Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘French Culture’ Category

by Edouard Stenger

As Marguerite most kindly proposed me to write an article for her blog, here are a few lines on the French counterpart of the “We” and “Together” campaigns, which were discussed respectively here and here.

The “Défi pour la Terre“, or “Earth Challenge”, was launched in May 2005 by the famous French journalist, TV personality and environmentalist Nicolas Hulot. With his show Ushuaïa, he has been presenting the marvels of the Earth to French people for twenty years and increasingly stated that these wonders are threatened by mankind. The Nicolas Hulot Foundation was created as early as 1990 to enable people to discover nature and protect the environment by exploration, education and communication.

The “Défi pour la Terre” wasn’t the first communication campaign launched by the Foundation, but it has been the most fruitful as already more than 840,000 French people joined it and pledged to decrease their carbon dioxide emissions. Many celebrities also supported the “Defi“. Total actions by members would account for reduction of 420,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases emissions.

During last year’s presidential elections, he asked the twelve candidates to sign a pact stating that once they would be elected, they would act on environmental issues and climate change mitigation. It was a major success as the elected President, Mr. Sarkozy, included elements of this pact into his own plans. Indeed, the Grenelle de l’Environnement“, the central part of environmental actions in France, included several parts of Hulot‘s plan.


Now, let’s review the “Défi pour la Terre” itself. As most things nowadays, the website is the central part of the Défi. People by logging to the website can access a lot of data on climate change and its mitigation. Visitors can also decide to act and are proposed ten possibilities. They can :

  • Sort out their waste and avoid excessive packaging ;
  • Prefer environmentally friendly products ;
  • Switch off appliances instead of simply turning them off ;
  • Choose energy efficient appliances and light bulbs ;
  • Take a short shower instead of a bath ;
  • Insulate and not over heat their houses and appartments ;
  • Install a solar water heater or a wood boiler to heat their place ;
  • Use less their cars ;
  • Drive in an efficient way and lastly ;
  • Choose the train when going on holidays.

As you can see, these actions cover the vast majority, if not the totality, of behaviors and lifestyles that can harm our environment.

Now let me be critical – a bit – and tell you what I think could be improved. After three years of existence, the Défi is getting old and would need a new start as the actions to be taken can’t be exactly accounted for, and are more relying on goodwill than on anything else. Indeed, CO2 cuts can’t actually be accounted for as no follow-up is done. Let’s hope improvements will come. Knowing how Nicolas Hulot has been working hard on raising awareness on the protection of the environment, I am confident such changes will occur…

Edouard has an international blog. If you want to follow what is happening on the environmental scene in Europe, go visit him at Sustainable Development and Much More . . .

Read Full Post »

Yesterday, in response to the picture I posted of my grandfather on the farm, Jeff asked,

When you have time, could you tell us more of the story of your grandfather and his family? Where in France was the picture taken? What did he farm? What would he have thought about all this climate change problem that we’ve created?

I lost my grandfather when I was 5. To this day, ‘Pepe Marcel‘ still looms tall in my memory. I realize I owe it to him to care so much for nature, and what’s happening currently. Times on the farm with my him are some of the most precious items in my green memory bank. Like my French blogging sister, Nadine, much of what I write is informed by these early moments.

I started writing a sappy response to Jeff’s question. A romantic interpretation of what I thought ‘Pepe Marcel‘ would be telling me now. Imbued with nostalgia about the old days, without cars, and planes, and supermarkets. Times when his old village was still very much a real community, and seasons dictated the rhythm of people’s daily lives. When organic was a word that did not exist, and yet everything we ate was organic. When tractors had not yet replaced the horse led ploughs in the fields, and the plots were still small and not cultivated to excess. When the bread we ate tasted like the real thing, and was not whitened artificially to make it ‘more enticing’.

Soon, my grandfather’s real voice came through, and it whispered a very different message. If I was living now, you can be sure I would be living just like you and your friends. I would drive a car and shop to Neuville at the supermarket. I would ride a tractor, so I could be home sooner. Actually, I am not even sure I would be a farmer still. Life on the farm is hard. May work instead as a cook in a restaurant  in Poitiers, and drive the 50 kilometers commute every day. I would have upgraded the farm, so that we have all the modern conveniences and your grandmother did not have to do laundry in the big old boiler, and hang it on the lines. I am sure we would have a TV. We may still have a vegetable garden and fruit orchard in the back, but I am not even sure. It’s so convenient getting that stuff at the store. For vacations, we would go on cruises, or fly to America, like all the neighbors. 

That’s when I realized there is no stopping ‘progress’, whether here, or in China, or India, or anywhere else. Moving forward means imagining new ways to live sustainably again, that may appear almost similar to the old. But the motivations, and the awareness are on a different level. Jungian analyst Aldo Carotenuto‘ s image of ‘The Spiral Way‘ comes to mind:

Book Cover for The Spiral Way

Book Cover for The Spiral Way

This time applied to healing not just one woman, but the whole world. 

PS- Jeff, to finish answering your question. My grandfather came from a long line of farmers in the Poitou region of France. The farm is in Champigny, a small village where I spent every summer when I was a child. Pepe Marcel cultivated about 40 acres, most of it in wheat and vineyards. After he died, we farmed it out to other farmers. Now there are only three farmers left in the whole village, and their farms are more akin to industrial enterprises. 

Read Full Post »

No trip to Paris without a stop at Berthillon, the sherbet place in Ile Saint-Louis. While waiting in line, I cannot believe the serving sizes. Were they this small last year? One scoop for two Euros, it better be good. In the US, for the same price, I would get a huge cup, oozing with overly sweet ‘scream’.  I am pleased, my modest wild strawberry sherbet is bursting with the intensity of 100% pure fruit flavor. I make sure I take the time to enjoy every tiny spoonful. Ahead of us, is a slow moving herd of American tourists, almost all suffering from various degrees of chronic overeating. Obesity in America is not news. Still, whenever I come back to France, I can’t help but noticing the contrast between Americans and the rest of the world:

I would not care, if obesity was a strictly personal matter. More and more, however, it has become a global threat, with Americans leading the offensive. Bestsellers such as Mireille Guiliano‘s “Why French women don’t get fat?“, or Michael Pollan‘s “In Defense of Food” are small blips in America’s awareness of its food problem. What to do? Should weight loss become a national initiative as in Japan?

Read Full Post »

Nothing like a two-feet wide shower to get you out quick! Prad and I are discovering the charms of Parisian living in our ‘rue du Bac‘ apartment. Likewise, our kitchen only allows for one person at a time comfortably. This is quite a change from our California sprawl, . . . And made me think of the power of small to restrain one’s behaviors. 

As much as we shape our environment, we are also very influenced by our environment. If we want to change, let us modify our living spaces. This way we won’t even have to think so hard about conserving. 

Read Full Post »

On my way to the airport. Last time, was exactly a year ago, with three teenage girls. Same destination. We had a blast, and I will treasure forever all those moments spent discovering Paris with my daughter and her friends.

When we got there, I felt ‘Too Tired to be Green‘, and wanting to take a ‘Vacation’ from my nascent green-ness. My fellow Parisians impressed me with their ability to turn eco-correctness into ‘Green Fun‘. I became enamored with all French things, even the ‘Modern Appliances‘ in our apartment. Squeezing into my friends’ ‘Cars‘ became a riot. And last, I was reminded of the virtue of living life ‘In Moderation‘. 

Who knows what I will discover this time? 

Read Full Post »

We are social beings

Prad has been gone a little less than two days. I thought I would enjoy this weekend alone, and purposely did not schedule any social activities with my girlfriends. Fourty eight uninterrupted hours, that I could spend doing all the things I love most! Blogging, swimming, taking long walks, reading, vegging. With only a few interruptions from Catherine, on the rare occasions when she still needs something from me. The truth is, being alone sucks. And virtual connections are no substitute for flesh encounters with good friends, family, and even strangers. Every day, my eighty five year old mother goes out for grocery shopping. She does not need to go that often, but she ventures out, still, for the human interaction with the shopkeepers. “Otherwise, I would go crazy.” She lives alone, with only one neighbor she can visit. All her friends have died, and she lives far away from me and my brother. My mother has never been very good at making social connections outside of our immediate family. Over the years, her active social network has diminished to practically nothing. Her life is hell.

Socialization, the way it used to be

Being in the house, alone, I was thinking about all the ways that people socialize nowadays, versus, let say, fifty, a hundred years ago. And I went right back to my days on the farm, with my mother and my grandparents. Socialization was embedded in the fabric of our lives, then. Sunday was going to the market on the horse carriage to the nearby town. The market was a social event, where you got to meet all your friends from other villages. It took us forever to make our way through the whole square, so busy my grandfather was talking to one or the other. Then there was Sunday mass right after. The best part was sitting in the church, and feeling surrounded by the whole community, our community. Of course, the whole village was out and about during the day. Everybody knew everybody, and would stop at each other’s houses. At night, during winter, there were stories told around the fire. My favorite sitting spot was way in the far corner of the fireplace, real close to the flames. I had a little chair that barely fit. If I got too close, my face started to burn. Too far, I started feeling cold. I would spend my time, trying to find the right distance, while listening to the adults’ conversations. The highlight of the year was the batterie, a day of celebration for the whole village signaling the completion of a successful harvest for the wheat crop. Each year, the batterie took place in a different house, and I still remember the time whey we were the hosts. The women had prepared a feast and I had helped. The men, all sweaty from a day in the fields, were laughing and drinking wine, and everybody had something to say to me, la petite. We were pretty happy on the whole, back then. Our basic need for socialization was taken care of.

Estimated score on the collective happiness index: an 8. Total carbon footprint: zero, with the exception of the wood burning.

Socialization now, and why it’s not working

Things are different now. In Silicon Valley where I live, there is a lot of socialization, but you’ve got to plan it. I am fortunate enough to live in a great neighborhood, with neighbors who actually talk to and help each other. But the bulk of our socialization centers around driving from place to place, from activity to activity. For parents, it often means chauffeuring a bunch of kids in SUVs, to sports events. I live very close to the Stanford campus. The other day, I was walking at night, and noticed the soccer field, brimming with activity. There was a night game, and parents had come cheering. What got to me were the bright lights, and the amount of electricity that’s required for that type of social event. Shopping is another big pet peeve of mine. Shopping is a social outlet for many women, and men, and teenagers. All driving to the mall, often without any real need for anything. Only the need to shop. And to go to a place filled with people, with guaranteed opportunities for social transactions. These are just two examples. I keep reading reports that our happiness is way down. Our lives nowadays tend to be fragmented between various networks, that are geographically dipersed. This requires more work on our part, and results in more superficial social ties.

Estimated score on the collective happiness index: 4. Total carbon footprint: it’s going to kill us, unless we change our ways.

Socialization, as part of the green solution

In the search for a green solution, maybe we ought to consider strategies that address this fundamental need we have as social beings, for relatedness and community? It may not be all of the solution, but in my opinion, it ought to be a main part. Looking for ways to rebuild local communities, around non carbon producing activities, or even better, around carbon reducing initiatives. Recognizing that the deeper human need is not about consuming, but socializing instead. The emergence of virtual green social networks is a step in the right direction. It is only one step, however. Virtual connections can only go so far. Eventually, people need to meet, and feel physically connected to each other, around a common activity. The churches, the villages are gone. We need to find a substitute for the mall culture. To do with community, neighborhoods, nature, stories, rituals, work, play, and celebration.

Anticipated score on the collective happiness index: 8. Anticipated total carbon footprint: negative. What do you think?

Read Full Post »

‘La petite reine‘ is the French’s nickname for bicycle. When will we start referring to bikes as ‘little queens’?

Read Full Post »

The Americans have the ecosexuals. Now, the French have the Velibataires. My friend Christine, just back from Paris, told me about a new breed of French males. The Velibataires is a clever play on words between Velib’, the Paris bikes initiative, and celibataire, the French word for ‘single’ male. Parisian men are notoriously aggressive when it comes to flirting. Now they have another weapon, the velo! Anything to sell green, is good on my book. Still, how come is it, that males, on both sides of the Atlantic, are getting all the credit for green sexiness?

Read Full Post »

American Positivism, French Authenticity

One of the hallmarks of the American culture is its unflinching belief in the value of positivism at all costs. Everything is fabulous, mothers congratulate their kids for blowing their nose, and God forbid, any hint of negativism is frowned upon. Coming from France, a country where we are taught to practice the art of the litote, from a very young age, this has always felt like fake and forced communication to me. The French are more into subtleties, and minimizing their appreciation. If they think something is really good, they will say, ‘Not bad’. French are also more free about voicing their opinions, whether good or bad.

Is positivism good for green?

I am noticing a lot of positivism in the green American media. Another blogger told me once that I would do well to be less negative. Couldn’t I talk about all the good things I am doing, rather than focusing on what is not going so well? Of course, I could. My question is, how relevant is it to the current problem that is facing us all? This admission of ‘sins’ is the first step in all life changing programs. Major religions have it in one form or another. Twelve steps program have made it their foundation. And good old logic says, identify the problem first, the solution will come next.

Authenticity and Green

Denial and lies will not get us anywhere. In psychotherapy, one way to facilitate authenticity, is to give the patient the permission to be completely him or herself. To that end, the therapist will sometimes engage in self-disclosure, revealing uncomfortable part of him or herself, and indirectly modeling a more authentic behavior for the patient. Being positive is good. Being authentic is even better.

Read Full Post »

I just finished separating the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle into two piles of equal height. The sections I read, and the other stuff, what I will not read. In the ‘will not read pile’ are mostly ad booklets for various advertisers. In France, the Sunday papers are a tenth of the size of their American counterparts. As far as I know, French newspapers are still making money. My question to the American newspapers is this: why do you need to use so much paper? why do you need to have so many sections? why do advertisers need to take so much space? can’t you start working with advertisers to reduce all that waste of paper? I know we live in the land of ‘bigger is better’, but in this case, bigger is clearly worse. And I am a passive accomplice, as long as I keep on subscribing to the stuff.

 

To-do-list: 1) stop subscribing to paper version of newspaper; 2) even better, start public dialog on issue, boycott.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.