Friday, December 18, 2009

Do I Need Prozac Today? (Incoherent ramblings...)

"We could have saved the Earth but we were too damned cheap." -- Kurt Vonnegut.

Phenologically, there's not a ton going on right now. Some snow falls, some rain falls, some sun shines low in the sky. There's only so much you can say. So instead, I'll talk about something else.

This week I have been teaching about natural resource usage and sustainability (as I will be for the next several months). It seems to be a timely topic, what with world leaders gathered in Copenhagen to probably fail to make deals that are too little and too late to do anything, anyhow. The thing is, I don't really get global warming. I mean, I understand the concept, but I don't understand a) why it seems so much more important to everyone than all the other environmental issues out there and b) why there's so much debate about it. Because the thing is, if climate change is not caused by humans or by CO(little)2 or whatever... who cares? All those things we could be doing to fix the warming problem would still help solve some of those other problems I mentioned in point A if the warming problem isn't what we thought. I just fail to understand why we can't all step up... well, I do understand, actually. It's a classic tragedy of the commons problem. The good of all always loses when the alternative is short term gain for me.

What strikes me most poignantly of late is the connection between social and environmental issues, which all stems from natural resources, really. I live in a country where 5 % of the world's population consumes 25% of the natural resources used. I read that even homeless people in the US use more resources than citizens of many other nations. (Seriously? That's crazy). WTF is wrong with us, folks? OK, personal epiphany story.

A few years ago, I was (self-righteously?) driving in my Prius and was passed by a ginormous truck with these huge wheels put on it so it would bounce all over (I'm not really a car person, so whatever) and it was loud and smelly and obnoxious... and I thought to myself, it's so unfair that I have to breathe the same air as that dude is breathing. I should get better air. And then, instantly, like a sledge hammer to the head, it hit me... that's what the rest of the world thinks about us. Why shouldn't we be terribly unpopular on the world stage? It's not like everyone could live like we do... there simply isn't enough "stuff." I forget what exactly they say but it's something like 4 earths... If everyone lived like Americans, we'd need 4 earths. Or maybe more. 5 would make sense, if we use 5 times our "fair share" of the world's resources.

So here's the question... would I give up my "stuff" so that others could have more stuff? Maybe some of it, but not enough. I'd probably be willing to do with a lot less if I lived in a culture that didn't value stuff so much and where it was more acceptable not to have things. But even so.

It's not all far away, either. Environmental justice. I heard on NPR just recently about 2 coal plants in Chicago that are causing health problems in the surrounding communities. Think those plants are in affluent neighborhoods? Course not.

Alright, enough. Tomorrow I will go back to taking lovely pictures of snow or drawing something. Much more life affirming.

ps -- Sometimes I wonder what, if anything, my students tell their parents and what they must think -- after an 11-year-old has translated the information -- I am teaching their kids. Extreme guilt? Socialism? (I try, at least, to somewhat avoid the former... in proper measures guilt can be helpful; too much is crippling.)

pps -- It's winter break!!! YEA!!!!!!!!!


  1. I found this article on Punk Gardener's blog today and it seems somewhat relevant:

    And Punk Gardener:

  2. I feel no qualms about teaching my students that we need to start thinking in a different way, because altering the way we think will not work. So, if thinking about others and trying to give the tragedy of the commons a happy ending, socialist. Then I am all for it.

    As for the way the rest of the world thinks of us I think it is best expressed by the three students (who represented Africa) who had to share one cookie, "Well we are going to split this cookie, eat the paper towel its sitting on, and then go over there and get our share."