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Posts Tagged ‘No Impact Man’

I have this love hate relationship with extreme environmentalists. The freegans, the compacters, the treesitters, the slow food preachers, No Impact Man, the tiny house guy, and the no plastic gal. . . they all dare me with their tales of almost superhuman feats, and I secretly envy their resolve. That’s the hate part. More and more, though, I have come to appreciate what they bring to my not so green party. Somewhere in my brain, their extreme stories are making an impression, and providing a much needed counterpoint to the habitual scripts by which I have been taught to live. It looks like this:

Bottom line is, more extreme environmentalists are needed on the right, to bring about the balance that you, I, our whole planet need. One hundred years of industrial revolution, to be dealt with, fast. In our brains.

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Looks like No Impact Man and I, were both wrong. This whole business of declining happiness past a certain level of consumption, may be a fallacy after all. Chrystia Freeland, from the Financial Times just featured a forthcoming research paper by two bright and up-coming economists from the Wharton School. According to Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson, the Easterlin Paradox does not exist. It is not true that there is a limit to how much happiness money can buy.:

They conclude that we do, in fact, become happier overall as our country becomes richer. This is true over time – as generations get richer they get happier; and over space – people living in rich countries are happier than people in poor countries. They also refute the concept of a “satiation point” or the belief that, beyond a certain income threshold, further increases in national wealth cease to increase national happiness.

Controversy is brewing on the happiness front . . . So I need to ask you a personal question. Is there a point at which you have felt- or think you will feel – satiated with material things? I know I have ceased to get pleasure from buying and owning more stuff. But that’s a recent phenomenon. Will it stand the test of time?

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A few months ago, No Impact Man drew a graph showing his interpretation of the connection between quality of life and consumption.

Global Give and Take for a Happier Planet

 

 

Yesterday’s pictures of the Cuban people eagerly snapping up electronics in the stores, made me think of how the No Impact Man‘s graph can be applied not just on a personal, but also a country level. Cubans want in on the consumerist orgy, and we cannot deny them that right, even in the face of the looming global warming threat. Just as we can’t prevent the Chinese or the Indians. Similarly, some of the poorest developing countries in Africa are lacking even the most basic necessities, and yearning for material goods to improve their lives. All are on the left side of the curve. Our job as good neighbors should be to help them get what they want and need, so that they can catch up to us and reach the apex.

Maybe we should listen to James Speth, author of “The Bridge at the End of the World” as he suggests that “We need a new story”? What he means by that, is we, the Western folks, are on the right side of the curve, where more things not only do not make us happier, but instead lead us to become more and more dissatisfied with our lives. At some point, we have to stop and ask ourselves, how can I lead my life differently so that I am more ful-filled, not ‘fake-filled’? New happiness research shows that we are happiest when we give, not when we take. Place this in the context of the people on the left side of the curve, and you can connect the dots.

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How to Save the Planet in Five Easy Paragraphs‘. Now, that’s one catchy headline. No Impact Man‘s done it again. He got me hooked and reading his post, and all the comments below. Could it be that the answer to our big problem, lie in five easy paragraphs? I was hoping. It turns out, it is not so simple. Global warming is a big monster with many heads, all of which need to be dealt with, at the same time. No matter how we look at it, there is lots of work involved, for all parties involved. Scientists need to work like mad to develop groundbreaking technologies, many of them. Businesses need to market the right products. Governments at all levels need to set in place courageous policies. Influencers need to continue spreading the good word. And citizens need to take personal responsibility for their action, and stop consuming like there is no tomorrow. Because of the number of actors and roles involved, the complexity can become mind boggling. And my fantasy of a Super Green Conductor, that we could just follow blindly, has yet to materialize.

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After reading No Impact Man‘s post on ‘Happier People, Happier Planet’, it struck me that we may, almost always, know what we want, but very rarely, do we know what we need. Like any good parent, the job of government is to give its citizens what they need, not what they want. And to withstand the unpleasantness of an angry welcome from the populace, at first. To do that requires courage, vision, and strength.

What we want, is to keep on going with our consumerist lifestyle, and not make any sacrifices. What we need, is a whole new set of values, and habits. I know that for a fact. Six months of soul searching have led me to the humbling realization of my inability to make changes on my own. I also know, I would be most grateful, if the powers in charge would take over. Local government is a critical link in the chain towards a greener planet.

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The ‘Monster’ problem

Global warming feels like a monster without a head. A monster with a life of its own. A monster so big that it can never be grasped in its totality. My Cartesian mind does not like it. It wants a clearly defined problem with some definite answers. Instead, it finds opinions, arguments, and a myriad of answers to even the simplest questions. There are literally hundreds of environmental organizations, each with their own version of the “Inconvenient Truth”. In the blogosphere, I found more than four thousand blogs under the environmental blogs category. There are the heroes like No Impact Man, the business bloggers looking to clean tech as the next gold rush, the scientists spilling out their truths, the green mommies exchanging their latest green tips, the political activists lobbying for their favorite candidate, . . . the list is endless. And then there are all the folks in the middle, the Green Wannabes like me, trying to make sense of that cacophony.

I need a reassuring parent

My heart is equally disconcerted. Mention the word ‘global warming’, and all these feelings bubble up. First, there is fear. Whenever I try to pin down the fear, it resists all my attempts. My fear is as big as the monster, and as elusive. Like jello, it slips away, and the more I try to get a hold of it, the messier it gets. Never far away from fear, is the feeling of being overwhelmed, and powerless. I feel so little. And the word global feels so big, and so not something that a single person can wrestle with. I am brought back to the times when my parents looked like giants and I could not say much. I also don’t like chaos, and unpredictability. Someone’s got to come, Al maybe, who can take charge, take care of the monster problem. I want a leader I can trust, who can reassure me that things will be ok. I want an action plan. I want to be told, this is what is going to be done, and this is what you need to do. And it is all going to work out. No ifs, no buts. Clear laws. Like speed limits, or the no smoking law. Right now, I do not feel anybody is in charge. Nobody is.

Shrinking the monster down to small steps

I hold all these thoughts, and these feelings, and I remember what I learned to say as a therapist, to patients in recovery. “When you are feeling overwhelmed, do not try to do everything at once. You can’t. Instead think small steps. Think about the one thing you can do today, and do it”. What is the one thing I can do today? Besides writing this post. I need to think hard, as there are so many options. The temptation to think large is a trap I need to avoid. The monster is big, I feel I want to grasp as much as possible at once. When that fails, I end up doing nothing. I have been meaning to get involved in the local ‘Vote for Al Gore’ campaign. Maybe now is the time to be more aggressive about it, and to email Chris, the local leader, one more time.

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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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We are all doomed
‘Dont’ bother with trying to save the world, we are all doomed’. Prad called from Honolulu. He had just been talking to his friend Stefan. Stefan Moisyadi, a gene therapy researcher and molecular biologist at University of Hawaii is one of those awesome minds, who truly understand the world of microbs. According to him, ‘the ball has already started rolling down the hill, and cannot be stopped’. I missed half of Prad’s explanation, as I was trying to navigate my cart through the busy aisles at Whole Foods. Still, it sounded alarmist enough, that I started imagining the worst.

What is the tipping point?
Next, I went into crisis resolution mode. Suppose Stefan was right, and we were in a state of immediate world emergency, would I do anything different? A more interesting scenario is, to imagine if we only had a year left to reverse the catastrophic trend. Or two years, three years? The fear would be so great that I would have no choice but act, really do it. I wonder what is the tipping point, the window, at which point, we start forgetting, and living as if we still have the luxury of time? Clearly, that tipping point needs to be brought closer, for global change to truly take place.

The need for clarity
A big issue is our lack of knowledge. We know we are in for trouble, but we do not know yet for sure how soon, and to what extent. There has been a lot of discussions lately about the mathematic models that are being used to predict the outcome. My main take away is all of them fail to take into account factors yet unknown to us. The scientists are constantly discovering new parameters, new catalysts, and new interactions with the potential of altering predictions dramatically. Global warming is still too vague of a threat, both in terms of distance, and time. I need more clarity and definite answers.

The power of No Impact Man
If I we were wiser, we would all behave according to the worst case scenario, just in case. Instead we have chosen to hang on to the tiny thread of possibility that our collective doom is still far away. And we want to believe that small steps, if at all, are all that’s needed at the moment. Intellectually, I know this to be the wrong path. From looking at me, and how I live my life, you would not know that I know. I still take airplanes, I still drive my car, I still shop, I still consume quite a bit of electricity, I still generate more garbage than I really need, . . . There lies the power of No Impact Man.

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The opening sentence in this week’s Economist article on Drawing lines in melting ice caught my attention. It confirmed something I kind of already knew, ‘the Arctic has been a fashionable destination this summer’. Some members in my extended family went, and so did my friend Luc. Traveling to the Arctic has become the ultimate green chic, more than buying the latest Hybrid, more than building a totally green house. It is something to talk about at parties, and an experience only the very privileged can afford. If I had the money, I would probably consider it, never mind all the emissions from all the flying and buying the polar accoutrements for the trip. It is just so cool!

The same is at work when I go crazy for Target’s latest designer. Everyday, I go to the mailbox, looking for my Dominique Cohen jewelry shipment. It’s called fashion, and it is very, very powerful. Fashion has the amazing ability to change people’s perceptions and behaviors overnight. I remember as a child growing up, being so embarrassed by my parents’ lifestyle choices for our family. In the small town where we lived, we were the only vegetarians. How much I resented not being like the other meat eating kids in my school! I thought my father was a freak for having such unorthodox ideas. Years later, in California where I live, being a vegetarian is a statement of ultimate green coolness, and one of the ways that teenagers choose to affirm their independence.

I think about the lifestyle choices I need to make to become a truly green girl, the three R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – , the small acts in the privacy of my home, the not shopping bit, the driving less, the changing the light bulbs to CFB’s, . . . I think of all those things, and what strikes me is how unglamorous, how invisible they all are. Not to minimize No Impact Man‘s feat, my sense is it would probably be a lot harder, if not impossible, for him and his family to deliver on their promise, if they did not benefit from all the attention from the blogosphere, the movie in the making, and the book to come. For the commoner that I am, there are none of these immediate external rewards, only the satisfaction of a guilt-free green conscience. And that is not enough.

The challenge I see, is how to turn fashion on its head, and use it to our advantage? There can only be one No Impact Man. How can we each capture a bit of that same green glory, and claim it as our own?

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I am in an introspective mood today. Where does the restlessness I feel come from? My body says it lies within the pit of my stomach. Something does not agree with me, and I can’t quite tell. This is a familiar feeling. I wish I could be more content, more often, with just the way things are. Instead, I suffer from a vague malaise, a diffuse state of anxiety that makes all my talks about consciousness irrelevant. In the whole wide world, I am part of that infinite minority, lucky enough to have beautiful children, a loving husband, a creative life, no financial or health worries, good friends, more material possessions than most, an an environment to die for. So, what’s wrong with this picture?

As I go inside, I quickly come up with an answer. I am not happy with what I have. I am constantly looking for what I do not have. Hence the quest, the fear, the worries, the restlessness. One easy way I know to give myself a rest, is through a flurry of activities, and through exercise. Each day, I look forward to my time in the water, becoming one with the element, feeling the bag of knots dissipate with the stretch from each swim stroke. Shopping is another form of therapy, although not as satisfying as swimming. I don’t like it, I wish I could do away with it. Last, there is work. I can get lost in work, losing track of time, and even basic necessities such as eating, drinking, and bathroom breaks. Fortunately, I have Prad and the children to give me a sense of much needed balance

You may wonder, what is the connection with green-ness? I am realizing, once more, that this state of wanting, has everything to do with the current global crisis. If I, and all the other disenfranchised souls in the world, were able to stop wanting things, we could cut down our consumption by the trillions. Those dollars could be spent instead on products and services in the service of the planet, and ourselves ultimately. The climate crisis, is more than just a natural phenomenon, it is a spiritual emergency, a cry for more consciousness on a global scale. This is where today’s post from No Impact Man takes all its significance.

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