Monthly Archives: October 2009

In case you’re still not sure

First of all, I’m sorry for such a long absence! ‘Twas season of travel, midterms and stress, but that’s now all in my past and I’m currently looking forward to a weekend of relaxing with my friend who goes to BU, Hannah Feder, and some silly-costumed celebration. Pictures to come!

Before all this, however, I had a very well-done and interesting lecture yesterday in my Global Warming Debate class that I can’t get off my mind and feel should be shared. Even though this is my blog full of my thoughts, I have to give COMPLETE credit for all the ideas in this post to my professor, Jack Williams, without whom I wouldn’t have these interesting insights and resources. So, thank you Jack.

Today, professor Williams spoke to those who, despite tons of green-climate-warming-eco hubbub still feel uneasy when they hear the occasional boisterous news reporter, columnist, or politician cite that global warming is one great big huge joke. In fact, in May, a Pew Research Center Poll was released which says that only 54% (down from 71%) of Americans believe that “the earth is getting warmer.” So what gives?

And what are we supposed to do with all this differing information?

“Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely [>90% likely] due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.” – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Summary for Policymakers, 2007

“Could it be that global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American People?” – Senator James Inhofe, Aug. 28 Senate Speech, 2003

Well, according to Williams, our best bet is to side with the scientists, which in this case overwhelmingly concur that the world is, in fact, warming as a result of human activities. Although we are unsure of what the future will hold as far as the impacts, how to stop it, how much it’ll cost, how long it’ll take to stop (there are a million other what-ifs), at this point the questions of “is the world warming” (yes) and “is it due to humans” (yes) are pretty much settled.

To expand on his point, he went through a series of points and myths that frequently come up in the media.

1. “There is no scientific consensus” or, “The IPCC does not represent the scientific community.”

The IPCC represents the most current and accurate work of hundreds of scientists that is rigorously reviewed by thousands of other scientists. To say that the IPCC is not a consensus is simply incorrect and is pitting the vocal minority against the vast majority on this issue.

In fact, Stanford professor Naomi Oreskes, in her essay, “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change” reviewed 928 abstracts of peer reviewed literature with the phrase “global warming” and found that 75% of papers agreed with IPCC consensus (world is warming and humans are responsible), 25% took no position, and NO papers disagreed!

(if you want to read the essay, you may download it here.)

2. Next, he noted that there were a few names that continually come up in popular media regarding climate change skepticism whose credentials or science may be hazy or not within the scientific consensus, yet still receive a disproportionate amount of attention. Here are a few names to look out for:

1. S. Fred Singer

Credentials:  Director, Science and Environmental Policy Project, affiliated with Cato Institute (conservative think-tank).

Position:  world is warming –but due to natural variability (1500-year cycle)

2. Patrick Michaels

Credentials:  PhD Ecological Climatology UW Madison(!)  Professor of Environmental Science at U. Virginia, Former state climatologist for Virginia

Position:  The gamut… has backtracked over time… the world isn‟t warming, CO2 isn’t responsible, the warming will be small.

3. Timothy Ball

Credentials:  Former instructor at the University of Winnipeg.  Describes himself as “emeritus.”  Published 4 papers over his career

Position:  World has been cooling since 1998

4. Richard Lindzen (he’s the most credentialed of the group)

Credentials:  MIT Professor, widely recognized as bright guy.

Position:  World is warming –but negative feedbacks will stabilize system. The “Iris Hypothesis.” This is a reasonable theory, but there is no evidence for or against it at this time.

5. Arthur Robinson

Credentials:  Unclear, co-founded the “Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine”

Position:  world is warming but due to natural processes.

6. Sallie Baliunas

Credentials:  Astrophysicist at Harvard, scientist at George C. Marshall Institute (Conservative think tank)

Position:  world is warming but due to natural processes (solar)

7. Bjorn Lomborg

Credentials:  economist and statistician at the University of Aarhus, Denmark.  Known for The Skeptical Environmentalist and just-published “Cool It:  The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming.”

Position:  World is warming and we are responsible.  But costs/minimal risks don’t justify action.

8.George Will

Credentials:  Washington Post Columnist.

Position:  General suspicion of environmentalists; argues that recent warming has been minimal.

3. Next myth: “climate scientists aren’t listening to alternative viewpoints.” or, “Climate scientists are in it for the federal grant money”

While it is unlikely, there is truth to the fact that it cannot be disproved that climate scientists are or are not working for the money. However, the fact that they define themselves as scientists and not environmentalists says something. A scientists is someone who (usually) neutrally searches for information and truth about how the world works. If he or she says the world is warming: it is simply a reflection of their research. Williams said his findings have been that scientists are usually motivated first by curiosity second by fame and recognition, and that money is more of a means to an end for points one and two. An environmentalist, on the other hand, advocates for the cause and is more involved with social aspects.

It’s important to differentiate.

4. “Glaciers at location x have been advancing” or “temperatures at location x have been cooling.”

These are examples of cherrypicking data by location. There are hundreds of such examples. Yes, there have been glaciers that have advanced or temperatures that have cooled, but when compared with global averages and trends, the data overwhelmingly suggests these cooling situations are anomalous. Next time you hear that temperatures in the Sargasso Sea are relatively low or glaciers on Kilimenjaro are advancing, check out some other locations to see if this may serve as evidence about the global energy budget to dispute global warming, or if it’s just situational.

5. “1934 was the warmest year on record” or “The world has been cooling since 2000.”

These are examples of cherrypicking based on time window (and sometimes location). First, ’34 is closely tied for the warmest year on record for the US with 1998 and 2005, but for the globe, 1934 isn’t even close to even being in the top ten warmest days. You could say,

2008 was actually the coldest year of the decade, therefore things are cooling.”

Or, you could say, 2008 was the 9th warmest year on record and, 1998, 2005 and 2009 are the three warmest years on global record, and 8 of the last 10 years are in the top ten warmest years over a 150 year record.

There are many other claims (“the satellites show cooling,” “the supposed global warming is due to the Urban Heat Island Effect”….), but as with all the others listed here, this lecture taught me that just as when any other scientific claim is made, it’s important to check the reasoning behind it and the credentials of the writer/speaker/source of information. Maybe a scientists did publish a fact-based article about global warming, but if it was published in The Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons (as in the Sargasso Sea example) or one of writer George Will’s columns, it may be worth taking it with a grain of salt.

A misconception is that climate scientists are able to predict the future and think they’re never wrong. Yes, scientists have been wrong in the past and I don’t think there are many who claim to know what the future holds. But, there are many, many indicators that the world is, in fact, warming. So as a consumer of the media (or any non-scientific member of society) it’s important to be critical when you hear statements rejecting climate science. While it may be easier to hear, it won’t be easier to be unprepared and there’s no use in arguing about if the world is warming, when we have plenty of arguing to do about what to do about it! Plus, as I often argue in this bog, I believe that the changes to society that are made in an effort to curb global warming might actually end up improving our society, culture, communities, and lives on the whole.

What do you guys think about all this?

Have a great Halloween,

Jenny

P.S. Are you interested in learning more? Prof. Williams recommended these websites:

Grist skeptics page

Metoffice

realclimate.org

Sourcewatch

Tagged , , ,

My Footprint

This week has been No Impact Week. It has also been one of the busiest weeks of the semester so far.

As each day of No Impact Week went on, participants were to eliminate or severely restrict a certain area of their carbon footprint in: waste, consumption, food choices, transportation, energy, water and then end the week (tomorrow) with an eco-sabath, similar to the Jewish observances of Shabat. The week was interesting for me because I learned how anomalous my life is in many ways: I walk literally everywhere I go, I happen to have a large and inexpensive farmers’ market within walking distance so I eat almost entirely local foods, I can’t afford to spend money so I really don’t “consume” much during the week as far as products go, I have to pay for my own electricity for the first time in my life, so I try to use it as very, very little as possible… etc! A lot of times I found that I didn’t have to work very hard to participate in No Impact Week.

But there are many things about it that are/were tough and I know that I’ll have to keep all aspects in mind once I get off campus and start living in the real world. It was difficult to cut down on trash, but I liked their practical suggestions like, being prepared with a reusable coffee mug, keeping silverware and plastic containers in my backpack, etc.

I have to admit, since I noticed these green trends in my life, I did the activities sort of halfheartedly and was incredibly focused on school because I’m in DC this weekend and I didn’t want to have to work the whole weekend. But then I realized.

I flew in an airplane during No Impact Week.

Whoops.

So, I guess my biggest lesson was that it is really, really important for me to live an extremely green lifestyle because I do fly more than the average person.

You’ve probably been offered a million times, but I recommend a carbon calculator to see which areas if your life are most polluting here.

Did you do the No Impact Week? Let me know what you thought!

-Jenny

Also: today is International Day of Climate Action. There’s still time to participate! If nothing else, educate yourself about the 350 movement and why that number is important.

Tagged , ,

3-Day Water-Only Fast

From Monday morning through Wednesday evening this week, all that entered my mouth was water.

Mom, Dad (and Hillary Feder), before you reach for the phone or get in the car to come save me, hear me out, I haven’t gone off the deep end. I promise.

For various reasons, many historical figures have fasted since biblical times.

On Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, Jews fast for 25 hours (without even water!) in order to fulfill a Torah-mandated Mitzvah (commandment) to “afflict” themselves in honor of the holiday, which is intended as a day for Jews to fully atone for their sins. According to Rabbi Mendy Hecht, they take afflict to mean, “de-emphasizing the body’s needs in five areas: bathing; using creams, oils, perfumes or other skin accessories; wearing leather shoes; sexual relations; and eating and drinking.” Hecht explains that in order to more fully focus on God and spirituality, Jews must put their “bodily cravings on the back burner” and rely on God in an expression of pure faith, that he will “obliterate hunger, starvation, need and blight from mankind. On Yom Kippur, … we divorce ourselves from our needs for physical maintenance and rely on G-d.”

In a similar manner of faith and selflessness, Jesus also fasted in order to be alone and focus on God with no worldly interruption. For 40 days in the desert Jesus’ fast marked the time before the start of his public ministry which also “corresponded as a type of Moses’ fasting [for] 40 days on Mt. Sinai before receiving the Law (Ex. 34:27f),” according to W. Frank Walton. He continues, “Jesus taught that fasting was not done to impress or prompt anyone else, but it was a matter of personal resolve and individual liberty before God (Matt. 6:16-18).”

Another man famous for fasting is Gandhi. In an effort to achieve Satyagraha, or nonviolent revolution, Gandhi fasted as a means of personal resolve to evoke moral conviction of his oppressor (in his case, British government), famously saying, “And through our pain we will make them see their injustice.” In 1932, Gandhi vowed to fast “until death” as a method to nonviolently protest the British government’s treatment of the “untouchables,” those considered to be in the lowest Indian caste. And, after 6 days of fasting, the government negotiated a pact to improve the status of these people. Though Gandhi cites numerous reasons to fast, Charles R. DiSalvo explains one main reason in his essay on Gandhi’s efforts and success with nonviolent revolution. “The historical Gandhi believed that, ‘suffering is not valued for its own sake, but is held to promote non-attachment from the insistent claims of the body, to emphasize the spirit as superior to the material and physical.'”

But, I know what you’re thinking. I am not comparing myself to Moses, Jesus or Gandhi. In fact, on Wednesday I woke up feeling like garbage, so I ate a carrot. (Ok, two carrots.)

I could continue with many interesting and enlightening examples of fasts throughout history. What I have learned from these examples, though, is that while there are many reasons to fast, there are a few themes shared by each. The ideas of freedom from distraction, spirituality, and a heightened sense of awareness are always present.

In fact, these days you have to be pretty self determined to do a fast since NO ONE agrees on the topic (or at least from what I saw on the Internet.) WebMD advises against it saying, “there is no evidence that fasting detoxifies your body, or that your body even needs to be detoxified.” And, “Your body needs a variety of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from food to stay healthy.  Not getting enough of these nutrients during fasting diets can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, constipation, dehydration, gallstones and cold intolerance. It is possible to die if you fast too long.” So that’s that. But, if you click one page down on your google search, you can read this, “‘Fasting is, without any doubt, the most effective biological method of treatment… it is the ‘operation without surgery’…it is a cure involving exudation, reattunement, redirection, loosening up and purified relaxation,’ said Otto Buchinger, Sr., M.D., Germany’s great self-described ‘fasting therapist.'” Benjamin Franklin said, “The best of all medicines is resting and fasting,” and, Dr. Mark DeMeao, the assistant professor of medicine and associate director of nutrition at Loyola University Medical Center said, “I don’t know of any positive effects of fasting. I don’t recommend it.”

Sooo, Benjamin Franklin, or Mark DeMeao?

Continue reading

Tagged , , ,

Ecology Lab

Wow, I have so much exciting stuff to write about I don’t even know where to start… so, to take the easy way out, I decided to post some pictures from ecology lab from the past two weeks.

Two weeks ago, our group traveled to the UW Arboretum to learn about prairies, Wisconsin ecosystems and see some wild turkeys! We debated the usefulness of trying to remove invasive species from natural habitats and worked on identifying some trees and birds. Mostly, it was just a good change to be outside and explore with some good people.

Burr Oaks are for Tree-Huggers

Burr Oaks are for Tree-Huggers

Our TAs, Lisa and Samuel, talked about this fire-resistant, prairie tree for so long, that they told us to go ahead and give it a hug!

DSCN0829

I spy one wild turkey...

I spy one wild turkey...

The best kind of classroom

The best kind of classroom

This week, the group went to one of Dane County’s landfills. It was pretty amazing to see all the garbage – especially the plastic bags, which our guide explained take many, many years to break down. He discussed DNR requirements for protecting the ground and the underlying layers of the landfill to prevent the spread of lecheate (toxic fluid chemicals that drip off the waste and enter into the groundwater or other nearby ecosystems).

DSCN0869He said that on days when neighbors complain about the smell, they come out with a chemical-water mixture and can make the landfill smell like fruits! The last time it happened he said they used grape. “We’re good neighbors!” he said.

DSCN0875

This particular landfill is almost out of space. The grass in the foreground is old trash areas that have been covered when they reached capacity. Our guide said this “land” had compacted 14 feet Since the time it was covered.

DSCN0874

The flag here is poetic, isn't it?

DSCN0878

At the end of his talk, he explained that groups come here and look disgusted and plug their noses, but he said, “if you’re so disgusted you have to realize it’s you who makes this garbage. We just take care of it.” When dealing with huge piles of reusable or recyclable goods,  he emphasized the importance of something you learned in first grade: reduce, reuse, recycle. He told a story of how a bike manufacturer dropped off 100s of brand new bicycles and demanded that they be compacted right away so no one would take them from the landfill. When asked why they were dumping them, the man explained that the tread on the front and back tires didn’t match and it didn’t “make sense” to invest the time and money to change them all.

It made us all think about our impact and especially focus on ways that we can reuse (fix, restore, wash, etc) and reduce our impacts.

Something to think about. Especially when No Impact Week is only a few days away!

-Jenny

Tagged , , , ,

We can only go up from here- SO LET’S!

It seems that the more I learn about the environment, the more depressed I tend to become. The list of things in need of “fixing” on this planet (chemical waste, mistreatment of workers here and in third world countries, government catering to big corporations, extinction, deforestation, pollution, landfills, incineration) can be described in many ways, but “short” is not one. Each year hundreds of scientists, agencies, researchers, and notably, the IPCC (though that isn’t yearly), come out with a report stating how bad-off our planet is and how we can’t possibly afford for it to get any worse. And then it does. So, I read and read and read all day long about this trend and this perpetual “brokenness” of so many things and then, occasionally I get a breath of relief.

I remember that the name for this blog is true and is possible. I remember that the people I’m surrounded by and learning from are good people, and that there are others who are inherently good too. I remember that although we may not know the best source of renewable energy or the best way to convince Americans to stop over consuming (or even understand what that means), we do have many tools to get things started, increase the conversation, make changes to our lives and in the lives of those we love, and improve our happiness, relationships, health, and planet by doing so. As I explained in my post a few posts back, we all can make real, beneficial change when it comes to the environment.

Since I am new at this and don’t always have the answers, I often look toward others who might. Colin Beavan is one dude whose writing I love to read and who really knows how to take the edge off climate-related fears by replacing fear with action. (Although this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t learn. In fact, to understand the base of my concerns for tonight in particular, you could watch this INCREDIBLE video and have even more incentive to read the rest of this post).

Anyway, he, with the help of some smart people at his non-profit, The No Impact Project, have created a great way to educate, inspire and mobilize many individuals in a practical and easy possible way. While Beavan improved his life during a years’ worth of living at no impact (or as little as possible), he has created a way for us amateurs to do it for just one week. While I don’t usually recommend recipes I haven’t tried or lend cars I haven’t driven, I have kept up with Beavan’s blogs and learned about his ideas enough to know that he’s got some really good ideas. So, I’m gonna vouch for this one and hope that you’ll join me in my No Impact Week coming up next Sunday, October 18th as a great, non-partisan way to do what you can. I bring it up now since you’ll want to plan and learn more, and they recommend that you sign up, download (but not print) their How-to Manual (which can also give you a better idea of what the week will look like than the video) and get ready to make the best of your week.

They realize that we can’t all make every change (No compost? No bike? That’s ok), but they provide helpful suggestions to doing the best we can to contribute, and they have organized it in a manner that will be easy to follow and informative. They have also strongly advocated for the personal benefits one can gain (as Beavan did) during such a “carbon cleanse.” Of the project, Beavan said,

“We hope that after focusing for just over a week on how our daily habits impact the world around them, our readers will see the effect our actions have in a new light. It will be very interactive and social – and empowering.”

Read more here

Or, watch this short clip to learn what the week is about:

If that’s not motivation enough, or if you’re like me and want to learn more about Beavan’s other genius ideas, look around his site. Here were some pages I enjoyed:

Colin’s How-To’s

The Frequently Asked Questions, especially these:

5. How will taking these small steps have any real impact on climate change?
Every small behavior change you make or every political action you take adds to a growing wave of change and influences your community to get on the ball!  Read more here.

6. Do I have to be a hippie, activist, granola eater to participate in the experiment?
No.  And that stereotype is so passe’.”

Top ten Eco-lifestyle Changes

Story of Stuff

I hope you’ll join me in discovering these benefits together!

-Jenny

Tagged , , , ,

Madison’s “real food” System

This was a paper I turned in for my Food, Culture, and Society class. It’s longer than my usual posts, but it is an overview of what I’ve learned (and gained) from being a part of Madison’s amazing, developing, and transformative food culture.

Enjoy!

Jenny Lynes

Exercise 1

On September 27th, I found myself at the Madison Food for Thought Festival standing behind the sales table of the ‘Buy Fresh, Buy Local Café’ donned in a volunteer’s T-shirt handing out scones. Crowds of people walked past me toting canvas bags with bright red, yellow, and green produce poking out. They talked about petting the chickens, what Michael Pollan had said to them, and interesting new recipes they’d found that creatively included kale, zucchini, and lots (and lots) of tomatoes. As a stilt-walking farmer strolled past me, then stopped to take a picture with my literary role model, Michael Pollan, I had to take a moment.

How did I get here?

My history with local foods is a short one. In fact, just this spring I was a paying member in a weight loss program that encouraged my notion, as Michael Pollan describes, that eating at any one time does only one of two things: 1. Fixes my health, or, 2. Ruins my health. Paul Rozin calls this pleasure-voided idea of eating a personal and cultural “nightmare.” Wendell Berry calls these eaters “victims… passive, uncritical, and dependent.” M.F.K. Fisher describes this process as, “[eating with] a glum urge for food to fill us.” Saying, “we are ignorant of flavour. We are as a nation taste-blind.”

Putting these notions in my past, I spent time on a small family farm in Maine this summer where the farmer occasionally compared eating to sex. I knew that food could taste good, but this idea introduced me to the idea of pleasure in eating and began to prepare me for entering into the web of farmers, advocates, students, eaters, and community-makers by which I have been surrounded thus far this semester.

Through this essay, I would like to explain the Madison Food System and those involved with it through the lens of a ‘slow food baby’, or perhaps more accurately: a ‘real food baby’. I didn’t know it was possible, but this food I’ve been eating has taught me about myself. Despite a prior connection to and passion for the environment, Madison has taught me that Berry was right. “How we eat determines, to a considerable extent, the way the world is used.” On one of the first days of class, someone mentioned that Cargill would defend its practices by stating it’s just delivering what we want and what the market asks for. Although this town is not short many a “beer-and-pizzavore,” I wonder; if Cargill’s products were based off the Madison market demand, would America’s food system be the same? Would Cargill even exist?

Continue reading

Tagged , ,

Deforestation and you

I just had a really interesting lecture in my “Global Warming Debate” class about deforestation.

My studies have always been much more closely aligned with the social aspects of environmentalism, but I have enjoyed the scientific perspective presented in this class and others this semester. As I have said many times before, I am continually surprised when I learn yet ANOTHER way to be involved with climate change mitigation efforts, so I thought I’d share this one with you. If food or sustainable agriculture isn’t your thing, maybe deforestation prevention will be.

Today, we had a guest lecturer, Lisa Naughton, who spoke to us about the underestimated impacts of deforestation, programs that are being implemented to combat it, and the surrounding debate. I wanted to present some of her ideas that were presented today because I think they’re important and were well-articulated.

We learned that deforestation accounts for 20-25% of annual Greenhouse Gas Emissions (more than natural gas…!!!) and that the deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia alone (two big tropical forest nations) roughly equals the amount of greenhouse gasses as ALL transportation emissions from one year. WOW. (More stats can be learned here, or a simple google search will help as well.)

Forest clearing has a big impact on greenhouse gas emissions due to the forests’ ability to absorb and store carbon (depending on the type of forest). So, when these natural carbon stores are eliminated, all this carbon is released into the atmosphere. Because of this, keeping these forests around has large implications for climate change prevention, not to mention that by keeping them we will also maintain biodiversity, prevent increased land use for industrial agriculture, maintain many cultural sites and artifacts, regulate regional rainfall, and improve water quality (and more).

Currently reforestation and restoration projects are the only methods that are approved by Kyoto to try to combat this issue. While this is helpful, efforts to reduce deforestation are not currently approved because it is harder to quantify and create tangible evidence on the results, despite the obvious benefits of such efforts (remember, the carbon storage).

Anyway, we were introduced to the concept of REDD: Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, which is an initiative gaining support in the name of deforestation prevention. In the upcoming Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, various advocates will support “REDD Readiness” and adding deforestation prevention to become a main focus of our environmental efforts as a “simple” way to reduce overall global emissions. For example, Norway, in it’s efforts to become the first carbon neutral country, has paid $1 BILLION to keep some rain forests around (I forget where). Effectively, we’re paying these nations not to utilize these natural resources for economic gain (or, for companies like Coca Cola to come in to grow citrus for Minute Maid juice as it proposed to do in Brazil).

BUT of course keeping the forests doesn’t fix everything.

Some critiques of this line of thought are:

1. It enables Americans to continue their polluting lifestyles and uses forests in faraway lands to further remove their concerns for combating climate change because something is “being done.” In other words, it reduces incentives to lower fossil fuel use.

2. Prevents potential economic stimulus of rain forest nations who may gain jobs from companies that come in to old forest lands, not to mention the rights of pre-standing local resource users.

3. The deforestation could just be displaced elsewhere, and it’s hard to track if that does happen.

4. What if a hurricane comes and wipes out the forest? Then the wood breaks down and all the carbon is released anyway.

5. Also, although the carbon storage is substantial, when compared to the emissions of industrial countries, it’s negligible.

So, while there are downsides to REDD, there are also many benefits, as long as the initiatives are well-planned with local residents and, importantly, as long as it is not viewed as a fix for climate change.

Anyway, I thought I’d share this because I never understood the basics and implications of deforestation and now I feel that I have a better handle on it thanks to Naughton.

Any campers/hikers/biodiversity lovers out there? Maybe deforestation is the “issue” for you!

-Jenny

Tagged , , , ,

You. Yeah, you.

I’ve always wished I was more into politics. In fact, it may or may not have been a new years’ resolution for the past… oh, 4 or 5 years to know enough to aptly carry myself in a political conversation without looking like an idiot. While I know I may be judged by stating my unintentional ignorance, I do think that political awareness is a skill really; a personality type.

But, it’s also a civic duty…which is what gets me every time.

So, since I consider myself fairly involved and am interested in something where knowing current events is particularly important, I’ve reinstated my new years’ resolution (since as of September 18th it is now the year 5770 according to the Jewish calendar) and recently decreed that I will dedicate more time to make myself “in the know.”

Boxer-Kerry Bill, bring it on.

ANYWAY

Before making this decision, I often thought about the idea of individual versus collective action. How effective can a person really be if calling their representatives, protesting, and running for office isn’t their cup of tea? While it is easy to lose faith in the political system, I certainly would not advocate for us to try to combat climate change (or other social issues) without the help of government as well. So, while I intend to become more politically active, I also highly value an individual’s capability to make positive, meaningful, and important changes in their own lives and the lives of those around them.

I know No Impact Man, Colin Beavan, wasn’t saying he was uninterested in politics when he spoke, but last week, the environmental news blog, Grist, interviewed him partly on this topic and I really valued what he said. In case you didn’t click on the link, Beavan and his family recently completed a year of living “off the grid” in New York, making as small of an impact as possible and, throughout the year, blogged and wrote a book about the experience. (They even made a movie about it. Which looks sweet.) Anyway, here were a few excerpts that I thought were enlightening:

(Or you can read his whole interview here)

1. There are real reasons to make lifestyle changes outside of the policy realm:

“I think there are two main arguments on individual lifestyle change. One is that we have to change our way of life no matter how much technology we get, no matter what regulation we get, because we have to get to 350 [parts per million of carbon dioxide] and because Americans generate five times the carbon emissions per capita as the Chinese. Our consumption-based economy, I would argue, doesn’t work for the planet. It doesn’t work for the people either.

2. The changes we make individually affect culture more than do political changes:

“If we’re going to get the legislation we need and then keep it next time there’s a Republican administration, then we have to go beyond just using our political power to leverage the rest of the country into doing what we want. We have to change the culture. And you can’t change the values of the culture through legislation.”

3. But… we should still participate in politics:

“I don’t believe in individual action over collective action. I believe in both. It’s what I call engaged citizenship, a combination of both living your values in your own life and also living those values in your community life, volunteering for nonprofits and putting pressure on your political representatives.”

4. Here’s how to get your foot in the door:

“The problem is when people stop at using canvas bags or changing their light bulbs. I believe in robust lifestyle change instead.  For people who aren’t yet involved, who aren’t already in the choir, I find that the two big ways to start are with local food and bicycling. Once you get people to make those changes, then you can start getting them involved in politics.”

5. Those who already care are responsible to motivate those who don’t know or don’t care:

“We need to all of us put our shoulders at the doors of change and push and not worry about criticizing each other as much as supporting each other in all the various methods. Somebody will have a breakthrough, and we all need to be cheering each other on.

We have to find an on-ramp into environmental politics, because it’s just not growing fast enough. The more attempts at on-ramps that we can think of the better.”

6. Forget partisanship and political ideology. Just do what’s right:

“Collective action is at the root of liberal ideology and individual action is at the root of conservative ideology. To straddle individual and collective action feels like, whichever side you’re on, you’re betraying your political heritage. To suggest that we should do both is strangely radical. It’s almost like you need a whole new political party.”

Interesting, right?

I think he’s right on though. There will always be some who are more politically involved than others (hopefully I’ll be moving toward the ‘more’ end of the spectrum by 5771!), but it is truly important to make real, passionate, and steadfast efforts in our own lives, and I think these changes can add up in a really vital way. And it seems that Colin agrees.

In fact, in my research, it seems that Thoreau agreed as well.

“For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once well done is done forever.”

So, throughout the rest of this year while I acclimate myself to current events and the feel of political participation (no matter how small), I will also maintain a strong focus on my personal choices and my ability to positively influence others.

And I hope you’ll join me. Or, you know, write a letter to the editor.

-Jenny

P.S. Or, call your Senators about the climate bill. 1Sky will tell you how.

Tagged , , , ,