November 27, 2011

Don’t Buy This Jacket

Happy (American) Thanksgiving, everybody.  Hope yours was as full of football and fine food as mine was.  I had a Hungry-Man Salisbury Steak TV dinner and spotted 3 ships, so mine was fantastic. (And I rinsed and recycled the tray.  So there!)

I nearly spit out my Sanka when I saw this ad in the New York Times the next day, a.k.a. Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year in the U.S.A., from Patagonia, the fancy eco-conscious clothing company that makes outdoor gear:

Pretty funny, huh?  Or pretty sassy.

They explain why on their company website:

The test of our sincerity (or our hypocrisy) will be if everything we sell is useful, multifunctional where possible, long lasting, beautiful but not in thrall to fashion. We’re not yet entirely there. Not every product meets all these criteria. Our Common Threads Initiative will serve as a framework to advance us toward these goals.

Fair enough!

Back to my ship-spotting nook.

October 21, 2011

How to Be a Climate Hero

I like this article from Orion Magazine a lot.  It’s by a woman named Audrey Schulman who tries to make us snap out of it and take action on the environment. And how an incident on board a train with a little boy and his epileptic mom actually illustrates the point perfectly.

Uhhhhhhhhhh... somebody do something!!!

She thinks people don’t do anything because of a phenomenon called the Bystander Effect, which means people are passive because everyone else is too. She says,

We bustle about our normal lives, assuming it can’t be as bad as it seems because surely, then, everyone would be marching in the street about it.

She talks about realizing how urgent it is to protect the Earth after her first child was born.  And she says she’s cut her family’s carbon emissions by 50%.

Even though it took her becoming a mom to do it, she woke up and did her part.  Good job, Audrey.

October 12, 2011

‘We must do all we can to find the resources’


The International Council for Science, or ICSU, which has played a behind-the-scenes role in fostering scientific integrity and global collaboration since 1931, has elected Nobel Prize-winning scientist Yuan Tseh Leah of Taipei (Taiwan) to be president of its Earth System Sustainability Initiative  for the next three years.  Yuan addressed the assembly that elected him and talked about the enormous challenges humanity faces:

If we are to avoid catastrophe and ensure humanity’s continuation on this planet, the keyword for the next few decades will be transformation. That is, we must begin to transform our global society into a truly sustainable civilization…

In the past many excellent ideas were abandoned because there was no funding.  This is really heartbreaking.  If there is a worthy idea, we must do all we can to find the resources. Just imagine what we could do if just 1% of the estimated US$1 trillion spent by governments on defense every year could be devoted to global sustainability research. After all, the greatest threats to security today no longer come from across borders but are caused by humanity on humanity itself….

Our primary theme for the coming years must be “Action – and solutions -now!”

Needless to say, we couldn’t agree more, as we count the ever-greater number of creatures on the Endangered Species list.  Occasionally we joke about feeling jealous of our scientific colleagues who work for the defense industry, with its seemingly inexhaustible supply of funding and enthusiasm.  Mustn’t get bitter, though.  Chin up and all that.

September 21, 2011

Thinking big to think ahead

In Churchill, I see a lot of change going on.  Climate change changes the economy, and vice versa.  The world is getting hotter, even up here, it’s plenty cold but the difference is real.

I watch all the loading and unloading of ships, and I think about all the ports south of us, the ones that never see the change like we see it up here, though they will eventually.  It’s like if it’s not in their face, they won’t ever deal with the reality until it’s way too late.  So I always like to hear about somebody thinking ahead, and thinking big. 

There’s a guy name of Auden Schendler I heard about.  He started out as a nature, environment guy and now he works for a ski company doing sustainability stuff.  Now, I never been skiing, and I don’t plan on going. I have enough snow in my life.  I can’t understand why there are places like ski resorts where they actually manufacture snow.  Maybe I should appreciate it while it’s still around.

He’s in Aspen, Colorado down in the States and he’s trying to make the ski place better for the environment through retrofits, renewable energy, making things more efficient.  He says you either go big or go home, ‘cause doing little things to be greener are great but, only big things really matter, and it’s up to businesses and lawmakers to do what’s really important.  Wrote a book called GETTING GREEN DONE. 


He says companies gotta stop pretending they’re doing a great job if they’re blowing it with carbon emissions, also known as greenhouse gases. For instance, he says WalMart spent half a billion dollars a year on “green programs” in ’09, and carbon emissions still went up 8.6%.  You can imagine how much that is, a huge company like that.  Or can you even? 

His other thing is, business people need to factor the real cost of things into their price. Like, you can burn a pound of coal to make a dishwasher run for one cycle, and that power right now costs about eight cents.  But that doesn’t count the cost of the pollution from burning the coal, or the global warming impact on the economy, or the cost of the increased mercury in his son’s body from burning the coal. Or, say an American burns a gallon of gas to go to the market.  Right now they’re not paying for the cost of our military expenses in the gulf, or for the climate impacts of that gas on the GDP. 

Anyway, I like this guy, he tells it like it is.  Makes you think about how things are connected.  He’s kinda all or nothing, but still he’s pretty decent. 

One thing never changes, up here though:  watch out for bears.

September 20, 2011

Walking the Walk

There’s this guy named Colin Beavan in New York City who’s kind of a hero to me.  He was already cared a lot about the environment but he felt like he was all talk, so he challenged himself to see if he could live as environmentally as he possibly could.  Basically he wanted to make no impact on the environment at all, even though he’s a human being:  no automated transportation, no electricity, only locally grown food, and no more material consumption.  He convinced his wife to try it for a whole year, and they even had a two-year-old daughter at the time.  (They still have her, she’s just older now.)  He blogged about it (more about that later), then wrote a book, and some other people made it into a documentary, all with the title NO IMPACT MAN.  The book and the movie are about how hard it was, but also how amazing it was to “walk the walk.”

Parts of the experiment are not that impressive. Like, it’s not really that hard to ride a bike to work if you live close to your job, and it’s probably pretty easy to find a farmer’s market in New York City.  But at home, they use the stairs instead of the elevator, and they live on the 9th floor of their apartment building. And it’s not that hard to live without TV, but they have no electricity at all. They don’t even use toilet paper.  (I guess they didn’t count the electricity that the film crew used, but technically that was other people.) But somebody donated a solar panel, and that’s how he was able to blog during the year on the laptop he already owned.

Michelle, Colin’s wife, is the one most people probably identify with in the movie, because she’s super annoyed and irritated by going without all her little conveniences that she takes for granted.  She loves to shop and drink espressos – basically a typical “yuppie” (what’s up 1980s!).  But she still did it.  I kinda wish the title was NO IMPACT FAMILY, though, to give everybody credit, not just him.  Also, they’re white and well-educated, which doesn’t really help the reputation of environmental activism as only for elite people.  But it’s still completely worth checking out, even if he does come across a little bit preachy and bossy at first.  They turn it into a family adventure.

Part of me wonders what people who were alive before cars and electricity would say about it.  They’d probably be like, “So what?  We chop our own wood and haul our own water and we live out in the wilderness and have to protect ourselves from bears and wolves all the time.”  But we all live now, when it’s so easy to use and consume and live a life never thinking about what we take from future generations. 

I shouldn’t really call him a hero though, because a lot of times when people label somebody else a hero, it’s like “Oh, it’s so great that you did that,” and they’re inspired for like five minutes and then forget all about it.  It’s sort of like they use that person’s accomplishments to feel good, without doing anything themselves, which they could totally do if they put their minds to it.

On Colin’s website, he created an online project kit for people so you can try it for a week yourself, and all these college students are doing it to assess and reduce their carbon footprint. I tried to get my mom and dad to do the experiment at home and they were all “NO WAY.”  They were nice about it, but it made me really mad.  I’m going to keep on them about it until I get my way, mwahahaha.  Maybe they’ll do it during the summer.  Thousands and thousands of people have tried it.  Will you?

Have you seen it?  What did you think?

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    "The Next Forever" is a song from The Great Immensity. The footage was taken on Barro Colorado Island in the Panama Canal by videographer David Ford. Music and lyrics by Michael Friedman.
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