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Archive for September, 2007

It’s good to confess all my eco-sins, like I do, and to explore remedial actions. It’s good, and it can only go so far. Higher up in the decision chain, are investors in corporations. These people have tremendous power to influence big business environmental decisions. They can vote with their wallets, and decide which companies get funded. Today’s New York Times has this article in the Business Section, about ‘Gas Emissions Rarely Figure in Investors Decisions’:

Corporations have become better about disclosing their greenhouse gas emissions and somewhat better about curbing them. But few investors are using that information to decide where to put their money. That was the gist of the fifth annual report of the Carbon Disclosure Project, a nonprofit group that monitors corporate disclosure related to climate change. The group, which gathers its data through surveys, represents 315 institutional investors that manage a total of $41 trillion in assets. “Large companies are finally taking their jackets off, rolling up their sleeves and examining how they use energy and otherwise deal with climate change,” said Paul Dickinson, chief executive of the project. . . But there was little agreement among companies within industries on the effect of climate change . . . More troubling to the project’s executives, though, is that few companies include climate-related data in their filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The result, the report said, is that the ramifications of climate change have not yet translated into “concrete investment decisions of any scale.”

The reports also cites the issue of the reliability of the information provided by corporations. Currently there is no independent body to verify the information provided to investors. None of this stuff is sexy, but given the tremendous power of investors to influence corporate environmental policies, it may be a good idea to legislate the whole process. First step should be that companies collect mandatory climate-related data. Second, data should be verified by independent body. Third, companies should be mandated to include climate-related data in their SEC filing.

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Waiting in line at Whole Foods checkout counter. Thoughts:

‘Shoot, I forgot the damn bags again. I have the red Trader Joe’s bag in the car. I could go get it. That probably would not be enough for all I got. Plus I am tired. Don’t feel like going back to the car. I really should. (Clerk asks me the ‘Paper or Plastic’ question). ‘Plastic. Lets try to put everything in one bag. The rest I will carry’. Not bad, at least I am limiting the damage. If I had not said anything, it would have been two extra plastic bags for each gallon of milk, and a paper bag for the soup. I give myself a B.’

This is the kind of scenario that plays in my head, over and over again. I am constantly bargaining, berating myself for not being green enough, then I try to make up, some other ways.

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The Art of Navy Showers

Navy Shower anyone? I just found this post in TreeHugger, where the writer advocates that we all take abbreviated showers, just like those guys in the Navy. There is even a method to it. And since we are in America, even the simplest things come with an instruction manual . . . You may go to Wikipedia and find complete instructions for how to take a Navy Shower. In short, you just turn the shower on, just enough to get yourself wet, turn it off, soap yourself, and then turn it back on to quickly rinse.

The Farm Showers of my grandfather

This reminds me of my days back in my grandparents’ farm, when we did not have a shower. My grandfather was the only one to take a full ‘shower’ once a week. I still remember him stripping down to his underwear, and getting into the ‘abreuvoir’, what looked like a big cement bath tub, and was really meant as a drinking station for the cattle. The sight of him almost naked in the cold morning air used to make me shiver. The ‘Farm Shower’ – I just made up that word – consisted of one bucket of cold water poured over his head, quick soaping, and rinsing with a few more buckets of cold water. The women, my grandmother, my mother, and I, were content enough with occasional hand baths, using our ‘gant de toilette’, the French version of washcloth, which literally means toilet mitten. According to American standards of hygiene, we may have been dirty, but our lives did not suffer, and the clean country air did its share to minimize our natural body odors.

I love American Showers

Fast forward fourty years. While I look back on these years on the farm with great nostalgia, I certainly do not miss those hand baths. And I regard the long, hot American showers as a hard won indulgence that I am not willing to give up. I love the gushing of water, the washing away of the impurities of the day, the warm cocoon of the shower, where for a few minutes I can let my body relax. It is my daily version of a cheap massage. A luxury I am taking for granted. Of course, I am well aware it may not last. Water is going to become the new oil, a resource so precious that people may wage wars because of it. For now, I am not hearing, or seeing anywhere in my radar screen, that I am to stop taking long, hot showers.

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My pain in the neck is trying to tell me something

These last few weeks, I have developed a real intense pain in the neck. It’s gotten to the point where I can barely function. Physical therapy, Ibuprofen, massages, nothing helps. Prad thinks I am either too tense, or working too much on the computer. He is probably right. I have been taxing myself, and my body is letting me know. What does that have to do with global warming, you may wonder?

Listening to nature

We all need to listen to nature. Whether it is listening to the feedback from one’s own body, or the unmistakable signs of the planet heating up, we better take notice. Or else we run the risk of no longer being able to function. I am bitching and moaning that my body just won’t bend to my will. I would like to believe that I am the mistress in my own house. The reality is, nature is. From the few biology classes I took, I retained a sense of awe for the intelligence of nature. Nature is the most well regulated factory I know of, with elaborate systems of checks and balances, to make sure that we do not deviate too much from the equilibrium.

The problem of selective listening

This friend of mine came over for dinner this weekend. The conversation very quickly steered towards environmental issues. She is a staunch supporter of the ‘global warming is a hoax’ theory. Her latest is a study from an MIT professor, that she will post in her business blog. “The facts, Marguerite, check the facts”. I was left, puzzled. How can my friend, who is supposedly an intelligent person, come to such conclusions? Green Guru asked her if she would still buy a beach front property? “I have no interest in that”

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Last night was Back to School night at my daughter’s high school. I got a chance to be impressed by all her teachers. Her dad and I thought of skipping the Living Skills presentation. It is not a ‘serious’ class. Not like Maths or Humanities, or Social Studies. It turns out I was very happy we went. Living Skills is the class where kids learn about ethics, and civics, and values, in addition to other important stuff like what it’s like to have a baby, how to say no to drugs, how to have safe sex, how to balance a checkbook, . . . This is a class that teaches them how to think about what it means to be a good citizen.

I am not sure what Catherine will take out of the class, but it surely made me think. Citizen is an old fashioned word, a remnant of the French revolution. Being a good citizen has never been something I cultivated consciously. I strive to be a good person, but a good citizen? ‘Instruction Civique’ was on the curriculum in my eigth grade class, back in France. My father was teaching it, and he was very bad at it. Boring . . .

What I need: Now that Robert Reich has put some new life into the word, I am looking at being a good citizen, as a moral duty of the highest order. Green citizen that is. And it strikes me that I could benefit from green living skills education. Not in the form of a lecture, but rather a structure for thinking about my role as consumer, and green citizen. And making informed choices about who I really want to be, a consumer, a green citizen, something else?

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Robert Reich’s ‘Divided Mind’

Robert Reich was the guest on NPR’s All Things Considered a few days ago. The occasion was the release of his new book, “Supercapitalism”. His point, about the divided mind of the consumer and citizen really caught my attention. We are all two people, according to him. A consumer at the mercy of capitalism, and a citizen at the service of democracy. The consumer has taken over, and the citizen is no longer doing its job. We need to reevaluate our priorities and work on strengthening our democracy.

The challenges of being a good green citizen

This whole business of consumer versus citizen takes a special significance in the current environmental battle. Robert Reich made the following argument. You may be willing to take all the steps to become a good green citizen, but how do you know that you are not going to be just one amongst a small minority? In which case, you run the risk of making all these sacrifices for nothing. In the absence of a federated effort amongst citizens, that lets you know that we are all in it together, nothing is going to change, you have very little incentive to take action. Point well taken, Mr Reich.

The power of green networks

Not too long ago, I wrote a post about the power of small acts and individual action. I even called Rosa Parks to the rescue. I was trying to convince myself that whatever I do, no matter how small, does matter. Robert Reich called my bluff. The real truth is, I am a consumer first, and something is going to have to happen at the collective level, in order for the green citizen in me to spring into real action. Maybe Karel Baloun‘s got something going after all? ‘I am Green’, his new application on Facebook is an attempt at using the power of social networks to bring together green minded folks, and inspire them to help each other become green citizens.

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My Little Sister’s teacher suggested I get her an analog watch so she can learn how to count and tell time. I had to go to Target. Of course, once there, I went straight for their new Go Designer booth. Alice Temperley’ line is really hot. I especially fell for her capri pants with the pleat in the front. I decided to get two, in different colors. Right next to the Go Designer section, was the Dominique Cohen jewelry booth. I ‘needed’ to complete my fake pearl set with the necklace. They had just received a new shipment, and I was lucky. My necklace was there, fresh out of the box. Finally I got what I had come for, the watch for my Little Sister. The whole thing was a steal, and my wallet did not feel that much lighter. Of course the whole experience did not take into account the real cost to the environment.

‘What I need’: A price tag that reflects not just the cost of producing the stuff, but also the cost to the environment, in terms of carbon footprint.

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I am a Green Girl Wannabe, an habitual green sinner, no longer looking for redemption, but solutions to help me sin less and less. My attempts to look inside have only succeeded in making more conscious. They have done little to change my natural behaviors. I am thinking of the overwhelming majority of other folks who are just like me, and the immensity of the problem. And I keep going back to the need for external controls.

From now on, for every admission of green sin, I will have a ‘What I need’ comment. Each time, I will imagine and share a type of external control that would help curb this particular behavior. Example in point. Yesterday, I was at Whole Foods, without the green bags again. That’s when it really hit me. On my own, I just can’t do it. I need something more drastic.

What I need : No more rescue with free plastic bags. Whole Foods needs to stop giving away the bags. Instead, they need to make it really inconvenient for me, and ridiculously expensive. They should only offer the green bags, the recyclable bags that cost a dollar each.

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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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Having been raised Catholic, I am no stranger to the notion of penance. I had to laugh when I read the New York Times this morning. On the front page, is an article with the headline ‘Vatican Tree Penance: Forgive Us Our CO2′. In short, the Vatican has agreed to buy carbon credits to offset all of their emissions. While I applaud this commendable effort on the part of the holy institution, I can’t help but question the whole psychology at play

‘Msgr. Melchor Sanchez de Toca Alamed, an official at the Council for Culture at the Vatican, told the Catholic News Service that buying credits was like doing penance. “One can emit less CO2 by not using heating and not driving a car, or one can do penance by intervening to offset emissions, in this case by planting trees, ” he said.

Sounds familiar to all the Catholics out there? You may sin, as long as you confess and do penance. Penance, in the context of the climate crisis problem, seems more like a cope out to me. A way of buying one’s way out of an unavoidable predicament. Sure, I could decide tomorrow that I will not try to change my lifestyle, and buy carbon credits to offset all those dirty emissions of mine. I could, I ‘ve got the money, but in my mind, that is the wrong path to take.

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