Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Changing Focus- Part One

All right guys, it's time to put your thinking caps on. I'm sorry, I DID talk about fashion and brunch for like three days. But now I gotsta wax philosophical again, yo.

Well, it's all the ever thought-provoking Chile's fault really. Because a week ago, after she announced a "Quit Your Addictions" challenge, she and her readers engaged in a really fantastic discussion about "changing the focus."

I didn't jump in the fray, because frankly, I was just enjoying soaking up the discussion. But I've been pondering the discussion for days now, and so I feel I have to come clean.

There was a time a few months ago, when trying to lead an environmentally-conscious life was killing me. Reading green blogs all the time was making me nutso. I was having nightmares about worst-case scenarios, I would watch people eating ice-cream and think, "How can people be laughing and eating ice-cream when the world is in crisis!"

In short, being green was making me miserable. (Okay, one of my best friends had just passed away so I would have been fairly unhappy either way, but I think it's fair to say that thinking about environmental catastrophes all the time wasn't helping either.)

I felt hopeless. Like here I was trying to do little lame things to "save the world," when there WAS no saving the world. Scientists agree that even if we were all to stop carbon emitting right now, global warming would still happen to some extent. There is no way to completely turn the clock back. So I'd get all upset about global warming, and then I'd happen on a site about peak oil or the food crisis or the economic crisis and how we're sliding into a depression, and pretty soon I would be a total mess.

By this point, I was seriously contemplating saying "eff it," and giving up on my personal environmentalism. Because, I'm sure you haven't noticed this (ha ha) but I have a contrary streak a mile wide. When people tell me that the world is getting worse day by day, my instinct is to be like, "Fine. Then what's even the point? Maybe I'll just turn on ALL my lights and then rent a plane and fly around the world twelve times for no reason!"

I admit it's not the most mature response, but there it is.

I don't respond well to negativity. When the focus is negative, I want to give up. I want to be a bad person. I want to stop caring.

It was especially fortuitous then that about the time I was going through this personal environmental turmoil, I decided to read Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus' book Break Through. I've already discussed the book a few times, but suffice it to say, the book turned me around. It helped me to shift focus, and made me realize that there IS hope.

But to go back to last week's discussion on Chile's blog, one comment in particular hit me very hard. Mollyjade writes:
I've been internally debating whether I should join the challenge (aspartame). And I think a good deal of my conflict has to do with this positive/negative divide. I have a chronic illness that means I won't survive if there's a massive breakdown in our infrastructure. So preparing for a world in which I have to be totally self-sufficient seems pointless because I could never live in that world.

I just can't believe that the world will deteriorate that much, because then I have little personal interest in doing anything about it. It's not logical, but it gets me through the day.
After reading Mollyjade's comment, I realized there is more at stake here. This isn't just about changing the focus because people respond to positivity better than negativity. This is about shaping our destinies, shaping our future. We owe it ourselves, and we especially owe it to the Mollyjades of the world to remember that the future is not set in stone. Is it possible that climate change and peak oil will cause a massive breakdown in infrastructure? Is it possible that competition for oil will result in a zero-sum game where a few very rich people win, while the rest of humanity loses? Is it possible that if CO2 in the atmosphere hits 400ppm "life as we know it" (whatever that means) will cease to exist? Yes, I think it is possible. BUT, BUT, that is not to say it WILL HAPPEN. We are not doomed, people, unless we resign ourselves to doom.

My friend Honda who is very wise is forever saying to me, "You can't resign yourself to two fates at once." (I think she's quoting someone, but I can't remember whom.) Well, here's the deal. We can't resign ourselves to doom AND also believe in a brighter tomorrow. If I really thought global warming was going to submerge the city of Los Angeles underwater, I couldn't ALSO be trying to improve the public transit infrastructure. But I don't believe either LA or New York are ever going to be submerged. Because I trust in human ingenuity, I trust in science, and I trust in the abilities of our engineers to do whatever it takes to keep frickin Wall Street above water.

It is tempting to feel like we have no control over the future. Like the best thing to do is to accept the inevitable environmental apocalypse, learn to be totally self-sufficient and start stocking up on guns and food.

If that is your philosophy, I understand where you are coming from. But for me personally? I can't do that. Not just because I have no desire to do it all myself, but because I know that there are many people in this world who CAN'T do it all by themselves, who can't live without civilization. And I'm not willing to resign myself to a world in which only the fit can survive.

So instead, I choose to believe that we DO have control over the future. That we can buttress our ailing infrastructures. That we can build new food systems that don't rely heavily on oil. That we can spur demand for alternative energies and invest in new technologies.

In short, I believe this crisis could lead to the creation of better systems, better technologies, and a better future for all of humanity.

Tomorrow (hopefully) Part Two: Why I'm not just wearing rose-colored glasses and how crises can bring about positive change.


Crunchy Chicken said...

"So instead, I choose to believe that we DO have control over the future. That we can buttress our ailing infrastructures. That we can build new food systems that don't rely heavily on oil. That we can spur demand for alternative energies and invest in new technologies."

I'm right there with you - I must be wearing the same rose colored glasses. And, if I'm wrong... eh, we'll deal with it.

EcoBurban said...

I have the rose colored glasses permanently suctioned to my face, I think. Our economy here in Michigan is flailing and sinking faster than the titanic. Add to that my husband's sales job in the housing industry and our family financial outlook is beyond bleak. But, we still keep truckin'!

Reading your blog, and all of the others, help me see the light at the end of the tunnel and enjoy, appreciate and savor what we do have. 4 healthy kids. A warm and comfortable home. Local, healthy and tasty food to eat. So, giving up the extras - eating out, movies, long vacations - have been replaced with homecooked meals, time spent going to the library, meeting our local farmers, planting our own pepper and bean plants with the kids and watching them grow. I actually think I am coming out ahead!!

All of this was done to better the environment and to trim our families budget to "prepare for the worst" but what we are finding is that the worst never seems to come. We are enjoying our life and appreciating what we do have. Yes, we still need to be prepared, but as we are preparing, we are creating a better life!

Anonymous said...

Even though in reality we don't (individually) have control over the greater outcome of climate change, as a self professed control freak, it's easier for me to believe we do because otherwise I would get really depressed.

It amazes me that the green movement has morphed into not only personal environmental responsibility but also a movement of personal accountability on curbing things like gluttony and greed while fostering charity and frugality. This is the sort of thing I've been looking for. Free of religious attachment but filled with moral reflection.

Anonymous said...

You are so naive, missy! But I am just as bad :)

As much as I am pessimistic about human nature, I am optimistic about our future. Stupid I know.

Horrifying things may happen - people with guns hiding behind sad-looking sheds guarding their food. It's a possibility.

But so is a better scenario.

Instead of waiting around for the first scenario to decend upon us, it is far more constructive and fun to work toward the second possibility, IMHO.

Three parts have to work together:
we need to do our part, we need to enable the government to have the right policies, and we need to promote the innovative technologies.

Having my rosy glass on, I am ready to ride into the better future.

ruchi said...

Crunchy, I have the same attitude. Human beings are flexible. If we're wrong ... eh, we'll figure it out. But I don't think we're wrong.

EBM, good for you guys for seeing the positive! It is much harder to do when your personal situation is bleak, but if you focus on the positive, I think you end up much happier.

SDG, in short we are as Green Bean put it, building our environmental "church!"

Cindy, DUDE. You totally gave away the game. All that stuff you talked about is coming in part 3 of my little series!! :) I'll elaborate on the three parts you talked about hopefully Thursday.

equa yona(Big Bear) said...

In his excellent book, Man's Search For Meaning, holocaust survivor and psychologist Viktor Frankl stated that those who survived were those who believed in something that brought hope and they clung to the hope tenaciously. keep believing.

EcoBurban said...

Hey, Arduous - remember when you were wondering about local food delivery? I think I may have found one in your area! I was doing some research for work, and well, one thing led to another and I found this! Not that I was suring the web on work time of course... :o)


Maybe it can help you with local food stuffs, delivered right to your door!

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

Off topic, but I couldn't find an email address for you. Here's a link to an article that made me think of you!

ruchi said...

EYB, that's really interesting. Thanks for sharing. :)

EBM, AWESOME! Thanks for the info. I wonder if they have local pancake mix.

CAE, really interesting article, especially because I just finished "Rubbish" by Rathje and Murphy. One of these days I'll get a review up. For future reference, my email is arduousblog [at] gmail [dot] com

maryann said...

The whole 'environmental move' started for me by learning about GMO foods and what the factory farms were doing to the food chain, it disgusted me. The more I'd learn the more disgusted I'd get. For me it was never about global warming and saving the world, but a choice of how I wanted to live, I believe in sustainable farming, I think as Americans we waste way too much. I change as much as I can if my personal life and try to compromise where I can't. I can't control anyone else's actions but I can take responsibility for my own.

Sam said...

Pancake mix? You realize its just flour, milk, and some sweetner right?

I've decided to adopt a dual view. But I admit that on most days I feel that everyone is f*cked (more so now especially b/c of an incident yesterday). And since I have zero violent tendencies (including the ability to maintain a panicked mental state for any extended period of time), I will be one of the first ones to possibly be shot dead.

When I feel a bit low, I think of the Dead Milkmen's song: Big Deal...especially "life sucks, and then you die".

I guess b/c of my inability to be angry or panicky for long periods of time, my general outlook on life is one that is positive. That sounds a bit contradictory I guess. But its that hope business you refer to.

Anonymous said...

Apology for looking into your crystal ball :) I like your deep thoughts :) Carry on. Look forward to reading part II and part III.

Anonymous said...

One of the things that gives me hope is what I like to call the American Narrative. It's pretty simple -- when we broke away from England, we did it to better the lives of a small group of elite white men with property. Eventually, we decided even non-property owning white men deserved full citizenship (i.e. voting rights). Then people of color and women got the right to vote etc....

As the U.S. developed we changed our definition of citizen to be increasingly inclusive. Although we are far from perfect we are a lot better than we were.

I feel the same way about every aspect of life (gay rights, for example). We really are doing a better job than just 30 years ago on so many things. So I figure, if we all try to do our bit...maybe even the energy/environment thing will improve. Not perfection, but better anyway.

Carry on.

Tory (my name and not a political statement)

Grad Green said...

I went to a Sierra Club meeting today, and the speaker said "the future will be different, but that gives us opportunities". I've been thinking about that since I got home, and your post ties in perfectly.

The world will probably be very different in the future because of climate change, but that does not mean that it will be bad. We will have new technologies, new ways of doing things, new kinds of jobs, new ways of thinking.

It's too easy to get bogged down thinking that we're all doomed. I like to think that's not the case.

ruchi said...

Maryann, I think personal responsibility is great, and it's definitely what I try to practice as well. I like what you say about changing as much as you can, and compromising where you can't. That's a great attitude to have!

Beany, I KNOW but dude, I am SO LAZY and you won't let me CLONE you!! ;) Okay, FINE I'll make my own pancake mix! And hey, hope works in mysterious ways, so whatever works for you is great!

Cindy, it's just because we are so of the same mind, you and me. It's like totally radical.

Tory, I agree. Gradual progress is the name of the game. Though, I just hope we can speed that progress along a little. We kinda can't afford to wait forever on this one. ;)

Grad Green, I like that. The future will be different, but it may very well be a more positive future!

Melissa said...

I think what works for me is that although I know nothing I do makes a real difference, it isn't up to just me to save the world - it actually ties in to your monthly challenge. When I give $50 to help somebody affected by a disaster across the world, it doesn't really help anybody. Even a thousand people doing it doesn't really make a noticeable difference. But a million people doing it saves lives. Especially if you have a Bill Gates type on board. I think most problems in life are like that; it's about reaching a critical mass of people who care enough to invest sufficient resources to bring about real change. That's the (admittedly cheesy) sort of thinking I have to repeat to myself every day to keep motivated to not buy a jet and fly all over the world :)

ruchi said...

Melissa, you are right. The idea is that we individuals can achieve a critical mass, that we can create a social movement that in turn can affect public policy.

Chile said...

As one who struggles not to get bogged down in depression, I try to keep some rosy tint to my glasses. Sometimes it wears off and the pessimism shows through. Hanging out with all you optimists helps get me back on track. :)

ruchi said...

Chile, I think we both need the other to provide balance. I need you to remind me to constantly challenge myself, and what I personally can achieve on my own. So you keep me on track as well. ;)

Green Bean said...

Love this post, Arduous! Really love it. We have to be positive and choose to believe this way. Losing hope gets us nowhere. BTW, I just finished Break Through and felt the same way about it. That said, my recent "vacation" pulled my rose colored glasses off for a few days so thank you for helping me get back on track.

ruchi said...

Thanks GB!