Friday, July 26, 2013

No Time for a Meeting of the "Flat-Earth Society"

A monumental presidential speech in favor of environmental progress in the United States calls for a post that tries to wrestle with the nuts and bolts of what such changes could mean. 

First, I'd like to say that I was at first generally impressed by Obama's speech on environmental policy and innovation, given at Georgetown University on June 25th. It's bold by U.S. standards and provocative in making sweeping generalizations about where our country should stand in the climate change world-stage. If you haven't had a chance to see the master speech-weaver in action, you can see his full speech below. It is worth a watch:

But what does his policy really say? Can a jumble of overarching feel-good directives be enough to push the U.S. into a modern stance on climate control and carbon emission standards? Well if you're curious about what the presidential executive actions are all about, you can read the 21 page action plan here. But let's be real, the way you'll actually read it is in an infographic. Everyone loves infographics. 

Okay, so now you've educated yourself on the topic at hand and you've noticed that Obama set out three primary areas of impact: 

  1. Cut Carbon Pollution in America
  2. Prepare the U.S. for Impacts of Climate Change
  3. Lead International Efforts to Address Global Climate Change and Prepare for its Impacts
Which are superb titles, really they are. His slightly punchy attitude toward the partisan nature of U.S. culture and global climate change is refreshing -- overtly overdue -- but a necessary dig at the GOP / Democratic deadlock about everything; much like siblings vying for attention. 

Seriously, can we talk about how no other Western nation deems SCIENTIFIC assessments of climate change to be some terrible political battle? Am I crazy here? Global climate change, the "politically correct" version of "global warming," has been a widely studied issue since, arguably, the 1960s, when Silent Spring jump-started a new lens through which we look at environmental health, both for human exposure and environmental degradation. So how does an issue over 50 years in the making still give rise to arguments? [And don't give me the "...but the economy" smoke and mirrors, because the prevailing conservative idea of American economic resiliency and market equilibrium must hold true across all planes, not just the auto and oil industries, if it will continue to hold up idealistically.]  

Tangential political quibbles aside, I am not sold on the core of Obama's speech, despite it's positive intentions. This is not with lack of due research and care in delineating such a statement, though. I've read the evaluations. I've seen the news casts. I've highlighted and fact-checked and compared mission statements between U.S. government organizations, and defined just what "renewable energy targets" that the so-called 35 states have in place. Essentially, I wanted to believe the genuine effort by the president and his undoubtedly massive teams of environmental, political, and public relation gurus. But I also did my homework and my analysis below voices my concerns.

My problem is this: the United States has only-child syndrome in a family of 20 kids. We pretend to be the best big-brother anyone has ever had, but we are fundamentally an only-child in all the worst ways. Let me explain:

1. Cut Carbon Pollution in America

Coming from an administration that openly admits to having "no federal standard in place to reduce carbon pollution," yeah, I think we can safely say that cutting down on some carbon pollution is a good idea. It's great to say that the U.S. will follow the bandwagon of other developed nations (and even some developing nations *ahem* Brazil), but to compare U.S. emissions to China -- the U.S. having roughly 2.32% the population of China (as of 6:14 p.m. today) -- is frankly, absurd.  

And for that matter, where is the mention about the European Union's successful implementation of an emission trading system, including various degrees of cap and trade? The statement seems so nonabrasive: Cut carbon pollution in America. We can all agree on this, right? Sure, I can agree that on an almost archaic level, this general statement, like "be nice to others," is a net positive. But we don't live in a U.S.-centric world. Reason One why the U.S. has only-child syndrome: We are a uni-polar culture, absorbed in a multi-polar world order.

2. Prepare the U.S. for Impacts of Climate Change

You know what really pushes my buttons? When society doesn't push their administration's buttons! Case in point: solidifying U.S. infrastructure is a nice thing to do, but it cannot be a means to an end. Infrastructure improvements will likely make areas more secure, and afford better occupational and environmental health options for communities. It will not, however, decrease the imminent (yes, imminent) risk of weather system devastation and especially not negate the vulnerability of low-income or out-skirted communities. So bravo, U.S. "ambitious" climate action plan, on objective #2. 

The current plans for U.S. climate change engagement invoke the same mentality and logic as the Cold War shelter-in-place "safety" videos issued by the U.S. government as a national placebo in case a nuclear holocaust ensued with the Soviet Union. [Fact: You will not survive a nuclear explosion by covering your head and neck in the fetal position.] The same concept applies here.

Imagine for a moment that instead of needing to mention "protecting the economy and our natural resources," our government, and the people who support it so wholeheartedly, established their impact goals around protecting under-served communities, developing immigration standards and bylaws for climate refugees, and educating the public on why rebuilding major cities below sea level is probabilistically detrimental to human life and national morale.

And don't think for a second that this is a problem externally affecting the United States. I'm sorry for the realism here, but incorporating more weather resilient concrete on coastal highways isn't exactly an "aggressive" environmental climate change solution. Right now citizens of the United States are forcibly on the move as we see our very first climate refugees appear closer to home than you might think. Reason Two why the U.S. has only-child syndrome: We never learned to share [ideas, capital, power] among our people.

3. Lead International Efforts to Address Global Climate Change and Prepare for its Impacts

There are sea surges in Bangladesh, thousands swept away in India, entire islands engulfed by an expanding ocean in Tuvalu (and this article is from 2001!); the estimates for climate refugees are staggering. The Sundance Film Festival spotlight, Climate Refugees (2010), centers on this very issue. The film outlines how the fight has turned from saving the planet to saving civilization entirely. 

So when the U.S. government says they are finally ready to become global leaders in addressing climate change, I can hardly hide my surprise at seeing them so late to the party. This is not a matter of trusting science anymore, or building walls against immigrant influxes. This is something much bigger. If studying environmental science counts for anything, I have learned that nature will do whatever it takes to reach equilibrium. It's simple math. It's simple science. It's simply baffling, how long it has taken us to recognize this historically ingrained fact. 

The methodology is not off-point in the plan Obama and his administration have rolled out for global cooperation regarding climate change. The problem that I hope is easily seen by voters is that Congress can't even recognize equality among U.S. citizens in it's hard-pressed national decisions. What makes anyone think that it will be different for climate change initiatives? There are members of Congress right now who still openly deny the existence of climate change at all. And what's more concerning is that these are elected officials.

Even if you can turn a blind eye to these blocks, there is still the buffer of international relations and power play to overcome. I'm not convinced that the "American way" is the best way to go here. I'm not convinced that there has been enough education to the American public on these issues. And I'm certainly not convinced that the same government who sat idol as countries like Germany reduced their reliance on carbon based fuels and boosted their use of renewable energy to 25% of the nation's reliance, is at all prepared to lead the global effort. 

The key to Germany's success, and the key to most grassroots efforts, is ownership. Once citizens of Germany became both consumers and producers of sustainable and renewable energy sources, they were more willing to bear the costs of adjustment. By privatizing certain areas and allowing the invisible hand of market capitalism take hold, the emerging industry of renewables was able to blossom.

New Zealand has been forced to restructure not only their migration systems and laws, but also their economic and political systems, as small island nations in Oceania bear the first brunt force of shrinking land mass due to ocean expansion. Where was the U.S. leadership at Rio de Janeiro? Where was the Kyoto Protocol support? And perhaps most importantly, why isn't anyone in a position of power asking these questions [and following through on answers] instead of imposing an in-your-face demand for an instant rebound of the U.S. economy? Reason Three why the U.S. has only-child syndrome: We've always been told we're the best. 

-- --

Concluding Thoughts:

Okay, let me step off my soap box for a moment. I'm not anti-American government. I'm not lost to the concept of large machines (like the U.S. government) needing time to process and disseminate decisions system wide. I'm not calling for an anarchist take over. I am preaching about the only-child syndrome of always self-evaluating as being "good enough" because comparison is lost. 

Our nation needs to read globally (books, articles, analyses - Knowledge outside your backyard!) , learn systemically, think actively, and crave, yes, take pride in the privilege afforded to those living in this country, and crave something more for the future of climate change negation and solutions. It is passion that lights the way for innovation, not top-down "restructuring" or even executive orders. As with the German Energiewende (energy transition) to a sustainable economy shows, change comes with public ownership of the idea itself.

**Disclaimer about only-child syndrome: Not all only-children are affected, just as me being small does not mean I have Napoleonic-complex.  

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Positives to False Advertising

N ow I'm not usually one to preach the positives of situations that, without the overbearingly selfish tendencies of human influence (this time big business), could be forces of bettering change in society, but this one is important and perplexing. This is the dramatic case of "going green." The much scoffed at and afeared topic that is sometimes lightly and sometimes harshly scrutinized in the environmental realm, has reached at once an all-time high and an all-time low.

Reading about the stark falsifications of "green" certifications and the startling efforts to establish unenforceable “green initiatives” (except you, Kansas) is certainly less than ideal, but has recently been filling me with a kind of hope. Before you direct too much effort toward writing me hate-mail, let me explain. 

Call me crazy, but I think consumers might be trying to do some good in all of this. Sure big business—clout and capital in toe—is doing it’s very best to scam the global public to literally buy into the greenwashing of everything  with labels like “sustainably harvested” or “produced using eco-friendly methods”  but the motives behind this, in a bare-bones sort of way, are almost noble. Society is buying into fake green products because they want to buy into real green products.

But now I have to ask: Why are sales up, even in the tail-end of a recession, for products that are claiming to be 'good' for the planet? The answer, as I've started digging, is not altogether simple. 

An Inconvenient Truth (2006), The Age of Stupid (2009), Plastic Planet (2011), and many more 'break-through' films all have the same thing in common: they sell tickets. So the real question here is not "is society learning?" it is more accurately "is society buying?" By this I mean that, for better or worse, fear sells. And although I don't agree entirely with this NYTimes Dot post, the basic idea behind his anti-alarmist argument is that society should be doing it's homework on global climate change, so that the trickle down repercussions of "going green" are more of a grounded (logical and sustainable) effort, rather than a fashion statement, 'convenient' effort, or worse, a following of the big business lemming leaders. 

Now to be honest, I'm not entirely sure where the disconnect is coming from here. I wish I could say that because people are being made aware and even prompted to fear global climate change, they are taking drastic steps toward improving the planet by purchasing so-called sustainable goods. But the reality here is that a conversation has been started, with dollars acting as the talking heads, where the correlation between caring for the environment and valuing real positive change is not direct. 

How we spend our dollars is a big problem. Global climate change is a huge problem -- it's seemingly insurmountable, unquantifiable, misbegotten. But, and most importantly, it's ours. I appreciate the steps that are being taken for what they are worth as people set aside part of their budget to buy the 'sustainable' paper-towels and 'biodegradable' plates. But where does the commodification of the future end?

Despite the sometimes dystopian future we face, it appears that the privilege afforded by a developed nation has not made us impervious to a will to adjust, however slowly. I am hopeful that in the face of falsification and commodifying invaluable resources, there is at least a glimmer of hope in society's meek conviction to even engage. 

I don't generally leave my posts unanswered, but this one does not have a call to action that is in any way inconspicuous:  Do your homework. Vote for tighter initiatives and laws on labeling anything "sustainable" or "green" (whatever 'green' means, right?). Spend your dollars for a brighter future. 

I'll leave you with a quote from Susan Cain's book Quiet, spoken by Professor Preston Ni:
"...if the idea is good, people shift. If the cause is just and you put heart into it, it's almost a universal law: you will attract people who want to share your cause. Soft power is quiet persistence...Eventually they build up a team."
Perhaps this is my soft power attempt to the world. Speak, think, and spend wisely, my friends.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How To Change a Paradigm

It occurred to me the other day, as I was pedantically rambling about the interconnectivity of societal structures, which both affords mutual stability and ensures stubborn resilience to change, that my particular brand of world-qualms stem from paradigms. In many ways,  I find macro-level foundations to be the ones that need to most shaking. Of course I find merit in helping individuals; in volunteering at schools and teaching a 6th grade class how to compost, but the fact of the matter is that big things don’t change, and are created to not change, by a few puny bottom-up attempts to better a concentrated issue. The positive spin on this, logically, is that the underpinnings of society are not shaken by negative groups either—and thus the yin and yang of the plight of adjusting to climate change takes shape.

So what am I trying to change here? And why? What paradigms exist in our nation, one of the wealthiest in the world (depending on what parameters you’re looking at), that could possibly benefit from a massive overhaul? Well if you've been paying attention, you know I will first say society’s understanding of global climate change and environmental degradation. A close second, however, and something entirely related, is our education system, our economic system, and our political system.

In the interest of the “How To” in the title of this post, I will use only one example of the connective overlap of these realms of thought to demonstrate the paradigm machine. One fluid example of the intermixing of these realms goes like this: society is questioning the credibility of modern science as it relates to global climate change—which breeds, instead of healthy curiosity, blatant rejection, inaction, and hardness. That this is even still debated brings me back to the blunder in Kansas’ schooling system, where evolution has yet to be universally accepted (this would be amusing if it wasn't so scary). This shadow (or perhaps cloud) of doubt in scientific ‘truth’ stems in part from political grandstanding as admitting peril in climate change would render political action necessary, likely in favor of increased public spending on innovation and reduction of pollutants—enter the conservative backlash away from larger government influence. This in turn influences how far the “green movement” toward recycling, up-cycling, tetra-cycling, conserving, reducing, reusing, and changing the current system is capable of going. We have here, the commodification of human existence (of life itself, if sea levels continue rising and essential species keep losing habitat), something I deem more pressing than using canvas bags at the grocery store. And now we circle back to education, where funding is flimsy and students in public education (about 90.38% or over 49.8 million of the 55.1 million elementary and secondary students in the United States) are encouraged to pass, not learn; to achieve as generations have before them, despite the vastly different economic picture of today and of the future. So gerrymandering (political effecting education), a lack of funding (political effecting economic effecting education), and distorted distributions of information (education effecting scientific) all swirl together to create an all too real problem of monumental consequence.

And this is only one example of the reach of such a paradigm.

Now, how do we change this? A simple question warranting an entire civilizations command of resources from capital to thought processes. Before I delve into the good, the bad, and certainly the ugly, I’d like to start with one of my favorite quotes. Contrary to popular notions and my own writing, there is, however slim, always hope:      

“The first is that the struggle for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent overwhelming power of those who have the guns and money and who seem invincible in their determination to hold on to it. That apparent power has, again and again, proved vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than bombs and dollars: moral fervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, patience—whether by blacks in Alabama and South Africa, peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Vietnam, or workers and intellectuals in Poland, Hungary, and the Soviet Union itself. No cold calculation of the balance of power need deter people who are persuaded that their cause is just.”
—Howard Zinn, “Failure to Quit: Reflections of an Optimistic Historian,” The Optimism of Uncertainty

My contradictory stage is set with an insurmountable problem of ever-cycling misuse of society’s capabilities, and the reactive motivation of human resiliency and determination. How to change a paradigm has everything to do with scale and scope—so how do we convince people that our cause (or any cause) is just?

The United Nations, and truly the world’s, triumph over CFCs in the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is a beauteous, if not hauntingly isolated, instance of cooperation within the different spheres of societal thought. Suddenly we (the royal, societal, ‘we’) saw correlation between our actions and a tangible hazard. Chemical companies came together to fight for the common good (and a pretty piece of positive press) and legislators did something entirely unexpected: acted quickly. 

This proves two very important things: 

  1. People listen when the words are right, and 
  2. Collective action is possible on a global scale

My directive now is to call you to action. I want you to lobby for the greater good with pens and paper and a voice with something to say. Educate yourself on climate change, on collective action, on why the Toxics Regime failed just like the waste trading regime failed. These lacked singular direction. Granted, problems are rarely as simple as removing one chemical from one system to make a huge impact, but every problem can be broken down into pieces. The spheres of economic, political, and educational power are intrinsically linked, and as John Muir once said, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." You are the universe. You are connected to everything. John Mayer had it wrong, it simply will not do to wait on the world to change (for those who know me, this pop culture reference is a big deal). 

Check out ways to get involved in your community by making the jump to Citizens Climate Lobby

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Some Pruning, Some Picking, Some Provocation

S ustainability is at the core of today’s most crippling and intriguing conundrums. It is
  the keystone for future environmental (and truly life-sustaining) success, and
  among the most pressing anthropological necessities. But what I want to talk
  about for a moment is societal sustainability. It is obvious that improving, 
  preserving, and investing in the environment serves a very personal and self-indulgent goal of allowing our species to continue its existence (or rein of terror) on the earth. But what happens when society cannot sustain its own structure? What will become of this blink of an eye that is the human experience, when the cornerstones of our societal order no longer stand by their grounding pillars?

To switch gears for a moment, I’d like to present a definition, in its raw form, for you all to mull over:
Fundamentalism: A usually religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles, by rigid adherence to those principles, and often by intolerance of other views and opposition to secularism.
Okay, now think of a group that you would deem a “fundamentalist” group. Think of the ideological notions from which they are founded; the activities that they as a group carry out. Think of the message they send out to the world and how they spread that message. Create a mental picture of fundamentalism.

Great, now consider that based on this definition, the Amish are fundamentalists. They are extremists for their theological underpinnings. They reject a majority view and oppose secularism. They pass on their views to their children and isolate themselves in homogenous diasporic communities. Push back on this all you want, the point you are making in your head against me is one of connotation, not of definition.

So why would I prompt you into such a thought exercise? The most straightforward answer is because I’m disappointed in humanity and I don't have much else to give right now. I don't have investor lobbying power or political weight or 20 years of experience "in the field" to create a conventional wave of change.

But I do have a voice, and for now, that's enough.

So what's my point here? I have words that form sentences that convey some flighty too-young-to-have-an-opinion-that-matters thought. What does that do for you?

I was struck today by a few articles that I think demonstrate some of my frustrations. The first was from the New York Times coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing investigation. The article states that federal authorities are facing what they have "long feared: angry and alienated young men, apparently self-trained and unaffiliated with any particular terrorist group" -- which suggests that federal authorities fear every male over the age of 14 and under the age of 35 who has ever felt like they didn't fit in (i.e. every person as they grow up). This neat thing called the internet, which was preordained to bring great power but also great destruction, is a fantastic resource for bomb making and homegrown hatred. You can watch videos of white supremacy calls to action and even see a step by step tutorial on how to make a nuclear weapon (pending your access to large quantities of Uranium). But this is also beside the point.

Let's zoom out for a second. What were the first photos and videos taken on after the bombing occurred? Oh right, smart phones. What makes your smart phone function? Among many other things: tantalum, tin, and tungsten. Those, of course, coming from the cheapest possible sources because of this other new fangled thing called globalization and outsourcing. So where can you find all 3 of those rare metals / alloys? If you said the Democratic Republic of Congo's sprawling war-torn communities, you'd be right.

Bear with me here: our federal government is invoking post 9/11 hatred, swell behind a "common evil," and a group-think that is supposed to make you feel like "normal" "ordinary" people just like you don't commit acts of extreme violence, while genocide (UN labeled "mass killing" because this is not a religious or particularly political killing spree) breaks out in the DRC over resources and turf so smart phones can continue to be created with planned obsolescence. Here's a news flash: anyone can commit an act of extreme violence. And in fact, it is we ordinary people who commit genocide, mass killing, and acts of violence the most. If you're confused, you should read this social psychology book by James Waller all about this topic. 

Which brings me to one final piece--Everyone thinks they are the exception to the rule. And not to sound too  "you are not a unique and beautiful snowflake" about it, but a majority of people choose to believe that given difficult circumstances, they would somehow rise above or defeat whatever obstacle they are presented with. Think about how you would react if you were suddenly in a hostage situation. If you're anything like me, you're playing the "what if" game right now--playing out how you would cut ropes using exposed nails or leave clues for the people who are trying to rescue you. You want to believe that you would fight and win because failure and death continue to be such stark societal taboos.

Let me climb onto my soapbox for a moment. Our peers, our fellow American citizens, people born and raised in this country are being alienated because of the way they look, the higher power they pray to, or the clothing they choose to wear for their beliefs--and you mean to tell me that YOU, a "normal", unique snowflake, who could never commit an act of hate or violence because you're too ordinary or too caring or squeamish or strong willed. NO, instead of setting off a bomb, you're letting your operation take on a grassroots approach. You're reading media about "fundamentalists" and the blanket statements about all those "extremists" who spread hate, while you look down upon anyone outside your realm of spiritual or cultural understanding as if this country is not also theirs. You are silent, 12 years after the 9/11 attacks shook our government's understanding of guerilla warfare and hate infected a country founded upon the theory and strength of a melting pot.

I can spout problems all I'd like and carry on about how believing in the environment is the only honest goal I can fathom, but to what avail? Is there a solution in this overwhelming madness? Is there such a thing as societal sustainability? 

What I really want is for the world to prove me wrong. I want people to read and listen and absorb with a grain of salt. I want words that aren't spoken to carry meaning. I want religious identity to be only a tiny piece of how we perceive one another. I want humans to be humane. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Where the Present Meets the Future

N ot to be too scattered, but the discussion of Pinchot, Muir, and Leopold will   
 have to wait. I’m delving into Susan Cain’s book Quiet, and I think that 
 argument would be better suited in conjunction with a more thoughtful 
 examination of introversion culture.

What I would like to discuss is how ridiculous the world of sustainable development and transparency in the market has become. There is this stunning new initiative that would bring to light company information on “climate change, diversity, employee relations, environmental impact, government relations, human rights, product impact and safety, and supply chain” that has been presented to NASDAQ by investors. The purpose of such a bold release of information for public/investor consumption is to increase awareness and allow the market (*I believe in the market*) to make more informed, transparent, and sustainable decisions.

And before you roll your eyes and shake your fist at those granola-crunching, hippie investors, consider that the London, Sweden, and Denmark stock exchanges already have minimal requirements for transparent reporting of corporate responsibility—that’s weird, the U.S. is behind other nations in seemingly obvious and forward-thinking concepts? That has never happened. I present to you, as exhibit A, in all its thickheaded, proud to be an Amurican glory: Kansas.

Otherwise known for its revolutionary idea to ban the teaching of evolution in public schools in 1999 (yes, 1999, as in a time in recent history—apparently the “theory” of evolution skipped over this group of Homo sapiens sapiens), the agro-based economy state is proposing a bill that would OUTLAW sustainable development. I would like to pause here for a moment of silence in memory of all the brain cells and IQ points everyone who has read House Bill No. 2366 has lost.

So what is sustainable development, anyway?

There are many definitions of sustainable development, including this landmark one which first appeared in 1987:

"Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
—from the World Commission on Environment and Development’s
(the Brundtland Commission) report Our Common Future (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).

I’m paraphrasing a bit from the Capital-Journal here, but the man who brought this bill to the House Energy and Environment Committee (which he is conveniently the chairman for) claims that he saw “no conflict of interest in the fact that he is a contracted geophysicist whose client list includes 30 regional oil and gas companies.”

It’s always nice to see people like Rep. Dennis Hedke taking a stand for future generations by proposing a block of public funding for a fundamentally progressive (and conceptually historical) development goal. And what’s even more interesting is that from what I've been able to uncover, he as kids of his own. Which strikes me as hilarious and terrifying seeing as he clearly underestimates his own life span in comparison to that of his children and potential grandchildren. Hey, remember that time a House Representative lived forever in a world that was unchanging? Me neither.

I like to think I’m telling you things you already know. I like to think that this is an obviously appalling and inexcusable use of elected power and monetary incentives to pursue personal gains. I like to think that everyone can see this as blatantly and excruciatingly clear as I can. But the truth of the matter is that not only was this man elected and placed in a seat of power (questionable—so questionable), but he was educated as a geophysicist in our education system, made the chairman of a state committee to promote environmentally sound governmental decisions, and he also sits on the committee for education. WHAT.

So hats off to you, Kansas, and especially you Mr. Hedke, for proving that despite investors (representing the market) attempts to improve corporate responsibility and forward motion toward a more sustainable future, communities, individuals, and indeed entire states (representing society) like you have made only one thing perfectly clear: nothing is for certain about the future of sustainability.

My advice to U.S. voters:

  1. Educate yourself on the full story—or for that matter, read at all (props if you've made it this far in my post, unfortunately, that likely means you’re not the audience who should be reading this part) 
  2. Don’t compromise progress, no matter how tempting (and self-serving) the immediate returns might seem 
  3. Follow the money trail—and in that vein, think about where you’re spending your own dollars; they are like little votes toward what you want the future to look like 
  4. Think about the children (intentionally cliché, but seriously, do you want your future spawn to grow up as we Millennials have—facing the seemingly insurmountable environmental (economic and political) consequences of our past generations neglect? That’s what I thought)

Well, that's my rant for today. I hope it has brought some balance to whichever side you've been leaning toward on the sustainability and environmentalism scale.

With love,

Thursday, April 11, 2013

How To Change The World When You Hate People

 I’ve tried to come up with words to describe how I can want to influence society for the better, while also harboring serious distain for people in any type of collective. The best way I have been able to start explaining myself is by laying some groundwork:

        • I believe in the environment. 
        • I trust the market. 
        • I don’t believe in society. 

So go ahead and call me a Hobbesian and a pessimist, but what I’m saying is that in every conceptualization of “ideal” scenarios that I can think of, people mess it up. Let’s talk Communism for a minute—on paper it can’t be beat. Any sociology major today will tell you that once you've read the manifesto, the idea actually has some merit; people sharing ideas, capital, commons, workload, hierarchical advancements (or lack thereof)—what could possibly go wrong? Where it fails is the intrinsic necessity to involve a human element. The equation is never linear in goals and the concept of power play is not going away.

If I can take it one step further (and one step more controversial), I would venture to say that religion, especially the historical monopoly of Catholicism and Christianity, has been ideologically flawed by human influence. Religious texts are great and all, and I obviously see the logic in writing something as meaningful as spiritual and religious truths* down to share with others, but my problem stems from the possible agendas that each of the dozens of writers could have had (reads: very likely had). The Koran, Bible, teachings of Buddha, and even Greek mythology (which to someone, at some point, was recognized wholly as truth too) all have the same tragic flaw: people. Okay, now I’ve offended you. But will you think about what I’m saying before dismissing the main point? I’m not saying communism and religion are on the same playing field, but I am pointing one big finger at the problem-child of all great ideals: US.

Now, what is this you’re saying about the environment? To get back on topic, I decided a long time ago that if I was going to invest my life into something, it would be for an indisputable greater good and thus, an environmentalist was born. But how, then, does one remove society from the environment? The straight answer is that you don’t. You can’t.

So I devised what I thought was the perfect plan. Here is my abbreviated logic: society is regulated by the law, the law changes slowly based on the market (comprised of societal supply and demand, if you will), the market self regulates (even if it takes a whole lot of time and stupidity: ladies and gentlemen, I give you the housing bubble), and thus: if I am to change the law, I must play by the market’s rules. Who controls the market? Which, of course, is really asking: Who controls the capital, clout, and influence? This is a gimme: Corporations, Multi-nationals, Big Business.

So I set out, hell bent at 17 years old to prove that by using conventional methods of achievement—getting a BS, going to law school, and weaseling my way into some in-house council position of a large multi-national—I could force the stare decisis of the courts to slowly work in favor of environmental protection by showing it’s merits to said multi-national. Am I so crazy to think that I could win a game and not believe in the rules at the same time? In short: yes.

But why won’t this work? My persuasion skills aside, the law market has shifted to a business model over the past 5 years, and I dare say it is an industry in crisis. In what I have been describing as a blended mix of the pharmaceutical gridlock and the housing market inflation, the might and capital of biglaw today is troubled indeed: coping with blocks in sharing information and firm structure, and the rapidly climbing price of service. When did it become okay to charge $800 an hour to proof read? I’m sure top newspaper editors everywhere are choking on the coffee they had to get themselves at that one. But that’s the reality of this industry and it’s startling.

Fast forward a few years, I am humbled, cynical, and have graduated early, pre-law degree in hand. But the burning question: What Now? I have a great job that I enjoy, loving friends to adventure with, and new continents and cultures to explore—but what do I want to be? How will I continue to chase my dreams in reforming the staggering pull of major corporations in making governmental, legal, and societal change?

My newest venture: corporate responsibility and sustainability. It’s a simple enough plan, but in order to get there I will need to jump through a few more hoops, follow up on a few more passions, and ultimately obtain some important pieces of paper telling big business that I know what I’m telling them I know (i.e. it’s time to play by the rules again). I’m looking at masters programs for Environmental Management/Science at big name schools like Yale, Harvard, Oxford, Duke, and Princeton (look, another system that has changed to a business model…another talk for another day). I might be bold and naïve enough to pull this off in a few years—pending the master’s education market doesn’t take a turn for the bizarre and overly corrective, like the law school market has. (*I believe in the market, I believe in the market*).

Just what changes I’d like to make in the global theater of rising sea levels, industrial farming, environmental pollutants, and anthropological impact, you will have to wait and see.

Until next time,

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Why Are You Here?

U nfortunately, this is not a post about your existential meaning. In fact, if you're searching blogs for that, I'm taking it upon myself to tell you right now that you will never find that answer on the internet. Look up at the stars, stand next to the ocean, maybe even turn off your computer monitor. Okay, life-advise from the peanut gallery aside...

I have some feelings I need to put out there about the world. No, not "the world"--in the sense of "I have the worst singing voice in the world"--this is bigger, but much more refined. I recently graduated with a bachelor of science in a field that quite literally tries to encompass all matter, something called Society & Environment. Well great, Berkeley, way to encompass all living and non-living things in existence and call it a major--you all sure have some presumptuous goals for your grads. And after years under this umbrella of hard, soft, and prickly sciences, I have some lingering questions and lofty suggestions.

The question that lies in many hearts, but far fewer mouths is how do I change the world? Whoa, hold on there a minute, what world are we talking about? To get back to my more "refined" world, I'm talking about physical space, time, and matter; I'm talking about flora and fauna and culture and urban sprawl and nuclear energy and technological divides and history and scientific uncertainties; I'm talking about the future. I might sound over-indulgent, but I need to impress upon you that I don't mean my own world--the things that make my personal day to day life go around--I'm writing about something bigger, because I'm dreaming of something bigger.

I want this intro post to be over-arching, because my blog will cover many, many things. On the docket for this week is a discussion on why going to law school for environmental law in order to influence corporations and the environment may be the worst possible decision of any young grad's life. But why? Don't law degrees give you a societal stamp of approval stating that you, Mr. or Ms. law degree holder, are superior and rollin in the post-grad school 6 figure salaries and signing bonuses? My dears, you will soon learn that the legal field is, after all, a business, and big business comes with big risk.

Also up this week, the time-honored debate over conservation and preservation. Is preservation a relevant argument in modern society? Are humans capable of sustainable harvest and conservation in the age of drought, food shortage, and uncertain global climate change? Fine questions, warranting thoughtful unpacking.

And lastly in the coming week, I will be addressing Susan Cain's concept of the introvert and what the heck that has to do with the environment as we understand it today. Some things to look at for homework: did Gifford Pinchot "win" the Yosemite Valley debate against John Muir because he was an extrovert? What about Hetch Hetchy Valley? More on this here.

Okay, mull that over and check back in tomorrow. Also, feel free to let me know what you think I should talk about regarding environmental science, management, policy, and law--I'd love to hear from you.