Thursday, July 24, 2008

Mea culpa

Am I anti-human? Maybe. Although when I think of what I've got against people in general, I tend to think more about genocide, torture, human trafficking, and child pornography. In terms of people's effect on the planet we all inhabit, I don't think that it's anti-human to be concerned about environmental degradation. I personally want the earth my children grow up in to be as healthy and welcoming a place to live in for them as it has been for me. The fact that I don't see that happening is something I view as cause for concern. It doesn't mean that I think people should vanish from the face of the earth.

Do I want to get back to nature? Not so much. There are plenty of natural phenomenon that scare me silly. I want no part of mountain lions, bears (either black or grizzly), landslides, avalanches, or wildfires. I KNOW that I would never want to live way out in the country because I prefer my hospitals within easy driving distance, and I wouldn't like to live so far out that a fire engine would have trouble getting to me. I know, furthermore, that advances in modern medicine have saved not only my life, but the lives of many people I care about. Good old days? Not hardly. Even something as simple as Kleenex, something I take for granted most days, has recently seemed like a minor miracle to me. Going through box after box with this summer cold, I think to myself every day, "How gross would it be if this was a cloth handkerchief that someone had to clean? There wouldn't be enough rags in the house to handle all this. What if I just had to spit into a bucket? What if I couldn't do any of those and just had to choke? THANK GOD FOR KLEENEX!"

I know I'm just a big nervous Nellie when it comes to chemicals. I do want to reduce the amount of chemicals in my life. But you know what? It's not necessarily all that expensive. Concerned that "natural" cleansers are more expensive? Plain old lemon juice, baking soda, and salt are surprisingly effective. You can also cut down on chemicals if you just clean less. Admittedly, this option is ridiculously easy for a lax and slothful housekeeper like myself. However, in a day where organic foods are sold at Walmart and soy-based detergents are available from Costco, the price argument starts to lose some of its force.

And you know what? I think that one reason organic foods and plant-based cleaning products are becoming cheaper and more widely available is that more and more people have been willing to buy them even when they were more expensive. The increased profitability that comes with mass-marketing would not have been an option if there hadn't been a growing market. It's hard for me to see how someone would claim that the increasing availability of items people have demonstrated a desire for would be a bad thing.

It may well be that people are now engaging in meaningless shows of politically correct environmental awareness. That doesn't make the environmental movement bad. It just means that there are always people ready to jump on the latest bandwagon. Those people are obnoxious regardless. It doesn't really matter what way they use to demonstrate their superiority. Greener-than-thou may be the new mommy wars, but it won't be the last. There will always be mommy wars. I've gotten sucked into a few myself. On balance, though, I think I prefer "My car gets better mileage than yours" or "We only eat organic food from the farmer's market" to "How sad for you that your child is so woefully inferior."

Do I think humanity is wasteful and careless and selfish? Yes, I believe I probably do. Hell, I think I'm all those things. And if my own personal self-assessment isn't enough, human history is full of examples of societies dying out because they degraded their environment past its ability to support them. Closer to home, how can it happen that my son can walk around a nearby lake and pick up over 100 bottle caps, and then find as many again the next week? Why do people go to a nearby hilltop with a stunning view over the valley, then smash bottles so that there's broken glass all over the ground? Pardon my white elitist ass, but I think that's flat-out disgusting. (Let me hasten to add that I'm not saying the people who do that aren't white too. Maybe they're even elitist. In any event, they suck.)

However, I also think humans are ingenious and selfless and kind. It's possible for humanity to be good and bad at the same time. Even though I am frequently misanthropic, I generally like most of the people I meet. So it's possible to like and dislike humanity at the same time. It makes no sense to insist that humanity be all one thing or another. As to which qualities predominate, I couldn't pretend to know.

It's seems odd, though obvious, to point out that the albatross will never pick up the plastic that is killing him. No, he'll just eat it and die. It seems even odder, though, to call him stupid for that. To me, it just means that his mechanism for recognizing food has lagged woefully behind the explosion of plastic in his environment. According to the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Reserve website:

Laysans are surface feeders. Therefore feed on anything that floats on the surface of the water; squid, fish, crustaceans and flying fish eggs.


It's only in the last 50 years or so that that list has included enough floating plastic to starve a bird to death. Oh well, evolve or die, isn't that right?

And according to the LA Times article linked below,

Albatross are by no means the only victims. An estimated 1 million seabirds choke or get tangled in plastic nets or other debris every year. About 100,000 seals, sea lions, whales, dolphins, other marine mammals and sea turtles suffer the same fate.


Which actually brings me to my main point. It wasn't that long ago that I had no information about this garbage floating in the sea. It was only a chance remark of a science teacher who was teaching a totally unrelated program that brought it to my attention. It's information I'm glad to have, though. It's relevant even to those of us who don't live by the ocean, because

About four-fifths of marine trash comes from land, swept by wind or washed by rain off highways and city streets, down streams and rivers, and out to sea.
*

And though people may not care about the albatross (fine and dandy by me), this plastic is getting into the food chain, and I care about my children who will probably one day be eating it.

The chemical components of plastics and common additives can harm animals and humans. Studies have linked the hormone-mimicking phthalates, used to soften plastic, to reduced testosterone and fertility in laboratory animals, and to subtle changes in the genitals of baby boys. Another additive, bisphenol A, used to make lightweight, heat-resistant baby bottles and microwave cookware, has been linked to prostate cancer.
*

Which is why if someone wants to drink from a bisphenol-containing plastic bottle, I'm fine. Knock yourself out, I say. But if someone wants to throw that bottle out the window of their car, I have a problem. Because even if that's just someone doing their thing in nature, it can come back to bite me in the ass.

Eco-bullying or self-expression? Eco-scaremongering or just spreading the word? People have to judge for themselves. I do know this, though. There hasn't been, and there won't be, progress toward a healthier planet without a lot of popular support. I suppose it's not possible to word the message so that nobody gets ticked off, but that's too bad, because the message itself is worthwhile. And the message is not that humanity is bad, but that it's time for a good look around. We shouldn't be kicking ourselves for liking what we have, but asking what we can do to keep it so that our children can have it too. And their children. And maybe even people in third world countries. Because face it, this level of extraction and consumption cannot possibly last, not with petroleum, not with natural resources, not with nutrients. That shouldn't really be a downer. Solutions are possible; in the works, even. They won't implement themselves, though, which is where the benefit of letting people know that change would be a good thing comes in.

Harumph. I guess the shoe fits.

*LA Times (below)

6 Comments:

Blogger zelda said...

You can also cut down on chemicals if you just clean less. Admittedly, this option is ridiculously easy for a lax and slothful housekeeper like myself. However, in a day where organic foods are sold at Walmart and soy-based detergents are available from Costco, the price argument starts to lose some of its force.

*Not if you get yourself a nice little incurable and contagious virus that would have been totally preventable with the appropriately strong chemicals. You would also find yourself working overtime to make sure people feel safe in your home and even more so when you notice that people come over and won't eat the food you've prepared.


And you know what? I think that one reason organic foods and plant-based cleaning products are becoming cheaper and more widely available is that more and more people have been willing to buy them even when they were more expensive. The increased profitability that comes with mass-marketing would not have been an option if there hadn't been a growing market. It's hard for me to see how someone would claim that the increasing availability of items people have demonstrated a desire for would be a bad thing.

*I think this is shockingly out of touch with the standard of living and primary concerns of the population that shops primarily at WalMart or Goodwill. Organic on a label at WalMart means nothing and mass availability of organic products, in the short term at least, hurts all of us because it has made the standard of organic less stringent. So, yes, you can buy your big almost-affordable jug of organic laundry soap at WalMart but it won't be organic and it won't get your clothes clean.

It may well be that people are now engaging in meaningless shows of politically correct environmental awareness. That doesn't make the environmental movement bad. It just means that there are always people ready to jump on the latest bandwagon. Those people are obnoxious regardless.

*They're all obnoxious. I despise evangelism in all of its forms.

It doesn't really matter what way they use to demonstrate their superiority. Greener-than-thou may be the new mommy wars, but it won't be the last. There will always be mommy wars. I've gotten sucked into a few myself. On balance, though, I think I prefer "My car gets better mileage than yours" or "We only eat organic food from the farmer's market" to "How sad for you that your child is so woefully inferior."

*Tomato, tomato.

Do I think humanity is wasteful and careless and selfish? Yes, I believe I probably do. Hell, I think I'm all those things. And if my own personal self-assessment isn't enough, human history is full of examples of societies dying out because they degraded their environment past its ability to support them.

*So true, some populations just lose their adaptability. It happens.

Closer to home, how can it happen that my son can walk around a nearby lake and pick up over 100 bottle caps, and then find as many again the next week? Why do people go to a nearby hilltop with a stunning view over the valley, then smash bottles so that there's broken glass all over the ground?

*Because they are being raised by humanist, free-wheeling parents who refuse to set up boundaries for their children for fear of stunting their emotional and creative development.

Pardon my white elitist ass, but I think that's flat-out disgusting. (Let me hasten to add that I'm not saying the people who do that aren't white too. Maybe they're even elitist. In any event, they suck.)

* They are both and they are probably going to all kinds of green events after-school.

However, I also think humans are ingenious and selfless and kind. It's possible for humanity to be good and bad at the same time. Even though I am frequently misanthropic, I generally like most of the people I meet. So it's possible to like and dislike humanity at the same time.

*Is it? I disagree. It is possible to like and dislike aspects or individuals but not to like and dislike humanity as a whole.

It's seems odd, though obvious, to point out that the albatross will never pick up the plastic that is killing him. No, he'll just eat it and die. It seems even odder, though, to call him stupid for that. To me, it just means that his mechanism for recognizing food has lagged woefully behind the explosion of plastic in his environment. It's only in the last 50 years or so that that list has included enough floating plastic to starve a bird to death. Oh well, evolve or die, isn't that right?

*It is right. If people want to use their efforts to save the albatross that's fine but don't expect me to get all sad about it. Animals getting caught in nets is one thing but an animal that has access to food but chooses to eat a Lego has to fall lower on my list of priorities because there's a distinct possibility that this animal can only be helped so much and our resources could be going to something that isn't a lost cause.



and I care about my children who will probably one day be eating it.

*We don't eat albatross.

Eco-bullying or self-expression? Eco-scaremongering or just spreading the word?

*Evangelism and proselytizing. Neither will help your cause because people are feeling alienated by the movement. Trust me, I have this conversation with people outside the movement and they are exhausted.

8:47 AM  
Blogger Lesley said...

Ya both lost me...

10:16 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Not if you get yourself a nice little incurable and contagious virus that would have been totally preventable with the appropriately strong chemicals. You would also find yourself working overtime to make sure people feel safe in your home and even more so when you notice that people come over and won't eat the food you've prepared.

*Not so much, actually. Many common diseases can be prevented by the simple precaution of frequent handwashing, and good old-fashioned soap is fine for that. You must know that the popularity of antibacterials is contributing to stronger bacteria, not wiping them off the face of the planet. Furthermore, the nasty illness that I'm unable to shake off right now seems to have been the result of a plane ride, and activity commonly associated with germ-sharing. It's not lack of strong cleaning chemicals, though, just enforced breathing of other people's used air for an extended period of time. In other words, overcrowding trumps cleansers.

Also, although everyone knows I am the worst housekeeper going, I never see them making excuses and edging toward the exit when I invite them over. Nor have I noticed them abstaining from the refreshments provided. And strange to say, I have never given anyone food poisoning yet.

I think this is shockingly out of touch with the standard of living and primary concerns of the population that shops primarily at WalMart or Goodwill. Organic on a label at WalMart means nothing and mass availability of organic products, in the short term at least, hurts all of us because it has made the standard of organic less stringent. So, yes, you can buy your big almost-affordable jug of organic laundry soap at WalMart but it won't be organic and it won't get your clothes clean.

*I never said organic laundry soap. I said plant-based. And although I use Tide and Ecos (soy-based) interchangeably, I don't really notice that the Tide does a much better job. Ecos, btw, is available at Costco and Whole Foods both.

While it's true I haven't done research on organic products at a Wal-Mart supercenter, I am familiar with some of the brands they do business with, and believe them to be reputable. Right now organic certification is fairly stringent, to the point where several producers who would fit a definition of organic that most consumers could live with, actually forego certification.

They're all obnoxious. I despise evangelism in all of its forms.

*I'm curious to know what you think about the people who fought so hard to get seat belt use into law, or use of proper child seats. What about MADD?

Tomato, tomato.

*OK, but that doesn't refute my point. I don't see people refusing to give their children music lessons because of obnoxious moms who go around trying to one-up other moms whose children don't play an instrument, or forgoing gymnastics because of the moms who delusionally insist that their child is going to participate in the Olympics and then retire to a coaching position. I don't even see people saying that need to modulate their discussion of providing enrichment for children, even though there are plenty of fairly shrill voices out there, not to mention many ridiculous products that prey on parent's fears that their child is inferior. Baby Mozart, anyone?

So true, some populations just lose their adaptability. It happens.

*The problem is that all populations are becoming interconnected to the degree that pollution in China, for example, actually makes it across the Pacific to the United States. You can't just shrug your shoulders and figure that this is someone else's problem.

Because they are being raised by humanist, free-wheeling parents who refuse to set up boundaries for their children for fear of stunting their emotional and creative development.

*You can't know that without knowing the individuals involved. They could just as easily be the over-reacting children of overly controlling parents who punish them at the drop of a hat.

They are both and they are probably going to all kinds of green events after-school.

*While Lesley, who is in a position to know, has confirmed this for the bottle smashers, when it comes to the lake, the best indication that there will be bottle caps on the ground is the presence, over the weekend, of large, multi-generational families having parties at the picnic tables. Not necessarily white or elitist. Not necessarily any one thing.

Is it? I disagree. It is possible to like and dislike aspects or individuals but not to like and dislike humanity as a whole.

*We're going to have to agree to disagree here, because to me that pretty much sums up how I feel.

It is right. If people want to use their efforts to save the albatross that's fine but don't expect me to get all sad about it. Animals getting caught in nets is one thing but an animal that has access to food but chooses to eat a Lego has to fall lower on my list of priorities because there's a distinct possibility that this animal can only be helped so much and our resources could be going to something that isn't a lost cause.

*On the whole I agree with this, but it makes me feel strange to think that stopping what is mostly just careless littering is a lost cause. Since cutting down on littering would also cut down on cleanup, this doesn't seem like something that should be a monetary fix. I don't know. What do you think about the limitations governments are starting to make on plastic bags?

We don't eat albatross.

*Nobody does. Plenty of people eat tuna and salmon, though. Predators such as those, at the top of the food chain, concentrate all kinds of substances in their flesh, as you can tell from reading anything about mercury in seafood. It's less widely discussed that plastics are becoming a similar phenomenon.

Evangelism and proselytizing. Neither will help your cause because people are feeling alienated by the movement. Trust me, I have this conversation with people outside the movement and they are exhausted.

*I don't actually view this as my cause. As for being exhausted, who isn't? Perhaps you know, but you don't acknowledge, that much of this shrillness is motivated by fear, just cold, white-knuckled fear, that we are heading down a dangerous path that it may be very difficult to move away from. Especially when people want to quibble about the form of the message rather than its substance.

8:52 AM  
Blogger zelda said...

You clearly miss my first point and I cannot elaborate on it further as it falls well outside my comfort zone to do so here. But, if you think about it you will probably understand what I mean. Also, many deadly viruses, such as HIV, require something stronger than lemon juice and salt to be eradicated. If people have never refused to eat the food at your house or the food you've brought to an event then you are fortunate indeed.

2:23 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Well, I want to thank you sincerely for your comments so far. Except insofar as they slam my cooking. With that, I too will desist.

5:26 PM  
Blogger zelda said...

I have made zero references to your cooking which I have enjoyed. If you see one you are misinterpreting it. I have only made references to my own personal experiences and my own food.

You are misinformed about WalMart and the stringent organic standards. The standards are not stringent; they are expensive and tedious and WalMart is famous for having served to dumb down organic standards.

8:34 AM  

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