Archive for July, 2009

Conservatives v. Conservationists

Posted on July 17, 2009. Filed under: environment | Tags: |

Does anyone else find it ironic that conservatives tend to oppose conservationists? I bring in the subject of the environment, because it pops up a lot in the book I’m reviewing, Affluenza. I think its conservationist stance will turn off conservatives. Personally, I am sick and tired of the equivalent of sibling rivalry between the two groups.  One side vehemently denies there is anything wrong, the other thinks we are already doomed unless we changed  yesterday.  While neither side will fully come to an agreement, there’s a big middle ground we should find and some acceptable compromises .  So, kids, we’ll call you Conny and Connor, come sit at the kitchen table and let’s discuss this rivalry.

First of all, stop arguing over  science. I love science, but science is not foolproof.  We do NOT know it all- not by a long shot.  Sometimes when we learn new things, it puts things we knew before in a different light.  For example, we discovered that high levels of cholesterol in our bodies caused plaque buildup in our arteries, leading to heart attacks.  We also discovered that eggs were high in cholesterol.  For a while, eggs were bad guys.  We were advised to severely limit their consumption to like 1 egg a week.  Rash conclusion? I figured it was a good idea to not O.D. on eggs, but at the same time, if this conclusion were 100% correct, the average lifespan of a Chilean would probably be something like 32, as they consume dozens of eggs a week.  Now, further studies have revealed that there are different kinds of cholesterol, LDL and HDL and one kind needs to be elevated and another needs to be lowered. Eggs aren’t all bad cholesterol, and unless you have a huge genetic disposition to high cholesterol, you can probably eat as many eggs as you please.  See how that works?  The knowledge we first gained wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t complete, either.

Bottom line?  Don’t jump to hasty conclusions.

As it is right now, most studies are backed by one side or the other, specifically looking for something to support their stance.  Each side accuses the other of manipulating data and poor science, which most likely sometimes is true, other times not.  If everyone could just hold back their pride and judgment and try to have studies done together, on a variety of factors and look objectively at the big picture, we would have a much better idea of what is going on right here on our planet.  We would be more likely to come to a consensus on what our choices related to our environment should be.  As it is now, you’re just wasting time, money, energy and hot air.  Both of you!

Kids, NOTHING and I mean NOTHING good will come out of your constant bickering. All your “is nots”, and “is toos” are turning everyone else in the house’s stomach. There is a difference between disagreeing and making logical arguments and plain old bickering.

Remember, Neither one of you know it all.  It’s O.K. You are still worthwhile.  You are both important.  You both bring different qualities to our home that are important.  Let’s just accept that and let go of some resentments and rigid thinking patterns.  Take some deep cleansing breaths, will ya?   Connor is reticent to change.  It’s understandable.  Change is often painful.  On the upside, he can help us recognize what things are good and important to preserve.  He can help impulsive Conny to look at things more carefully before she just leaps in and changes things with no thought for what those changes might bring.  Conny, on the other hand, could gently help Connor let go when necessary of old things that are not working for us.  Conny can help us look outside ourselves and see what we might be missing or not appreciating.  She can help us build a better more compassionate world.  For the love of Mom, would you please start appreciating your differences?

Please keep these things in mind if you are going to tackle the subject of global warming:

-Climates are not stable.  Mom has been around almost half a century now and has seen changes.  Some changes may be concerning, others may be natural waxing and waning.  Be careful not to confuse the two or decide too quickly which one is which.

-There have been increasingly more extreme climate conditions more frequently over time in the past century or so.  Ignoring this fact is a little bit silly. Pretending to know exactly what it means is too. Being careful and learning as much as possible about these changes and whether our actions can make a difference would be sensible.

-It appears the world has been cycling between warm, tropical times and icy, frozen times, with much more amenable times luckily, most of the time.  This has been happening independent of what plant and animal life there was on the planet at the time.  Indeed, both extremes existed before humans did.  Obviously, there is more at play here than human influence on the environment. Logically, many of the possible factors influencing the global climate are completely out of our control.

-However, our presence on this planet has had an impact on it as well.  We do leave a foot print.  It is unrealistic to expect us and other forms of life to not leave a footprint.  We are going to create both positive and negative effects on the planet and the other life around us, just by existing.  It will not help to stop breathing, or ostracize obese people, or decide cattle have too big of a carbon foot print so we should stop raising them, or any other number of absurd assumptions or actions.

-It would make sense to learn as much as we can about our impact on our environment. It would make sense to try to be gentler on our environment and make the best possible choices to make our footprint as positive as is reasonably possible. Even if we didn’t  have global warming on the table, there is a case for being better stewards of this planet, for our own health and welfare at least. In that vein of thought, Connor maybe you could lighten up and relax and let some change happen anyways.  Probably, we could find better ways of doing things with less negative impact to the planet.

-In all the arguing about whether or not global warming exists or if it does, whether it is a natural phenomenon or a man made event, you are both ignoring something much more important.  Sooner or later, on a small or large scale, people on our planet will have to adapt to changes.  Eventually, there will most likely be some big changes that will effect us in major ways.  Odds are, even if humans are totally responsible for this, we won’t buckle down and work together to fix it until it is too late, so why don’t we all just work together on ways to adapt to major insults to our survival instead of becoming extinct and leaving this planet to the cockroaches? Because that would just be pathetic, really to leave this all to those disgusting little insects, just because we were stubborn and uncooperative.

As for new technologies, it’s a good thing to work on new technologies.  It is all right to consider new ways of doing things.  As a matter of fact, putting all your eggs in one basket is not a good idea.  Having different energy options for example, just makes sense.  At some point, you may need another option for a myriad of different reasons anyhow.  Why not just work together on what might be the best methods and make them the most available? It might turn out that all this will lead to new forms of energy that are all around just better. Be open to new technology, Connor.  It’s not going to hurt you, and it might make you some money too!  Even if it seems unlikely the human race may outlive the supply of fossil fuels, it’s a bad idea on so many levels to  expect problems to just go away like that.

Conny, it is unrealistic to expect an immediate ceasing of all uses of fossil fuels, for example.  Take a deep breath.  Even if the sky is falling, your hysteria will not turn your brother around.  You are going to have to find better ways than a tantrum to convince him.  Work on your charm.  Try to play on Connor’s motivations to get him to do what you want.  Look for baby steps like choosing the least damaging sites or uses for fossil fuel, or more cleaner technology for their use.  We don’t have a better way to do some things yet, so accept where we’re at.   Then you will both be happy.

Lastly, please stop all the hype!  I am not going to sit around trying to figure out which one of you two comes up with all these stupid, pointless “green” campaigns and products that are gimmicky and don’t improve anything.  They bear all the marketing savvy of Connor pretending to appease Conny, or it could be Conny, trying to take a page from Connor’s book at the expense of any real useful change.  Whichever of you it is, just stop it.  It is counter-productive.  For example, selling a cleaning product that is supposed to be made from natural plant material and hyping up it’s greenness, and selling it’s concentrated form in a little tiny plastic container with an empty spray bottle, so I can mix it with water is insulting to my intelligence. It’s true you’re not shipping around a bunch of water, but we aren’t seeing the savings in the retail price, and how much plastic are you going to waste on all those tiny little refill bottles?  That doesn’t sound very green to me.  Selling a gallon of concentrate and letting me use my own spray bottle sounds way more green to me.    It respects my capacity to measure and fill a container all by myself as well.  And let’s not even go into all those green “credits” schemes.  Supposedly, Conny, you are trying to lower our carbon emissions, not get us to save a million ways only to blow all that lack of emissions on some big plane trip later.  What is up with that?  Just stop it, will ya?  It makes mom really irritable.

In conclusion, if you both want to avoid these big long lectures from mom, and truly make our home a better place, why don’t you respect yourself, respect your siblings, truly work on cooperating and coming up with creative ways for you to both be comfortable together.  Then the whole earth, I assure you, will have one less thing to worry about.

Lecture over.  Questions?  I have a few.  Am I the only Mom out there?  Also, what do you think the best green changes out there are?  What are the worst?  What ideas do you have on making this a better planet?

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Affluenza-The Disease

Posted on July 1, 2009. Filed under: affluenza | Tags: |

The book Affluenza is broken up into three sections. It presents the problems with materialism in our society by describing it as a disease. The first section explains the symptoms, the next explains the causes, and the last explains the possible cures. It’s pretty clever. I thought the book would have more humor. As it said in the introduction that the need people feel to get over these symptoms crosses all political lines, I assumed their rhetoric would too, but unfortunately, it wasn’t so diplomatic and I’m sure those on the opposite side of the authors’ obvious leanings were distracted from important points. The other thing that bugged me was the shoddy documentation of where they got their info from.  Many times they cite some numbers and then the foot note just says personal interview, or news broadcast by X station.  Give me a break! So while I wouldn’t put my money on the details, the general concepts and trends are quite observable and that is where I would put my emphasis and thoughts on the subjects the book presents.
First, just to give you a run-down, the definition of affluenza is a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more. It’s symptoms, chapter by chapter, are shopping fever, a rash of bankruptcies, swollen expectations, chronic congestion, the stress of excess, family convulsions, dilated pupils, community chills, an ache for meaning, social scars, resource exhaustion, industrial diarrhea, the addictive virus, and dissatisfaction guaranteed.
That should give you an idea of some of the subject matter that it deals with.

I loved the fact that the foreword has a set of pictures from a wonderful book I highly recommend. Not just because it is mostly a picture book but because it speaks so powerfully to what we all have. It is called Material World by Peter Menzel. Each main page shows a family of typical economic stature in their respective country in front of their home with all their possessions.  It gives a lot to think about.  Personally, I sometimes wonder who is wealthier: those with all the stuff or the unencumbered ones with less to distract them from real life.

The first chapter deals with how much people shop as a hobby, or shop for therapy, how much time we consume shopping, roughly 6 times more time than we spend with our kids, on average.  It mentions how much we spend on Christmas, for example and black Friday, and how people are often still paying for Christmas well into the next year, even as we say we wish Christmas were less commercial.  It points to details about the phenomenon of the Mall and how mindless shopping fever can be.  It has a section on mail order catalogs and home shopping networks, as well as how much cyber shopping there is today.    Granted, a certain amount of shopping is healthy and even necessary.  It’s nice we have several options available for a healthy amount of shopping.  There is nothing wrong with having these things, it’s the lack of balance that is alarming.  My own opinion is  our economy should not have to depend so heavily on people buying stuff, no matter what stuff it is.  I personally agree that in our country, it is way out of control.  Even those of us who don’t like to shop or don’t put a lot of stock in material things find ourselves wasting a lot of money and energy on a lot of worthless stuff.  This chapter points out how skewed our values are if we look at what we spend our money on.  Again, the stats I can’t promise are true, but it states that 70 % of us visit a mall once a week, more than visit places of worship. (In my case, I visit  malls an average of 3 times a year and church most every Sunday, but we are talking national averages.)   The facts may be more or less than that, but the trend is definitely visible when we compare how much is spent on accessories as compared to education for example.

My favorite part of this chapter is a comment on page 13 that says, ” The urge to splurge continues to surge.  It’s as if we Americans, despite our intentions, suffer from some kind of Willpower Deficiency Syndrome, a breakdown in affluenza immunity.”    I loved the Willpower Deficiency Syndrome idea.  I wish this idea had been explored a bit more.  It is something I have noticed that has bothered me and I have decided it is due to the fact that we have so many resources and so many choices available to us, with easy access to so much, that we become gluttons-not just gluttons in the food sense, but with everything.  Now, I’m not promoting abject poverty, but I’m trying to point out that the more resources one has, the more money one has, the more available and affordable things are, the more necessary it is for one to develop an awareness of the concept that you can choose to get too much.  It also means that the more you have, the more willpower you are going to have to exert to have a balanced life.  I feel you have to have the awareness first that often less is more and that there is such a thing as too much.  Without that awareness you will have no motivation to work on your willpower.  Once we have the will, we need to look at where the pitfalls are and what obstacles we face in exerting enough willpower to have more stability.  What do you think ?  What are the biggest challenges to our willpower, and how do we face them?  Even more importantly, how do we teach them to our children?  If you don’t answer me, I will have to keep giving my own opinion :).

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