Saturday, October 13, 2007

On Blog Action Day: possible solutions to global climate change

Today is Blog Action Day! Thousands of bloggers around the world will blog today about the environment. Here’s my contribution:

The elevation of Al Gore to demigod status has got me thinking about the enormity of the global climate change problem. It’s so difficult, in large part, because by developing as we have with far flung suburbs dependent on urban jobs (and with the proliferation of office parks, the reverse) and hermetically sealed tall buildings, we’ve locked ourselves into driving long distances and using H, V or AC year-round. Many egregious carbon-generating luxuries have become needs. It’s too hard to unravel energy use from the lives and economy we’ve worked so hard to build and maintain, so we just don’t. Some Americans seem to be blithely unaware that there’s even a need to do things differently, but even those of us who think about it and work at it every day, find it nearly impossible to make significant change. (For an amazing example of someone who has, visit

Even countries that have made a commitment to reduce emissions are coming up short. I was listening to national public radio the other day and heard a report about Japan’s failure to meet its emissions reduction goals set out in the Kyoto protocols. It is widely understood that even if the US were to reduce its emissions, increases in emissions by developing countries like China and India would more than cancel them out.

We are going to have to make dramatic changes quickly in the way we live and work if we want to keep Earth inhabitable for humans.

A Brave New World Wide Web
A friend of mine, I’ll call him P, floated an idea for a possible solution that I think has merit: technology. P’s not talking about new energy technologies, though I’m sure he’d agree we should continue to work on those. He’s suggested that internet technology and computers (which are being built to use less and less energy) could soon allow everyone to telecommute so that we wouldn’t have to drive in order to work. In fact, what he said was that we could live our entire lives on the net. He may have said it tongue in cheek but I think it’s an interesting idea.

During the last Congressional election, I participated in the Move On “Call for Change” campaign, which used nationwide conference calls and video teleconferences to bring all the volunteers together. Having experienced the power and the great sense of community during that campaign, and right here in the blogosphere (and the lack of community in my neighborhood), I wonder if eliminating the need for proximity and cultivating our ability to form affinity groups globally, wouldn’t be a very good thing.

Back to Our Agrarian Roots
That said, I’m a bit of a traditionalist and even though it’s been a long time since I’ve lived in one, I love the feel of a small town. The process of a town meeting is, at least in some ways, more satisfying than any web forum or national conference call. Despite technology, proximity still creates affinity (or at least interdependence).

I’m also a believer in Traditional Nutrition (see Weston A. Price Foundation link at right) and thinking about how to get better quality food (usually direct from farms) has led me to realize that our ancestors had a lot of things right.

A sort of purposeful regression as a society to a small town, agrarian model would cut down on our need to travel long distances regularly and eliminate the great quantity of emissions created in support of our current food distribution system (almost all of our food is trucked to market in tractor trailers and more and more is flown in from other countries). Returning to our agrarian roots would put people back in touch with the land and, very probably, would lead to the planting of more carbon neutralizing vegetation. As a bonus we’d likely have richer lives in close-knit communities. We could more effectively and more naturally provide social supports for young families, elders… for everyone really. We'd also eat better.

Perhaps the most feasible and livable solution would be some combination of these two. Picture yourself churning butter from fresh raw milk in the morning, attending a teleconference with other hedge fund managers on farms in the UK and Hong Kong in the afternoon, and, climate change having stabilized, blogging about humanity’s next great challenge (by the light of a solar-powered lamp) deep into the night.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

On offensive policy:

I’ve been too busy to blog lately (though not too busy to fume silently!) so this will have to go under the heading of better late than never.

A few weeks back, Iran’s President Ahmadinejad visited the U.S. and requested that he be allowed to pay his respects at Ground Zero. He was refused by U.S. officials and for the life of me, I cannot figure out why.

As a human being, the man deserved the basic decency it would have taken to honor this request. As the president of another nation, he deserves the shiny black car, the cadre of press and the respect granted to any visiting dignitary. As president of the nation that’s been framed as our arch enemy of the moment, he deserves handling with kid gloves too.

I know some people can’t believe a Muslim can feel compassion for Americans regarding 9/11. I know some people are incensed that someone from one of the countries that perpetrated the atrocities of that day would show up and try to set foot on that sacred ground. But wait a minute—Iran wasn’t involved in 9/11! Iraq wasn’t involved. Real Muslims believe murder is wrong just like Christians do!

I think what Ahmadinejad really wants is for Iran to be taken seriously as a player on the world stage and he’s willing to be pretty belligerent to make sure he isn’t ignored. If that is the case, then why piss him off for no particular reason? Why not give him lots of respect when he’s trying to do the right thing? Why not bank some diplomatic points for when the going gets tougher? Like when we’re trying to convince him not to build a bomb, for example.

But maybe his motives weren’t pure. A more cynical view is that he was looking for PR or to make the U.S. look bad. So what if he got some positive press? How would it have hurt us to let him look good? We’d have ended up looking good too. And if he was trying to make us look like the bad guy, we ended up playing right into his hands.

Another offensive policy decision from the administration that brought you preemptive war.