Climate Change and Personal Responsibility

stop waste poster

Erik and I make it a general policy not to engage in politics on this blog. Homesteading is about local and personal change foremost, after all, and it’s a big enough movement to embrace many beliefs. Also, talking politics brings out the trolls, and that’s no fun for anyone.

But.  I’ve got to bring this up. And I hope you’ll go along with me and not see this as sort of support or condemnation of any political party, nor an invitation to bash specific politicians. It is an observation about American culture as a whole.  This observation spins off of President Obama’s recent speech on climate change, and climate change is bigger than political parties, bigger than nation states.

grow-food

While I’m happy to see that we are (finally!) speaking about climate change on a national level, I noticed one striking omission from the President’s speech. He did not make any suggestion that individual Americans might want to pitch in and help mitigate this global crisis through changing their personal habits.

This despite the fact that Americans, per capita, have double the carbon footprint of our comparably well-off neighbors in Europe. Despite the fact that, according to the World Watch Institute, “The United States, with less than 5 % of the global population, uses about a quarter of the world’s fossil fuel resources—burning up nearly 25 % of the coal, 26 % of the oil, and 27 % of the world’s natural gas.”

All our President asks of us, toward the end, is that we add our voices to political discourse on the subject.

Understand this is not just a job for politicians. So I’m going to need all of you to educate your classmates, your colleagues, your parents, your friends. Tell them what’s at stake. Speak up at town halls, church groups, PTA meetings. Push back on misinformation. Speak up for the facts. Broaden the circle of those who are willing to stand up for our future.

Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest. Remind folks there’s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth. And remind everyone who represents you at every level of government that sheltering future generations against the ravages of climate change is a prerequisite for your vote. Make yourself heard on this issue.

Political action is all well and good, but as we’re always saying, change starts at home. We’re all in this together, and it’s important that we, as individuals, acknowledge the cost of our lifestyle and, if it seems appropriate to us after reflection, take action to alter that lifestyle.

Leaving personal responsibility out of the equation has a two-fold effect. First, it makes the issue abstract. It becomes someone else’s problem and someone else’s fault. Then the blame game begins. Second, it makes us feel disempowered: if the problem is all about politics and industry, it’s too big for any one person to tackle. So why try at all? And this leads to a strange brew of free-floating anxiety and denial.

canning poster

Dear readers, you know all of this. You are taking action. I shouldn’t harangue you. I’m just frustrated.

The last time that I can remember any president asking us to do something other than shop ’til we drop was Jimmy Carter, way back in 1977 when I was just a sprout:

We must face the fact that the energy shortage is permanent. There is no way we can solve it quickly. But if we all cooperate and make modest sacrifices, if we learn to live thriftily and remember the importance of helping our neighbors, then we can find ways to adjust and to make our society more efficient and our own lives more enjoyable and productive. Utility companies must promote conservation and not consumption. Oil and natural gas companies must be honest with all of us about their reserves and profits. We will find out the difference between real shortages and artificial ones. We will ask private companies to sacrifice, just as private citizens must do.

Oh Jimmy, if we’d only started conserving 40 years ago, think how much better off we’d be today.

Ah well. We should have adopted the metric system back then, too, for that matter. When did we become such pampered children? When did sacrifice become a dirty word?

world-war-2-posters-112

I’ve heard it said more than once in the climate change community that the only real chance we have of pulling our collective bacon out of the fire, i.e. limiting global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius (we’re up 1 degree as of now), will be through an international mobilization effort requiring personal sacrifice the likes of which has not been seen since WWII.

Invariably the commenters go on to say that such action is obviously impossible. Politically unfeasible. Unrealistic. And that means we’re inevitably headed for a far more dangerous–really terribly unthinkable–3 or 4 degree rise.

What I want to know is why the possibility of positive change is so easily and cynically dismissed. What’s more scary?:

 Global Catastrophe which will Curse All Life on the Planet Permanently

vs.

Riding the Bus

(or committing to local food or flying less or setting your thermostat low or buying used clothing or whatever equally scary measure you’d like to propose)

It really doesn’t seem like such a hard choice to make.

It may indeed be politically unfeasible. I’ve long stopped looking to the national level for meaningful action or leadership. But we can do a lot on a personal level. We can start a people’s revolution. A Revolution of Reasonableness.

It’s already happening. There’s been so much positive change on this front, even just in the last few years. Urban homesteading, slow food, organics, bikes, car share, DIY, all of it — it’s blossoming. It’s very hopeful.  I’m going to put the next part in italics because it’s so important: The pleasure and satisfaction that we all receive from living this way is the positive counterspell to the dark enchantment of consumer culture.

When we live this way, we become positive examples to others–and though it may not always be obvious, we do influence them. And even if the changes we make in our lifestyle are small, the accumulation of small lifestyle changes by millions of people can have a big impact on both our culture and the environment. Everybody, no matter what their means, can do something to pitch in.

vacation-at-home

What I’ve been pondering lately is how to take it to the next level, how to up the rate of change. Is it possible to engage the famously lazy, self-centered American consumer in this revolution?

Well, I think it is, because “the American consumer” is another unhelpful abstraction, if not a convenient scapegoat. Who is this selfish creature of legend? I’m an American consumer. As are all my family and neighbors. There is no us and them in this fight. We can all do more.

So what do you think? Would you be willing to mobilize and sacrifice on a World War type scale if you knew it would do real good?

I’ve been looking at WWII propaganda posters from the U.S. and Britain, noting that a lot of what they needed to do, we need to do, too.

Any artists out there want to make a new breed of propaganda posters for this cause? I think that would be a swell thing.

And remember:

ride alone

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63 Comments

  1. Last night my husband and I looked at our electrical usage via the power company’s website. We rejoiced at seeing that our usage is well below the area average. We also decided to challenge ourselves more when looking at the daily usage, to bring our usage down further.
    But we have a selfish reason to bring down our power usage, $$$. Less we use the less we pay. Nothing to do with saving the planet, that is too abstract. Looking at our electric bill, that is not so abstract.
    I do agree that individuals should look at their own behavior and see how they as a single person added their drops to the problem ocean. However, the positive should win out. Saving on electricity and water will save money, or allow to make a off-grid solar system actually feasable, and the company who supplies the power can use less coal. Using less gas means less complaining about how much gas is a gallon, keeps driving to a minimum, and cleans the air.

  2. I’m all for clean energy however, Obama’s attack on coal burning plants will result in a regressive tax on the poorest among us. A megawatt of electricity produced by coal burning plants costs about $19. That same megawatt of electricity produced by wind farms is about $150. These figures are from a recent discussion I had with a Burbank, CA utility worker. The last time I checked I believe the U.S. is already meeting the 2020 Kyoto emission requirements.

  3. Being a professional worrywart, every time I turn on a light or other electrical appliance, I think of the (usually) men who are required to mine the coal that my power company is burning. It is a tremendously dirty and incredibly dangerous job. No doubt their families worry every day if they’ll come home safely. I also remember the pictures of mountaintop removal I’ve seen, a process that poisons the land and the water. Living in a house with a private well, I understand how vulnerable local water can be.

    Needless to say, this dramatically affects how often I opt to use the carpet sweeper instead of the vacuum, to use the solar oven instead of the electric one, to turn off lights obsessively when no one will be in the room. We’ve grown used to no air conditioning, even though I cannot handle heat well and John likes it only slightly better. (We are hardy, cold-climate people.) Hubby (an electrician) tells me that the power only costs a few cents per whatever, but that’s not the point, is it?

  4. Thanks for this post. I miss Carter’s honesty, but his statement that energy producers should be honest about profits and reserves misses a third element: Cost. Not the number of dollars spent to get oil out of the ground, but also the cost of pollution and climate change, the entire cost.

    The beauty of personal action is that it tends to greatly reduce the “externalities” that are not figured into cost. Food not trucked to me from Mexico and electricity not used do not have the hidden costs.

  5. That explains it!! I always had a strange feeling while driving. Now I know the truth: my car is harboring the ghost of Hitler!! Where’s Aykroyd and Ramis when you need them?
    On a serious note: the average American lives by the words of President Cheney “the American way of life is not negotiable.” The average American is still unaware that the party is on the downswing–the mainstream media keeps this off the front pages (as their corporate masters have paid them to do). Personal sacrifice will not occur until there is widespread hardship and by then it will no longer be a choice (and perhaps too late as well).

    • A few years ago, Bill Maher created an update of this poster on the cover of one of his books and it’s still for sale on Amazon, so you can take a look at it. I think this might get you there:

      amazon.com/dp/1597775134

      If not, just search “Bill Maher drive with Bin Laden” and it should come up.

  6. A timely post. A blurb just came up on my local news about victory gardens, and the cost to grow your own tomatoes vs buying them. We use, reuse, mend, and wear it out here. Its economical, as well as fitting in with our goal of using less.

  7. We have a gifted artist in our house who is crazy about poster art. To have artists across the country working on WWII style posters about doing our part to break free of the “dark enchantment of consumer culture” would be amazing. Wonder if Adbusters could be interested in promoting the idea?

    For my part, I’ll be thinking about our next steps to reduce our demand on the planet as I weed our strawberries.

    Thank you for another inspired post!

  8. You know it’s funny, I just wrote this to Kelly this morning after reading an article about the coming heat wave and then I went on to rootsimple and read this post which is quite apropos.

    http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/Latest-News-Wires/2013/0628/Heat-wave-scorches-California

    Read the part about cooling centers. It’s funny you know….I have AC in one room. During the hottest parts of the day I day inside in that room or at least out of the direct sun….like any sensible animal…and at night I spend more time outside while the house cools down. It’s a shame that most people’s schedules don’t allow for this flexibility although flexibility is partly responsible for our rigidity. If you can make any space cool, people always expect to comfortable. It’s potentially why I want to “power down” so as to slow the pace and see what happens, to flow in a more natural way, with the day, the heat, the night and the cool.

    • It’s true, we have no flexibility built into our offices, schools, etc., and none is required because a controlled climate is part and parcel of our cultural expectations. And it’s become standard that we expect our homes be perfectly climate controlled, too, and our cars, so we can live in a bubble all day long.

      In more civilized parts of the world, people take long holidays through the hottest months. Or structure their days so they rest during the hot hours. We just go-go-go.

      Like you, I’ve got one cool room. Yours is necessary for your electronics, but mine is pure indulgence. I haven’t used it yet during this heat wave, because of the tiny Guy McPherson in the back of my head!

    • OK, so I live in the High Desert here in CA which is cooler then the Low Desert (eg Palm Springs)but it is still HOT here today. My a.c. which is set at 81 degrees went on at 10 a.m. and from yesterday’ experience I know it will run until 10 p.m. tonight. So I thought I’d go online to Edison and see how much usage I used yesterday. Yowie! I decided to turn off the a.c. and got out a box fan instead. Would you believe I feel much cooler with it blowing on me then with the poor a.c. running its little heart out and emptying my paycheck before I even get it! In the shade on my patio it reads 109 but inside it’s a comfortable 82. “Who me travel this summer?” Ice cold drink, box fan, and your blog…no need to go anywhere. And as everyone who lives in the desert likes to say, “Ah but it is a DRY heat.”
      PS I worked for a company where the thermostat was controlled by ‘headquarters’ in another state a thousand miles away. Crazy!

    • Morningglory -

      It’s true — simple tech and behavior changes can do so much toward keeping you comfortable.

      For instance, we have a whole house fan that Erik cobbled together out of a box fan. It sits in the trap door of the attic. When the sun sets and the air outside gets cooler than the air inside, we open the windows, turn it on and it sucks all of the hot air out of our house within an hour. Works like a charm, cost very little, took an afternoon to make and doesn’t use much energy. We’ve blogged about it way back somewhere. The only catch is that it doesn’t work in humid climates, or on those rare muggy nights here when it stays hot outside. But for us, it works 95% of the time.

  9. I have been saying for years that I am willing to endure gas rationing. If looks could kill, I would be dead–old saying. As long as parents and teens think cruising is absolutely necessary, rationing will be a long time coming. And, there is no alternative public transportation for me to use, so this would definitely be difficult.

    Al Gore is crucified for his ideas on conservation. I doubt anyone publicly examined WWII advocates for conservative habits and had their habits held to public scrutiny. I do believe we should practice what we preach, but we too often attack the messenger to dilute the message and absolve ourselves of any personal responsibility.

    When Obama was elected (don’t remember which time), a woman from Birmingham, AL proclaimed joyfully that she would vote for Obama because she would never have to make another house payment or have to pay for gas in her car. Her statement highlights the problem of people who get their information from the pulpit. Do you think that woman knows anything about electric usage except how to get the electricity on after it is turned off?

    Too much information is filtered by churches and the message is too often not a matter of personal responsibility. At the grocery store, while I was checking out, I was explaining other measures I take besides using canvas bags. I told the young checker and bagger to go and look on their computers for the mass of plastic in the ocean. One cashier said, “I don’t even worry about stuff like that. The Lord will return and save us all.” Maybe she said “Jesus.”

    Sure, I can find people and blogs that agree wholeheartedly with me, that teach me things everyday, that welcome information, but in my area, at least, there are legions of people who do not want to change, who are against anything that shakes their long-held beliefs. Yes, I live in rural Alabama. We are not known for our enlightenment. My MA puts me in the top 10% of the population. People here are not consumers of information unless it comes in on Jerry Springer or the latest Romance novel. Okay, I exaggerate. However, education is not necessarily the key; enlightenment is. Maybe posters would work if their messages were not undermined every Sunday morning. How would you address forces that counteract poster messages? Or, should I just quit gritting my teeth? I heard a minister tell a group of poor people not to worry, that god would not let us suffer.

    Climate change is mostly ridiculed. Even when people are concerned, they are way off base. A torrid summer day just confirms that god will destroy the earth by fire. A day in the teens proves that global warming is a lie. I have learned not to comment. Yes, I do have friends who are aware.

    Consider this and you will understand the extent of the problems:

    http://practical-parsimony.blogspot.com/2013/05/lady-bugs-are-eating-my-tomatoes.html

    • Some people do not want to be bothered taking care of their surroundings and it is easier for them to say that it is ‘all temporary’ and that in the end they are going to be rescued and taken to a better place. Sad.
      I have lived in areas like yours. Too frustrating!

  10. Back in the 70s (I was past the sprout stage:), I worked at a public library, and we received funding from Washington to build up a library of books on solar energy, home vegetable gardening, food preservation, energy efficiency, etc. We had plans for passive solar houses, greenhouses, etc. People were interested, and the books were much in demand. The New Western Energy Show came to town, and there seemed to be lots of momentum going in the direction of the above. Then, the money dried up (I’m trying not to be political). A few years ago, for a brief time, a video of the New Western Energy Show was posted on You Tube. I watched it, and felt saddened by the time that we have lost since that awakening in the 70s (of our responsibility for the earth). I am encouraged by your work, Erik and Kelly, as well as the work of others on blogs and recent publications. I can only hope that this time, the momentum isn’t lost.

    • Yes, I remember those days well and am heartened by the fact that we now have the internet and blogs like this one. Hopefully it will not die out again. We were so optimistic in the ’70′s and I was so excited when Mother Earth News started up. Previous to finding this blog I was just going along on my own. Now I find there is a community of committed people. This gives me hope!

  11. What great points you make Kelly. Could a politician who said ‘ask not what your country could do for you- ask what you can do for your country’ get elected in present day? Sadly I don’t think so.

    I pass a coal fired power plant every day – a few miles from our house (not our power source however). I see that coal piled up and it serves as a great reminder to conserve energy.

    I heard an interview on NPR today with an economist who said climate change in this country could be addressed by a carbon tax. People would pay more for carbon emitting things, which would hopefully motivate them to use less, and the expense would be partly mitigated by not just conservation efforts but by lower income tax, for instance. It seemed like a great solution, although I cannot imagine it getting through congress. I certainly don’t see THEM asking what they can do for their country.

  12. This is a great topic. And like many here, I am my neighborhood’s “eccentric conservationist;” checking the electric meter every day, plugging the bath tub drain in order to later use bath water to flush toilets, etc. But on the upside, because of new business models that enable homeowners to rent solar panels rather than purchase them outright, my house has had solar panels for a few months now. And immediately it generated lots of conversations within the neighborhood. So much so that my next-door neighbor now has solar panels on her home. And just yesterday, a person down the street signed a lease contract to install solar panels on his roof. I wasn’t but a little kid during the ‘70s, but from my vantage point, the momentum seems real. Baby steps.

  13. This is a nice article. We as occupants of the planet shouldn’t be trashing it. However, your article implicitly assumes that humans are either solely, majorly, or at least meaningfuly responsible for climate change, and that’s just not scientific fact. The reality is that Earth’s siblings are also going through climate change. The dishonesty behind global warming was exposed by the fact that the Earth is going through more than just warming extremes. However, the same people seeking to monetize the phenomenon, at our expense, have simply repackaged the same hype as “climate change” to accomodate the growing awareness that Earth is going through climate extremes of many types: warming, cooling, percipitation, hurricanes, tornados, new types of clouds, etc. However, people need to look outside of Earth and recognize that changes to similar extremes are happening to our neighboring planets. Yes, we need to change the way that we live here on Earth, but no, we are not responsible for planetary changes throughout the solar system. Moreover, we certainly need to resist ANY implication that we are as well as the people who push or seek to profit from or punish us for such an implication.

    • lost for words. only hope this view isn’t very pervasive. Is this really James Inhofe?

    • OK, genuine question.
      I’ve read this view before, that climate change is merely hype perpetuated for profit by…who? I understand that people disagree on the causes of climate change but who is ‘profiting’ from me buying my food from local farmers, growing my own vegetables from non-Monsanto seed from local garden centres, picking my own fruit from local orchards and farms, reducing my power consumption, reusing grey water, collecting rain water, cycling instead of driving? Unless there’s a conspiracy between all land owners, plant nurseries and cycle shops, I’m really not getting who ‘they’ are…

    • While I refuse to start posting links and helping turn this into a true believer vs. heretics snarkfest, I will point out that I agree with Samantha and can only hope that recent articles in publications as varied as The Economist and Der Spiegel show that the idea of anthropogenic global warming (or abrupt climate change or whatever moniker it gets changed to this month)is no longer ‘settled science’.
      More importantly, this post by our kind host shows provides another iteration of the religious or spiritual principle that unavoidably infuses this site and others like it. People are designed for worship – and if we choose to live in a secular culture that has removed traditional religion as an outlet, we will find somewhere else to go with those impulses. Eating Organic or Gluten-free is the new Kosher; using gray water and refusing to own a car or taking advantage of air conditioning is the new Urban Amish lifestyle.
      There is nothing new under our reportedly warmer sun, is there?

    • Climate change denial is also hype-for-profit. Big Carbon and their minions have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. These companies make obscene profits even as they benefit from corporate welfare at the federal level, just in case anybody forgot. I’d much rather see clean energy making those profits than dirty polluters.

      I’ve also noticed that the deniers are always pro-big business who love to see the rich get richer because a teeny bit of it supposedly trickles down on the rest of us. So deniers’ objection to the “hype” of climate change as being motivated by profit always seems disingenuous to me.

  14. great blog! I’m not sure you’re old enough to remember that speech of Carter’s, but I do. What I remember most is the republican rebuttal to his proposals for reducing energy usage. Think Bob Dole was the person who did the little speech that basically said it was our right to use all the resources we had in any way we wanted. and if there was nothing left for our grandchildren, that would be their problem to deal with.
    and now our electrical company is charging us all a surcharge because so many people are cutting back on their electrical useage that their income is reduced, while their fixed costs remain the same or even have increased! So no savings out of pocket there!
    Admit I’m not as conservative as I’d like to be all the time, but have managed to reduce my garbage, increase my garden yields, and save money through the year.
    Think Global, Act Local!

  15. The Union of Concerned Scientists came out with a great book a couple years ago entitled Cooler, Smarter. Basically, they looked at all the research and determined that if only 20% of Americans cut our carbon emissions by 20%, we could slow if not stop global climate change. And the suggestions they make for that 20% are all the low hanging fruit of energy conservation. They also point out that if one were to adopt these changes, most of one’s friends and neighbors would hardly notice. It’s a great book.

    • It’s true that small changes — even from some of us if not all of us — make a big difference. Somewhere I saw stats on what would happen if everybody in the US would just change their lightbulbs. Can’t remember the exact numbers, but it was a jawdropping savings. Thanks for the reference.

  16. Well most of us would its just that if its not organised for us in some way we seem to not be to effect change on a large scale that its peppered by individuals rather than blanket change.
    But it can happen I will give you 2 examples that I know if recently where a campaign to reduce household water consumption in my State of Victoria in Australia had no choice but to introduce laws prohibiting people from washing their cars or watering their gardens from the garden tap. There was a whistleblowing system set up also where the public could report the misuse of water. What transpired after the initial grumbling and outcry was that people just got on with it. Those who wanted gardens installed rain water tanks and grey water systems and put signs up in their gardens telling their neighbors that was their water source. Those that didnt let their lawns go and the planted plants that could live in our conditions so a return to native species. We drove around in dirty cars or we got them cleaned at car washes that had water recycling systems. Everyone became water conscious. Bottled water became a hot topic people looked at water filtration systems rather than bottled water. There was radical change and most importantly we all got to see that even with the changes life went on pretty much as normal.
    Our dams are full now and there was talk of lifting the water ban but there was quite a public outcry against it which I found interesting.
    They built a desalination plant that most people think is a waste of money now that we could manage our water through our own action.

    We have just introduced a carbon trading scheme here in Australia and whilst opposers were saying it would cause hardship and widespread damage to the economy. It hasnt and again people are seeing that we can have radical change that doesnt mean the end of the world as we know it.

    Ive come to understand that the only thing that stops us making real change is the fear of it. This is where we need governments brave enough to help us over this fear hurdle by setting policy that forces us to make the changes for us to see that they arent that bad and can actually be good for us.

    We now have a generation of children here in Australia learning through experience about water conservation and climate change. Its heartening to see.

    • Love these ideas: then again, here in America we’ve got people who’ve tried to let their yards and gardens go and have ended up with complaints from the city or their homeowners association that their property doesn’t meet certain standards. and have seen people washing their sidewalks with their hoses, having the attitude that since they pay for the water, they can do what ever they want with it. In some parts of America its against state law to harvest your rain water as it then won’t run off and get into the waterways where it can be controlled and sold! Its going to take a long time to change people’s attitudes on those things unfortnately

    • Great to hear it! I believe those changes were brought about by longstanding drought, yes?

      Top down changes can help, giving people the protection of the law to do the right things (like removing ordinances which require lawns, for instance) and social permission to say, drive a dirty car (because everyone is!). It may well be that some states here will be droughty enough soon enough that such changes will be implemented. What I like more, though, is the idea you present that after a bit of prodding, people see the sense of the changes, and want to keep them.

  17. “When did sacrifice become a dirty word?”
    not sure exactly when but “Morning in America” certainly didnt help…

  18. Have any of you ever been to any major city in China? People in Beijing or Shanghai might not see the sun for weeks at a time. Their official pollution numbers are horrible, and all of their official reporting of every statistic is considered a lie – it is certainly much than they are saying.

    While Americans could always do more, I have a hard time believing there is a realistic amount of anything we can do without culture altering changes given how bad environmental conditions are in Asia. So I am content to grow veggies in my backyard, but also not feel first world guilt over driving my car or keeping my air conditioner on high, because it is truly out of our control.

    Besides, if anyone was really serious about both moving base load electrical generation from coal, AND keeping electricity cheap enough to not tank the economy, they would be screaming at the top of their lungs about nuclear. No new plants have been built in a long time and like everything, technology has advanced.

    • I think youre wrong on that one I live in a city that has witnessed major change in lifestyle focus. Instead of quantity we look for quality. We are beginning to look for alternatives for transport. Backyard vegies and chooks, water and energy conservation has grown remarkably to the point where its considered part of the culture not a sub culture. We now incorporate public transport, carsharing, bike riding and plain ol leg power. We are questioning validity of increasing the urban sprawl. It has become obvious that without the infrastructure such as public transport it doesnt work.
      People are questioning not only their own use resources but where it comes from. For instance organic grower markets are everywhere home-delivered organic produce is everywhere. This popularity makes it more and more affordable.
      We want to know where our shoes were made our shirts and jeans. The big shopping malls are doing it tough people are starting to refuse purchasing items that are not ethical.
      There is major change happening and everyone can participate. Its infectious the more visible the action the more it catches on.

    • The arguments I hear around here at community meetings (where we talk about crime and complain about road work) is energy needs to be cheap for poor people. I saw the woman who preached at my aunt’s funeral on TV protesting electrical rate hikes in front of the utility’s building. Maybe where you are they talk about cheap power for the greater economy, here it’s about keeping the lights on for the retirees and single mothers. And to do that the power has to be cheaper and the rates need to go down.
      Concrete stuff. The environment is too esoteric. The electric bill that wasn’t paid and the notice that they are going to turn your lights off, that is real.
      Of course, it is too rude to ask the poor to conserve power. None of us want to beat up on the poor or people struggling with their bills, but know what kind of hornet’s nest you’re kicking up when you ask people to drive less, conserve more, and unplug crap.

      It is so much easier to talk about big power companies, evil Monsanto (agent of Satan), the government (federal & local) and other THEYs than it is to talk about your own household, your neighbors and family members and what the people we love do wrong.

    • If one chooses to go in for the whole mankind-is-the-root(simple?)-of-all-evil, this is an important point to make. Who will think to undertake the science to come up with solutions and then develop alternative technologies to help save the world? The Chinese? Zimbabwe? Saudi Arabia?
      It’s pretty clear that the Western world in all its diversity is the wellspring of concern *and* the solution to the problem, should one be necessary and possible. Which means any ‘solution’ that reduces our ability to manage ourselves will, in the long run, reduce our chances to change the future. Individual freedom, cheap energy and an educated populace are the only things that will save us, because those are the only things that allow us to take a longer view and link the fate of our world to our ambitions.
      Should we try to live our lives more conscientiously and produce less waste and use our resources as wisely as possible? Of course we should. But if we make energy or gasoline or computers or internet access too expensive in some top-down effort to force people live their lives differently, all we’ll get is less hope, less scientific advancement and less involvement with causes that can make a difference.

  19. I suspect that the majority of people don’t have enough connection with natural, healthy ecosystems to comprehend just how much they’re losing by letting them disappear due to excessive development, resource consumption, and the effects of both on climate patterns. To suggest that they sacrifice comforts for this esoteric thing called the environment is to mark oneself as a DFH who’s disconnected from reality. It’s hip to be cynical about environmentalists, especially amongst the crowd who see nothing but boundless technological advances on the horizon.

    Most people will change their habits when they’re forced to do so and not a moment sooner. It’s not even enough to put aside arguments for environmental protection and instead point out how much of their life they’re squandering to keep their luxuries and atrocious urban planning. That way of life is THE way of life until circumstances push them through the thick veil of anxiety that locks them into it.

  20. to me i dont understand why so many have to wait for someone to come down and tell us that the climate is changing or this or this….same as i dont understand why people have to take up a religion to do what is right….you do what is right because it is right and that is it…whether the world was ending or not, i still have never used the dryer or had a/c or waste food or beat people or kick dogs or whatever…i just wish it wasnt always a battle about if i believe this side of the argument then i am this type person…we should all open our minds, listen to all the ideas, see what is the best, most effective, most efficient, most gracious way for us – different things work for different people in different areas….just always try to be gentle and kind to each other and ourselves and the world…..we are all one really – if we go down – Earth goes down…we are going down together….whatever with the arks and all that bananas….just stop with all the nonsense…

    but yes i would love to “mobilize” – i would love to know more in my area that are into things i am into and people of this blog and similar blogs are into….and i am sure there are more of us out there than we know – i think a lot of us are “closet cases” because we think people will scoff at us….but once they catch on, many join in – even if it is just in little ways…and every little thing helps.

    and education education education – many people simply just do not know about a lot of these things…i had no clue about humanure but it just always ate at me about the toilet situation and REALLY annoyed me about the cat and dog poop (ive got 4 cats and a dog so lots of poop) throwing it in the garbage so THANK YOU INTERNETS!!! i googled away about composting animal waste and found humanure and am forever changed.

    enough rambling – apologies…

  21. I think about what a waste it is to see so many fields in town and around towns just laying there growing weeds. If every town decided to have community gardens where ever there were vacant areas, there would not need to be any hungry people anywhere. And people would be happier and healthier for the effort and reward of feeding their selves, and the experience of working in the soil. It is such a totally natural thing to do, and yet now days so very unfamiliar to most people. I know it’s a terribly simplistic idea to a seemingly unsolvable problem, but that’s only in my humble opinion, because people can make anything far more complicated than it needs to be.

  22. Travel at home could mean inviting people from around the world to stay with you via the website Couchsurfer. com

  23. Great post, thank you!

    I think we are looking at a cultural shift, as well as enlightenment (as a previous responder said – I like that!) at least here in the US of A.

    It’s starting, though. If the jam- packed farmer’s market I just came from is any indication – people are starting to think more local, more in season, no pesticides, more renewable energy. Less BIG and more SMALL. And that, I hope, eventually extends to energy and other pollution causing daily living things. (driving, etc).

    The hard part is making alternative energy (or green energy) available and affordable for people. People like me! Also slanting the conversation to highlight why it benefits the individual. Not everyone is altruistic and most, I think, may need to be sold something based on personal self interest. Not a slam on the peeps, just kind of how humanity shakes out.

    And I’m not gonna touch the “government” and special interests side of this. Oh, no. Not on this beautiful Saturday afternoon! I’m gonna go feed my chickens and pull some weeds in the veggie patch!

    Food for thought. Have a great week!

  24. Thanks for pointing out that a more sustainable way of life can feel like a sacrifice, especially at first, but that in the end it’s such a more joyful way of life than what our consumer culture offers! That’s just how I feel. I think it may be because companies will always need us to buy more, newer, better, etc., but when we make things ourselves we can be surprisingly satisfied with what we already have.

  25. prb,
    Thank you. What has religion got to do with filling the gas tank? I think it is still against rule set forth by non-profit regulations for churches/men/women to preach politics. I, too, see no need for people to take up religion to be good, honest, caring, decent people. The inherent “designed to worship” point is sort of out of place in this discussion. The point was lack of education, lack of political savvy, and following a spiritual leader with his own agenda.

    As for humans part of global warming, I read somewhere that according to tree rings, ice pack plugs or something that widespread use of coal and the Industrial Revolution in Europe began to show up in the earth’s stored records of our activities. I am writing this without recall of what was found that is a product or byproduct of coal burning.

    Who can profit by our having a garden? There are grants for a cadre of scientist, books to be written and bought, someone who just needs followers, needs money for speeches, for consulting, to brainstorm and invent something new.

    I believe “global warming” is true. I think it will happen faster with our help. However, global warming will result in an ice age very soon. I don’t think we will have eternal tropical weather in Minnesota. I could be wrong. Colder weather will be the result of global warming hurried along by our expanding population with their increasing appetite for the Western good life and the ability to afford it.

    Before that, I was aware of cycles of disparate weather on earth-90 year cycles within 500 year cycles within longer cycles. I did not just jump on the global warming bandwagon without giving it some thought. However, I could have been horribly fooled.

    Everyone (almost)who is publicly pushing for some sort of change has an agenda. Some profit handsomely. Many have genuine concern for the future of the earth.

    Everyone has something he or she is unwilling to give up. Using CFLs and not using AC is detrimental to my health. I will resist those loudly to my last breath. Or, I will eventually go into a nursing home and they will just sedate me.

    I am said to be eccentric and probably nasty since I don’t use tp or paper towels. We are sawing down Canada’s old growth forests to wipe our behinds! When a person chooses a different path, it is hard to not be thought strange. Some people don’t want to deal with that. Sometimes, laws will not allow choice.

    My friend told me a story of her friend in public housing. Her friend grew tomatoes in two buckets. She got in trouble for using the outside water faucet and running up the water bill. So, the woman used five gallon buckets to catch roof runoff. She was in even more trouble for putting trashy looking things in the yard. I never heard how the woman decided to water her two plants!

    The woman in public housing cannot read or write. She was just trying to grow food. She has no agenda, not trying to save water or waste it. Well, she does have an agenda but not one for this forum.

    Actually, no one in public housing in this town can have one plant in the ground. They can have seven planters on their 6′x6′ porches. However, the huge yards front and especially in the back, yards full of grass, poisoned and mowed regularly.

    There are more problems than one person can solve.

    We do have our own local water supply, so we are out of the debate and water fight that TN, GA, and NE AL have going. Water is the least of our worries, even when there are burn warnings. Cost is the issue here with the public housing. I am conservative in my water use because I don’t want to waste it. Besides, the sewer charge is always higher than the water cost. So, that is a very good incentive to use less water. Even if I water plants and it does not go down the sewer, I must pay as though all that water had to run through sewers and go to the city water treatment plant.

    • hey PP – sorry if i wrote my response incorrectly/jumbled….i meant whatever one person can do for what works best for them – not meaning everyone should give up ac…just listen to all kinds of ideas and pick out some things that can work in your life…

      and i am horrified the more i learn about laws that wont allow people to be earth beings but be more of some sort of caged thing. HORRIFIC that anyone should not be allowed to grow food. terrible stuff and i really have no answers…

      yes my water bill is $30 for refuse so the little i save on my water doesnt due anything really to drop my actual bill because the actual water part of the bill is minimal compared to all the other fees tagged on….and we throw maybe one paper bag of garbage out a week or two….in fact, i think it somehow is known in the neighborhood that my garbage cart is empty 99% of the time because so often people fill it up with who knows what trash – awful stuff…im always afraid i will get in trouble for all the nonsense people dump in my cart…

      oh well – rambling again and taking away from the thread – off topic completely.

      i love all the info i get from this blog RS and from yours too PP – goods reads!

  26. Here in New York State we’ve been hit by Hurricane Irene (2011), Tropical Storm Lee (2011), Hurricane Sandy (2012) and, this month, devastating floods related to wave after wave of just “regular” weather systems. (In my area, we’ve had just shy of 8″ of rain. Normal is 3.5″) Decades ago, these would all have been considered once or twice in a lifetime – or 100 year – events, but they’re now annual. Many more people are beginning to connect the dots because it’s starting to hit home in a more personal way. In addition, more and more of us know someone personally who has been impacted by disaster elsewhere, because the disasters are becoming so much more frequent. For example, I have relatives who lost their home in the recent Black Forest fire in CO. As Bloomberg Businessweek said, “IT’S GLOBAL WARMING, STUPID”.

    The problem at the federal level is partisan gridlock. But at the state level, things *are* changing. It’s at the state level that we begin to deal with the local effects of catastrophe. Gov. Cuomo visited the devastated areas in the Mohawk Valley yesterday to see the flood damage…not President Obama. In the same way, you may remember last fall when Republican NJ Gov. Chris Christie decided that Obama wasn’t such a bad guy after all and FEMA was his new best friend after Hurricane Sandy took out big chunks of the NJ coast. As Governor, the suffering of people/families/businesses comes into focus and if Christie wants to be reelected, he had to do whatever he could. If that meant taking $$ from the big bad feds, well, so be it. (I should note, however, that the Party of No in Congress delayed approving the money as a way of punishing Christie for embracing the “Dark Side”. Screw the people who lost everything.)

    I agree that grass-roots change is critical. But government is the only entity big enough to take on certain solutions at the scale needed. It would be nice if Washington would put on their big boy/girl panties and step up, but in the meantime don’t discount what the states can do. The red south is a lost cause, at least for awhile longer, but many others are waking up. California is, I believe, well on its way to a clean energy future. New York is finally seeing the light and making noises about resilience and “green”. It may take a few more “worst ever” wildfires, and another couple of springs of F-5 tornadoes to drag the “conservative” states into action, but I think it will happen. Eventually the feds will have no choice but to get involved. Let’s hope it’s not too little, too late.

    • It can be a state by state effect that causes sweeping changes. In Australia with the recent droughts some states were affected worse than others and these were the ones that really out of necessity began the action to affect change.
      After the initial negativity some clever marketing turned it into positive action that was slowly taken on by other states. Now water conservation is integrated into our lifestyle there are laws on the wastage and reuse of water. We are of course not perfect we still use drinking water to flush our toilets but there are now laws on what sort of toilets you can put into new builds and with some clever public incentive programs people swapped their guzzler cisterns for more efficient models.
      The difference is in our attitudes we realise it is the people who drive business demands. So what we want and expect retailers start stocking and supplying.
      To say that starting at an individual level is futile is not correct. It does happen that way absolutely we have the ultimate power but its not instant and that is where government policy and legislation comes in handy.
      But ultimately it is us that drives the demands.
      In recent decades we seem to have lost our demand for quality and got sucked into the quantity hype getting more for less. Taking more and paying less is not a sustainable model.
      Someone spoke about the reason we have everything cheap is so the poor people can afford it. Im afraid that is a crock of —-. It is the cashed population who take advantage and sustain the demand for more for less. Poor people if they had their way would opt for quality over quantity anyday. You see they already know that we dont need a new toaster every year that an energy efficient heater is going to save on power rather than the 10 buck walmart power guzzler. Poor people know how to live within their means they are living examples of existence with less.
      It is us the cashed up people who force them to not be able to afford better quality consumer choices.
      Our expectations of low priced high quantiies means that the quality of products have less quality and value. Retailers and manufacturers feed our demand.
      If our demands were to suddenly start demanding better quality more efficient products the products and services would change to the demand.
      There is a transition period where they will cost more for awhile but the prices drop as the demand increases.
      This is where governments can help.
      So here again in Australia they ran subsidised programs to install solar panels in households the scheme took off every other house has solar panels with a lot of houses now adding power back into the grid. New business started up and jobs were created to supply the demand in solar energy sector. The scheme has come to an end but the systems are now affordable because the demand is high.
      Another example is the rainwater tanks there were rebate scheme for the installation of rainwater tanks again same thing new business sector emerged in the water conservation sector jobs were created and now every other house has a water tank.

      This happened relatively quickly too over a 3-5 year period.

      It hasnt fixed all the problems but it has made a real difference to who we are what we consume and how we view our resources.

      The rebate subsidy system also meant that low income households were able to access the benefits of reduction in utilities use.

      There are other schemes regarding insulation as well that helped reduce heating and cooling costs as well.

      So it can be done and at a state level right down to the individual. We are addicts to a high consuming lifestyle and we know we have to give it up at some point some will find it easy others a little harder. But I think we all agree that at some point in time we have to stop our damaging ways its not helping the planet and not helping ourselves we are sicker than we have ever been health wise.

  27. prb,
    I was agreeing with only the religion part of your comment, basically my thank you and the next sentence. The rest was not in response to your comments. Sorry if I did not make that clear.

    “Caged thing” is so aptly put. I use less than the minimum of water and pay for the minimum, much more than I use.

  28. Would the commenters mind sharing more of the ways in which they conserve water and energy in their homes and communities? Some of the suggestions that were already shared seem useful and fairly easy to incorporate into daily life (reusing bath water, giving up paper towels, etc.) Having recently moved from an apartment to a house, I’m finding it’s a whole new ballgame in terms of energy consumption.

    • Because we live in a hot climate, our quickest fixes have been getting a clothesline and a sun oven. Besides not buying energy to cook or dry clothes, the electric oven and dryer are no longer heating up the house, so we don’t run the a/c as much. We bought a little folding solar panel from Goal Zero to charge phones and such and in the kitchen try to use hand powered tools only (like a manual coffee grinder). The bonus is we can still do most things in a power outage. We acquire things slowly to make the cost feasible. It was using bicycles (except in August & September when it’s Martyrdom Hot) that saved enough money in gas to start the garden & chickens. That saved money on groceries plus ongoing gas savings is going to buy a whole house fan so we can buy a whole house fan and dispense with the a/c at night altogether (it’s an old inefficient oversized unit). The only things I hate: the crappy CFLs that don’t last and our disgusting moldy front loading washing machine (LG). Otherwise, I’ve really enjoyed how these steps at home have snowballed.

  29. I found a comment above interesting, and I looked up The Economist and der Spiegel to see what I would find. What I found was that scientists are acknowledging that the climate change models may have overstated the rate of warming; while there is no question that warming is occurring, it’s not happening nearly as fast as some models predicted.

    But — do the models really matter? The problem with global warming as a thing/event/belief/disbelief, as it has become, is that it has eclipsed all other environmental discussion. The possibility of human-caused global warming should be *part* of a discussion about the environmental impact of what we humans do. It should not be the beginning and the end of the discussion, but that seems to be what it has become today.

    When I was little, we had “give a hoot, don’t pollute” and “only you can prevent forest fires.” Growing up in L.A., we had “smog alert” days when the sky was brown and we were not allowed to play outside or have P.E. classes, prompting talk about lowering emissions. (It worked; the air is significantly cleaner now.) As I got older and everything became disposable and globalized, we had “reduce, reuse, recycle” and concerns about clearcutting and overfishing. These movements were about *not* trashing the world, not damaging ecosystems, not relying too heavily on landfills, keeping air and water clean, etc. Climate change was not an issue.

    Environmentalism has now somehow become too much about global warming too little of the rest. Does it really matter if the climate models are right? Isn’t it still better to buy less plastic and other disposables that end up in landfills? Isn’t it still better to buy organic or grow your own rather than supporting farms that pollute watersheds with excess fertilizer and herbicides? Whether the earth’s temperature goes up or down or sideways, isn’t it better to “don’t pollute” and reuse and reduce emissions so our kids can continue to play outside–rather than just buy buy buy?

    When it comes to personal environmental responsibility, it should make no difference if the climate models are right or wrong, whether someone’s making a profit, or whether the guy down the street thinks its all a big conspiracy. Our resources are finite. Air gets dirty. Water gets polluted. Landfills fill up. Species go extinct. Habitats get destroyed. There’s so much more at stake than global warming. Believe or don’t believe in the climate models, but we can’t ignore the realities of our actions on the environment.

  30. I’ve been waffling for days about commenting on this, but it’s going to be one of those things that bug me if I don’t.

    In the US, we’re facing a series of interlocking problems in terms of our communities, economies, and the environment. Big box stores like Walmart hurt all three, but every time someone brings up Walmart, someone else will pop up to explain why they absolutely have to shop there, they have no other options, etc, etc. And I know for some people it’s true, but with some work and sacrifice, it could be true for far fewer people.

    While our government can do quite a lot to change things, as long as we’re shopping at Walmart and giving money to the Koch brothers, nothing is really going to change. Especially because the Koch brothers and their ilk are taking our money and using it against us, at the government level.

    I think there pretty much has to be a citizen-led mobilization of massive social change, because the government isn’t going to do it unless we, the people, lead it there. Sadly, I don’t think enough people are willing to give up “cheap and easy” to make it happen.

    What makes me really sad is that a big part of the answer is to buy local and reinvest in our local businesses and economies – to give our business to independent farmers and makers and so on – and to minimize the business we give to the big multinationals bent on profit above all else, but a lot of people sneer at that as mere “ethical consumerism” and dismiss it.

    In my household, we do what we can and we try to do a little bit more all the time, which is what most of the people who read this wonderful blog do, I suspect. It just doesn’t seem like there’s enough of us who are aware of the problem and are actually willing to work and sacrifice to solve it.

  31. Commenting late and at the end of a long string, so maybe no one will ever see this, but… Sharon Astyk cites historian Timothy Breen on “rituals of non-consumption”. (sorry I’m such a blog idiot that I can’t figure out how to post the link, Google her on ‘why I hate Earth Day’.) The idea is that during tough times, cultural practices emerge to replace buying unaffordable or unavailable items. (Think colonial patriots serving chicory root “coffee” at their society parties instead of British tea.) Let’s deliberately highlight pleasurable things and activities that can replace the consumer lifestyle- invite the neighbor kids in to see your chickens or take some cherry tomatoes home, bring “real food” to every work potluck and talk about how satisfying it is to produce it, ask your friends if they want to go “thrifting” with you and explain what you’re looking for as you shop (I was on a mission to find a sugar shaker to hold my baking soda for cleaning the other day, didn’t find one but brainstormed up a recycled solution instead with my buddy while we were looking). My point is, those of us who “get it” must embrace our role as neighborhood weirdos and engage our friends, neighbors, and co-workers in the pleasurable aspects of our alternative approach to life. More flies with honey, don’t ya know. I’m not saying we don’t discuss the concerns that motivate our actions, just that we need to be sure to share the good stuff rather than only discuss the sacrifices and deprivations, and (gulp) invite others to join us while we do things more meaningful and satisfying than watching tv and buying stuff.

    • We dont need to be seen as weirdos just as purveyors of commonsense. Its hard to go past something that makes sense. So if we show the sense of living a more conscious way of living and share our knowledge with our friends then we are more likely to see it spread and become commonplace.
      For instance keeping backyard chickens you get yourself some chickens you learn about how you can keep chickens in your area. You trial and error the keeping of chickens when you develop a successful model you share your information with others and the excess produce. This will encourage others and fasttrack backyard chickens in your area. So if you are willing to share your knowledge of what works people are able to see that keeping chickens is doable as well as the benefits it brings. It might start with your street and spread from there. Ive seen this happen in my city of Melbourne. We have climate variations between suburbs thats why its important to concentrate on your neighborhood in the first instance. There will always be leaders and followers you can assume either so if you feel you can be a leader then lead if not look for a leader and follow.
      Look for community avenues to channel change from such as schools and church communities. These are great places to spread the knowledge of community gardens, chicken and beekeeping etc; Places where the culture of community and sharing is already there.

  32. The debate on whether there is climate change or not is just a distraction so noone has to make any actual decision on real problem and that is our consumption. We humans are killing ourselves off by our own act of consumption.

    We are depleting and destroying our environment and we are eating ourselves death through overeating or consuming manufactured food.

    Our inaction lack of physical activity and and lack of moral action is contributing to our demise.

    We are like a global version of Easter Island or Mayans. I think this time will be our last I dont see how this trainwreck is ever going to get off this set of rails.

    Lets face it we value the manmade concept of money, power and convenience above all else.
    These are intangible meaning in a situation of disaster they are meaningless.

    I intend to live a quiet and peaceable life on my plot of land and lead by example its the only way.
    Enact the plan and spread the word as far and wide as you can.
    Its all we can do really.

  33. “Is it possible to engage the famously lazy, self-centered American consumer in this revolution?”

    Um, for the majority of Americans I’m afraid the answer is an emphatic no, unless they’re forced to. People feel entitled to the standard of living we’ve grown accustomed to in our modern world, and you’re not going to see very many of them rush to give that up and cut back on consumption. If they can afford it, they feel they deserve it. And when the issue of personal responsibility comes up, they justify their choices by pointing out there are far worse offenders than themselves. I have a friend who simple won’t consider seeing her eldest son and his family less often than every six weeks, so she and her husband, or her son and his wife and son, have routinely traveled (usually by air) a thousand miles (round trip) for over a decade. When my husband and I took out a home equity loan five years ago to add solar panels to our 1,650 sq. ft. northern California home, this same friend and her husband, who own an identical house, felt the cost of converting to solar for electrical production wasn’t justified. Instead they chose to buy an expensive original painting, designer evening dresses and more wine for the air conditioned wine closet they built in their (two) car garage. Our homes are nice but modest, btw. These are college educated, liberal people who are informed about environmental issues. And they’re good hearted folks. Unfortunately, I think their lifestyle choices are typical of our society.

    • I for one would love it if people would realize we’ve crossed the cost threshold for solar and that at this point it is costing them money to NOT have it. These panels should be everywhere by now! We put ours up last summer and they completely eliminated our electric bill. Our electric bill (SDG&E) had reached $400 a month and would have been recurring for the rest of our lives. The solar, by comparison, is a six year loan and is $220 a month. It saved money right out the gate. Now I’m just waiting for an electric car with a real range (not the 2 digit crap), and we can get rid of our gas budget, too. You’d think people would be all over this, but they insist solar is not financially feasible.

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