Archive for the 'moral choice' Category

Pregaming for the Holidays: Making a List

Hope you had a good Thanksgiving!  Mine was very relaxing.  I overheard my younger cousins discussing who was better at recycling and had hope for the world.  And nobody murdered me when I kept wondering aloud how many of the items we saw in our annual Reading Of The Seasonal Catalogs were made with child and/or slave labor.  This leads obliquely to my point:  Do you know who made what you want for Christmas?

While you’re looking for local/organic/fair trade/sustainiwhatever stuff for other people, take a look at your own wish list.  Are you asking for stuff that reflects your values?  Do you really want this stuff, or will it just get shoved in a drawer by February?  Instead of stuff, could people give you gifts of time- help with a project, dinner out, concert tickets? Are you dropping hints that you’d prefer handmade jewelry from a skilled local artisan/fair trade doodads/organic clothing to substitutes from a big box store?  Are these hints loud enough?

My immediate family has a highly effective system of a) asking each other what we want and b) including direct links in the reply emails, so there’s no hinting about it.  I’m trying to make sustainable choices.  A magazine I want comes in an online version- less expensive and less environmental impact.  I’m linking to books I want from BetterWorldBooks instead of Amazon this year, too- they fund literacy and have free shipping (and can typically beat Amazon’s prices, which they include on each page).  Found a few pretty things I want at etsy, of course.

But it’s not all so easy to make green choices when ‘wanting’ is involved.  I’m having a moral dilemma about the Slanket this year.  I would really like a thick blanket with sleeves. That would make me very happy.  But all I know is that while the Slanket started out being made in Maine as a family business, it’s now manufactured in China.  The business is still run in Maine, but I don’t really know much else about the process.  except they do donate a portion of the profits to charities, according to the website.  It’s all polyester fleece material.  So does it meet my supposedly high standards for gettin’ stuff?

Well.  Consider the alternatives.  The smaller, cheaper Snuggie (can’t find any info at all on how they’re made, and the low price point makes me pretty sure it’s not with unionized labor) is a definite no.  I could make one in an organic fabric- I have a sewing machine and I think I get the concept of sleeves.  But this does not reward the brilliant inventor of a sleeved blanket.  I could send Slanket $5 and make my own.  This convoluted option probably gets most of my principles in, but.  Seriously?  Dah.  Oh!  Slanket could make one in an organic fabric!  And tell us how their Chinese factory operates!  I’ll write them a letter to that effect, but it does not solve my immediate problem.

Anyway.  I will continue having this dilemma until Christmas, at which point I will or will not receive a Slanket.  And if I do, I’m betting living in it for a week will numb the environmental unease.  If I don’t get one, problem solved.


Book Talk: Al Gore Looks More Normal In Person

Al Gore gave a talk at GWU tonight about his new book “Our Choice”.  A friend got me an extra ticket to go, because she is rather fabulous.   So, the full report: Gore’s looking pretty trim!  And he signed books too, so somebody’s got a Christmas present coming (I’m going to read it first, of course).  The book signing line was well regimented, with Gore just signing away and not talking too much- the only way to get hundreds of people through, I know, but it was pretty impersonal.  I didn’t really have anything to say, though, (“I’ve been to Tennessee!  You were cool on 30 Rock!  I compost sometimes!”) so no biggie.

The talk itself:  it was scienc-y.  First time I’ve heard a politician  (oh right he’s an activist now) refer to a photon like they could define it if pressed.  He explained the six substances causing climate change, talked a little about a lot of ways to change energy, discussed the shape of the new smart grid… and I think the smart grid is really interesting so I spaced out a bit there to think about that and try to imagine if I could work on that in Planning, but then the speech got stirring!  Gore’s warning of the impacts of climate change in an Inconvenient Truth have become a more coherent call to arms now.  The book itself is a well-illustrated summary of the science behind climate change and a survey of the methods we can use to fix the problem, but it’s main message is that we have the technology to solve the problem, but not the political will.  He (correctly, in my opinion) frames our reactions to climate change as the moral testing ground of our era.

The book just came out, and he was on The Daily Show last night explaining it to Jon Stewart.  He used some of the same phrases, so you’ll get the gist of what I saw in the extended interview at Hulu.

Speaking of political will, the Senate climate bill got through the Environmental etc. committee session yesterday, despite all the Republicans on the committee stalling it with demands to find facts they wouldn’t listen to, and walking out of all the committee sessions on it.  Took a fancy interpretation of the voting rules so of course Repubs are mad their bratty, irrational, obstructionist, and (oh my I should save some adjectives for describing Republicans the next time they pull such childish stunts) unprofessional behavior didn’t work out for them.  But is it really steamrolling the minority opposition if the minority a) aren’t there and b) have stated no coherent opposition besides “no”?  Not that the bill the Senate has is great, or even as good as the House’s. But they have a bill.

Al might approve.  Check out the book, the pictures I saw so far looked pretty good.  I’ll let you know how I like it when I finish it.

A Person with a Bike: Is it Enough?

I’ll declare it official. I rode in today, did not injure myself in the slightest, and figured out what all those gears are for: now, I am a person with a bike. My nice Biking Person even fully secured my crate, so I’m in business! Specifically, the business of riding my bike around for no money. I’ll keep it up- and declare a new (goal for the month) now. I’m going to work on cutting down on plastics: getting and using my own grocery bags, examining food packaging, finding recycling options, perhaps even committing some crafts- whatever I can think of (or YOU can think of. Tell me! I’ll do it!) to not have to throw away plastic stuff this month. I use the term “month” loosely, of course. I am aiming for “life” here- but I’ll start with this month.

This week, The Economist’s environmental topics column green.view is on the Prince of Monaco and his environmental efforts (one example: environmental taxes on the annual yacht show: oh, the life!). But he is being criticized for not having done more already. Skeptical Columnists: “If you care so much about the environment, Prince Albert, why aren’t you offsetting the entire country’s carbon outputs and being the first country to go carbon neutral? Kvetch Moan Judge.” Can princes, or even people, who care about the environmental impacts of their actions still do non-environmental things? Or do they have to abandon all unsustainable ways of life immediately and huddle in fields for warmth, moving every 15 minutes so as to not disturb the plants beneath? I bet you know what I think the answer is. An earlier green.view presents the arguments of the people who think that population reduction is the only way to save the planet. Scary, hunh! Both of these columns go on to point out that a balance between humans and nature must be struck (and that rising population is not tied to increased environmental destruction, so we don’t need to kill anyone off). Moderation is a good answer- it’s worked since at least the Greeks. Our current mode of life is unsustainable, yes. Changing our lifestyles and developing the technologies that reduce our impacts on the earth is going to take time, and much more combined effort than Monaco raising yacht taxes.

Some groups are encouraging lifestyle changes by taxing each other, and trading their own carbon credits in groups of 15 or so. It’s a start. People are encouraged by group meetings, “confession”, and occasionally fines to keep their emissions below a certain level, and to reduce them steadily. So yes, Skeptical Columnists, we’re not all sustainable yet, but take a (short) cold shower and change out your own lightbulbs (CFLS, please!). Then start encouraging concrete, discrete changes, lead by example, laud good faith efforts, and stop throwing the first stone at your own glass house because of the log in your eye. And Monaco will get there.

One last thing: Monaco can’t be the first carbon neutral country, since The Vatican already is. Thanks to a donation from Hungary, their carbon emissions for the next few years will be offset with the planting of a forest. The Pope is teaching respect for the environment as a gift from God. He’s also focusing attention on the issue since environmental changes disproportionately impact the world’s poor: his efforts are paying off in the Philippines. Talk about leading by example.

Havel writes

Everybody’s favorite playwrite/dissident/statesman is being a wise moral force again. Vaclav Havel has weighed in on the whole environmental thing. He doesn’t offer any specific policy solutions- instead he fairly and succinctly restates the problem in terms that not many others are using.

The planet (systems, cycles, and all) is in a constant state of flux- many not convinced of global warming use this fact as “proof” that since the weather/topography/nature always changes, its changing now isn’t a big deal. Pass the coal-burning plants, we’re good. Havel makes the eloquent point that just because the planet loves to change, doesn’t mean that those changes we’re seeing now won’t kill us. It is an eloquent point because Havel is not preaching doomsday- he is pointing out an opportunity, a moral choice that we must make.

We will either achieve an awareness of our place in the living and life-giving organism of our planet, or we will face the threat that our evolutionary journey may be set back thousands or even millions of years. That is why we must take this issue very seriously and see it as a challenge to behave responsibly and not as a harbinger of the end of the world.

Read this article in small chunks to catch all the meaning behind his few words- he’s assuming that we’re going to flesh his reasoning out with a lot of details that are already known and unnecessary to rehash. He’s saying volumes beyond the “take personal responsibility”. The bit in the middle, about moral considerations- that’s absolutely crucial. This struggle is about moral and ethical decisions, not government policies or economic factors- despite what the bulk of coverage on “the environmental problem” is. It’s not an environmental problem- the death of species aside- it’s our problem.

Less conceptually, I’ll be posting a photo of my lunchbox next time. Until then, Havel nice day.

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