Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Does Earth Day Matter?

I suppose when you are carnival host, you are really not supposed to wait until the last minute to post. But it's a tough question. I mean, okay, okay, I know, I SET the damn question!!

But still.

Because here's the honest truth. I don't know.

I don't know if Earth Day matters. I don't know if anything matters, really. Seven months into academia and I don't know that I know anything anymore.

It's ... I've had a difficult time blogging these past few months. And it's not exactly the time commitment which everyone warned me about. It's more that ... I've felt like I've changed somehow. I've been less than optimistic more often. I've been less convinced that one's personal life choices can make a difference. At the same time, I'm not really trusting that governments are committed to dealing with the crises we face. I've felt sort of ... well, lost really.

At the same time, I feel like I've been shouldering this heavy, burdensome guilt. You see, ever since I started school, I've been letting old bad habits slip back into my life. Like, for instance, buying pre-packaged meals. Or not always bringing my thermos with me when I want a tea. Or buying candy from the vending machine. And I feel horrible and guilty and all, and yet, I also am not really working hard to mend my bad habits. Instead, I excuse my way in one form or the other (I'm at school! I don't have a desk or a microwave! It's hard to bring my own lunch!! or if I'm a cranky mood, Oh, what does it matter anyway if I use a damn disposable cup. We're all headed to Camp TEOTWAWKI anyway.)

This makes me feel like a fraud to you, my blog readers. Because really, what business do I, who knows nothing about anything, who does not know what to believe anymore, and who doesn't even always bring her own stupid thermos even though it is really so simple and everyone should do it, what business do I have to write a blog that purports to be about environmental issues? What right do I have to pretend to be some role model? What right do I have to claim to be an environmentalist?

Of course, the ironic thing is that my carbon footprint is lower than it has been in years for one very simple reason: I no longer drive.

And this brings me to the whole, "Is Earth Day relevant?" thing. Because here's the thing. When I was in LA, I worked my freaking ASS off to lower my carbon footprint, and even then, I could never get my transport allowance down that far. I think the best I did was something like 35% of the average American's. Here in London, I can try not at all, and I'll still come out with flying colors because it's just so much easier to live lightly in London.

We can try to reduce our emissions wherever we are, and we should, but the truth is that without bigger infrastructure changes, some people will have a much more difficult time than others. It is reasonable to ask Londoners to walk and bike more. It is not reasonable to ask the typical Angeleno to walk two miles to the subway, and then take a subway to a bus to work, thus tripling their commute time. Yes, that might be what I did in LA, but I don't think it's particularly fair to expect that level of commitment from all Angelenos. Individual reductions are important, but we can't really expect people to change their practices without reforming our institutions. Without making it easier to change.

So yes, Earth Day is important. Yes, you should, I should, we should all bring our thermos with us. We should say no to plastic bags and we should walk more and drive less. We should try to eat more fruits and vegetables, and try and buy them organic and local.


We're going to run into walls ... many of us have already run into walls, if social institutions are not reformed, if we cannot build better cities, if we cannot change public policies, if we cannot reform our governments. I mean, here I am worrying about disposable cups, what about all the money I paid in taxes that went to fund wars that are, among their many faults, fairly carbon intensive? My share of the war in Iraq probably more than outdoes any good I have done in the world by buying my pasta in bulk.

Does Earth Day matter? I don't know. But, I am reminded of what Lord Stern said today when he was asked why he was optimistic. He asked pointedly, what the alternative was.

For me, what is the alternative to buying my sodding bulk pasta, and being better about my reusable mug, and hoping that by coming together with all of you, by writing, by communicating, and by living life in the pursuit of a better world, we will create that better world?

So, really, I don't know if Earth Day matters or not in the grand scheme of things. But what's the alternative? Maybe, instead of fretting about Earth Day and whether it really matters, I should just make it a day that is important for ME.

So, I will celebrate my Earth Day in recognition that I am fallible, but that I can do better. I will remind myself to stay optimistic, because, like Lord Stern I am familiar with the alternative and it's kinda the suck.

And I'm going to wash my damn reusable mug so that I can take it with me to campus tomorrow.

Happy Earth Day, everyone. We may not know what the future will hold, but I know that I'll get by with a little help from my blog friends.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Parlez vous hippie?

Right ... I guess I'm back. If I HAVE to. Sigh. Today has been one of those annoying days filled with responding to emails and setting up meetings, sending out resumes, and putting things in my Outlook calendar. And at some point I will have to go grocery shopping and return my overdue library book. And then of course, I will finally have to get down to the business of writing my essays and beginning preparation for exams.

But, anyway, Europe!! Was awesome. I loved it and wish to move to France post haste and eat crepes with Nutella all day long.

However, there was one dark note to the trip, and by dark note I mean incredibly embarrassing for me, but probably more amusing for you.

On the train from Brussels to Paris I was interrogated by French customs officials who must have suspected that my innocent looks belied a true identity as a drug dealer ... or else they were reverse discriminating against people who actually speak French for ease of interrogation. Or something.

So, one of them asked me question after question while the other two ransacked my luggage (and seriously, if you are going to go through someone's suitcase, isn't it just polite not to pull things out, and then shove them back in? Shouldn't you make some attempt to fold stuff up a little nicely?)

I was mostly paying attention to my interrogator as my French, while passable, is not brilliant. Until I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the ransackers had pulled out my diva cup that I had wrapped in some tissue paper to dry .

"Oh ... crap," I thought as the two ransackers looked at the cup suspiciously, peeling back tissue paper layers to see what was inside. "How am I going to explain what the hell a DIVA CUP is in
French?" I had a feeling that "tasse de Diva" was really not going to cut it.

"C'est un produit feminine," I stammered, cheeks flushing, wishing they would just leave it the frack aside.

"Ah," they said to each other, but this did not stop them from their inspection. I suddenly wondered if I would be asked to explain exactly how this "produit feminine" worked, which, you all know that I have no shame discussing on the internets, but would really prefer not to explain to three French cutoms officials for various reasons I'm sure you'll understand, the least of which is that I really don't know enough of the relevant French. Some how, the word 'carcinogenic' appeared on my French 5 exam, but not 'hippie menstruation device.' Guess how many times I've had to use the word carcinogenic in French?

In the end, they decided that there were no drugs in my diva cup and put it back and the interrogation ended. "Vous parlez bien francais," they told me.

"Merci," I said gladly escaping to my seat. Luckily the remainder of my journey passed without incident. I never knew that traveling while being a hippie could be such a danger.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Calling all APLS

So the deadline for the APLS carnival is April 20th. Obviously I'm on vacation and haven't written my post yet. So I'm extending the deadline. Get it in by April 22nd by 10 am Pacific Time to be included in the carnival.


Here's the topic information again:

Is Earth Day relevant?
As Earth Day approaches, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I feel like it's good to have one day a year where the focus is on the environment. Earth Day may build awareness in people, and it might give some people enough pause to significantly alter their lives. On the other hand, shouldn't every day be Earth Day? Many argue that Earth Day allows people to feel good about recycling their aluminum cans, driving their Toyota Prius, and bringing their own bags, when the truth is those actions barely scrape the surface in terms of what might be necessary to combat the forthcoming environmental crises. What do you think?
To participate, submit links to your posts to aplscarnival [at] gmail [dot] com

Monday, April 6, 2009

Blog Vacation

I'm taking a vacation, practicing my French, and eating crepes by the Seine.

I'll be back on the 20th ... probably. ;)

But if you miss me I will have fresh posts over at Just Means for the next two weeks. So check me out there.

Au revoir!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Today I Work

So far it's 3:00pm, and I've done laundry, conducted two interviews for my dissertation, gone to the post office, and almost completed my taxes.

Working hard, but soon I will be here. And here.

I can't wait!

P.S. More ways to reduce your plastic consumption here.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Should We Be In The Business Of Changing People's Minds?

I honestly am not sure.

I'm not a big fan of proselytizing, in general. I dislike smug environmentalists, and I try not to be a Judgey McJudgerson. I am all too aware of my own failings as both an environmentalist and a human being. (To wit, at this moment, I am sitting with my back against the radiator, not because I need the heat per se, but because it's loosening the knots in my back.)

This is why I like to participate in other people's challenges, but I've only ever issued one small challenge. I'm just not comfortable with that stuff. My general philosophy is kind of: I do what I'm doing for me, and if others follow, they follow. If they don't, they don't.

On the other hand, I do have a blog. So obviously I'm not just quietly sitting in my room eating my sad organic apple and spinach salad. I guess the thing is, I really don't know.

I write this all because of a conversation Melinda and I had recently. She was voicing her frustration at all the people who didn't participate in Earth Hour, and talked about how she sometimes feels isolated by trying to live an environmentally conscious life when so many people around her don't seem to care about the environment at all.

I argued that just because people might not be concerned about reducing their individual footprint, that doesn't mean they don't care about the environment. It might mean that they don't think individual actions don't matter, and that ultimately we have to allow and accept a multiplicity of views on the matter.

Melinda contended that of the people who are not concerned about reducing their footprint, those who actually care about the environment, but simply don't think individual actions matter are probably a small minority. That we don't have time to waste, and while we should respect people's varied opinions, we shouldn't ACCEPT them. We need to work to change their minds.

Who's right in this little debate?

I don't know.

I actually think the percent of people who don't think individual actions matter is much larger, but who knows. Polls on climate change are notoriously topsy turvy, and you'll see one poll arguing that Americans really care about climate change! Followed by another poll stating that Americans doubt global warming is happening!!

And Melinda's right about us running out of time. Maybe we don't have time to deal with dissenters.

Except ... that feels ... wrong somehow.

I don't know. Maybe I'm trying so hard to be non-judgmental that I've gone too far to the other side. Maybe social stigmatization is an important component in changing society. Maybe there is a place for proselytizing. Certainly, I believe that governments should be paying more attention to climate change. If I think that it's okay to lobby governments, why isn't it okay to lobby people?

I just can't decide. What do you think?