Book Group last Saturday, has haunted me — someone who writes regularly about my response to climate change with the certainty that I am (mostly) preaching to the choir, and a small one at that. As Winston Churchill famously asserted, Americans are a people ‘divided by a common language.’  Of course, it is much larger issue than regional dialects and accents. Miscommunication among diverse groups who do not understand each other (or attempt to) is a commonplace of a multicultural society and one that deserves more attention than it gets.

Failure to communicate is but one strand in the weave of Flight Behavior, which Kingsolver’s official site describes as: “… a heady exploration of climate change, along with media exploitation and political opportunism that lie at the root of what may be our most urgent modern dilemma.”  But it is an important theme.  Who is not reading this book is as important as who is, because a good story like this one has the power to convince when facts alone fail (and we are talking about an alarmingly high percentage of skeptics), and to motivate those who are informed and have yet to act in any meaningful way, no small number.

With her trademark empathy for the people she writes about, Kingsolver shows us what one impact of climate change looks like to a community in rural Appalachia that is 1. Out of the loop, and therefore deeply suspicious of outsiders (climate scientists, media, environmentalists toting ‘sustainability pledges”), and 2. Likely to be upended by its effects.  She describes what happens when the larger world – researchers, media, logging interests, climate activists, the curious public — comes to fictional Feathertown, Tennessee.  We begin to see, as the wisdom traditions teach, there is no Other.

“Cultural differences are really exciting territory,” Kingsolver said in an interview, “not just for the literature but for learning in general, because sparks fly when there’s friction among different viewpoints. People invest themselves differently in the same set of truths.”  So to Rev. Bobby and his congregation, the unprecedented migration of monarch butterflies takes on religious significance.  To scientist, Ovid Byron, and his research team, it is another distress signal from a world out of whack.  For the Womyn group of knitters, it is an opportunity to speak for nature. With whom do we identify?

Like the other strong female characters of Kingsolver’s best-selling fiction, Dellarobbia Turnbow, is the voice of Flight Behavior.  We are sympathetic witnesses as her understanding of what the butterfly phenomenon means, catches up with ours.  When our Book Club leader asked what we had learned from the novel, there was a thoughtful silence.  We only know what we can know.  So it comes as no surprise that the media will manipulate the protagonist’s story and ignore the experts.  We are familiar with the power of YouTube to save (or wreck) reputations.   We know Dellarobbia is smart, but it is the unexpected changes within her that make this a compelling narrative, and provide a drop of hope.  There is her growing self-respect and newfound passion for research, her appreciation for the quiet strength of her husband, and for her mother-in-law, whose rich knowledge of native plant life provides an unexpected bond. And here was a big takeaway for me: in Kingsolver’s Feathertown, despite difficult physical labor, limited career options, crushing debt, and abysmal schooling which guarantees more of the same, we find a community with admirable habits of generativity, interdependence and thrift.  Valuable lessons, all.

“The biotic consequences of climate change tax the descriptive powers, not to mention the courage, of those who know most about it,” Kingsolver writes in her Author’s Note.  With Flight Behavior, her training as a scientist and narrative gift nudge her readers in the right direction if we are willing to go.  I would like to believe that there are hundreds of readers, like the members of the Second Saturday Book Club, who having read and discussed Flight Behavior, are on to the more important question: what then shall we do?

Signer 12,353 Reporting for Duty

You were the 12,353rd supporter to take action on ‘Stand Up to Koch Brother Obstruction’!  ~ Environmental Defense Fund

Every day, I get as many messages from environmental organizations I support (like the EDF) as from marketers or friends.  That’s a fact that worries me, although as a blogger, I am contributing to the ‘messaging’ without any real way to be sure that it leads to anything other than more of the same.  (I have the same concern about Facebook and other social media, and if someone wants to talk me out of that, I’m all ears.)

It isn’t that signing petitions and financial support, or even my 14-mile Walk for Our Grandchildren or the Climate Ride, aren’t important or effective ways to keep the focus (and heat) on the issues.  But we would be mistaken if we imagine these actions are sufficient given the acceleration of climate change and the big money obstructionism throughout all levels of government.  Not to mention that email blitzes about the environment are (mostly) preaching to the converted.  (Probably this one, too, but one can hope.)

Military metaphors are not my thing, but we ARE  in a fight to capture the attention (dare I say, imagination)  of a distracted, wired, over-worked population about the social and economic turbulence ahead wrought by climate change, if only to help them think clearly about its direct impacts on them and those they care about.

I believe all of us working on environmental issues could usefully study the Don’t Text and Drive PSA campaign now at your neighborhood theater.  Normally, I zone out while commercials run but these were impressively skillful: clever copy, great music, attractive young people (the obvious target, though by no means the only texting-addicted.)   See It Can Wait and others, readily available on You Tube.

Until recently (thank you, Bill McKibben et al for removing the gloves), U.S. environmentalism has been a “polite movement” (says journalist, Mark Dowie).  As Americans, we have been conditioned to prefer the simple and easy to swallow (however dire the reality), e.g.  Top 10 Ways to Save the Planet and its ilk.   We won’t ‘tweak’ our way out of this mess with ‘no interruption in service.’   Small steps matter as long as there are many of them, and of many different kinds, consistently applied (see the Transition movement).  As activists, we have to be as tough and relentless as the Brothers Koch, as savvy and creative as the best marketers, in making the facts known, our ideas heard, our actions powerful and enduring.

Jersey Shore: Still Standing Strong?

Standing StrongYou want to believe it, and on our recent visit to Long Beach Island, NJ, the signs of apparent recovery were everywhere.  Gov. Chris Christie makes regular reassuring visits, and in truth, the affluent summer residents — LBI swells in season to a population of 100,000 with the influx of second-home owners from New Jersey and neighboring states — have already rebuilt or are well on their way to restoring properties.  It’s salad days for the contractors and landscapers of LBI, though how many of them are locals is uncertain.  Areas with protective dune systems built in a controversial U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project, have been the fastest to return to normal.

In August, at the height of season, normalcy means beaches thronged with bright umbrellas and excited children, packed shops and restaurants, and bumper to bumper traffic on State Route 72, the only way in and out, and therefore the great leveler in times good or bad. On the South end of the island where Hurricane Sandy brought  nine-foot storm surge and 18-foot seas an open field marks the place where a trailer park once stood; dumpsters filled with debris; and many homes are, well, barely standing.  Although everyone with a stake in Long Beach Island felt the effects of Hurricane Sandy, property damage, like wealth, is unevenly distributed.  It’s no mystery why those who have want to keep what they believe is rightfully  theirs.  The puzzle is why those to whom the economic system has been less munificent — the Abandonedretired teachers, fire fighters and police, the small business owners, the middle managers, who built the modest dreams and modest homes in this little piece of paradise — aren’t taking to the streets like their cohort in Brazil, Spain, and Greece, to protest our deepening inequities.  Or not in any significant numbers.  Yet.

Media scholar, Marty Kaplan, blames “weapons of mass distraction,” the fact that we the people have allowed ourself to become addicted to a state of constant arousal about all the wrong things, things we can do little about and are, in many instances, utterly meaningless to our daily lives and our future and that of our children.  Meanwhile, the democratic process atrophies.  Here’s Kaplan in a recent interview on Moyers & Company:

[T}he stuff that is being reported on the news tends not to be the kind of stuff that we need to know about in order to be outraged. Climate change is one of the great tests of journalism…There was “The New York Times” headline about the first time that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million. Which “The Times” said that carbon dioxide had reached a level not seen in “millions of years.” My jaw fell. You would think that that would cause a worldwide stir. And instead, it was a one-day story, onto the next thing.

“We have unemployment and hunger and crumbling infrastructure and a tax system out of whack and a corrupt political system. Why are we not also taking to the streets is the question. And I want us to…”  

Me, too, Marty.  That would be a ‘standing strong’ one could believe in and act on before the next Katrina or Sandy arrives.

Survival Skills for the 21st Century

My mother was something of a hoarder, an echo of her refugee experiences during and after World War II no doubt. I used to tease her about the boxes of soap, matches, and candles she kept in her linen cupboard, along with extra sheets, towels and bedding, ‘just in case’. She knew a lot about preserving food and would turn a bumper crop of citrus growing around our shared condo in California that most residents ignored, into a marmalade to die for. She kept some of her wealth in gold, too, mostly 18K bangles and neck chains she wore until the day she died. My mother had seen things change quickly, where one moment you had a shelter, clothing and food, and the next moment, you were running for your life.

This is a scenario that the majority of people in the fortunate part of the world don’t have to face on a daily basis, but as we approach the 400 ppm tipping point, I find myself more interested articles like this one from the current edition of Orion Magazine, 10 Skills to Hone for a Post-Oil Future. In fact, I have added my own suggestion to the list of 10, and over the last hour find myself in an engaging conversation with others who presumably are not taking the status quo where you jump into your car for a quick ride to the supermarket for under ten items, for granted. (My mother would have so enjoyed hearing that hoarding, far from being a pathological behavior in need of remedy, happens to be one of the Ten Skills.)

By the way, post-oil doesn’t necessarily mean that we ‘run out of oil.’ Apparently, we still have plenty of fossil fuel we haven’t tapped, though accessing it means ‘game over’ for Planet Earth, as James Hansen has repeatedly warned. To me, post-oil means we have the wisdom to leave the stuff in the ground and find other, better, more sustainable ways to live without it. Actually, for all but the wealthiest who can insulate themselves against the impacts of global warming, there may not be a choice. We are going to have to wean ourselves from this addiction.

But back to survival skills. In my comment, I agreed with another poster about the shift to multi-generational living, a phenomenon that is already happening with in-law suites and ‘granny flats’ and is bound to accelerate as people realize how much we really need each other, and how much we now duplicate effort, skills and equipment/tools in the nuclear family format. I like my privacy as much as the next person, yet I’m willing to trade it for the security of community. I’m also excited about the idea of learning new things (well, new to ME), so I added foraging as an important survival skill. I’m ready to stalk the wild asparagus a la Euell Gibbons, or if that isn’t available then Spanish Needle, a delicious green widely available in my locale that my friend, Jean, once prepared for me. One person’s weeds is another’s healthy meal. See Eat The Weeds.