Readers talk back about Obama, radicals, religion, and more
I used to have a great deal of respect for Barack Obama, but no longer do. He voted for the egregious bankruptcy bill and Dick Cheney’s hideous energy bill — neither are even remotely progressive pieces of legislation.
Everyone is getting on the biofuels bandwagon, which is more than a bit self-serving for the junior senator from Illinois. Do the math, Barack: we do not have enough land mass to grow biofuel and food. Regardless of the alleged (and highly dubious) positive energy yield biofuel proponents profess, we’d need something on the order of three additional continents, each the size of the U.S., to seriously produce the amount of fuel we consume today, not to mention what we are likely to consume next year. At best, biofuels might have a limited utility as a boutique fuel, produced on farms to power farm machinery. I can only conclude that Senator Obama is either an innumerate fool or just another self-serving politician, perhaps both. Don’t be deceived by his smile and posturing.
Re: Labor Rattling
While I am not usually a Tony Blair fan, Britain making it to 15-18 percent emission reduction is fabulous and should not be pooh-poohed. It’s way better than anything we’re doing! And darn close to the 20 percent pledge. Also, trying hard to get Bush on board for Kyoto is worthy of kudos as well, since it’s, well, so embarrassing that the effort needs to be made in the first place. I think you’re way off base in attacking Tony Blair when it seems he’s at least making an effort on several environmental fronts.
Re: Movement Shakers
Interesting conversation; great to see Grist doing this. Do more!
That said, I have one small problem. You label Eric Mann as a “radical.” Imagine the difference people might feel if you labeled him as a conservative eco-justice organizer. Labels matter. The right has been successful in marginalizing “other” voices (such as the environmental movement) by applying labels seen as negative to their spokespeople.
Don’t contribute to that. “Radical” is generally considered a negative label in American political circles. When you label Eric Mann as a radical, you imply (unintended, I am sure) that his message is to be discounted. Let the messages speak for themselves.
Editor’s note: Find more discussion on the conversation between Eric Mann and Frances Beinecke in Gristmill, Grist‘s blog.
I very much respect many of Rabbi Michael Lerner’s contentions about the failures of the dominant ethos of consumption, and I applaud him for his activism. However, I soundly reject the idea that social transformation and environmental activism need come wrapped in a pretty, religious bow. While progressives are accused of smugness, no less than that quality underpins the call to look upon God’s left hand in order to find good in the universe. Why must all that is beneficent be ascribed to a god?
A paradigm of cooperation among humans for the intrinsic goodness of the act is much more sustainable than that done in the name of a third party, which, for many, is mere romantic imagery. To advocate something for the sake of a “higher purpose” is missing the point; environmental justice is a right for all beings for their own sakes — not because they were created by a mysterious, omnipotent force.
In no way do I wish to offend anyone’s religious/spiritual beliefs, and I gladly welcome the efforts of anyone who wants to change the world for the better. For some, that means working through a spiritual filter; for others, there is no god in the equation. If some on the left seem to balk at adopting religious or spiritual language to effect change, that is a choice. Beyond the simple fact of disbelief, one reason people refrain from religious dogma is to avoid being told they must believe in a certain god with various rites. Whether that conscription comes with a progressive or conservative message, the result is the same — an imposition some choose to avoid altogether.
Another point is missed when some insist that the ecology movement assume a religious or spiritual stance: believers and non-believers can work together without pushing their (non)religious agendas to focus on the daunting task of cleaning up the planet.
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Editor’s note: You can find more discussion on Rabbi Michael Lerner in Gristmill, Grist‘s blog.
I was mortified to read Naomi Schalit’s appraisal of Richard Louv’s inspiring interview with David Roberts. I find your comments affronting to my own experience as a mother of two and a grandmother of eight beautiful young people — not to mention my own life experiences in my youth. Even now, the most rewarding and relaxing periods in my life are when I walk in the forest, or along the beach — or admire the wallabies, goannas, and birds who visit our garden — and reconnect with nature.
I have no doubt that Richard Louv’s book will prove invaluable as an educational aid in dealing with the modern malaise of disconnected youth. He is spot-on, even to recognizing the problem of the litigious society we have created.
A bicycle helmet might very well be an essential investment in our physical health, but reconnecting with nature is an essential investment in our spiritual health too — far more important, in my view. Much of my youth was spent in prayer and history classes, neither of which benefited my spirit to anywhere near the degree of reconnecting with nature.
I think your comments are very sad, and can but hope that they do not preclude too many children from the benefits of reconnecting with nature.
Naomi Schalit responds:
I appreciate your comments, and am sorry that you were mortified by my appraisal, which was an appraisal of Louv’s book, not his interview with Roberts. Like you, my most deeply spiritual and inspiring moments (other than those watching and being with my children) have been spent out in the natural world, and that is precisely why I have actively encouraged my children’s engagement by living in rural Maine, sending them to school on a working farm, and signing them up for the last eight summers at a wilderness canoeing camp in northern Ontario.
The message of my review was simply that Louv didn’t state his case very strongly, given the way that he chose to make it, which was his promotion of an almost medical diagnosis of psychological harm directly related to nature deprivation. As someone who has read the great masters who have been making the case for the nature-spirit connection for millennia, I felt that others had made it better, and had not felt compelled to phrase their arguments in the hip-pathology mode that has such strong currency in our culture today. The part of Louv’s argument that I find most objectionable is that he was elitist in his notions of nature. Many thinkers these days are advancing a broader definition of nature that encompasses the human-made world, and in doing so, open up our perception of just what nature truly is. Louv’s limiting of “the nature that is good for us” to a particularly narrow version of the natural world — chaparral, pines, wildness — limits the universe of those who would benefit from engagement with “nature.”
I objected to the anthropocentrism, really, that Louv’s utilitarian and almost consumerist approach to nature entails. To call experiences with nature “an essential investment in our children’s health” puts us as the primary agents in the interaction between humans and nature — which is precisely the underlying philosophy that has led our modern civilization down a destructive trail. As I said, what happens if we find a pill that can cure whatever problem is catalyzed by our disengagement with nature? Does nature have less meaning or value, then, because we no longer need it for our psychological health? And does this mean that hurricanes and tornadoes are somehow “bad” because they don’t contribute to our health, at least in obvious ways? Nature simply is valuable because it exists — it is not valuable because it does things for humans.
And finally, as a student of religion, admirer of art, and former girlfriend of a mathematician, I am profoundly aware that the very same kind of nature-invoked deep spiritual experience you refer to is available through other kinds of experiences — religious chanting and meditation; the creation of a painting; the contemplation of a particularly elegant mathematical formula.
It’s good for children to spend time in the natural world; it’s not good for grown-ups to condemn those who expand their souls in other ways.
Re: Ag, You’re It
25 x ’25 is a small goal promoted by people with little vision. I support the 10 x 10 solution to the problem of dependence on foreign oil. Using existing off-the-shelf technology, we can reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil by 10 percent per year for the next 10 years. What is lacking is the political will to start working in this direction.
Editor’s note: Find plenty more discussion on 25 x ’25 in Gristmill, Grist‘s blog.
Re: Talk This Way
I’m disappointed. Umbra’s advice is usually pretty darn pellucid.
When I want to bum out friends who could give a fry about global warming, I explain to them that there is likely going to be serious “desertification” from roughly Texas up through western Minnesota, that our major global “breadbasket” will be destroyed for thousands of years. I point out that the Sahara was productive temperate land not that many thousand years ago, and that global warming is compressing the process down considerably. That forested lands will be pushed farther and farther north, ultimately to places where the poor soil quality and other features make it prohibitive for trees to grow.
I tell them that near-term predictions already encompass possible “freezing” of the gulf stream and explosive changes to weather patterns in northern Europe and Britain. That the whole web of life in the sea will be disrupted, and probably to the point that fish populations will crash in much of the world. I also talk about how none-too-fully-understood changes in the atmosphere, some of them a product of this industrially wasteful era that is prompting global warming, are rapidly increasing the numbers of skin cancers and people’s prone-ness to cataracts.
It sounds pretty misanthropic, but rather than not inconveniencing people with the truth, we need to deal with truth, much sooner rather than later.
Re: Talk This Way
A fantastic resource is U.S. in the World, a guide to talking with Americans about global challenges. Rockefeller Brothers Fund is behind this and the global-warming section is great.
Re: Comic Re-Leaf
Umbra told readers that Arbor Day is on April 28. But Arbor Day actually changes depending on your state. This is due to taking into account the best time to plant trees in different parts of the country. Arbor Day for our friend in Missouri is actually April 7. My Arbor Day was on January 20.
New Orleans, La.
Editor’s note: While National Arbor Day is celebrated on the last Friday in April, many states do hold related events on different dates. See the National Arbor Day Foundation list for tree-planting opportunities near you.
Re: Rambled Eggs
Umbra’s advice to the person asking about the free-range claim on eggs was well taken, up to the point where she said the only way to know you’re buying a good egg (ahem) is to know your producer. I would have recommended certified organic. How many folks living in a city are going to know their producer?
Organic certification guarantees a consumer that chicken feed is certified organic, and that the chickens actually get to go outside. The National Organic Program requires inspections by third-party agents, providing a guarantee to consumers that the standards have been applied.
I work in the organic industry, so I’m well aware that the NOP and the industry have been struggling with definitions of how much is enough outdoor territory for chickens that get the organic label, but my belief about our food supply is that the organic label is absolutely the best guarantee of healthful food if you or your best friend didn’t grow it yourself.
Re: Rambled Eggs
There are other options! Not all food comes in a pretty package from the grocery store. Make yourself a producer. Plant a little garden. Raise a couple of chickens in your backyard and let them range free. People have been doing it for millennia. Chickens don’t ask a lot from humans and they give so much: eggs and meat (if you are so inclined), and they are born comedians.
Editor’s note: Find more discussion on free-range chickens and eggs in Gristmill, Grist‘s blog.
Re: Cradle to Cradle
Just wanted to let you know that the Oregon Environmental Council has put together a pretty thorough guide on how to make homes safe and healthy for kids. There’s a baby-shower kit and a website (complete with all sorts of links, an online forum for concerned parents, etc.).
Your article may have been an April Fools story, but in fact, here in Australia, a local company collects used diapers (nappies here in Oz), converts the “soiled” stuff to fertilizer, and recycles the paper fill and plastic into paper products or plastic furniture.
Mt. Evelyn, Australia
You guys are “so funny, I forgot to laugh.” I really wanted to read about Sen. Cantwell beatin’ the holy crap outta Stevens.