A Pastry-Maker’s Lament

This was going to be a nice post. I am new here, and so I was going to come in with something soft, positive–something everyone could agree on. But some things don’t work out the way we plan them, and today is no exception. Because today I am angry.

It all started when, in the middle of making French macarons for the farmers market, the pastry scale broke. We tried to fix it but it would not stand fixing, and so Mercedes, my gourmet-food-boss-and-friend (the best combination of realities, I assure you) decided it was time to head to the store for a replacement.

We were in Draper, and so we had the following options: Drive twenty minutes to a ginormous strip mall and purchase our scale at Bed, Bath and Beyond, or, um, drive twenty minutes to a ginormous strip mall and purchase our scale at–you guessed it–Bed, Bath and Beyond. So we did what we had to do. We got in the car, and we drove west.

Driving west in Draper means two things: It means you drive by mansion after stucco mansion squeezed between woebegone horse corrals trying to keep their dignity under the shadow of empire, and it means you are facing, dead on, three or four used-to-be-mountains. I say used to be, an adjective not normally found before the word mountains, because that’s exactly what I mean: where previously there stood several glorious peaks, there now stands several gouges in the mountainside, sand and dirt in dusty cascades down the front. Rio Tinto is responsible for this–Rio Tinto who owns Kennecott Copper, a site I was required to visit by the dictates of some field trip curriculum bureaucrat on the Utah school board who thought that bringing up conscious citizens involved them ooh-ing and ah-ing (unconsciously) at giant pits of pillage and privilege in the ground. We went there, and did our God-given, sixth-grade American duty, and it’s funny, you know–I can’t even remember thinking: “These used to be mountains,” or, “What is this hole doing here?” I just accepted that the landscape was a murder scene, a carcass cast off the hungry table of human nature. I didn’t even know there was another option.

Now I am 29 and driving west through Draper. Now I know there are other options. Now I study old pictures of this valley, what it was like before we made it blossom like the wrong kind of rose, and I know everything we say to comfort ourselves isn’t true. This place was not a wasteland of a few scraggly trees. This place was lovely. And we destroyed it.

Like I said, I am not in the mood for subtleties. Some days it is just too much. I look around and think, “This is what humans do? This is the space we like to move through? These are our priotities? Ruining everything?”

I have been told by lots of People Who Feel Things–witches, astrologists, homeopaths–that I have a very ‘sensitive’ nature. Does that explain why this entire world is an assault on everything that matters to me? We enter Bed, Bath and Beyond and I want to pull people aside, start interviewing them. “How do you feel when you park your car in a giant lot and walk into this yawning store?” I want to ask them that. I know how I feel. The store is flourescent, white, warehouse-y. There are televisions on the end of every aisle. Televisions. I close my eyes and I can hear seven layers of sound, all talking about what the President said about what the Republicans said about what he said. I open my eyes. Two whole rows of garlic peelers gleam in front of me.

I think of what my friend said to me, just the other day. “This entire culture,” he said, “This entire culture is a whole and complicated, serpentine lie to get you to see everything but the point: that everything, everything–all your expectations, your definitions of happiness, your plans, your possessions, your idea of reality–is possible because of cheap, supposedly limitless oil.

Exactly.

The day didn’t end there, though. For some unexplicable reason I had agreed to drive to Logan for something irrelevant to this post, and as I drove it was more of the same: oil refinery after oil refinery, billboard after billboard announcing new frontiers of woman-hating cosmetic technologies. And nowhere but nowhere to be at peace. And then this strange habit kicked in, this strange habit I have. Sometimes I look around me and take in all the humans, but instead of humans, I make myself see other animals. I see a whole valley full of one million otters, for example: otters in their cars, otters going to work, otters in bikinis on billboards adverstising otter liposuction, a Mormon otter running for president and moving decidedly right. And I shudder. I shudder in horror. It gives me perspective on how wrong this whole business is, how we look from the perspective of other beings. And we look bad. Real bad.

I am also thinking of another story my friend told me, perhaps apocryphal, but powerful–as apocryphal stories are wont to be. In his story, a newspaper reporter climbed to the top of the mountain with an Indian chief (sorry, them’s all the details I’ve got). The mountain overlooked a whole valley where there had just been a huge battle. Before the huge battle there had been the longer battle of slower devastation: crop burning, frontier-pushing, animals hunted to extinction. Now the plain was littered with bodies, fires smoking everywhere. The newspaper man said to the chief: What now? and for a minute, thought the chief was asleep (he took so long to answer). Finally, the chief stirred and looked at the newspaper man. “All is lost,” he said. That’s all. Just: all is lost.

That is how I feel, sometimes. I want us to do better. So much better. But I don’t know what to do or how to act in a world where a mountain is there one year and gone the next. I don’t know what it means to be part of that world, or what exactly it would mean to fight it. It’s as if it all started, thousands of years ago, with one or two terrible and towering assumptions, and then, millenia later: this. It’s not so much the particulars as it is the low thumping of a very, very bad idea–that we are more important than anything. That garlic peelers are more important than sanity, beauty, braiding rivers.

So what am I saying? Nothing, in particular, except that it’s got to stop. Everything, in general, including that we must, we must, allow ourselves to grieve. I almost held it inside today, like I am used to doing, but instead I turned like a faucet and raged to my gourmet-cook-friend, then wrote this. We focus a lot in the environmental community on solutions. And we should. But I am saying today that if I don’t grieve for the loss of this world than I am not fully alive, and if I am not I will not make life from this death. I am asking for a place to admit what we’ve done.

I am asking for the right to scream.

And yes, I am asking for some honesty. I am asking all of us to admit that we can do so much better than this, that we are smart and brave and that our worst mistakes are better than the logic that blows up mountains to extract unrenewable oil, and then to be brave with our best ideas for stopping this madness. And I am asking us to admit that our EPAs and our expert testimonies and our slick justifications don’t mean a damn thing if we are still making holes in the ground that are visible from outer space. And I am asking, finally, for us to buck all the conventional wisdoms and arguments and uppers and downers that keep us from our brave offerings and just do what we must–and we must–to preserve this spinning planet.

So much for the nice intro post. But if you were interested in having me–all of me–then today was your lucky day.

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28 responses to “A Pastry-Maker’s Lament

  1. ajbc June 18, 2011 at 8:43 am

    Standing ovation.

  2. Kate June 18, 2011 at 10:23 am

    I think there are two disparate reactions to realizing “all is lost.” We can throw up our hands and shrink away to live a life of apathy intending to live out our lives while we still can OR we can go out in a blaze of glory inspired by the the rage, violence and stop-at-nothing attitudes that have been poured upon us.

    I prefer the latter.

    I think outrage is one of the primary no-nos of Mormonism. I mean, look at the response to the Book of Mormon musical–http://newsroom.lds.org/article/church-statement-regarding-the-book-of-mormon-broadway-musical

    I mean, it’s a slap in the face (a hilarious, hilarious) slap in the face.

    Even this guy is outraged, and he’s not even Mormon. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith/post/amos-and-andy-and-the-book-of-mormon/2011/06/15/AGRlHPWH_blog.html

    Ok, ok… the point is: where’s the rage? I heard Rocky Anderson talk about Mormons on Democracy Now and he described them as “very obedient.” We really defer to anyone in authority. Be it a man with a DiggerDan or a politician (with the exception of those evil Dems).

    Why cut down the mountain? He (and it is almost always a he) said so.

    Thank you Ashley.

    Because it’s about time we all got angry about this sh*t.

  3. mfranti June 18, 2011 at 11:49 am

    Ashley, I’m sending this to Orion or HCN or somewhere. This is brilliant.

    I can’t even begin to put words to how much this post moved me. I have the same feelings, the same thoughts, and so many times, I try to articulate them but I fail. I always fail at writing them down.

    Thank you for writing this and thank you for being here.

  4. Kate June 18, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    Also:

    “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. We are faced now with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. . . . We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: Too late.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

  5. mfranti June 18, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    Kate,

    Do I know you from another blog or in real life?

  6. Jacque June 18, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    Applause.

  7. Mark Brown June 18, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    It is a very sobering thing to realize that so many of the things we do to the world around us are foul and repulsive.

  8. Jessica June 18, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    Excellently written, my dear. And now, what changes are you personally going to make?

  9. missy. June 18, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    mfranti, you should know that Ash literally just sat down and dashed off this blogpost, the way I hurriedly write a grocery list or a to-do list. I mean, this stuff just flows out of her. OMK is lucky indeed to have her with us.

  10. Tatiana June 18, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    My honest reaction? This is a great release of emotion, but we get to choose, and this is what we’ve chosen.

    We can have a beautiful unspoiled world, we can have wilderness, but then we must choose to be hunter gatherers. We can have hobbiton, but then we must choose to be subsistence farmers. We can live like the Amish, that’s our choice. But if we want to have pastry scales, then we have to have factories to manufacture them and retailers to sell them, as well as electrical infrastructure, roads, markets, and all the things that go along with that.

    We get a choice, but we don’t get to pick the consequences of that choice. And we don’t get to force others to choose the same as we choose.

    So to emote about the ravages of strip malls while shopping at a Bed Bath and Beyond seems contradictory to me, and even a bit silly and childish. It’s unrealistic and shows ignorance of how our choices play out in the real world.

    So I understand the underlying emotion, but I guess the next question is what do we want to do about it?

  11. Kate June 18, 2011 at 9:47 pm

    Mfranti, I’m not around on ye ol’ blogosphere too often, but I do have my own blog. Pretty sure we’ve not met in the non-digital realm either.

  12. ashsanders June 19, 2011 at 9:57 am

    Tatiana,

    A reporter once asked one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Townes VanZandt, “Why do you write so many sad songs?” Townes looked at the reporter and said, “What, you don’t think life is sad?” The reporter wanted him to be well-rounded, writing a happy song for every unhappy one. But that wasn’t Townes’ experience of the world.

    I have found the same compulsion toward happiness, personal choice and false positivity in the environmental community. But that is not my experience of this world. Almost every time I admit that I am deeply grieved or angry about the state of the world, someone will immediately try to tell me that no, I am happy, or that I should be, or that I chose this.

    But I am not happy. I am sad and angry that we are destroying our home and others’. And it is not silly or childish to mourn the passing of mountains, unless we are so self-obsessed that mountains really don’t matter to us. If I had written a blog post about how sad I was that my boyfriend had broken up with me, or that I got a bad grade on a school final, there would be commiseration all around. But a mountain? I am supposed to get over it. To me, our compulsion to happy the world and grow up is a symptom of deep denial about what we are doing, or else deep hubris about how much we matter compared to other beings. I don’t like either option.

    As for my ability to choose how I live, this is another favorite argument that deeply obscures the source, scope and seriousness of our environmental problems. People love to believe that they are all equal actors in destroying the planet, and if they bring enough cloth bags to the store then–one fine day–the climate will stop changing. In this scenario, I am as responsible for mountaintop removal as the CEO of a 14 billion dollar corporation.

    The problem with this is that it is fundamentally untrue. The second is that it totally ignores the question of power–who has it in our society, and what they get to do with it. I did not choose to dig an enormous copper pit in the ground. Rio Tinto did that, and they did it for money. I did not choose the freeway infrastructure in my town, nor did I choose to let developers build strip mall after strip mall in the suburbs. In fact, I have spent most hours of most of my life fighting these very things–fighting to very little effect, because the power is concentrated in the hands of a few CEOs and government officials who are utterly wedded to the notion of limitless growth. To compare me and the CEO of Rio Tinto, or to pretend that because I bought a pastry scale at Bed, Bath and Beyond makes me responsible for industrial civilization betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of power and a tendency to blame the victim. In fact, the reason I was at BB&B–a store I have never been to in my life precisely because I disagree with it–is because I have to work at a job so I can support the work I am doing to fight both Rio Tinto and climate change in general, and because–since the government decided to favor massive retailers over small ones–there is no other place to buy kitchen supplies. That is precisely my point: that in order to make a living I have to buy things at a store I hate in a strip mall I hate in a city ringed by mountain top removal. The point is that once structures are put into place by the powerful, it is almost impossible or impossible to choose certaint things. Sure, I can devote 24 hours of my day to, say, growing every last bit of my own food–a worthy goal. But doing that will take all my time and it won’t stop moutain top removal. We have to recognize the ways in which power structures affect our choices and the possibilities of choice. To pretend that we are free to choose our society based on our individual actions is a false, Protestant-style ethic that we want to believe (and that the powerful very much want us to believe) but that simply isn’t true.

    I was never allowed to vote on whether or not we removed mountain tops and blackened the sky (and believe me, I went to all the hearings), or, for that matter, on whether we had industrial civilization or not. And believe me, if I were allowed to choose, I would not choose a pastry scale over the planet. I would not choose industrial civilization. To say that I have a choice on this is laughable. What I really have is a narrow band of possibility: shop here, or shope here.

    Lastly, you said that we get to choose, but not force others to choose what we choose. This is another classic case of only recognizing ‘force’ or ‘imposition’ when a minority does it. The truth is I am forced every day–every day–to suffer the consequences of other people’s choices. The difference is those people are part of a powerful elite, and they justify this imposition and force through their property: Kennecott ‘owns’ the land where they mine, and so they are free to force me to breathe toxic air every winter; developers ‘own’ land and so they are free to force me to live in sprawl that requires, amongst other things, a car. Fossil fuel execs ‘own’ mineral rights so they are free to destroy ecosystems and animal habitats daily. Advertisiers ‘own’ the airwaves so they are free to decide what I think of myself and my body. Every single day, people force me and everyone I know to suffer consequences they did not choose, imposing their beliefs and choices on all of us. Fighting for a sane world is not imposing or forcing our beliefs in a neutral medium. Fighting for a sane world is, at very least, asking to be free from suffering the consequences of the powerful’s decisions.

    As for what I am doing about it: lots. I am developing a campaign to ban mining in Salt Lake County, starting an educational touring street theater troupe, doing direct actions against polluters, and more. But if it’s going to make a difference, we have to start criticizing the powerful, not the people fighting bad power.

  13. missy. June 19, 2011 at 10:48 am

    Exactly, Ashley. I agree completely with your comments about happiness and choice.

    And I would add a little more: I didn’t choose to be born into a time and place where I would be, from the moment of my birth, a complicit participant in a system that I find increasingly monstrous. I was indoctrinated to believe in this system from as far back as I can remember, from before I knew how to exercise choice. So for a long time my choicelessness ran deep: No choice but to participate in the system, no choice but to believe in the system and bury the things (like lost mountains) that made me naturally uncomfortable. Now that I am an adult I can begin the process of exercising choice and rejecting ideas that I believe are destroying the world… but I still have a lifetime of choicelessness, of unquestioning acceptance, to overcome. How much work and effort does it take just to recognize the fundamental flaws in the systems in which I have been an unconsenting inductee? How much thought and agonizing and consciousness-raising is necessary before I can begin to choose? And I can tell you what feels really awful: that as I raise/change my consciousness and feel a desire to choose differently than what was chosen for me, I begin to see how trapped and powerless I really am.

  14. Kate June 19, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    The myopic myth of “individual action” or choice is what is wrong with the entire Environmental movement and most movements today. Our choices are presented to us as consumer options. BUY recycled toilet paper??? Since when did buying (or refraining from buying) anything change the world?

    Since never.

    If we think that individual purchasing power is our only power, we have lost the entire game (battle, war, struggle).

    Bill Moyers said in an interview with Amy Goodman recently, “The greatest change in politics in my time has been the transformation of democracy . . . from a citizens’ society to a consumer society.”

    I want to know are we capable of making any choices that don’t involve deciding what to buy? or seeing our choices as anything but deciding (with religious zeal) what to consume?

  15. Kate June 19, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Also… as to Ash’s actionable street-cred:

    Raise your hand if you have planned a city-wide independent parade in downtown Salt Lake attended by hundreds of people with floats and costumes with the sole purpose of protesting big box stores and urban sprawl, and raising awareness for local businesses called, “Shop Outside the Box”?

    *Ashley Sanders raises hand*

    Now that is some serious anti-big box street cred, if you ask me!

  16. Tatiana June 20, 2011 at 9:21 am

    You didn’t choose to mine the mountain, but you choose to use electricity, and that is carried by copper wires, and that copper has to come from somewhere. The CEO of that copper mine is just acting to bring you the copper that you want. You want to refrigerate your food. That takes refrigeration coils which are made of copper. I think what worries me is that people can feel as though they are powerless when they are some of the very people whose choices are necessitating the things they deplore. Collectively, we do get to choose. For instance, if I were CEO of the power company, I could choose to shut down most of our plants, but then people’s food would spoil, other people would die of overheating this August, and nobody’s computers would work.

    I think what we as environmentalists must do is to take responsibility for society’s choices, for our own choices, and make good ones, not irresponsible ones. We can choose to agitate politically for an end to copper mining, for instance, but then the cost of that copper bottom cook pot we want is going to be much higher. Electrical wiring will cost a lot more, as will refrigerator coils. The thing that makes sense to me is to choose as a society what level of technology we want, what is a good amount of energy to use per capita, for instance, and then implement that in our lives. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t have refrigerators, elevators, hair dryers, and no power plants.

    I’m an engineer. I’m responsible for a lot of technology, and I feel that technology has made human life a lot better. The question is how do we optimize everything so we can live reasonably well and also take good care of mother earth. I don’t think the correct solution is never to mine any copper at all ever, for instance, to have only pristine wilderness on earth. I think there is a middle way.

    So the question I’m asking is at what level of technology do you personally want to live? Do you want cheap books and modern medicines? Refrigerated food, contraceptives, and elevators in multi-story buildings? Or would you rather be a farmer and live close to the land? Would you prefer if almost everyone were a farmer? Tell me what you can live with, and I’ll figure out the least impact we can have on the planet and still extend that lifestyle to everyone.

  17. Tatiana June 20, 2011 at 9:27 am

    I guess what I’m trying to do is show how the idea of us washing our hands of the responsibility of things like oil refineries and copper mines doesn’t work. Maybe we have to all learn how western technological civilization works in pretty great detail, so we can make the best choices about how we want to live, what things are essential and what we can do without, in order to have the kind of world we all want, and be able to maintain that world into the indefinite future.

    I want to connect the causes to the effects, in other words, so that we make good choices. Before we can agitate to fix things how we want them, we have to figure out what that will look like. We can’t choose to have cars but no refineries, for example.

  18. Kate June 20, 2011 at 10:22 am

    I personally am teetering on the brink of thinking that yes, indeed, everyone should be a farmer… or perhaps hunter-gatherer.

    I’m sure that I would want lots of hunter-gatherer “gear,” though. You know, gadgets make by engineers to help me hunt & gather.

    Damn you industrialized society!

    (I know it’s hard to tell on the internet, but that was a joke. Not the hunter-gatherer part, the gadgets part)

  19. nat kelly June 20, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    wow, ash. What an intro. This was a masterpiece. Amazing. You say it perfectly. Can’t wait to see more of your stuff.

  20. nat kelly June 20, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    Um, and I just read more of your words in the above conversation, and I think I’m not a little in love with you.

    DAMN, mel. You know how to pick ’em!

  21. mfranti June 20, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    Tatiana, I’m positive Ashley has a very firm grasp on how our technological civilization works. Neither she nor I have a naïve view of the world and its workings.

    Technology, for all its convenience is not the only solution. I know that hurts your engineer ears to hear 🙂 , but as our technology becomes more and more complex, so do the consequences of using that technology. The western world wants a magic pill to lose weight without having to eat less or lift a finger, and a magic machine that will give us the energy output of petroleum without the pollution (on all fronts from extraction to consumption) and especially without having to alter our lifestyle.

    People like Ashley are willing to alter their lifestyles. Hell, just by having the courage to alter her world-view (not and easy or comfortable thing to do) She’s done more than most people will ever do in their lifetimes. Ashley’s ability to recognize and feel remorse for sprawling strip malls and never-ending tracts of stucco houses in the desert exhibits more awareness than that of her country(wo)men, who have no idea where the water for their pristine lawns comes from.

    She’s educated, informed, involved and willing to do something.

    Unlike most Americans.

    ***

    Somewhere along the way, we let the all-powerful Market dictate what was good for humans and the land instead of letting the land and environment tell us how many humans it can support (yes, I’m suggesting that too many westerners made too many resource consuming, wasteful little westerners. *gasp* ) and what resources we can thoughtfully and conservatively take from it.

    So when you (the collective you) suggest that people like Ashley are naïve and don’t understand that the miners and manufacturers are just fulfilling her request” for X commodity, you’ve oversimplified the problem, dismissed her completely, and ignored the fact that she’s operating in a world created long before her by men that only had profits and power in mind. These men (so sexist of me, isn’t it?) continue to have the power and she’s trying, as best she can to work within the existing infrastructure to alter it. Much like the engineer that designs freeways has to use the crumbling interstate to get to the office.

    Moving to a hut in Montana and killing rabbits for sustenance and clothing, though it might seem like the best option “for those that truly care about the environment”, isn’t going to change anything. It isn’t going to teach people how to grow food on their suburban lawns to diminish Big Ag’s power. It isn’t going to raise awareness about the damage caused by mountain top removal, deforestation, biodiversity loss (and on and on and on). And it certainly will not bring people in her community together to say “NO” to more pollution in their water, air, and soil. Using the existing tools at her/our disposal will.

    So yes, that makes her/us/me complicit, but anyone born in the United States is [technically] complicit. We can’t help it. Ashley isn’t trying to wash her hands of any responsibility–she’s actually taking responsibility for her lifestyle and its effects on her environment and her neighbors

    So while I might be killing dinosaurs to type this response on a computer produced with copper from Kennecott, and by the hands of underpaid and overworked Chinese, purchased from a large corporate entity (HP!) through the mail requiring several gallons of petrol and countless CO2 emissions (and Union Labor!), I’m doing a little bit everyday to make the world a cleaner, less hostile place to live.

    I’ve got a long way to go.

    (please do not take this comment as a personal attack. It’s actually a general reply to the argument that we all use the modern conveniences of life so we’re all at fault)

  22. Nicole I June 20, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    I missed the roll out of this as we were taking in nature on the coast this past weekend. First, let me echo the comments of others.. such powerful words to match (what should be) powerful emotions.

    As someone who is in LOVE with urban life, I always feel torn with – and frankly, a bit apart from – these types of conversations. I am not ok with returning to pre-industrial revolution days. But, I also recognize we have to do better. It is not ok to permanently damage the earth like this. There has to be a better way, yes?

    The little things do add up. There are better and worse ways to mine metals and minerals; not everything needs to be strip mined. Perhaps we can’t totally rid ourselves of oil, but we can choose cars to augment a transit system with both running on alternative and renewable energy sources. I can (and do) choose to pay more for my electric bill for the portfolio that uses more renewable to send the message that I want electric generation to move that way. We can (and some places do) ban the visual pollution of billboards that serve no other purpose than to prompt everyone to consume more.

    Many of these little things – although not all – cost us in terms of money and/or time. Without the raw emotional moments described in this post, I find it difficult to keep myself choosing those slightly more expensive ways… to take the time to line dry my clothes or walk to the bus. We all need those moments – whether personally lived or reading the experience of others – to mourn; it propels us in doing more of our part.

  23. Tatiana June 20, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    What level of technology do you consider technology? That’s what I’m trying to figure out. Subsistence farming? Hobbiton? People obviously have made their living by technology for a very long time, since the stone age.

    So if you choose, say, Hobbiton level, which is very lovely, you still have remade the planet for agriculture, cleared the forests, causes global warming, bred domestic cattle, sheep, horses, goats, dogs, cats, etc. So is that the consensus that we want post-agricultural-revolution but pre-industrial revolution?

    That’s more primitive than I want because I like universal literacy and cheap, easily available books and education. I also want medical science to be able to cure childhood diseases and let my kids live through infancy at a high rate. Like, my great-grandmother, child of the industrial revolution, wasn’t allowed to go to college but they had plenty of books so she could be educated. Three of her sibs died in childhood. So we do want printing presses? Tuberculosis vaccines? She lived through the 1918 flu. Do we want flu vaccines to be available? How are we going to distribute those? With horse and buggy? How do we keep them cold? Ice houses? What did they call those things before refrigerators? Ice boxes? We want ice to be frozen using refrigeration equipment or only mined in the far north in huge blocks and kept insulated all summer?

    What about pasteurization of milk? Is that something we need to forego? Each of these choices brings with it a certain number of deaths along with it. We have to accept those as well.

    I’m not trying to discourage the impulse at all. Please don’t think that. I’m trying to get us to look seriously at the choices, choose the smartest, best one, and begin moving in that direction.

    My personal choice is obviously higher-tech than yours. What do we do about people who choose differently? Do we enforce these choices by the law? Do we charge fines for use of refrigerators? Arrest people? Assume we can make the optimal choices for the laws, what would those look like? How do we legislate technology which is high (agricultural tech is a huge leap forward from hunting and gathering) but not too high? How do you deal with the fact that much of this forbidden technology can be easily cobbled together by our homies in the back yard and workshop? And it makes our lives so much easier? How do we enforce our optimum tech level?

    We need to start thinking about these things, to start making a plan to transition to sustainable life on the planet, because we don’t want to go extinct.

    My plan starts with primary health care and women’s reproductive health available easily and cheaply (free) to all humans. Then the population will gradually decline to something a lot easier on the world’s resources. After that, my plan involves the intelligent use of technology. I’m afraid I don’t find a subsistence farming life a happy one, because of how much animals are exploited for their labor, among other reasons like lack of books, lack of vaccines, lack of computers and literacy, no c-sections for moms meaning high maternal death rates, and so on.

    My plan involves improving efficiency, building clever houses and office buildings with lots of natural light, natural cooling, etc. And the transition to less-destructive forms of energy and eventually away from fossil fuels entirely. I also think our information economy will allow almost everyone to work from home, decreasing pollution, traffic congestion, and the need for roads and bridges and just pavement in general. Not eliminate, just decrease.

    If your plan is subsistence farming, then you can go ahead and start that now. You can buy a small family farm and begin working it. Proof of concept is a big part of the overall equation. Go ahead and do it, and show how it can be done, and how much better a life it is. The movement will take off, if you’re right. If enough people join you to form a political majority, you can begin legislating your ideas about what we all need to do.

    Realize that the current population of the US can’t be sustained on subsistence farming, and that deforestation (as in Haiti) is a bad problem with this type of society. We need to address those things as well.

    I’m hoping we can channel all this emotion into positive action that makes a difference. That’s my goal.

  24. Tatiana June 20, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    Women are just as responsible as men for western technological civilization. I have to disagree on that point. Women want schools for their kids, roads to bring their goods to market, hot and cold running water so they don’t have to fetch dirty water from the creek a mile away, and so on. It’s every bit as much in our best interests to have vaccines and books and refrigeration and all the other trappings of modern life as it is for men. So I completely agree that my choices as much as anyone’s are what has brought us to this pass. I think it’s wrong to push responsibility off on others.

  25. missy. June 21, 2011 at 11:36 am

    Tatiana, I think there are a lot of great questions in your last comment, and it’s definitely a much more constructive approach than calling someone childish and silly! I like a lot of the suggestions in your 8th and 9th paragraphs, and I agree with a lot of what you are saying.

    But I don’t think that it is “pushing responsibility off on others” to acknowledge that there are vast inequalities in the way resources are utilized. I do have a refrigerator and washing machine and air conditioner, and I vaccinate my kids and buy produce at the grocery store and drive my car at least once a day. And I know that there are many, many things that I can do to reduce my footprint and live more harmoniously with the things I believe. As it stands right now, I consume far, far more resources than the average family living in the Global South, for instance.

    However, the fact remains that I live in a culture that idealizes enormous houses, multiple (gas-inefficient) cars and boats, fast food and meat at every meal, etc. etc., and I don’t buy into these things. As a result I AM living in a more environmentally-friendly way than the guy who lives in a 3,000 square foot house, drives a Hummer and eats a steak for dinner every night. I don’t offer these cases up as an example to excuse myself from doing better, but I do think it is disingenuous to suggest that all of us bear equal levels of responsibility for the fix that we’ve gotten ourselves into. I wouldn’t put myself in the same category as someone who consumes thoughtlessly and prodigously, and especially not in the same category as the decision-makers who refuse to use their power to explore renewable and sustainable options for our society.

    I think that rejecting those harmful cultural ideas–perhaps first intellectually and then gradually in practice–is part of the “living simply” philosophy that I believe can, in a populist sense, go a long way toward halting (or at least harnessing) our patterns of environmental degradation.

  26. Kate June 21, 2011 at 11:59 am

    ” we don’t want to go extinct.”

    Who’s this “we”?

    “Civilization is not and can never be sustainable. This is especially true for industrial civilization.”-Derrick Jensen, Endgame

    Voluntary extinction!

  27. ashsanders June 22, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    Wow, you go on one camping trip and you miss lots of good comments! Sorry for the delay–I will try to condense my thoughts into something semi-managable.

    First, the more philosophical semantic stuff. I want to talk about the words “choice” and “sustainability” alongside Tatiana’s opinion that women and men are equally responsible for the way our society works.

    Tatiana, it seems to me that you want very much to believe in a system of equal accountability, where everyone takes equal responsibility for harms they have equally caused. I think that it is admirable to want to own the consequences of your choices, and I think you ask very good, specific questions about choice and change that need to be answered. But I think you make a mistake when you suggest that we have equal choice and equal responsibility for an equal amount of harm. As tempting as it is to believe this (because then we can all do our part and that will change the world) it is wilfully ignoring power structures and history. I used to argue passionately for meritocracy, for example. I really believed that everyone was equally capable of working hard to achieve their dreams, and that we shouldn’t shift the power so that some people got unfair advantages. (Obviously, I was much more conservative ten years ago than I am now.) Then my friend pointed out the glaring omission in my argument: I had failed to account for my own power in this equation, largely because my own power appeared as inevitable and natural to me. In other words, my power–being born into a middle class family and inheriting all the wealth and assumptions and status and education that came with it–was invisible to me. I think that people in power usually think that way, and I think it causes them to see any efforts by an oppressed minority to counter that as unfair or imposing or disproportionate.

    So we can go ahead and say that we all bear equal responsibility for destroying the planet, but that ignores so many things: how much more resources we use in the Global North than the Global South, the differences between a CEO and a wage-earner, the structures that allow some people to create massive harm and others not so much, etc. The power is not equal, so the responsibility can’t be, either.

    I am not saying this to squirm out of my responsibilities to change. I do most of the individual actions that people suggest will change the earth. I am arguing for this because our strategy for changing the world rides on this question: are we all equal and equally responsible for environmental degradation–which implies a strategy of lifestyle changes chosen by individual people–or are we unequal and unequally responsible–which implies dismantling the structures that perpetuate that unequal power and harm?

    Obviously, I think the latter is the answer, and so my solution is to dismantle structures. That is also why I cannot agree with you when you say I “choose” electricity and all its consequences, and that I am therefore responsible for the destruction of the earth. I was born into a world where–because of the structures in place–it is impossible to communicate, get a job, or live without massive amounts of electrical technology. My only other option is to head for the hills, which, as Melanie said, would reduce my own impact but do nothing to challenge the structures that do so much damage. Surviving in a world with certain structures and demands is not the same as choosing that world, or being responsibile for it. The same goes for the argument about women and men. You believe that women and men are equally responsible for our environmental crisis because they all want food and medicine and homes. But women–who have never been in power on a mass scale–did not create and perpetuate the values and structures of this system. They might live inside of it, but they did not choose it. You have to acknowledge power before you can talk about chocie.

    Lastly, the word sustainability. The funny thing about that word is that it is so elastic: everyone thinks they have the definition and are living by it. Kennecott thinks they are sustainable because they don’t idle their trucks as they go about digging the world’s biggest whole in the ground. My neighbor thinks she is sustainable because she stacks the errands she runs in her yellow Hummer. I think I am sustainable because I wrote this post. To me, the word is a mammoth distraction that keeps us from asking: what does sustainability actually mean? To me, the word is really saying, “These are my values,” as in, my values are that humans are more important than all other animals, so sustainability means being a little gentler on the land but not questioning civilization.

    That is why I am glad you asked the question about what sustainability means. But you can’t ask that question without once again returning to the question of power and invisibility. Most people are rabid speciesists, for example, who believe that they have a right to technology and its pleasures even if it means extinction for most animal populations. I must admit I have not overcome my own rabid speciesism in this regard–not even close. But most definitions of sustainability mean partial sustainability for some humans, almost none are talking about full sustainability for all humans, and truly almost none are talking about full sustainability for all animals and the planet.

    So, in answer to your question about what sustainability means: If I were going by the last criterion, it would mean pre-industrial and pre-agricultural lifeways. I have heard (the sources vary WILDLY) that a truly sustainable world population would come in somewhere in the thousands, not the millions, let alone billions, and that isn’t possible no matter how many solar panels you have. You are right when you say that agriculture clears huge tracts of forests and deeply damages the earth, so I don’t believe that it is by definition sustainable.

    Am I scared of my own conclusions? You bet I am. Do I want to be a hunter gatherer? No, not really. Am I fond of the theater, French pastries, books and medicine. Absolutely. I do not pretend to be brave, or to know the answers. But I do think it is desperately important to follow the questions and see the answers we don’t want to see.

    As for now, I will do my part to stop large and polluting industries while thinking of how to live without them. That is not enough, and it isn’t all fleshed out, but it is my start.

  28. Kate June 23, 2011 at 10:41 am

    Thank you Ash.

    No more “Be the change” BS!

    The Inuit in Alaska live perfectly sustainable lifestyles, killing and eating marine mammals for survival… doesn’t protect them from the polar ice melt and the total elimination of the permafrost in Alaska within OUR LIFETIME. Total. They can use solar panels and recycled toilet paper all they want. Ain’t going to protect them from the complete destruction of their lifestyle, culture and livelihood.

    The people who harm the least are going to feel the worst effects of climate change.

    As Mormons we are very indoctrinated in “choice and accountability” but, what happens when those who did not make the choices are the ones who are feeling the brunt of the “accountability”?

    There must be no impunity for the most egregious perpetrators. We must hold those in power (the Power Co Execs, the Exxons, the BPs, the Obamas who refuse to fulfill their solar panel promises, the Nuclear industry lackies in gov) accountable.

    We can’t let them make us get caught up in our own guilt for not using compact florescent light bulbs and permit this guilt trip to let them get off Scott-free.

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