Monday, May 25, 2009

Manifesto Part Deux

Last time on Manifestos By Ruchi, I talked about some factors in building a successful social movement, and why some of the past environmental social movements, were, indeed successful. Social movements helped to play a part in the Clean Air and Water Acts and the Montreal Protocol.

But the current social movement focused on climate change has been less successful.


Recall the factors that characterized some past successful social movements: focus, coordination, and empowerment that does not threaten others' power. All these three are lacking in the current green social movement.

Much of this is because of the nature of the environmental threat. As Shellenberger and Nordhaus noted, climate change is perceived differently by different communities in different parts of the world. The risks we face will be different, and the threats that will emerge will be varied.

This makes climate change difficult to comprehend. Do you know what change climate change is going to cause to your city in the next fifty years? You might be able to hazard a guess, but most of us probably don't have much of an idea. Whereas acid rain, water pollution, and even to a certain extent, the hole in the ozone layer were somewhat easier to conceptualize, climate change is extremely tricky.

As a result, the current environmental movement is fragmented, not focused. Dozens of environmental concerns are lumped together. Climate change, environmental health, peak oil, resource depletion, food security, over-consumption, smog, water pollution, chemical toxins, environmental degradation, poverty ... the list goes on and on. And because climate change is so difficult to visualize, links, sometimes spurious, are made between climate change and a more clearly visible environmental issue.

Consequently we are told to alleviate global warming by eating local food. Or by using paper bags instead of plastic. Or a ceramic mug instead of a styrofoam cup. And then of course, someone will come along and prove that certain local food is less carbon efficient for whatever reason than this other food from New Zealand, and that the paper bags are just as bad as the plastic, and that actually even the ceramic mug might not be immune to criticism.

And all of this causes well-meaning people to alternatively throw their hands in the air and say, "I give up," or to turn on us greenies and accuse us of pursuing our own agenda.

Because the thing is, we kind of are.

Here is the honest truth. I'm not a supporter of buying a lot of "stuff." I'm not a huge fan of materialism in general, and frankly, I'm a pretty big fan of the welfare state. I think we should all give up some of our crap so that we can have universal health care, top notch schools, and subsidized day care. I would be okay with less money and more vacation time, increased ability for flex time, and, while I'm at it, I think we should have four months paid maternity leave and four months paid paternity leave.

I think our material culture causes us as a society to overlook what really makes us happy. I also think that all this "stuff" is resulting in resource degradation and depletion and that a lot of this stuff is made by cheap labor in poor conditions. I think people should be willing to pay more for fewer things so that we can compensate the people who made this stuff fairly.

Notice that none of this mentioned climate change. Because really, I cannot pretend to know how buying a new DVD player affects climate change. I just can't. Sure, we could approximate the carbon footprint of the DVD player, but frankly, there are many variables involved in that calculation. But even if I were able to figure it out ... what would that tell me, really? What does a carbon footprint actually mean? When you take a quiz and at the end you get a little cartoon Al Gore angrily yelling at you that if everyone lived like you, we would need 2,531 planets ... what exactly does that MEAN?! I sure as hell don't know. I mean, maybe it means that human beings should populate Mars.

The reality is, we're trying to simplify something that is incredibly complex. Climate change is going to be experienced in vastly different ways in various parts of the world, and some countries will suffer more than others. Moreover, there is little consensus as to what the "tipping point" is ... hell, there isn't consensus on if there ARE tipping points.

This innate lack of consensus as to what climate change is and how we will experience it also makes it potentially more difficult to coordinate a social movement.

So there are inherent difficulties in producing a focused and coordinated social movement around climate change. And as I mentioned in my last post, the current green social movement is also one that demands a literal sacrifice of power. Because many greens operate under an assumption of fixed (or relatively fixed) power, those in affluent countries must sacrifice some power in order for those in poorer countries to have more. This concept of static power represents another burden for the current green social movement.

Which is why Shellenberger and Nordhaus' argument for a paradigm change is actually very useful for the current green social movement. If we can move from a paradigm of fixed power to one of variable power, the movement may have a better shot at succeeding. Thus, research and development in new technology IS a critical component of the climate change solution.

BUT, research and development isn't the ONLY critical component of the climate change solution, and this is where Beavan and the green social movement are needed.

Tomorrow (or whenever I get around to it) the third part of my manifesto in which I explain what's been left out of the debate, and why we need a green social movement.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Why Beavan, Shellenberger and Nordhaus are Right ... and Why They Are Wrong

A few days ago, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus published an interesting article in The New Republic entitled, "The Green Bubble." In it, Shellenberger and Nordhaus attack the current green social movement, for which, rightly or wrongly, No Impact Man's Colin Beavan is their poster child. Two days ago, Beavan published his own response in which he points to past successful social movements, and underlines the value of individual action.

So who's right and who's wrong in this little war of words? Well ... they're all right. AND they're both wrong. Sufficiently wrong, that I'm taking time out of my VERY HECTIC EXAM SCHEDULE to explain why they're wrong. Are you happy, Colin and Michael? If I fail my land reform question, I'm blaming you.

First, let's start with No Impact Man aka Colin Beavan. Beavan is right to point out that social movements can affect change: both societal change and policy change. But he fails to critically examine why it is that prior social movements have succeeded. A closer inspection of his example, the civil rights movement, reveals a few key factors. One, the civil rights movement was a coordinated effort focused on specific rights such as voting and access. Two, this empowerment that civil rights activists sought did not take away from other people's power. Instead, one can view power as variable, producing an outcome with many winners and no real losers. Sure, some could argue that white supremacists lost, but even they lost nothing really tangible.

By contrast, Beavan, and the social movement he represents, are disappated rather than coordinated. The attention on individual action and individual carbon footprints papers over the role of institutions in shaping those individual decisions. Beavan uses the metaphor of a single butterfly flapping its wings to prove the value of individual action, but what is the effect of thousands of butterflies flapping their wings at varied intervals and in various directions? For, the current green social movement is far from focused. Rather than trying to attain specific rights, the current movement aims to combat climate change by nothing much more concrete than hope, prayer, and line-dried laundry. As a member of this movement, I can attest to the dissatisfaction and helplessness that this strategy can produce.

But what Beavan really ignores, to his detriment, is the different power dynamic at work here. Whereas in the civil rights movement, power was variable, producing a result with winners and no losers, the green social movement operates under a Weberian assumption of invariable power. Power is literally fixed; consequently those of us with more of it have to give up some so those of us with less of it can have some. While personally, I absolutely commend Beavan for giving up some of his power, this is a scenario with winners and losers. Beavan may claim that living with less impact is not a loss, but frankly, a lot of people would disagree. And as someone who has tried and continues to try to live a less impactful life, I will say that in my experience, living lighter IS a sacrifice. I have spent an LA heatwave with no a/c and no fan because I couldn't find a used fan and couldn't buy a new fan. It's not an experience I relished.

So what about Shellenberger and Nordhaus? They're right too, that not all people have the same interests concerning global warming, or even the environment. I also personally believe they are correct in arguing that most people in the global North do not want to sacrifice some of their conveniences and liberty in the name of the environment. But they're also too dismissive of social movements, especially the prior environmental "bubbles" as they term them.

Nordhaus and Shellenberger paint a picture where in green bubbles grow and pop about once every decade, and the current bubble is no exception. But they provide no real explanation for why these bubbles burst:

This isn't the first time an eco-bubble has inflated and then burst. In fact,the modern environmental movement was born in a bubble. In 1969, an industrial pollution fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, generated national publicity and outrage. The first photographs of Earth in its entirety transmitted from outer space were received as signs of a new ecological consciousness. The first Earth Day was held in 1970, and, over the next three years, Congress passed and (a Republican) President Nixon signed into law sweeping environmental statutes.
But, in 1973, soaring oil prices pushed the country into recession. By the time Jimmy Carter suggested, a few years later,that profligate American lifestyles were partly to blame, the public reacted with resentment and ridicule.

There are two problems here with Nordhaus and Shellenberger's claim surrounding an eco-bubble burst. One, they fail to acknowledge a key reason for a potential eco-bubble burst: the green social movement attained their primary objective. Recall that one of the key elements of successful social movements are focused objectives. In this case, one could argue that given the fire on the Cuyahoga River, the primary objective of the environmental movement at the time was to get the Clean Water Act passed. When this was successfully accomplished, the energy of the environmental movement disappated as a natural consequence of achieving its primary objective.

But was there a burst of the bubble at all? Nordhaus and Shellenberger argue that there was, pointing to the oil crisis of the 1970s, and the angry American response. But here Shellenberger and Nordhaus conflate several separate environmental issues to make their point. The environmental movement of the time was primarily focused on POLLUTION, not energy. Neither peak oil nor global warming were mainstream concerns of that movement.

In their second example, Nordhauss and Shellenberger repeat these mistakes, again failing to note that environmental movement of the late 1980s was primarily focused on acid rain and the ozone layer. Once again, the movement peaked once significant achievements were made in these primary focus areas: the Montreal Protocol governing ozone emissions and The Clean Air Act could both be chalked up as victories for this environmental movement.

Shellenberger and Nordhaus' bubble argument thus takes a wrong-headed view of social movements that skates over the arguable achivements of these movements. By conflating several environmental issues into one, Shellenberger and Nordhaus ignore how and why social movements are successful. Essentially, their argument is that the environmental social movements have failed because they all failed to achieve total success in all areas concerning the environment ever known to man. By setting the bar so high, they ignore the true value that social movements can produce. Worse, they ignore the current implications.

Tomorrow (or whenever I get around to it): Why the current situation is different from either of Shellenbergerg and Nordhaus's prior 'eco-bubbles' and what Nordhaus, Shellenberger and Beavan get right in assessing the current situation, and what they get very wrong.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

La Plus Ca Change

Yesterday, I remembered that this is Upfronts week, so I clicked over to Deadline Hollywood Daily to see the television schedules for next fall, and what do I find, but that one of my favorite shows is not coming back, and that well ... this is finally happening.

And, a wash of emotions hit me. I was sad for all the people I know who are looking for jobs right now. I was a little relieved that I'm not currently trying to find a job in the industry given how competitive it must be right now. And I felt a little out of it ... I had heard the rumors of an imminent merger, but I didn't know it was a done deal. All of a sudden, I missed the pace, the drama, the excitement.

I have never talked much about my previous life for a lot of reasons. As most of my fellow bloggers will attest, it's always smart to maintain a pretty rigid division of blog and work.

But the truth is, that television and the entertainment industry were a huge part of my life for such a long, long time. And if you count my time in theatre, well, this is the first time since I was 14 that a huge portion of my life isn't tied to the arts in any way.

I am unbelieveably happy in my new life. You know, when I'm not pulling my hair out of my head studying for exams. But there is, and maybe always will be, a little piece of my heart in entertainment.

We have to do presentations once a term for all my classes. Last term, I decided I was sick to death of Powerpoint, and I just couldn't face one more Powerpoint presentation. So I decided, instead, that I would do a performance studies piece on the Narmada Dam. It's a little hard to explain, but what I did is a kind of performance ethnography, where you cull letters and memos, etc, and you sort of weave it all together, acting in the character of the various writers of memos and letters. I threw a little of my own script on top of that, and voila. I had a one woman show.

It was awesome.

I mean, no, it wasn't awesome. It was okay. Had I performed that piece for a performance studies class in my undergraduate university, I probably would have gotten a B. But compared to the Powerpoint presentation I would have done, it was awesome.

And the whole thing made me think that one day, I might be ready to go back to acting. Not trying to do it professionaly again, or anything like that. But I might be ready to go back ... somehow, someway, in some small community theatre or performing 10 minute plays with a group of friends, or just reading Shakespeare in the backyard to myself.

I guess you can take the girl out of entertainment, but maybe, hopefully? you can never take the entertaining out of the girl.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Gifts I Want

I'm approaching my thirtieth birthday in a few weeks and I know all of you are just DYING to know what you should get me for said birthday!

Well, here are some things I would like as I approach this major milestone in my life.

Grace- I mean, I would really like to walk gracefully, 'tis true. It would be icing on the cake if I could ever learn to dance gracefully, or semi-gracefully. But what I would really like is to live my life with a bit more grace. I'd like to be a bit more empathetic, a better friend, and a better family member. I'd like to learn better when to give advice, and when to just lend a comforting shoulder.

Patience- I am not a patient person. But I'd like to be. Instead of eagerly anticipating the future, and wondering what will be, I'd like to have the pateince to live life in the present a bit, and trust that things will pan out one way or the other. After all, in the future, we're all dead, and I can certainly wait for that!

Hope- I feel like I've spent much of my twenties on a pendulum, swining back between hope and cynicism. Now most people claim that you lose your sense of optimism as you get older, but wouldn't it be great if I could become older, wiser, and more hopeful?

So those are the things I would like for my thirtieth birthday and beyond. I recognize that they are a little hard to wrap up, but you know, I'm difficult like that.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Living Car Free Should Not Be Challenging

So, the other day Beth, who all of a sudden is going challengicious on everyone's ass, challenged people to live a week without a car and then blog about it.

Now I decided to rise to her challenge because I am hard-core like that.


But it is true that I have been car-free since September. And guys, I have to tell you, it's so freaking awesome.

But here's what's really awesome about being car free in London. It's not a challenge. Not even a small one. Not even a teensy tiny challenge.

Because the truth is the fastest way for me to get to school is ... to walk. There's no other faster way. Not kidding. I've tried the bus, I've tried the tube. I haven't tried biking, but given how long it would take me to park my bike, walking still comes out ahead. Walking is simply the most efficient method for me to commute. It's fantastic. I get some fresh air, I get some exercise, and it's about as carbon light as you can get!

Of course, any time I need to get anywhere further away, I rely on the amazing system of public transit that London offers. The tube is beloved by many, and it is a wonderful system (except for the frickin Victoria line. Don't ask me what's up with that line.) But, personally, if I have the time, I prefer to sit atop a double-decker bus and watch the city go by.

So, for me, not driving a car is not much of a sacrifice. In fact, driving a car, that would be the sacrifice, given the insurance, parking, and congestion fees that I'd have to pay. (If you want to drive in Central London during work hours Monday through Friday, you have to pay what's called a congestion charge.) Not to mention the traffic. If I had to drive around in Central London every day, I'd probably go mad. (Well, to be fair, I'd probably die before I went mad because I'd end up driving on the wrong side of the road. But, you know what I mean.)

I think it's great that Beth is challenging everyone to go a week without driving. But from an urban policy perspective, my opinion is, if you live in a reasonably dense area, and it's a sacrifice to take public transit, then that means the public transit system isn't designed correctly and it needs to be fixed. Personally, after living in LA, and attempting to commute via public transit, and then moving to London, I do not think that taking public transit should be challenge worthy.

Fixing public transit doesn't have to be expensive either. There are plenty of examples, like Curitiba, of very inexpensive but well designed public transit systems. What is required is innovative urban planners and some political will. Los Angeles has one line (the Orange Line for the Angelenos in the hizzouse) through the Valley that mimics the Curitiba plan. But, frankly, in my opinion, LA could stand to have a few more rapid transit bus lines in the city. I'd probably add rapid transit bus to Sunset, Wilshire, La Cienega, Sepulveda, and Vermont. You could do that at a fraction of the cost of the planned subway to the West side, and if you had rapid bus transit on those five streets, you could get from Los Feliz to Santa Monica in half an hour. Villaraigosa, do you hear me?!

Anyway, forgive me for rambling on about rapid transit buses like a rapid transit bus maniac, but in the end, here's my basic take away point. Colin once wrote a very nice post about how living sustainably should be like falling off a log. That's how I feel about public transit. Taking public transit, should be like falling off a log.

To paraphrase former Bogota mayor, Enrique PeƱalosa, we can design cities to support people not cars.

All it takes is our will to change.

P.S. If you are car-free in general, or willing to go car-free for a week, please do join in on Beth's challenge, and blog about your experiences.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Spotlight on Sustainable Cities: Curitiba

Okay, new plan. Instead of whining about my exams every day, I'm just going to tell you stuff I'm studying. I win: by blogging about this stuff, I'm reviewing it. You win: you get to read about some cool stuff. So here is my first installment in my potentially ongoing series on sustainable cities.

Curitiba, Brazil. Population: 1.6 million

Many of you may be familiar with Bogota, a city now famous for its rapid bus transit system. But in fact, Curitiba was the inspiration for Bogota's bus system.

Back in the 1960s, Curitiba's planners decided to develop a city that would service the bulk of the city's transport needs. So instead of building the city for cars, which would only service the minority of the population that could afford a car, they decided to design the city for efficient bus transit. Thus, the city was designed to promote equity. Buses were chosen for a simple reason: they're cheaper. (Los Angeles, take note.) The designers of Curitiba recognized that they could build an efficient, well-designed bus system at a fraction of the price of a subway system.

The bus system was designed and refined over the years so that there are now three different types of buses. The rapid transit buses, the inter-district buses which run the long haul trips, and the local feeder buses that feed into the rapid transit and inter-district buses. Everyone pays a single fare which includes transfers. This means that the poorer people who often live on the edges of the city are not forced to pay more than the richer people who might be able to afford to live within the city center.

Now, you may think that the bus system alone is enough to make Curitiba awesome. And it is. By the 1990s, two-thirds of Curitiba's population used public transit!

But public transit isn't the only area that Curitiba excels in. It's also won two awards from the United Nations Environment Programme for waste management. Curitiba has come up with an innovative solution for dealing with sanitation issues in the favelas, or squatter settlements. The government instituted a program that allowed residents of favelas to turn in their trash in exchange for bus tickets or food. This greatly improves the quality of life for the urban poor. And the program doesn't cost anymore than it would cost the government to hire out a private contractor to collect the trash.

Curitiba also boasts an amazing rate of recycling: approximately 2/3 of the city's waste is recycled! The money that the government makes from the recycling gets funnelled into social programs for low-income sectors, including environmental education for children. Children learn how to recycle and grow vegetables. The teenagers can use their gardening skills to earn money for their neighborhood associations.

Think this sounds great, but what about the parks? Well, Curitiba has loads of those too! And not only are the parks there for recreation and green space, but they also serve a vital need. Many of the parks contain artificial lakes, and these lakes serve as flood control for the city.

Now, certainly, every major city has its problems, and Curitiba is no exception. It's not a perfect city. But it is an example of innovative and inexpensive urban design. It's an example of a city that has learned to harmonize environmental sustainability with people's welfare. In short, it's an example well worth emulating.

Picture courtesy of flickr user xander76

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Fear and Self-Loathing in London

Exams are coming up (boy are you guys going to get sick of hearing about THAT) and that means that competitive studying is on!

You know what I mean ... it's when your friend Z spends the whole day studying and you feel like a failure because you slacked off and played Lexulous on Facebook all afternoon and clearly Z is so hard working and going to kick ass on finals whereas you are only barely going to pass IF you pass at all, so the next day you study like a maniac and Z freaks out because today she's been looking at places to travel to on her next holiday. And so on. Vicious cycle of fear, self-loathing, and manic studying. Bear with me, I have a point.

And that point is that, many of us, for better or worse, are really into the comparison game. I for one, am not immune to this game. In this game, you say things like say....

Crunchy Chicken is better than me because well she's a super hot chica who makes her own butter and fancy soaps and freezes her buns off without even swearing about it.


Chile is better than me because she can make anything from scratch, including fancy pants condiments and chocolate truffles. And also she uses hand powered blenders and other non-electric things for everything. And she bikes around everywhere. Basically, she's like an Amish vegan superhero!


Beany is better than me because she RODE A BIKE CROSS COUNTRY. I mean who does that? Aside from Beany?


Green Bean is better than me because she consistently produces delicious food porn while simultaneously saving her son's school singlehandedly. (Try saying that five times.)


Melinda is better than me because she brings boatloads of passion to her environmental practices. How she has that much passion never fails to amaze me.

My point is that I'm surrounded by super-heroes and they're all better than I could ever hope to be. So basically, I should probably just eat worms and die.

No, I'm kidding! That's not my point.

Are these women super-heroes? Yes. Are they better than me? Uh, probably. Should I eat worms and die?

No. Partly because, well, I'm trying to be a vegetarian most days, and that wouldn't be very vegetarian of me.

And partly because comparing yourself to others is just ... missing the point.

Living a sustainable life isn't about trying to outdo one another in a bid to be the greenest of them all. It is, fundamentally, about trying to achieve balance. Balance in your life. Balance between you, society, and our environment. Balance between what you really need and what's kind of superfluous.

After all, you can only be living sustainably if you can, in fact, sustain it.

So, lately, I've had to come to terms with the fact that I am not the superest greenest superhero. Instead, I'm just a gal with a lot of s**t on my plate who does the best she can.

And while there are a lot of people out there who are way better than me, that's okay. Because at some point, you have to let go, and stop comparing yourself to others, and just focus on yourself.

But meanwhile my mythical friend Z has probably read 150 pages while I wrote a blog post, so, back to my routine of fear and loathing.

Monday, May 11, 2009

It's the Little Things In Life

This afternoon, I forced myself to do my first of (hopefully many) mock exam questions. I sat down, timed myself, and by the end, I realized that, frankly, I had done a pretty decent job. No, not perfect, I kind of got a little lost when I was trying to explain what happened to social housing in Britain under the Thatcher administration, but overall, I think I did okay.

I also discussed a research proposal I'm mulling over with a friend of mine, and she didn't laugh at me and tell me that it was an impossible topic.

Then this evening, I picked up a beer from the off license, the cashier asked me if I was old enough to buy beer, and I came home, cooked some spaghetti and lazed around reading an old L.M. Montgomery book.

My stress level is considerably reduced.

I think I'm going to make it after all.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Getting Myself Through Exams

Yesterday, my friend B told me that she really liked my vegetarianism because I just try to do the best I can.

It's true. In the weeks since my six week vegetarian experiment ended, I have eaten meat about once a week to once every two weeks. And it's been great. Flexible vegetarianism, or as its called, flexitarianism, has allowed me to stay mainly vegetarian, but still enjoy a few pieces of sushi, or try a friend's famous burgers at a barbecue. I feel healthy, I have less guilt, I'm eating significantly less meat, but I don't feel deprived. Good for me, good for the planet.

As you might have guessed from my personal challenges followed by my great wave of soda drinking, I tend to be an all or nothing kind of girl. I'm either fully committed or not. And it's hard, sometimes for me to accept compromises and find balance.

But I'm trying.

Lately my eating habits (aside from the lack of meat) have been a total disaster. I feel like I have no time to cook or shop, but I also feel like I can't give up on cooking from scratch or buying from the bulk food store. Thus I continue to order my organic veg delivery which then sits on my counter and rots as I put off going to the bulk food store for the other ingredients I would need. The end result is that my vegetables rot, I eat Subway all the time because when push comes to shove, I have to eat something from somewhere, I spend more money than I need, and I throw away a ton of garbage. Bad for me, bad for the planet.

Today I was at a coffee shop studying, and I decided to pop into the grocery store and pick up some milk. As I walked into the store, something clicked. I grabbed a cart, ganked some plastic bags from the store's recycle bin (don't you love that trick when you don't have any bags handy?), and started loading up my cart. Cereal, trail mix, dates, hummus, crackers, bread, peanut butter, jelly, pasta, sauce, stuff I can drum up in a matter of minutes.

I mean, look. In a perfect world, I wouldn't have bought pasta in plastic, but would have managed a trip to the bulk food store. In a perfect world I might make my own hummus. But I'm not perfect, neither is life, and I have to get myself through the next month and a half in one piece. Is the organic Green and Black version of Nutella that I bought the healthiest thing for me or the planet? Probably not, but it beats buying chocolate bars at three in the morning from the vending machine.

On Monday I'm cancelling my veg delivery until exams end. I'm disappointed that I can't make myself cook these days, but I recognize that feeling guilty, beating myself up, and then continuing in the same cycle of bad habits isn't a particularly good strategy. I can't make the perfect the enemy of the good enough for now.

Man, I can't wait for exams to be over.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

There I go again...

Living up to my moniker by stirring up trouble once again.

So, today one of my classmates commented about how it was interesting that whereas fair labor practices for say ... tennis shoes have really taken off and it's now viewed that companies must practice fair labor practices or risk protest, fair trade is still a niche market, and companies aren't really called into question if their food isn't fair trade.

It's a weird double standard, isn't it? And yet, I think her comment is right on, considering a recent debate I've been having with a colleague: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.

Now, I appreciate enthusiastic debate, and this one was no exception. I thoroughly appreciated all of Jeff's comments. But I have to admit, I do think it's a little bit weird and also slightly depressing that calling a company out for claiming to be socially responsible while not practicing fair trade is enough to get you labeled as a "puritanical scold."

The funny thing is that in the past I've praised, among other things, Clorox Green Works, Starbucks, and In N Out here and on other blog sites. For heaven's sake, I just admitted my soda and junk food addiction. I'm hardly some sort of ethical purist.

But ... okay ... let's say a corporation, let's call them Shmike for the sake of this argument, let's say Shmike was producing I don't know ... shoes that made you fall down a lot. Now for me, that wouldn't be any different from any other shoes, but, let's imagine that these shoes made even vaguely graceful people fall down a lot. So these shoes cause people to fall which is not particularly healthy. Let's say these shoes are also made by children in sweatshop conditions.

Now let's say Shmike reacts to some of the bad press surrounding their shoes that make people fall down a lot. And even though there are plenty of people who still are buying the shoes (because even though they make you fall down, they are pretty cool) they decide to listen to the growing clamor of parents and podiatrists and decide to get out of the business of making shoes that cause people to fall down. So they make new shoes that don't make people fall down, but in fact cause people to walk normal ... you know ... like shoes are SUPPOSED to do. But they still use child labor.

Given this case, would you say that Shmike was really being socially responsible? Would you applaud Shmike for no longer making shoes that cause people to fall down? Or would you say, "Well, that's nice that your shoes no longer make people fall down, but uh, how about you stop with the sweatshops, mkay?"

The truth is that the real "Shmike" has enacted much better labor practices because of international advocacy. Again, look, I am all for kids eating more fruits and vegetables and all the other things that Michael Pollan loves. But if we can agree that sweatshops are bad, can't we also agree that sweatshop-shop like conditions for agricultural workers are also bad? Can't we agree that while no one wants to be a puritanical scold, we can't really call a company "socially responsible" if they are not engaging in fair labor practices?

Or are we really so desperate for kids in the North to eat a frickin apple, that we are willing to sell out poor laborers in the South?

Off the Wagon

So once upon a time, I learned about how soda was bad for you and the environment for a multitude of reasons. There was the high fructose corn syrup, there was the manufacturing of the soda, there are lots and lots of reasons.

So I quit soda. Mind you, at the time, I was working in an office where there was abundant soda located in a fridge next to my desk. But I quit fairly successfully, only occasionally resorting to a Jones soda. Mmmm Jones.

Then I came to school.

I now drink soda every day.

It's funny how bad habits are hard to break, and easy to fall back into.

As my exams approach, I feel like I am breaking down, physically and mentally. My brain is over-taxed. I have tendinitis in my wrist. My room looks like it's been hit by an 8.0 earthquake.

And somehow, the only way I've managed to cope is through copious amounts of chocolate and caffeine administered at regular intervals.

I know there's got to be a healthier and better way. But is there a healthier way that also involves no time preparation?

What do you do when you're jammed to the wall, stressed, and literally cannot take 20 minutes out of your day without feeling guilty? How do you cope?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

At Long Last, the Carnival You've All Been Waiting For

I am a terrible blogger/person. Here I go, take a two week vacation, and when I come back? I promptly go AWOL again, and don't put up the fracking APLS Carnival.

So, first of all, to all of those that participated, I am extremely sorry. Please feel free to hurl tomatoes at me. I suck. I suck. I know, I suck.

But better late than never, right? So here we go:

Does Earth Day Matter?

Beany votes no
, writing about a disappointing Earth Day event in San Diego. I still don't get why all Earth Day festivities don't have compost bins. Though, Beany, you should have expected the annoying music given your experience with annoying musicians at farmers markets.

On the other hand, Erin writes an eloquent post about how the month of April makes her thankful for the Earth. I have to concur. I spent seven years in Los Angeles where every month seems the same as the last. But living in London, where you actually get to witness a change of seasons, makes me remember the beauty of spring.

Heather points out another important benefit of Earth Day: creating awareness. She spent her Earth Day talking to people about the importance of local, sustainably grown food. Way to go, Heather.

The Budget Ecoist also believes that Earth Day is an important awareness builder
. She focuses on Earth Day's potential to inform consumers of how to separate the green from the wash. She writes, "Earth Day is a good reminder to all of us that preserving our environment might provide companies yet another way to market their products — and that’s fine — but it’s our job as consumers to decide how we want to spend our hard-earned dollars."

Finally, a man's view! (Why are there so few men blogging about sustainable issues?) Rob vows to continue his green lifestyle, and discusses the importance of leading by example. Thanks for the post, Rob and good luck in your quest to get the Bulgarian electrician to switch to solar!

Abbie offers some family-friendly suggestions for celebrating the Earth any day of the year. I particularly like her suggestion to make water conservation a family experiment. I think when kids see the difference their conservationist practices make, they are more likely to be enthusiastic about conserving than if turning off the tap when you brush your teeth is merely a dictum from mom and dad.

Steph also comes down in favor of Earth Day
, writing, "I love my husband every day but our anniversary provides us a special opportunity to review our relationship, be proud of the accomplishments we have made, and re-dedicate ourselves to our future. Among the crush of everyday life, we need a reminder to think about how we care for the earth." Well spoken.

And lastly, if you like inane waffling, you can check out my post on Earth Day. But really don't. Because, come on. Inane waffling.

Anyway, there you have it folks. Sorry again for it being so late.

And with that I am announcing that the APLS Carnival is looking for another administrator or two other administrators. It's only two hours of work a month; it's just two hours that frankly I know I won't get to right now. If you are interested, please leave a comment or email me at arduousblog (at) gmail (dot) com. I really want to keep this carnival going, but I just can't commit to the maintenance right now.

Finally, I apologize for the lack of posting lately. I wish I could say I'm going to get better about it, but, in all likelihood posting is going to continue to be spotty until my exams end on June 22nd. So, ya know, Google reader, all that. I apologize. But, hey! In four short months, I will be all done with this course!