What should the climate movement do next, after Keystone? Last week I approached the question through the lens of supply-side vs. demand-side fights: Should activists protest against mines, pipelines, ports, and other means through which fossil fuels reach consumers, or should they focus on reducing demand for those fuels?
Now I want to approach the same question through another lens, which is related but not quite the same: Should activists focus on fighting the negative or promoting the positive? Or put another way, on dismantling our dirty stautus-quo systems or building up sustainable new ones?
Climate change is not like the problems that have occupied the environmental movement since its heyday in the '60s and '70s. Those typically involved local pollutants; the solution was to modify some class of industrial widget, e.g., stick a scrubber on a coal plant.
Carbon pollution is different. It's not a marginal byproduct of industrialization; it is an intrinsic feature of economies based on fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are made of carbon. There aren't enough scrubbers in the world to solve climate change at the widget level. Climate change calls for new systems.
Addressing climate change is at least as much about designing and building a new world as it is about battling and dismantling the status quo. It is creation and destruction, yin and yang.
One critique of the climate movement (and the Keystone campaign) has been that yin and yang are out of balance, that there is too much focus on the negative. What are we to make of this critique?
Neal Gorenflo is the founder and publisher of Shareable, a website dedicated to promoting the sharing economy in all its forms, from car sharing to tool-lending libraries and even pet sharing. A former corporate up-and-comer, he quit his job in 2004 and vowed to “make a world where people felt like they were part of something meaningful.”
Writer Melanie Warner, whose new exposé-on-the-world-of-processed-foods book, Pandora’s Lunchbox, is out this week, spent the past year and a half doing exactly that. In her quest to explore the murky and convoluted world of soybean oil, milk protein concentrates (a key ingredient in processed cheese), and petroleum-based artificial dyes, she spoke to food scientists, uncovered disturbing regulatory loopholes in food law, and learned just how little we know about many of the food products on supermarket shelves.
After reading Pandora’s Lunchbox, I sent Melanie some burning questions via email. Here is what she had to say:
Q.The term "processed food" is ubiquitous these days. The food industry has attempted to co-opt it by claiming canned beans, baby carrots, and frozen vegetables are "processed foods." Can you help explain why a Pop-Tart is years away from a "processed food" like hummus?
Imagine looking out over your city and instead of seeing a sea of brown and grey rooftops, you’re looking at reflective black, all the way to the horizon.
That’s the view Sanders Moore is trying to bring to Albuquerque. Moore is the 31-year-old state director at Environment New Mexico, an advocacy group (and part of the Environment America network) that works to get citizens to demand better environmental policy from their elected leaders. “Our goal is to get 100,000 roofs covered in solar panels by 2020,” she explains.
Here’s how a woman from Atlanta landed in the high, Southwestern desert with dreams of getting an entire state off oil and powered by the sun.
For most people affected by superstorm Sandy, the damage was plain to see: devastated homes, impossible traffic, even lost lives. But for Bruce Brownawell, the storm’s biggest consequences are buried under several meters of seawater. Brownawell is a marine scientist at SUNY-Stony Brook who has spent the last several years becoming intimately acquainted with the chemical makeup of mud on the floor of various bays, harbors, and inlets in the New York City area.
When Sandy hit, several local scientists saw opportunity: For Bruce, it was a chance to return to these areas and investigate how strong storm tides shifted mud around -- particularly in areas close to several low-lying sewage treatment plants that were knocked out during the storm and dumped raw sewage into the water for days. To do that, he and colleague Jessica Dutton of Adelphi University strapped on mud-proof waders and headed out to Hempstead Bay off the south shore of Long Island. Climate Desk crammed onto the boat for the inside dirt.
After six weeks, on Feb. 12, my “I can eat meat if I want day” arrived. And I found I wasn't ready to decide one way or the other.
So I tacked on six more weeks to my experiment, which means that if I want, I can eat meat around April 1. In the meantime, I have decided that if I do eat meat at that time, I will have to know how it lived and how it died.
That sounds so pretentious. It is also, I admit, the rare person who has the opportunity to do this. I live in a pretty wholesome part of the country -- Nevada County, in northeastern California -- and there is no end to the number of places I can go to get totally fresh, farm-raised meat from well-treated animals who have not been given a lot of antibiotics.
Still, you can hear about the wholesomeness of meat that comes from little farms, but it means nothing until you experience it. So last week I went out and visited two places. The first was a pasture belonging to Nevada County Free Range Beef, a 4,400-acre, 400-animal operation spread across various pieces of land in Nevada, Yuba, and Placer counties. After that I went to the farm of a good friend, who raises goats and chickens for personal use, and helped her slaughter two of her chickens.
I am in search of a non-toxic ball for my 14-month-old daughter. Any ideas?
Drea T. Falls Church, Va.
A. Dearest Drea,
Thanks to you, some dusty old lyrics have been bouncing through my head for several days: “The mornin’ sun is shining like a red rubber ball.” Those who don’t know this song should not investigate further. Trust me, it will worm its way into your brain and never, ever leave.
You don’t say what sort of ball you’re looking for, Drea -- a small one for your toddler to hold and toss, a medium-size one that she can kick around, or an oversized one for hee-hee-it’s-bigger-than-me antics. Whichever your goal, I do know how challenging it can be to find products that are safe for the junior set. It is a cruel truth of our modern age that most toys contain toxic substances even though our children are especially vulnerable to such things. We know that young children, especially, tend to put everything in their mouths, yet we casually hand them items that can contain lead, mercury, BPA, and other things one would not normally choose to suck on. (Even toys intended for oral use, like plastic teethers, are often not suitable for that purpose -- best to look for alternative materials.)
So I applaud you for making the effort to seek out safer toys, and I encourage you to keep at it, even when it feels harder than cutting a tooth. Support companies that offer healthy options, but just as important, tell the companies that do peddle toxic toys why you won’t be buying their products. We know the almighty dollar speaks, whether it is spent or unspent.
But here I am blathering away, and your 14-month-old is tugging at you with a repeated, “Ba? Ba? Ba?” So let’s get down to it:
The smart energy analysts over at Pike Research -- which puts out weekly reports I'd love to see but can never afford -- recently published an interesting brief, and for once it's free! It's a high-level overview of "Five Metatrends to Watch in 2013 and Beyond" in the energy sector. Metatrends! (I really wanted to call this post "Metatrends Vs. Crocosaurus." Here they are:
Energy is becoming increasingly democratized.
The role of government innovation funds is changing.
Technologies are converging.
The Southern African Power Pool is becoming the new BRIC.
The role of utilities is changing.
Let's put aside Nos. 2 and 4, fascinating as they are.
Faithful readers know that I'm obsessed with No. 1, the democratization of energy, which refers to more and more consumers also being producers, more and more municipalities taking charge of their own energy, and thus power over power (as it were) devolving into local hands.
But what strikes me is that 1, 3, and 5 are all aspects of the same trend -- a METAmetatrend. (Take that, Pike!)
The metametatrend in energy is, for lack of a better term, decentralization. Systems that were once composed of a few big technologies and a few big companies -- along with thousands or millions of passive consumers -- are beginning to be replaced by recombinant swarms of small producers and consumers engaging in millions of peer-to-peer transactions with a wild and woolly mix of small-scale technologies.
It's going to be awesome! We have lived through a revolution like this before: the information revolution. I'm old enough to remember a time when it was vastly easier to consume information than to produce and distribute it. Even the internet started as what amounted to a large library, from which individuals downloaded info. But the spread of cheap processing power and bandwidth now means that anyone can produce information -- a song, a video, an app, a funny cat picture -- and get it in front of millions of people, instantly and virtually effortlessly, for dirt cheap.
The same kind of thing is just beginning to happen in energy. Pike is wise on this:
Shortlisted last year for an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary, the critically acclaimedChasing Ice was by far the most existentially devastating documentary of 2012. But its viscerally emotional vistas and Manhattan-sized collapses were passed over by the Academy this year in favor of five other films, none of which have to do with what Chasing Ice director Jeff Orlowski told me was "the most important issue we're ever going to have to deal with as a civilization."
"A nomination would be an incredible longshot," Orlowski told me by phone as 2012 came to a close. "But our hope is that it would bring a lot of significant attention to climate change, because this is the issue of our time."
Fast forward a few months later, and you’ll find an Academy more captivated by documentaries about intractable, important conflicts. But in the planetary big picture, they are dwarfed by the exponential ravages of global warming dramatically shown in Chasing Ice, which documents National Geographic photographer James Balog's Extreme Ice Survey, whose embedded time-lapse cameras visualized astounding Arctic ice loss for the world to see. In formal cinematic terms, it easily competes with the films that leapt off the shortlist and into the Oscars proper.
In terms of bringing invaluable awareness and mobilization -- to say nothing of apocalyptic entertainment -- to an American public and government waking way too slowly to the mammoth environmental challenge of our time, Chasing Ice remains peerless. After all, it was only a few years ago that both the Academy and attending talent gushed over Best Documentary winner An Inconvenient Truth, whose charismatic lead Al Gore argued during an acceptance speech with director Davis Guggenheim that, "We need to solve the climate crisis. It's not a political issue; it's a moral issue."
The moral and political weight of Chasing Ice was apparent even to followers of climate change deniers like Fox News.
Standing amidst the bounty of the Santa Monica Farmers Market, a raggedly dressed man with a tired face holds up a tattered cardboard sign: “Hungry, please help.”
Just half a block south is Step Up on Second, one of three local social service agencies that could offer him fresh produce from the market, brought in just that day.
On this particular winter Wednesday, 26 labeled boxes containing 554 pounds of apples, citrus, salad greens, kale, squash, garlic, turnips, cucumbers, and radishes have been collected by friendly volunteers wearing hats and aprons that say “Food Forward.”
They’re members of “Glean Teams” representing the four-year-old nonprofit organization Food Forward, whose new Farmers Market Recovery Program collects fresh produce donated by the farmers at the end of the market day. [Full disclosure: I'm a member of Food Forward's advisory board.] Here in Santa Monica, it’s distributed to Step Up on Second, The Clare Foundation, and St. Joseph Center in Venice, Calif. Some of their clients are homeless, have a mental illness, or an addiction to drugs or alcohol -- many times all three.
Santa Monica’s Wednesday and Sunday markets are two of four area markets participating in this new venture, which is on track to serve nine markets by its one-year anniversary in August. Collections at Mar Vista Farmers Markets begin March 3.
Glean Teams extend the group’s mission: helping to prevent hunger by recovering food that might otherwise go to waste, and donating 100 percent of it to agencies serving those in need.
Today’s Glean Team includes Christine Kwon, who glided up the sidewalk on skates (she recently joined a roller derby team). She’s joined by Kat Thomas, a food blogger and burlesque-dancing aerialist just back from performing at Sundance; and Alex Melinkoff, who runs a landscape business, riding in from Woodland Hills, Calif.
Herding this eclectic crew and a few others is Mary Baldwin, Food Forward’s Farmers Market Recovery Program manager, who joined the organization in August of 2012 and launched the program just two weeks later at the Santa Monica Farmers Market.
“We had to create -- and along the way refine -- the collection tracking system,” Baldwin says as she hands out collection kits to the volunteers.
“We needed to put together the infrastructure, reach out to the receiving agencies, find the volunteers, and get acquainted with the farmers,” Baldwin says. “[Santa Monica] Farmers Market Manager Laura Avery introduced us to each of the farmers so we could explain the program. ... At the end of the market, we distribute Food Forward boxes so they don’t have to use their own. If they have extra unsold produce, they’ll fill our box with anything they have to give, and we take care of the picking up, weighing, distributing, and providing tax receipts for their donations."
“As a matter of fact,” Baldwin says, “on that first day, we expected maybe 300 pounds of food, but ended up with more than 1,300!”
“The agencies couldn’t fit it all in their vans,” Avery says with a laugh. “So Food Forward’s Managing Director Meg Glasser, superstar volunteer Anne Burmeister, and Mary put the rest in Meg’s car and drove it to the Downtown Women’s Center. Food had to go to the people who needed it and they were going to make it happen!”