Posts Tagged ‘environmentalism’

The following is a reprint from comment I left on Huffington Post this morning, in response to their call out to bloggers for some input on future of their Green section. By the way, thanks Nadine, and Ian at NRDC blog for your kind comments about La Marguerite blog.


There are three very important aspects of blogging that I would like to bring up in this discussion:

First, is blogging as a vehicle for the building of a vibrant community of passionate people. This has been the most rewarding part of my involvement with La Marguerite blog. In order for it to work, your team needs to play the role of moderators, responding to, and connecting all the folks that honor you with their visit. Most of the major green blogs follow the old model of blogging as just writing, and interact very little with their readers.

Second, is blogging as a channel for problem solving and activism. Sooner or later, just talking about things cease to be sufficient. One natural progression is for clusters of people to want to take it further, and start implementing solutions discussed in the blog. This is happening on my blog, where several groups of readers have spun off into offline discussions, leading to several green initiatives. What I would like to suggest, is that you incorporate a more formal structure for such initiatives.

Third, you may be interested in Mark Klein‘s Collaboratorium initiative at MIT, regarding new ways to structure blogging discussions, so that they become more productive. For more on this, I invite you to read post I wrote a while ago, including discussion with Mark Klein‘s comment towards end of the thread: https://lamarguerite.wordpress.com/2008/04/29/mit-collaboratorium-wants-to-organize-the-climate-change-debate/

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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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Thanks, Drew Dellinger for lending your poetic talents to the climate cause:

Nadine, when shall we see you on You Tube?

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On this Super Tuesday morning, I woke up wondering about the Obama phemomenon. What is ‘it’ about him that so enthuses me, and so many of my fellow Americans? ‘It’ has to do with the heart, and the imagination, and the soul, and yes, love also. ‘It’ has been cruelly absent from American politics for many, many years. ‘It’ was very much a part of the identities of John Kennedy, and Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King. ‘It’ belongs to the feminine realm. Oprah did not use the f-word in her LA Rally speech, but I am pretty sure that’s what she meant:

The fact that ‘it’, is absent from Hillary’s package, must be confusing for all the women yearning for a ‘she’ presence. The 100 New York feminist icons, who signed a petition to endorse Obama understand the difference. Same with Maria Shriver, and Caroline Kennedy, and Joan Baez. The feminine is a human value that transcends race, age, gender, occupation, and all the ways that one likes to classify humans. When ‘it’ is present, community, belonging, and harmony are restored. Which brings me to my next point.

In my mind, global warming is the symptom of a much deeper unrest. Nature’s way of telling us that we have gone too far with our dehumanized way of living. This morning the Associated Press released findings from a Nature Conservancy study on ‘Nature Giving Way To Virtual Reality’:

As people spend more time communing with their televisions and computers, the impact is not just on their health, researchers say. Less time spent outdoors means less contact with nature and, eventually, less interest in conservation and parks.

Camping, fishing and per capita visits to parks are all declining in a shift away from nature-based recreation, researchers report in Monday’s online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Declining nature participation has crucial implications for current conservation efforts,” wrote co-authors Oliver R. W. Pergams and Patricia A. Zaradic. “We think it probable than any major decline in the value placed on natural areas and experiences will greatly reduce the value people place on biodiversity conservation.”

“The replacement of vigorous outdoor activities by sedentary, indoor videophilia has far-reaching consequences for physical and mental health, especially in children,” Pergams said in a statement. “Videophilia has been shown to be a cause of obesity, lack of socialization, attention disorders and poor academic performance.”

By studying visits to national and state park and the issuance of hunting and fishing licenses the researchers documented declines of between 18 percent and 25 percent in various types of outdoor recreation.

This is no small matter. When people stop relating to each other, and with nature, relatedness and belonging, those two hallmarks of the feminine, start to break down and to create a vacuum. What happens next? Trash on top of Mount Everest, disrespect for nature, excessive focus on the I, at the expense of others, emptiness that no amount of goods can ever fill, logging of entire forests, covering of the earth with vast expenses of concrete, the illusion of man as ruler of the Earth, and last failure to listen to unmistakable signs that the Earth is heating too much, too fast.

There are signs of the feminine making its way back, though. The overwhelming response of the crowds to Obama is one. Let us see tonight, if they really meant it.

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Last night, Prad and I attended a fascinating presentation on the theme of ‘A Scoop in Time: Global Warming and the Press‘. Organized by E2, the event gathered a panel of environmental journalist luminaries, including Felicity Barringer from the New York Times, Chip Giller from Grist, and Peter Waldman, a recent export from the Wall Street Journal and now at Portfolio magazine. This was a timely talk given some of the discussions I have been participating in lately on DotEarth, the New York Times‘ environmental blog led by Andrew Revkin.

My main take away from the discussion were the difficulties facing journalists trying to report on the topic. The first point made by Felicity Barringer was the lack of immediacy of global warming. As Chip Giller put it, the thing oozes over time. Since the press thrives on news, this in itself makes it very hard to break global warming stories. There is also a lack of personal relevance. On the list of priorities in people’s mind, global warming comes way behind the economy, health care and immigration. This makes it hard for environmental writers to compete with writers from other desks, when the editor needs to decide which stories are going to make it in. Peter Waldman brought up the systemic nature of the problem, and the lack of easily identifiable perpetrator, as another source of relative low newsworthiness. All three of these hurdles are inherent to the topic of global warming.

The panelists confirmed some of the earlier research I discussed earlier in this blog, particularly Daniel Gilbert‘s theory, that stresses the need for the threat to have a human face, and be present and immediate, in order for it to trigger a human response. There is also Michael Oppenheimer‘s research on the need to make global warming as personally relevant as possible. According to Chip Giller, part of the reason Grist has been so successful has been their strategy of engaging their readers around friendly topics such as fashion, recycling, or practical green tips. All panelists agreed that the environmentalist movement has failed at rallying the public, largely because of its inability to meet people’s mindsets.

To this, I would like to add Maslow‘s hierarchy of needs. If I am worried about the recession and engulfed by a fear of losing my job, and of having no health care, I am going to naturally gravitate towards stories that address those immediate concerns, not news about ice melting in the Arctic, and possible flooding five, ten years from now. I am going to look for clues in the news that can answer my present needs for personal safety.

Last, Peter Waldman talked at length about the unrepairable damage from extensive misinformation campaigns over the last ten years. That the media are just now starting to come around to agree on the reality of climate change, cannot undo the negative effect misinformation has had on the public conscience and consequently, environmental U.S. policy.

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What a relief to know that I am not alone, in my struggle with green marital bliss! Yesterday, Prad – my husband, otherwise known as Green Guru in a series of earlier posts – half jokingly suggested that I read Green with Worry, an article in the February issue of San Francisco Magazine. Here for your entertainment, are a few excerpts:

‘Lisa Behrens, a Berkeley mother, feels so torn about the extravagance of the nightly baths she needs to help her get to sleep that she’s started reusing her daughter’s bathwater. “It sounds gross, but she’s pretty clean,” Behrens says. Then, when Behrens is done, sometimes she fills up plastic milk containers with the dirty water and dumps it in the garden. Her husband has no idea about any of this. “When I ask him not to drain her tub, he doesn’t ask why.” The truth is, on the spectrum of eco-worry, most of us are probably closer to Behrens’ mate—not blissfully oblivious, exactly, and not in total denial, but not consumed with guilt or fear, either. Ironically, Behrens’ husband is a longtime environmental professional. “I think he knows one plastic soda bottle isn’t going to change the world,” she says.’

‘“It might start with an awareness of what’s going into your baby’s mouth, or the cost of gas, or that your husband is taking half-hour showers,” says Santa Barbara–based therapist Linda Buzzell. Some individuals and couples don’t even understand the true source of their edginess and conflict. “They might come in complaining about their sex lives,” says Point Reyes therapist Lesley Osman, only to discover that the underlying problem is “basic differences in how they approach this stuff.”’

‘Typical eco-worriers turn the blame inward—at our loved ones and ourselves. Take me, for example. At home, I refuse to buy chocolate candy, since traditional cocoa bean farming is environmentally destructive. “You’ve taken the joy out of Almond Joy,” my husband, Steve, mopes. He and my 10-year-old son, Sam, have also been complaining that their shirts, which I’ve begun air-drying, are scratchy. “This may be good for the environment,” says Steve—who, for some reason, isn’t constantly in a blind panic that the world is ending—“but I feel like you’re making us wear hairshirts.” “Hmph,” I think. “That’s the least they can do for the planet. Considering that Steve is a Diet Coke–drinking, “qui sera, sera” sort of guy, he takes it pretty well. He hardly grumbled when I replaced our plastic containers with glass, or when my efforts to save energy by turning off major appliances at night meant our TiVo didn’t record a month’s worth of shows. The couch has been more of a strain on our relationship, but I’m sure we’ll get through it. There’s a hole in our family room where a sofa used to be. Every time Sam, who has asthma, sat on it, he began to cough and wheeze. I Googled toxic and couch and found out more than even I wanted to: about the foam made from carcinogenic petrochemicals; the glues, paints, and Scotchgard with ingredients that also cause cancer; and neuro- and endocrine disruptors, whatever those are. After a few months of living with Sam’s reactions and my growing dismay, I called the store downtown, which took the couch back. We have no place to sit and watch television, but maybe that’s better. We won’t be using all that carbon with our terrible big-screen TV.’

‘For Elaine Hayes, an East Bay mother of two, trying to be so good all the time has left her not just joyless, but paralyzed and mentally exhausted. She and her husband, John, built a “green” house in 2006, but their eco-vigilance hardly stops there. There’s the question of what to have for dinner: Her husband is a vegan, and Elaine tries to avoid red meat, but at the fish counter, she says, “I cannot keep up with what fish is OK to eat, between the safe farming practices and the mercury.” She checks every label for GMO, soy, lecithin, and any added corn, soy, or canola oil. “This is on top of all the other things we check for: organic ingredients, no corn syrup, trans fats, high sugar content, overly processed wheat instead of whole grain, eggs laid from free and happy hens, chickens who were free-range and well fed during their short little lives.” She washes every plastic bag. “But then I wonder about the germs that don’t get washed out, and if I am sickening my family. I have secretly been known to rip holes in the bags, just to have an excuse to throw them out.” Sometimes she even runs the dishwasher when it’s not totally full. “I just say, ‘Fuck it,’ and I feel guilty and defiant at the same time. How sick is that, and who am I really defying?” Meanwhile, Hayes still hasn’t been able to create the home office she wants. “My desk is a mess, with piles of things I would like to put on a bulletin board, but the glues in regular bulletin boards are too toxic. I also am sitting on a crappy, really uncomfortable chair at my desk, which deters me from doing any long-term projects, because I need to find a nontoxic, environmentally friendly desk chair.” Underneath the lethargy, Hayes’s resentment is palpable—not directed at the corporate evildoers who pour their poisons into innocent, unsuspecting furniture, but at her husband. As hard as Hayes tries to limit her footprint on the planet, he wants her to tread even more softly. “He represents the whole movement in his dogmatic practices. He’ll silently change all the bulbs in the house, so when I go to turn on the light, which used to give a beautiful and pleasant glow, I am accosted by fluorescent lights’ weak and hideous green glow. It is enough to make me scream.” It also makes her feel more guilty—as if she needed that. “I feel like a spoiled, indulgent, and superficial energy hog because I just want my incandescent bulb.”

At this point in the vignettes, I have to slip in this video of Laurie David, the producer of Al Gore‘s documentary, ‘An Inconvenient Truth‘:

In case you don’t know it already, there has been some changes in the David household, since this video was filmed last year. Yes, that’s right, Laurie and David split up. It’s hard to tell whether Laurie’s eco-activism on the home front had anything to do with the breakup. When asked about his post-divorce life, Larry David did say: “I went home and turned all the lights on!”

To prevent such an unfortunate turn of events, maybe we would all do well to listen to Tokuda:

‘When she recently remarried, Tokuda and her groom went so far as to pledge tolerance and forgiveness for any enviro-obsessed behavior. “When I met John, he didn’t recycle,” Tokuda says. In the ceremony, she vowed “to love you even if you don’t recycle plastic bottles.” John, in turn, vowed “to love you even if you go in the garbage and pull out plastic bottles.”’

Does this sound familiar to any of you? How do you navigate green differences with your mate?

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