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Archive for August, 2007

No Impact Man and I must be on the same wavelength. Just as I was feeling dragged down by the enormity of the work to be done, I read his post today about the importance of fun. Humans respond to humor, especially in times of crisis. Look at YouTube. The most popular videos are usually the silliest, goofiest ones. People can’t seem to get enough of the stuff. What’s missing from most of the environmentalist voices out there, is a bit of lightness, and also kindness for their audience. When I wrote about ‘Forget Lecturing’ yesterday, I forgot to add one important piece. Yes, do not lecture me. Yes, do not make me feel bad for what I am not, should be doing. Yes, show me through your example, not harsh words. Yes to all three, and also please, don’t take yourself so seriously. Make me laugh!

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Quoted from article in yesterday’s New York Times: “We try to be strategic about doing the things where each unit of effort has the most impact”, said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. Mr. Pope notes that his group has stopped short of castigating people for driving S.U.V’s or building large homes, too. “We’ll encourage companies to make more efficient S.U.V’s, and we’ ll encourage consumers to buy them.,” he said, “but we do not find lecturing people about personal consumption choices to be effective.”

Yeap, lecturing, or being lectured about how to lead one’s life, does not work. We are all teenagers in that respect. I have had that conversation with Green Guru many times. It is more powerful, and a lot less irritating to others, to just lead by example. After a while, some will rub off eventually.

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Green Guru is back from Hawaii. Green Guru is antsy to leave again, this time with me. There is the Indian wedding up in Canada, a few weeks from now. He would also like to take me to Chicago to introduce me to some of his old friends. And then there is the Tuscany trip we are supposed to take soon. I am happy where I am, and not really in the mood for all these trips. When Green Guru insists, I point to him that all that fuel burning from aircrafts can’t be good. His answer: the planes are going anyway, we might as well go. Plus, he has put solar panels on our house, and is working on this solar deal in Hawaii. He is also planting trees in our yard. He has to see his friends and his family. I mention Skype as an alternative. Green Guru likes air traveling, period, and will not change his mind. Green Guru becomes Prad again, just a Green Wannabe like me.

Some ice spills out of the fridge. I pick up the few ice cubes, throw them in the sink. Prad rushes to ‘recycle’ them and throw them onto the bushes outside . . .

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“I”

Embarrassment, shame, when I reread some of my latest posts. Almost all start with “I”. Maybe if I granted less importance to “I”, and more to the world, things would shift. This self-referential mode of experiencing is what’s most familiar. Even writing this post, without starting every sentence with I, is a struggle. Wanting to take ownership of one’s actions is one thing. Making oneself the center of the universe is another. Along the middle way, where I and Other take turns, may lie the answer.

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I ran across an interesting article in last Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle. The article, by Arthur Max and Toby Sterling discusses the ways in which happiness differs amongst citizens of different nations, and steps that can be taken towards increasing the overall happiness level on a national level: ‘The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan long ago dispensed with the notion of Gross National Product as a gauge of well-being. The king decreed that his people would aspire to Gross National Happiness instead.’

This is no joke, and the fact that Bhutan, ranked way higher on the happiness scale than the US – #8 versus #15, deserves further examination. In Bhutan, ‘less than half of the people can read or write, and 90 percent are subsistence farmers. . . Its notion of GNH is based on equitable development, environmental conservation, cultural heritage, and good governance.’ I feel this very much. Some things are amiss in our modern culture, and I am yearning for a change, a new life built on a different value system, that promotes connecting with nature, and others, and reverses the state of alienation I am (we are) increasingly feeling as a result of so called progress and industrialization. Not that I trying to get off the hook. I know I still need to do my share. Good governance, the glue that can solidify and multiply of all our individual actions, is what I am after.

The authors quote Martin Seligman, the University of Pennsylvania psychologist: “Although economic output has risen steeply over the past decades, there has been no rise in life satisfaction during this period, and there has been a substantial increase in depression and distrust”. Not only is our steadily increasing consumption slowly killing the planet, it is also not helping us become any happier. Something is wrong with this picture.

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I am behind in my New York Times reading. I just got to the editorial piece in last Monday’s edition. Verlyn Klinkenborg writes about The 17 Percent Problem and the Perils of Domestication. She quotes a recent Science Magazine article, noting that by 1995, ‘only 17% of the world’s land area had escaped direct influence by humans.’ Her point is that we, all humans are taking the wrong approach. We are trying to domesticate nature, not adjust to it. Our egos have led us to believe that we can run the show, that we are superior to nature, when in fact it is not so. And we are starting to pay the price.

What does that mean on a personal level? How do I contribute to this domestication of nature? I cannot think of anything I am doing that is directly contributing. Rather, it is my lack of awareness, and political action, that make me a part of the problem. Also, by subscribing to a modern lifestyle of convenience and consumerism, I feed indirectly all the industrial processes that destroy nature. Only 17% left of nature to give us precious feedback. Like Verlyn Klinkenborg, I am appalled by the amount of destruction, the damage we have done as humans.

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I was tired, could not think anymore, after eight hours straight of working on strategy for new startup. Plus I had not slept well the night before. Target was tempting me with its promise of more Dominique Cohen jewelry, and who knows, maybe some Libertine deals on the sales rack. I debated, I remembered my blog talks. Maybe I could swim instead? It required energy and braving the coolness of the water. I went for the easy way instead, a car trip to Target. One hour of mindless shopping left me with one more dress for my closet, on sale and only ten dollars, from Isaac Mizrahi, and a fake pearl bracelet from Dominique Cohen. The fun was more in trying things out. I relieved some of my guilt by proudly declining the clerk’s offer of a plastic bag. The sweet man seemed puzzled that I would not want a bag. I figured I would slip my usual speech about, “These are going straight to my closet, why would I need a bag, better save the environment.” This is middle America, I thought. We’ve got a long way to go. On my way home, I questioned the dress. I bought it because it was such a good deal, but purple and turquoise, I am not so sure . . .

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I have been thinking about this whole business of needs versus wants. When it comes down to it, what do I really need to be happy?

  1. Love, friends and family. Sounds corny but love is the most important thing.
  2. Clean air to breathe.
  3. Access to good medical care.
  4. My computer.
  5. A place to swim.
  6. Bathing suit
  7. Baraccuda swim goggles
  8. Swim cap.
  9. A roof over our head.
  10. A creative project I can be excited about. Preferably work that will contribute to the community.
  11. Enough food to sustain me and my family. I could do with vegetarian only.
  12. Clean water.
  13. Ways to get places. Walking, biking, public transportation will do. Flying, only to go home to France, once a year.
  14. Pens and paper to write. I still like writing on real paper for certain things.
  15. My diary book.
  16. Sunglasses.
  17. Basic toiletries.
  18. A bed to sleep on.
  19. Bedding.
  20. Glasses to see at night.
  21. Fridge
  22. Wash machine
  23. Stove and oven.
  24. Trees and all the living things that make up nature.
  25. Access to public utilities. Garbage collection, sewer, are essential. Electricity, we can generate with our own solar.
  26. Beauty.
  27. Hairdresser once a month, to get my roots done and haircut.
  28. Enough clothes for all circumstances. Black wool dress, pair of jeans, couple T-shirts, summer dress, skirt, jean jacket, dress jacket, walking shoes, city shoes, raincoat, coat, umbrella, underwear, sweater.
  29. Purse.
  30. Traveling bag.

This is a comfortable ‘I need” list, one that satisfies all my requirements for happiness. It even includes a few ‘wants’, but tha’s ok. I am not a nun, and I need to be realistic.

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I love a noisy house with husband and children around. I also love being alone, and having the house all to myself. Tonight I delighted in the supreme indulgence of a swim followed by a dip in the hot tub. And I thought of my good fortune, the nice big house, the sweetness of this Palo Alto summer, the melting in the hot tub, the pool all to myself, the beautiful trees towering over me, the luxury of doing work that does not feel like work, the surrounding peace, the spaciousness. I thought of the sanctity of it all, and I wondered how long before the sweetness turns into calamitous weather, how long before the trees show their distress, how long before the air fills with mosquitoes? How long before paradise as I have learned to expect it, vanishes? I also thought of the majority of the world, who do not know any of these luxuries, except maybe for the trees, if lucky. I thought of the electricity to heat the hot tub, and filter the water, and light the pool. Was I taking more than my fair share? The thoughts came and went, in the midst of the sheer pleasure, this is what being in the womb must feel like. Floating, becoming one with the water, forgetting, no longer being conscious.

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I have started noticing an interesting phenomenon. Many of my friends who read my blog, are telling me they think of me now, and of the things I write before they act. And they report making small changes in their daily life, as a result. They remember to take their green bags to Whole Foods. They think twice before declaring something dirty laundry. They stop, before clicking on the Order button. They think of me, and my ramblings, and they start thinking, and acting differently. They are even becoming greener than I am.

My main interest in writing the blog was to understand how personal psychology can affect an average person like me, in relationship to making, or rather not making, the lifestyle changes that are necessary to solve the climate crisis. Hence, the goal was not to change myself necessarily, at least in the short term, or anybody else for that matter. That so much positive action has resulted, speaks to the power of confession, and of being real.

Yesterday was especially busy, and the green bags were last in my mind. The bags stayed on the door knob, and I had an interesting chat about that with the lady bagger at Whole Foods. Apparently, I am not alone. Thousands of people every day, also forget.

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