Friday, December 26, 2008

Et Tu, Klean Kanteen?

Hi there! I hope everyone had a nice Christmas/Hanukkah/Thursday. My family and I had a wonderful day together, opening presents, eating too much food, watching Wall-E, and playing Monopoly.

Good times! But that's not actually what I want to write about today. Instead today, I'm going to talk a little about plastic. Or more specifically, the plastic found in the caps of Klean Kanteens.

So, as most of you know, my Klean Kanteen was stolen with the rest of my contents of my messenger bag. Which meant that last Friday, when Beth of Fake Plastic Fish and I went to Rainbow Grocery, I decided to replace it.

And that's how Beth and I found ourselve staring at a bunch of water bottles for about 15 minutes discussing the relative merits of one water bottle that had a stainless steel cap but came packaged in plastic versus another water bottle that had a plastic cap but was unpackaged.

Now, first of all, I want to clear something up. Beth says on her blog that I said that shopping with her is stressful. Now it is true that I did say that. But what I also said was, "This is why I don't shop!" It's not just Beth, it's shopping in general. Because frankly, being a non-consumer is much less stressful and guilt-inducing than staring at water bottles for fifteen minutes. I came extremely close to saying, "Screw it, I'm just going to use a glass jar." Except that, I'm sorry, I know Mr. No Impact Man uses a glass jar, but I just dont. want. to. I did the whole glass jar thing for a bit during my non-consumeristic days, and it made me feel a little like a bag lady. Also because I'm clumsy and always dropping stuff and glass, you know, breaks.

The point is, I needed a new water bottle, and the lack of a perfect option caused me to be paralyzed by indecision for fifteen minutes.

So. First off, Beth and I would like to encourage all y'all to write Klean Kanteen and ask them to not make the plastic caps their default cap. (Also it would help if Klean Kanteen didn't package the stainless steel caps in plastic, but one thing at a time.) Here's the email I wrote to Klean Kanteen:

I wanted to write to you as a loyal Klean Kanteen customer because while I
love your product, I do have a concern about your water bottles. Specifically,
that the water bottles now come with a plastic cap as the default cap. One of
the reasons that I switched to Klean Kanteen was to get away from plastic, so I
was disappointed when I learned that now Klean Kanteens all come with plastic
caps, and that if you want a stainless steel cap, you still have to purchase the
Klean Kanteen with a plastic cap and then purchase a separate stainless steel
cap. I would really love it if instead you offered two different options so that
people could choose to pay a little more for a Klean Kanteen with zero plastic,
if that's what they wanted.

Thanks for your time, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Okay, so that's my letter to Klean Kanteen, and if you want to email them, you can reach them at Klean Kanteen, 4345 Hedstrom Way, Chico, California 95973 or email them at original@kleankanteen.com.

But beyond that, there is something else I want to talk about, which is, this. There are very rarely going to be perfect choices. When Beth and I were at Rainbow Grocery, we found cocoa powder in bulk, and fair trade packaged cocoa powder. But we never found bulk fair trade cocoa powder. Similarly, my bulk food store in London sells bulk organic sugar. But it doesn't sell bulk fair trade organic sugar, so instead, I buy packaged fair trade organic sugar.

The point is, we have to make choices sometimes. And as frustrating as it is to have to choose between fair trade sugar in plastic versus plastic-free unfairly traded sugar, unfortunately that is life. So what I'm trying to say here, is, if you find yourself staring at sugar for twenty minutes, and you think you're going insane, well, you're not alone. I've been there. We've all been there. And in the end, you just need to take a deep breath, and make a choice. And then, yes, maybe talk to the grocery store manager about why they don't have fair trade sugar in bulk, or write Klean Kanteen a letter, or what have you, but, at some point you then need to let go and accept that you made the best choice you could make given the circumstances. Don't go home and beat yourself up over sugar. Or Klean Kanteens. Or cocoa powder. Because life is too short, and beating yourself up and feeling guilty doesn't do any good anyway.

Also, next time Beth and I hang out, we are definitely going to karaoke. But not because shopping with Beth is stressful so much as karaoke is just awesome.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Memery

I don't usually do many memes, but there are a couple that have seemed fun, and it's the holidays! So here's one I found at VWXYNot, and have subsequently seen many other places. You bold the things you have done, and I've put in italics the five things I rilly rilly want to do, but haven't yet.

1. Started my own blog - uh, yeah. obviously
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band- I would love to be in a band, but first I have to learn to play guitar!
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower -I'm actually not sure, but I'm going with no
6. Given more than I can afford to charity- how do you quantify more than you can afford?
7. Been to Disneyland/world
8. Climbed a mountain- Half Dome! Not a big one, but I reached the top!!
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sung a solo 
11. Bungee jumped- nope, and I have zero desire to do this
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched lightning at sea 
14. Taught myself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning - only minor food poisoning though
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty - no, I did go to the base of the statue though
18. Grown my own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train - several times in India
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitchhiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill- only once, but yeah, during the WGA strike when there was very little going on at work, I took a sick day to attend a Hillary Clinton rally. It was such an incredible experience.
24. Built a snow fort - California girl, here
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse- I saw a total solar eclipse in Turkey actually with my family and our best family friends. It was one of the awesomest vacations I've taken. 
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of my ancestors - yes, if you mean have I been to India in general. I've also been to both my mom's home state, and the city where she was born. But I've never been to my dad's home state of Gujarat, nor have I seen his birth city.
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught myself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied - sorta, though not anymore!!
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing 
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David 
41. Sung karaoke- I LOVE karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt- I think so, I've definitely been to see Old Faithful, but I was very young
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant- no but this is an awesome idea
44. Visited Africa- Egypt, Tanzania & Kenya so far
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had my portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris- I ... will have to check with my mom, but I'm pretty sure we did go to the top
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain 
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie- I have been in some not so stellar student films, yes
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business- sort of, I've independently tutored people
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies - I wasn't in the girl scouts
62. Gone whale watching 
63. Got flowers for no reason- I've gotten my fair share of flowers, but they have always been for some reason ... even if that reason was just "I love you"
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma - I used to be too scared, and now I'm not sure I weigh enough
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check- do people bounce checks anymore? Doesn't your bank just cover it and then charge you a fee for overdrawing your account?
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car- yeah, and I regret it. I should have bought a used car.
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had my picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating 
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit- sort of, I've gotten those mail-in settlements for things, and also I've been involved in a case that went to small claims court
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Ridden an elephant- In India when I was little

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Why I Blog

Today I took the train up to meet a friend. She had told me that she'd pick me up from the station, in case it rained, and the truth is, I was glad to have her pick me up, even though I know I'm now a Londoner and should be inured to a little rain. 

It turned out we needn't have worried, as it was one of those gorgeous sunny days that California is famous for. As I got off the train, I rummaged in my bag to call her, and then saw her waiting right outside of the station. We headed off to get cupcakes and tea, where we spent a couple hours talking about life, family, school, work, politics, the environment, mutual friends, and boys.

As she dropped me back to the train, she gave me a hug and told me to call her the next time I came to town. And I told her that of course, I would. Because Green Bean is now one of my good friends. A good friend who I met through blogging.

And ultimately, this is why I blog. I mean ... there are a lot of reasons why I do it. Because I am opinionated and I like spouting off. Because I like to write. But ultimately, I blog because of the human connections.

It's not just the new friends either. Okham writes about how blogging has enhanced his pre-existing friendships. I've found the same to be true. ScienceMama and I have been friends for now ... 17 years. And yet, in 17 years, I don't think we've ever been as close as we've become in the past year. And I think a large part of that is because we both blog. 

It hasn't been entirely easy keeping up with the blog since August. At times, I've struggled to juggle everything. Several times, I've felt like I was neglecting you all. I have definitely had much less time to read and comment on other people's blogs. And yet, I can't imagine my life without this blog. Without blogging. Without all of you, some who I've known for 17 years, some who I feel close to despite never having met in person. 

Thank you to all of you who have been reading my blog this past year. Thanks for having patience with me during my blogging hiatuses. Thank you for reading my sometimes rambling, sometimes silly, sometimes too long posts. I cannot emphasize enough how much my life has changed, mostly for the better, because of this blog, and because of this community. 

Thank you to all my readers, and have a wonderful holiday.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On Food and Tom Vilsack

I've spent a lot of time in the past few months pondering the whole 'food' question. Namely, how are we producing it and why, who are the losers, who are the winners, and what the hell do we do now?

Some of the things I've learnt: 

The giant grocery stores are squeezing everyone dry. Walmart and Tesco may offer low prices, but those low prices come at a very, very steep price.

The money in food comes at the value-added step. So, simply harvesting cash crops doesn't allow for much of an income. The real money is in the processing.

Famines can occur even when there is food IN THE VILLAGE if people can't pay for the food. There have even been situations in history where the food supply has been taken AWAY from a famine stricken village to a city because no one in the village could afford the food.

On the other hand, when you give food away for free, like the controversial US Food Aid program, you risk depressing local farmers' wages even further.

GM crops *might* have a place. But we need to be really careful in figuring out what that place is.

Rules governing worldwide trade forbid many third world countries from placing subsidies or tariffs on food crops, but the US is still allowed to subsidize their corn.

The food situation is extremely complex, there are no easy answers, but I do believe that the way that we're doing things now simply reinforces current power structures that keeps the first world dominant over the third world.

I don't know what we do about our damn food situation. But I do know this: we need a major change. And unfortunately our "change" president has saw fit to appoint a "more of the same" Secretary of Agriculture. 

People. I cannot repeat this enough. Just because a Democrat will be in office, doesn't mean we can take our eyes off the ball. Vilsack might be our new Sec of Ag, but that doesn't mean we have to take things lying down. As Green Bean writes, we need to constantly be pestering him and Obama both.

Because at the end of the day, what's more important than the food you eat?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Our Most Valuable Natural Resource

I have to be honest. I almost didn't contribute to this month's APLS carnival. Because, well, the topic is about how children are our most important natural resource. And, well ... I just didn't know what to say. Because, I don't have children, and I guess, more importantly, it's weird for me to talk about children being the future, when I barely feel like an adult myself most days. As I emailed Green Bean, I'm in college, for crap's sake. Guys, I'm in classes with the future. And the future? Is getting drunk and hitting on me.

I've been listening a lot to the musical Avenue Q. There's a song, in particular, that sticks to me: "I Wish I Could Go Back to College." It ends with the following lyrics: "But if I were to go back to college, Think what a loser I'd be-I'd walk through the quad, And think "Oh my God...These kids are so much younger than me."

Yeah. That's my life lately. Hanging out with people younger than me ... some of them over ten years younger than me. And it's rough sometimes. Especially when people find out how old I am. I seriously had a girl say to me, "Wow, I hope I look as good as you do when I get to be your age."

Well, gee, THANKS. As an old lady, I deeply appreciate that.

It sucks sometimes to feel older than everyone else. It's not easy spending so much time with people who don't remember the fall of the Berlin Wall because they were two. Sometimes I wonder what the hell I'm doing. Or why I'm doing this now. Sometimes I feel like I'm too old to be in school and making no money.

But then there are the days when I'm reminded that with a little bit of age comes quite a bit of wisdom. Classwork comes easier for me than it should. I can confidently express my opinion to anyone. Blogging has made me a better writer and taught me how to form a cogent argument. My years of reading Hollywood scripts have prepared me to critically analyze an academic paper. And after writing a whole damn novel, well ... let's just say a 40 page dissertation seems like a cake walk.

At those times, I realize that though I have lived a circuitous life, I wouldn't change it for the world. Because every single experience I've had has helped get me where I am today.

So you know what? Screw it. Are the children our future? Sure, but you know what? So are you. Every single one of you. I don't care if you are six or if you are 72. We are all the future. And if I can quit a job I loved, leave a city that was home, and move halfway around the world on a leap of faith, you can take a leap of faith too.

I promise you.

Are kids a valuable resource? Damn straight they are. But know what else is a valuable resource? Maybe even more valuable for those scars and stretch marks?

You.

So do it people. Live life. Every day. Reach for your dreams. Don't let the idea that you're too old stop you.

Because, know what?

You ain't.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Priceless

Tonight is my last night in London. I intended to spend the early part of the evening doing a little shopping, packing and cleaning, and then get a drink with my friend. Instead, I spent the evening: at campus security, at a police station, and searching dumpsters in London alleyways. Because my school bag got stolen. My school bag which carried no computer, nor cash, but did carry my Klean Kanteen, my notes, my external hard drive, the charger for my laptop, and ... my wallet. My wallet which contained replaceable and unimportant objects, but was itself irreplaceable. My wallet which was my father's wallet. My wallet which was my father's wallet which I have carried on my person every day since he passed away. My wallet, which at the end of the day, was just an object, lord knows, this non-consumerist has learned that at the end of the day, stuff is just stuff. And yet ...

And yet.

My wallet which is currently sitting in some dumpster in London because it was priceless to only one person on the planet.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Wherein I Weigh In on the Astyk/Monbiot Debate

Like a lot of people here, I'm sure, I found the recent Sharon Astyk-George Monbiot argument fairly fascinating, partly for the obvious reason that they're both interesting people and thinkers, and partly for the, ZOMG! George Monbiot of The Guardian is arguing with someone I've argued with! factor. That makes me like, two degrees of argumentation away from Monbiot, and when you're as argumentative and contrary as I am, that's kinda cool. So kudos to Sharon for getting the well-deserved attention and press.

Now, I'm not a published author like Sharon, nor the columnist for one of London's biggest newspapers, but I do have an opinion, a blog, and a desire to procrastinate writing an essay. So, I thought I'd spend some time discussing their discussion.

If you haven't read the discussion, you really should (here and here) but I'll summarize quickly. Basically, Monbiot favors a technological green deal, while Sharon argues that the costs for such a green deal come with “an enormous front-load of fossil fuels." Because Sharon doesn't believe we can afford, both financially and climactically, such an expenditure, she instead favors a 5 year plan of personal reduction of carbon emissions. She writes, "This is a drum I keep beating, not because I wish to undermine efforts to expand renewable energy, but because I think living in a 5 degree warmer world with wind turbines will be small, sad consolation." Monbiot believes Sharon's voluntary abstinence plan is pie-in-the-sky thinking, whereas Sharon believes Monbiot's green new deal plan is wishful thinking.

Now while I greatly admire Sharon's work, and find her to be an incredibly interesting writer, we do tend to occupy different spheres of the environmental blogosphere, so it's not particularly surprising that I disagree with her AND Monbiot. But first, let's start with where we agree. One, we all can agree that climate change is real and imminent. And we can all agree that there is a lot we don't know. Based on our limited information, Sharon posits that Monbiot's plan "has a 20% chance of success if it isn’t already too late to invest in a build out [ie a rapid investment in green technology], 0% chance of success if it is too late for a build out, but not too late to stabilize the climate at all with rapid cuts, and 0% chance if we’re already past the tipping points." She argues that her plan has a "10% chance of succes [sic] if we still have time for a build out, a 10% chance of success if we don’t have time for a build out and a 0% chance if we are past the tipping points."

And this is where I find both Monbiot's plan and Sharon's plan troubling: neither plan has a shot of working if we are, in fact, past the tipping point, whatever that is. Put it this way, I think there's a possibility, that even if we attempt Sharon's more conservative plan in terms of mitigation, we could end up with a world that is a few degrees warmer, and WITHOUT wind turbines. We are already seeing shifts in weather patterns, the ice is already melting. It is evident that global warming is not a future event; it's happening now.

The truth is the time is past for a strategy focused solely on mitigation. The focus now needs to shift to adaptation. Solutions that have a zero percent chance of success if we're past the tipping point are no longer acceptable as solutions. 

So what exactly is adaptation? To put it simply, if collapse is one side of the coin, adaptation is the flip-side. A neo-Malthusian view of society is represented by a J curve: that is human population grows and grows until we use up all our resources, and then the population collapses and gradually starts to rise again. But collapse is not pre-ordained! The flip-side to Thomas Malthus is Ester Boserup, who argued that "necessity is the mother of invention." A Boserupian view of the world suggests that we throw out the Malthusian J-curve, and replace it with an S-curve. The idea is that when resources start running low, instead of a collapse, societies figure out a way to adapt. So if oil were to run out, a society might collapse, or they might adapt by using different types of energy.

While Sharon is right that the costs for a green deal likely involve a large fossil fuel expenditure upfront, that is very likely the price we are going to have to pay to adapt. In this, I agree with Monbiot that a technological green deal is necessary.

But, once we've gotten our green deal, we don't get to slap each other on the back, and say "Job well done," because the truth is, a green deal is just the STARTING point. It is absolutely crucial that any sensible approach to climate change must focus on a reduction of human vulnerability to climate change. 

Just who is vulnerable? According to the IPCC, while all countries are vulnerable to a certain extent, the countries most at risk include the LDCs (least developed countries) as well as the small island states. The risk to small island states is fairly self-evident, but why are least developed countries so at risk? Part of the answer lies in geography: many of the LDCs are in areas where climate change will be particularly problematic: for example, Bangladesh is a flood-prone area as it is, and rising sea-levels will exacerbate those issues, while many of the drought-prone countries in Sub-Saharan Africa could suffer more critical droughts more of the time. But part of the answer is that LDCs lack the infrastructure and the financial wherewithal to reduce vulnerability. The Netherlands suffers from its own geographic problems: as a low-lying country with an incredibly high population density, you might think it was a Malthusian collapse waiting to happen, but instead The Netherlands is the poster child for adaptability. Their climate change strategy has included a $1 billion investment to retrofit their dykes. The difference between the Netherlands and some of the LDCs then is not a difference in geographic vulnerability, but a difference in SOCIAL vulnerability. The Netherlands being a rich country with a stable government has the money and the institutions to adapt, whereas Bangladesh or Malawi might not. Part of our response to climate change must involve increasing adaptational capacity in these socially vulnerable areas.

Not all adaptation will involve technological solutions. In one of the more extreme examples of adaptation, the Maldives is establishing a fund to buy a new homeland should rising sea levels render the small island unlivable. Other means of adaptation might include better response systems to floods and hurricanes (the evacuation strategy prior to Hurricane Gustav is a good example of this kind of social adaptation.)

The point is, the world is not static, nor has it ever been. Much as we might wish that things were different, much as we might wish that we could stabilize the atmosphere, and stop global warming in its tracks, most scientists now believe that even if we were to stop carbon emissions this second, we'd still see a rise in temperatures and sea levels. Thus, we MUST learn to adapt. 

For too long adaptation has been put on the back burner, because, OMG, if we teach people to adapt, then maybe people will stop trying to reduce carbon emissions. This approach is nonsensical, dangerous, and if continued, could result in a zero-sum outcome where we've neither built our adaptive capacity, nor reduced our emissions. Luckily, the IPCC is now on board with regards to adaptation, and there's a real chance that the post-Kyoto agreement will give adaptation the attention it deserves.

Sharon sees a real problem with a world that has wind turbines, but is a few degrees higher, and acts like it is fait accompli that such a world wouldn't be worth living in. But the truth is, we don't know what the future will bring. We don't know that a massive green deal would result in temperatures rising by a few degrees. But even if the temperature did rise, we don't know that human beings could not ADAPT to such a world. In any case, I think we had better try. Because the alternative is accepting that we might just be screwed. And frankly, I'm not okay with that being a possible scenario.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Fasten Your Seatbelts, And Move Your Tray Tables to the Up and Locked Position

Um, wow. December 1st? DECEMBER 1st?! WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED HERE? 

I remember in first grade, our teacher asking us what the shortest month of the year was. And I, ever the brown-noser, raised my hand anxiously to say that the shortest month of the year was February. But she called on another student who said that the shortest month of the year was November, and the teacher AGREED with her. To this day, I still find this moment from first grade utterly baffling. Except that November sped by so quickly, that maybe my teacher was right after all?

It's odd, being in school. I alternately want to cling desperately to every day in these hallowed halls of academia, or I want to get to freaking break dammit because my head can't take more learnin! 

Although, I have planned out my winter break reading, and let's just say that it's a long, long list, so if my head explodes around New Year, you'll know why.

All this to say preemptively that posting might be a little light for the next two weeks as we wrap up the term. I do have good posts coming your way ... like a review of Commonwealth when I get around to it, and oh! oh! guys!! I totally get to hear Jeffrey Sachs speak this week, so I'll be posting about that. And of course, I have a couple posts due for various carnivals, including my recommendations for the Obama administration. 

So stay tuned, check your feed reader for updates, and sit back and enjoy the ride.