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Posts Tagged ‘American culture’

This morning’s New York Times article, ‘On the Internet, It’s All About ‘My’‘, took me straight to the current world food crisis. Particularly troubling, are the following statistics:

Matthew Zook of ZookNIC, a business that analyzes domain names, said domains that start with “my” more than tripled between 2005 and 2008, to 712,000 from 217,000. According to the government’s Patent and Trademark Office, the number of trademark applications to register marks that include the word “my” increased to 1,943 last year from 382 in 1998.

As a nation it seems to me that we are stuck in toddler, ‘It’s mine’ mode. Our mothers must not have done a very good job at explaining the true meaning of ‘You need to share’. We are a nation suffering from maladaptive narcissism, unable to see beyond our own wants.

Of course, there are some hopeful signs with the popularity of the Obama, ‘Yes We Can‘ campaign, and Al Gore‘s attempts to rally people with ‘We Can Solve It‘. But then, one needs to question the scope of the ‘we’. There is a real arrogance in thinking that ‘we’ the Americans have the solutions, and can decide what’s best for the whole planet.

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I have taken the plunge, and indulged in a Flip Ultra camcorder . . . Here is what I saw during my walk on the Stanford campus yesterday:

Today is also Earth Hour 2008:

On March 29, 2008 at 8 p.m., join millions of people around the world in making a statement about climate change by turning off your lights for Earth Hour, an event created by the World Wildlife Fund.

Earth Hour was created by WWF in Sydney, Australia in 2007, and in one year has grown from an event in one city to a global movement. In 2008, millions of people, businesses, governments and civic organizations in nearly 200 cities around the globe will turn out for Earth Hour. More than 100 cities across North America will participate, including the US flagships-Atlanta, Chicago, Phoenix and San Francisco and Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. View cities involved around the world.

We invite everyone throughout North America and around the world to turn off the lights for an hour starting at 8 p.m. (your own local time)-whether at home or at work, with friends and family or solo, in a big city or a small town.

What will you do when the lights are off? We have lots of ideas.

Join people all around the world in showing that you care about our planet and want to play a part in helping to fight climate change. Don’t forget to sign up and let us know you want to join Earth Hour.

One hour, America. Earth Hour. Turn out for Earth Hour!

Not only do we need to remember to turn off our lights during the night, we also need to not turn them on during the day . . .

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A trip to the neighbors across the street is almost always a culture shock. A peak into the reality of American culture and its excesses. This time, was Russell’s one year birthday party. You could tell from the street, by the balloons and the SUV’s parked in front. To get to it, we had to make our way through the house, and all the plastic toys, strewn all over the floor. I did not remember children needing so many things to play with. More was in the wing. It was impossible to ignore the mountain of presents waiting in the corner of the living room. We found the crowd, outside, celebrating, with enough food to feed an entire block, and disposable plates and plastic cups, of course. Kids and adults kept coming in and out of the obligatory bounce house. I asked Prad what kept the thing inflated. He assured me it only took minimal energy. Plus everybody seemed to enjoy the jumping so much. Little Russell, oblivious to the occasion and a big smile on his face, was cruising around, playing with a plastic straw and picking at the grass. Life seemed so easy, and happy, and abundant. I should have been rejoicing.

Bounce House

Instead I felt unease. Displayed in front of me, was a graphic manifestation of unconsciousness, that did not sit well with my green conscience. Prad accused me of being a party spoiler. ‘You are going overboard now. You can’t stop people. They are celebrating the happy event with their community.’ I could not disagree with the community part. It was the ‘how’ that bothered me. Before the dawn of plastic, what did people do? I asked. Wasn’t the party for Russell anyway? The contrast between Russell’s happiness with so little, and the amount of stuff that seemed necessary for everybody else to have a good time, seemed so obvious to me.

Last week, Andrew Revkin asked the DotEarth readers to ‘Imagine Everyone Was Equal In Emissions‘. What would it mean, knowing that currently the average American is producing about fifteen times as much as a person from India or Africa? It means Russell’s parents would have to live a very different life. No brand new toys, or at least not so many. No SUV. No flat screen TV running while nobody is watching. No disposable plates. Less food. Less meat. It means adopting Kyle’s ‘One Tonne Carbon Lifestyle‘, recognizing that there are indeed limits to what we can do and consume. And that such a change is not the end of the world, but instead the beginning of a new, more conscious way of living.

Twice a week now, I commute to San Francisco for a consulting assignment. Instead of driving, I take the train. Altogether, I get in my one hour of exercise, walking to and from the train station, and two hours of work in the train. Carbon emissions: minimal. Personal efficiency: maximal. This is what Kyle’s One Tonne Carbon Lifestyle is about. Can you think of one way that you can change your life that is all benefit to you, and to your environment?

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EcoMoms have made it to the front page of the New York Times. This is an impressive group of green moms, 9,000 altogether, and growing strong. A group that is representative of a very active subculture in Northern California where I live. These women are on a mission and nobody can resist them, not even their husbands or children. They fill Whole Foods‘ parking lot with their Priuses, and are not shy about voicing their newly found green convictions all over the blogosphere, as in here, and here, and here.

Reading the article, one would be tempted to think that all is well on the mommy’s front, environmentally speaking. Until reality steps in. This morning, a friendly visit to my four year old neighbor’s house turned into an anthropological tour of American consumerism at its worst. Little Rachel wanted me to blow bubbles with her, and took me to her backyard. There, sitting in the middle of her parents’ picnic table, a big plastic thing dared me with its massive plastic construction. The Iplay Outdoor Bubble Machine from Target, ‘has a large capacity bubble mix tank for high volume bubble production’ and has a five star ‘guest rating’. It can be yours for $24.99.

Are EcoMoms Taking Over?

The Iplay Outdoor Bubble Machine, unfortunately, is more representative of the reality of American moms today, than the EcoMom Alliance.

I only need to look at myself to understand why. As a mom, I have found it incredibly hard to resist the temptation of materialism, and I have documented my struggles often in this blog, as in here, and here, and here, and here. This being said, women do represent a positive force for the climate fight, as supported by all the latest research.

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We need to remember, one quarter of the American population watches this:

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Last week’s Black Friday and Buy Nothing Day, inspired me to write, ‘Finding a Sustainable Middle in a Country of Extremes‘.

Yesterday was Black Friday. Despite all my good intentions, I ended up joining the crowds at the mall. I have gotten much better at taming my consuming urges, to the point where I do not even feel the desire any more. To refuse my daughter, however, that’s another story altogether. She was so sweet, and I wanted to please her. Off we went, and ended purchasing all three items on her ‘need or rather want’ list. If I still had any remaining doubts on the extent of the challenge facing our society, the sight of all these people, happily walking from store to store, multiple shopping bags in hand, and on a mission to find more bargains, put an end to them.

Then, comes Adbusters, and its arresting Buy Nothing Day TV ad with a burping pig, calling for us to put a stop to our consuming frenzy. I did not know about Buy Nothing Day, until a few days ago. Now, it seems everywhere I turn, someone has vowed to not buy anything for a day, a week, and sometimes even as long as a year. You can make it as tough as you like, depending on your own fortitude. The Compact people are gathering momentum, and their two year old Yahoo Group of diehard non-shoppers is going strong with 8,500 members. There is also No Impact Man and his one year experiment.

From one extreme, to the other. Either you can shop till you drop dead, or you are to stop shopping, cold turkey. In both cases, I dare question the sustainability of such extreme behaviors. It is now an established realization, that we cannot keep on consuming the way we do, without jeopardizing life as we know it on this planet. What concerns me, . . .

Read more

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Black Friday, really is a black day. Andrew Revkin, from DotEarth, and Kate, one of the readers of this blog, both called my attention to a very sad case of corporate sponsorship. What’s involved? A TV ad from Adbusters promoting Buy Nothing Day:

Here is a reprint of the press release from Adbusters:

Now in its 15th year, the popular Buy Nothing Day is celebrated every November by environmentalists, social activists and concerned citizens in as many as 65 countries.

Timed to coincide with Black Friday (this year on Friday, November 23) in the United States, and the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season internationally (on Saturday, November 24), the festival takes many shapes, from relaxed family outings, to free, non-commercial street parties, to politically charged public protests. Anyone can take part provided they spend a day without spending.
Featured in recent years by the likes of CNN, USA Today, MSNBC, Wired, the BBC, The Age and the CBC, the global event has been gained mainstream momentum in recent years as the climate crisis drives people to seek out greener alternatives to unrestrained consumption.
Last week, the Adbusters Media Foundation attempted to purchase airtime from MTV for a 30-second commercial promoting Buy Nothing Day 2007. The inoffensive spot uses an animated pig to illustrate the voracious habits of the average North American consumer; it can be viewed online at Adbusters.org.
MTV Networks refused to air the spot in light of its social and environmental message, with MTV Advertising Standards representative Elisa J. Billis explaining that “The spot goes further than we are willing to accept on our channels.”

What saddens me most, is not so much MTV’s reaction, as what it symbolizes in terms of the American culture. Consumption is the engine that drives our country. Beaucoup dollars are involved, and the little pig is foraging where it shouldn’t. There are certain things in this country that cannot be questioned, and consumption is one of them. The pig is doing a good job of stirring the pot.

It is important to recognize however, that trying to fight consumption in this country, and other ‘developed countries‘ for that matter, is a lost cause. Nowhere was it more clear to me, than during my recent visit to the San Francisco Green Festival. As I suggest in ‘Green Festival or Celebration of Green Consumption?‘, a better question to ask, is how can we redirect consumption towards greener alternatives?

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It’s Thanksgiving and I am supposed to give thanks. Today is a bittersweet day. Bitter, because life at home has been hard lately. Sweet, because I have a lot to thank for, still. The green wave that spurred this blog and other planet saving adventures, is feeding my creativity, and my need to contribute in a meaningful way. And for that, I am incredibly grateful.

This first holiday of the season is also a time to reflect on the tendency I feel creeping inside, of equating celebration with spending and unbridled consumption. All the green (earth) resolutions, the new habits I have slowly taken on, are at risk of getting wiped out, in one green (dollar) slate. In my mind, ‘celebrate’ takes me to ‘give’ and ‘share’, which is all good. Where it gets derailed, is when I translate ‘give’ into, ‘spend’. I had a similar feeling last time I went on vacations to Paris with the children. In my world, ‘joyful’ does not mix with environmental restraints. Being a responsible green citizen, means work, and austerity, and who wants that, when one is on vacation, or celebrating? Yesterday, I noticed I became very careless with planning my car trips. My priorities shifted from trying to be green, to getting ready for the big event of today.

The green equilibrium I aim to achieve in my own life, is still very fragile, and has not completely taken yet. All it takes is Turkey Day, and I am thrown back to square one. Not quite, actually. One area in which I have made a sustainable change, is shopping. Last night, I watched a commercial for Target, with great dismay. Something about, ‘All stores opening at 6am, be the first one there for one exceptional day of shopping extravaganza’. Last year, I would have gone, and shopped like mad, at Target and all the other clothing stores. This time, I feel disgusted by such consumerism frenzy. Black Friday does deserve its name. The day after tomorrow is a day for morning the loss of the original Thanksgiving spirit.

Maybe today, we can set aside a few minutes to ponder the true meaning of Thanksgiving, as communicated in President George Washington’s national Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789:

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country…for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed…and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions—to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually…To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us—and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

In this day, we do have lots to thank for. Our planet is still sustaining us after all. For how long, is the question? Will we continue to consume like mad, or will we relearn to tread lightly over the earth, like Native Americans from pre-colonialism times?

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Four days. It took me four days into the Daily Footprint Project to become aware of toilet paper.

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The first three days, this most useful commodity did not make it into my list. Again, I am struck by my lack of consciousness. I so much take toilet paper for granted, that it did not even occur to me, to count it. Toilet paper, it’s a small thing.

For more discussion about toilet paper, go to No Impact Man. Collin wrote a great post on the subject, earlier this year. I particularly enjoyed the flurry of comments that ensued . . .

Daily Footprint Project
Daily Log
Day #4

Water

personal:
toilet flush 11(oops)
wash hands 4
shower  at gym 2
wash face 2
brush teeth 2
wash apple 2
mom:
communal:
rinse dishes for dishwasher
rinse veggies

Electricity/gas

personal:
computer on all day
microwave tea 2’
microwave milk 2’
electric toothbrush 4’
mom:
cook cream of wheat breakfast on stove
communal:
lights
stir fry veggies on stove

Food

personal:
tea
local organic apples
chocolate
2 slices pizza
organic milk
mom:
cream of wheat w / organic milk
communal:
veggie stir fry
wild halibut from Costco

Waste

personal:
toilet paper
mom:
communal:
vegetable scraps

Transportation

personal:
drive to doctor’s appointment 1mile
drive to gym 6 miles
mom:
communal:

Non food shopping

personal:
mom:
communal:
Note:
Prad took all the non recyclable plastics to the city recycling center special plastics bin.

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Third day of Daily Footprint Project. Six pairs of jeans. I counted. Fresh out of the dryer.

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Part of my sixteen year old daughter’s biweekly laundry. I took her laundry out of the wash earlier, and put it in the dryer. I did that as a favor to her, and also because I needed the wash machine to do my own laundry. That’s when I realized. With my awareness more turned on than usual, I started counting the jeans. Six. I make do with one jean a week.

A big part of my footprint is related to my green softness as a mom. It is hard enough navigating the treacherous path of teen parenting, without introducing some more restrictions. If I was going to be pure green, I would hassle my daughter about so many things. Turning off the lights. Limiting her laundry. Using the Energy Preferred setting for the dryer. Even better, not using the dryer at all, and start using the drying rack more. Not driving to her school, that is only half a mile away. Not dumping recyclable plastics into the garbage. Turning off her computer. Unplugging her appliances. Eating leftovers. It’s not that I don’t tell her. I just don’t follow through with the kind of consequences and incentives that might make her take me seriously.

Call me weak, but I don’t have it in me, right now. I am fighting other battles, and I am not about to take on one more. If my children were little, that would be another story. The best I can offer, is to inspire her through my example, the small changes I am making every day.

Daily Footprint Project
Daily Log
Day #3  

Water  personal:
toilet flush 12(oops)
wash hands 4
shower 1
wash face 2
brush teeth 2
rinse grapes, apples
full load wash machine
mom:
communal:
rinse salad

Electricity/gas

personal:
desk light
laptop on since 8am
laptop plugged in overnight
microwave tea 2’
microwave oatmeal
microwave
full laundry load wash machine
my load in dryer (except for towels and sheet, that went on drying rack)
electric toothbrush 3’
mom:
cook cream of wheat on stove
put Catherine’s load in dryer’
communal:
lights, appliances

Food

personal:
cup of tea with organic milk
organic oatmeal with organic whole milk
grapes
organic whole wheat bread local
organic yogurt, local
prosciutto, US brand from Virginia
apples
mom:
cream of wheat with organic milk
communal:
organic green salad
pizza carryout (4 for Halloween kids dinner)
Halloween candies for trick or treat
organic bread

Waste

personal:
mom:
lots of plastic wrappers from Ikea furniture
communal:
three newspaper wrappers
plastic bag from organic green grapes
compost from salad/veggie peelings

Transportation

personal:
mom:
wife:
communal:
½ mile late night errand to local grocery store

Non food shopping

personal:
mom:
Ikea furniture for Charlotte’s room
rug, armchair, mattress, lamp
communal:

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