I like Michael Pollan — really, I do — which is why it was frustrating to see his wilted-salad-green entreaty to act on climate change in yesterday’s paper:
The climate-change crisis is at its very bottom a crisis of lifestyle — of character, even. The Big Problem is nothing more or less than the sum total of countless little everyday choices, most of them made by us (consumer spending represents 70 percent of our economy), and most of the rest of them made in the name of our needs and desires and preferences.
For us to wait for legislation or technology to solve the problem of how we’re living our lives suggests we’re not really serious about changing — something our politicians cannot fail to notice. They will not move until we do. Indeed, to look to leaders and experts, to laws and money and grand schemes, to save us from our predicament represents precisely the sort of thinking — passive, delegated, dependent for solutions on specialists — that helped get us into this mess in the first place. It’s hard to believe that the same sort of thinking could now get us out of it.
Pollan’s grand solution? Plant a vegetable garden!
Rip out your lawn, if you have one, and if you don’t — if you live in a high-rise, or have a yard shrouded in shade — look into getting a plot in a community garden. Measured against the Problem We Face, planting a garden sounds pretty benign, I know, but in fact it’s one of the most powerful things an individual can do — to reduce your carbon footprint, sure, but more important, to reduce your sense of dependence and dividedness: to change the cheap-energy mind.
To be fair, Pollan is right in his understanding that deep-rooted, sustaining change will require a tectonic shift in our mindsets; it will require reestablishing a rapport with nature, and it won’t be predicated on pieces of legislation or even green company profiles. But — and this is a big but — we simply don’t have time to wait around for this slower process to unfold. As Bill McKibben, Joseph Romm, and James Hansen are now saying, the planet is heating at a rate that alarms even scientists (a notoriously staid bunch). Unfortunately, any message that detracts or distracts from the pressing need for robust cap-and-trade legislation, a 350 ppm CO2 goal, aggressive funding for R&D for renewables, and most importantly, great leaps forward in efficiency (which in simplest terms, can equate to “use less energy”), is not exactly what we need.
When our presidential hopefuls are getting the message, from some sectors of the media, that lapel pins are of more concern to Americans than the state of the planet, I guess I’d hope that one of the environmentalists I most respect would pull in the opposite direction and use his pulpit to insist that the time for play is over, that the U.S. government must take action now at the very highest levels. In so doing, it would plant the seeds for international progress on the carbon crisis … call it gardening on the global scale.