Sunday, July 20, 2008

Who Should Blog? Assembling the Most Important Voices in Environmentalism Today

About Environment
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

The not-so-great generation

New York Times Op-Ed columnist Bob Herbert urges us to take Al Gore seriously, the way we took JFK seriously when he said we should shoot for the moon. But Herbert notes that a spirit of inadequacy, dependence and apathy seems to have stolen our resolve and our capacity to respond to inspiration where it is needed and when it comes. Don't you know that in so big and diverse a nation, there is always someone who is saying the right things? The question is, who is listening?

In Herbert's view, one I largely share, the nation is stuck in the conventional belief that we Americans just won't and may even think we can't make do without petroleum in earth-parching quantities. Perhaps we should do to the car company ad campaigns what we did to the tobacco company ad campaigns...we are after all a very suggestible population.

Herbert asks but does not quite answer this question:

The correct response to Mr. Gore’s proposal would be a rush to figure out ways to make it happen. Don’t hold your breath.

When exactly was it that the U.S. became a can’t-do society? It wasn’t at the very beginning when 13 ragamuffin colonies went to war against the world’s mightiest empire. It wasn’t during World War II when Japan and Nazi Germany had to be fought simultaneously. It wasn’t in the postwar period that gave us the Marshall Plan and a robust G.I. Bill and the interstate highway system and the space program and the civil rights movement and the women’s movement and the greatest society the world had ever known.

When was it?

Now we can’t even lift New Orleans off its knees.

But he does confirm that that sense of helplessness is more substantial than mere perception by a few liberals like myself:

Americans are extremely anxious at the moment, and I think part of it has to do with a deeply unsettling feeling that the nation may not be up to the tremendous challenges it is facing. A recent poll by the Rockefeller Foundation and Time magazine that focused on economic issues found a deep pessimism running through respondents.

According to Margot Brandenburg, an official with the foundation, nearly half of 18- to 29-year-olds “feel that America’s best days are in the past."

Well, I have my suspicions. And unfortunately, my generalizations don't sound any more tolerant or aware than Mike Savage's. In a word, I have to blame my own generation, the so-called Baby Boomers. We were the most privileged and pampered cohort...and one of the largest economic human history. We quickly took for granted our ease and the historical aberration of having resources that cost a tiny fraction of our incomes. We came to act as if this accident of prosperity were our earned entitlement. When? It is hard to say because it creeps up on us as we grow accustomed to ease. The relative fossilizes into the absolute. The phase becomes the norm and expectation. I share the view that it was that coddled mindset, unconsciously wincing at the vicissitudes of age and the clamoring third world, that quietly betrayed its future and its fleeting '60s values. We did not grow soft suddenly, but by turning from the dogged do-good morality of Jimmy Carter to the comfortable twaddle of Ronald Reagan, we marked a point of testing when we came up against something hard to do. Reagan was too simple to be the cause of anything. He was the symptom.

While the "greatest generation" had worked hard and suffered to bring us to the height of what was in fact a very unbalanced advantage:

  • so far ahead of the undeveloped world we could buy them out
  • so unscathed relative to the European countries that we could buy cars and dishwashers while helping fund their reconstruction of ruined cities and factories,

It is also true that America's decades of apparent ascendancy carried two distinct messages around the world:

  1. We seemed to have found some key to prosperity and lived a desirably luxurious life
  2. We took our prosperity as a mark of our superiority in every other measure you can make of a people.
We are the same kind of people that our parents were but that is the problem: we are just human. It is in our natures to take good times for granted but to find the virtue in hard work and sparing use of our supplies only when hardship enforces the lesson. The mental frameworks and illusions in which we dress our times and circumstances allow us to think or preclude our thinking in constructive ways about what is coming at us on the path of history. That path, some of us need to be told, is on the earth. The extent to which the sun, the water and the dirt have yielded the goods we commanded in our heyday is still largely unacknowledged in the daily media bombardment that has become so prominent a part of our experience. There was no profit in objectivity in the short run. In the long run, we are finding out we may not be so long running as our lulled and conceited self esteem would like to believe. I suspect that on a psychological level, the baby boomers simply never had to face the massive uncertainties and discomforts of the generation that endured a massive depression and fought an overt and hateful fascism all at once. Our willingness to deal with uncertainty has atrophied. We leave it to the children of the baby boom to relearn this strength.

They too are human. They can do this.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

old loves

There are at least two influences I can identify that shaped my attitudes about sustainablity and the compromises to convenience it must pose.

Diffuse, but pervasive would be my father's unquenchable urge to camp, hunt, hike, fish and just generally be as far out of sight of "civilization" as possible. We kids and the camping gear were loaded into the car on many a Friday after noon and not let out until it bumped and lurched to the farthest point it could safely reach on some jeep road in the sierras. Camping, and the experience of unspoiled nature generally, were more spiritual exercises for our family than any visit we had ever made to a church.

Much more focused and slow in evincing its present influence was my high school encounter with the works and words of Bucky Fuller. Already a fan of Leonardo DaVinci, I was thrilled at the pure power of a determined and uninhibited mind that Fuller exemplified. After reading of his works and ideas, the geodesic dome particularly, in Time Magazine, I bought a copy of his book "Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth". I was of course impressionable but his analysis of history simply blew away anything I was hearing in school or out. And my ability to form reasonably short sentences may have suffered permanent damage. Soon after, my attitude about a number of things that were unquestionably wonderful in the esteem of high school boys of my era began to sour. Cars particularly seemed dirty dinosaurs to me. I managed to put off learning to drive a full year while classmates bussed tables, bagged groceries and skimped on homework in order to nurse some old Chevy back to conspicuously powerful or at least noisy health.

So I was delighted to discover today that the Whitney museum in New York is running a summer long exhibit of collected works Fuller. Then I started digging around in the BFI.ORG website and found a delightful document on the levels of change this world could use. I imagine that Gerry would grasp and enjoy Dr. Meadows little essay...assuming he hasn't already read it.
The essay is constructive advice in the gets delicious:
People who cling to paradigms (just about all of us) take one look at the spacious possibility that everything we think is guaranteed to be nonsense and pedal rapidly in the opposite direction. Surely there is no power, no control, not even a reason for being, much less acting, in the experience that there is no certainty in any worldview. But everyone who has managed to entertain that idea, for a moment or for a lifetime, has found it a basis for radical empowerment.