My, how I enjoyed this “how-to” series. Although not a lifestyle I think I can completely embrace (at a guess I’m at least 30 years older than Alvord and … ah … not quite as fit), it helps me imagine additional ways to live by my principles.
Ann S. Lamb
Hooray for Katie Alvord. It takes a brave writer to publicly challenge Americans’ love affair with autos.
I gave up my car and driver’s license voluntarily 20 years ago, and never looked back. Besides saving lots of money on vehicles, maintenance, insurance, etc., I learned to travel by bike, kayak, walking, bus, train, and car-pooling with friends. There are many little choices we make daily that can lead us into car dependency or car-free independence.
Thanks to Grist for presenting useful, interesting articles and information. Hopefully, Alvord’s story will encourage more people to liberate their legs.
How old is Katie Alvord? (She looks about 25.) How many kids does she have? (The answer is conspicuous by absence of any mention of children in her diary entries.) Her health is, what, a smidge less than perfect? And what did you say her job was again? (Freelance writer — oh, that has a heap of time and travel restraints, don’t ya reckon?) Okay; give the girl marks for sticking to her beliefs — but let’s get a little more realistic when we heap on the accolades. She doesn’t exactly have the life restrictions of about 99.9 percent of the rest of us. (I would probably be happy with 10 percent of her income.) And I didn’t see a lot of “quality time,” like volunteering in the physical world, in her article — you know, that soup kitchen sort of stuff that you can’t really do by phone.
Frankly I’m disappointed in Grist because of this article. Why give us Cinderella role models? Give me a real person with a real job and a real lifestyle as someone to admire and imitate. Tell me about the 38-year-old waitress and single mother of three who manages to take a bus to work, keep a successful worm bin, convince her kids to give away one toy for every one they get for Christmas, and can 300 jars of food a year. Tell me about the college student who bikes to class, lives at home to save money and help his or her parents by washing all the cloth diapers for grandma who has dementia and is incontinent, volunteers in a community garden, and takes a bag lunch in reusable containers to school every day.
I didn’t appreciate this article about Alvord any more than I appreciate Madison Avenue trying to sell me (plump, short, plain, and 50-ish) Victoria’s Secret underwear with Vogue models. It’s the same thing. The only difference is it’s got an “environmentally friendly” label slapped on it.
Renee Daphne Kimball
Katie Alvord replies:
Thanks to Renee Daphne Kimball for posing some important questions. I’m 46. I have no children, partly by choice (see next letter ), partly due to illness. I have endometriosis, symptoms of which include infertility and chronic pain. I’ve also dislocated both kneecaps several times. Fortunately, one needn’t be in peak shape to ride a bike, and having a “transportation menu” helps me accommodate health problems as I reduce my driving. And I can still volunteer: I attend fewer meetings but have biked to peace vigils and to donate time at schools, even perhaps more often than benefits my bank balance (I’d caution readers against coveting freelance writers’ incomes; last time I looked, they averaged somewhere under $10,000 yearly).
We all have different “life restrictions.” While being childless eases my car divorce, I have no access to car-sharing, good transit, and other mileage minimizers available in Portland, Ore. Still, echoing Kimball, I feel uncomfortable with “heaps” of accolades. Plenty of folks — car-free families who bike with their kids, individuals car-free for decades, etc. — take car divorce further than I do. I’d like to credit them for being my inspiration, and for reinforcing the idea that no matter what your life circumstances, some form of car divorce can work for you — a key point I wished to make with my diary entries.
Re: Oh, Baby!
I found the article about “environmentalists” having children appalling for its lack of discussion of the really big problem associated with having a baby: overpopulation.
Considering that human overpopulation and overconsumption are the biggest causes of our ecological problems, and that Americans are the biggest overconsumers on Earth, the worst thing that an American can do to the Earth is to breed. Anyone in this country who adds to these two causes of environmental destruction is not an environmentalist, because the damage done by adding more people — especially grossly overconsuming Americans — to our already grossly overpopulated planet will far outweigh any good work that the person does on behalf of the environment.
My advice to those who want to be environmental activists is to adopt children. There are plenty of orphaned children who need good homes, so you would be doing a good turn for them, also. Americans who have children and call themselves environmentalists are hypocrites.
San Francisco, Calif.
I was very glad to notice the enthusiastic responses to the Grist feature on organic coffee.
I thought I’d send a quick note with a reminder that a lot of organically grown coffees are also available with a “fair trade” certification issued by Transfair USA, signifying that farmers have been paid fair prices (I believe somewhat more than a dollar per pound) for their coffee, rather than the unconscionably low prices (cents for the pound) offered by middlemen. A number of major and not-so-major gourmet brands carry the fair trade label on some of their products, and prices for fair trade coffee are, in many cases, not higher than the prices for other gourmet coffee products. Even though some of the fair trade coffee is not organic, a lot of the smaller farmers are organic “by default” (as I recently learned from a great and very enlightening presentation by Paul Rice, the founder of Transfair USA).
Re: How’s the Weather?, Heat Beat, by Leonie Haimson
Not surprisingly, Leonie Haimson ignores satellite temperature data, even though it is presented on the website of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Why is it not surprising? Because the satellite data show that, contrary to what all the climate computer models are predicting, the lower troposphere is not warming as fast as the surface. According to the very accurate satellite data, 2001 is the 9th warmest year since such records began in 1979. In other words, an ordinary year. And it’s very hard to write scary stories about ordinary things.
Relying on the surface temperature record to document global temperature trends has many pitfalls, not the least of which is the decidedly non-global coverage of the stations and the hard-to-correct-for urban heat island effect. The satellites, on the other hand, are truly global in coverage, not affected by local conditions.
Redwood City, Calif.
Thank God, literally! I had begun to think I was one of only a few religious people (Christians in particular) who cared about this planet. I view the earth as a precious gift given to us from God. He certainly didn’t need to create zebras or giraffes, but He did. He certainly didn’t need to create polar bears or bald eagles, but He did. And on and on the list goes; how about watermelon and strawberries? Certainly the Earth’s survival does not rely on these gems! He created all these marvelous things for us. Hooray for the religious leaders who have finally come forward to protest the reckless and dangerous policies of the current administration. I don’t know what kind of Christians the Republicans (who claim to be and yet support all this foolishness) are and I sure don’t want to know!
Thanks for reporting this important item.
Green Mountain Falls, Colo.
I wish there were more mothers like Elizabeth Sawin. Her thoughtfulness and zeal are exactly what this democracy needs. I especially think her metaphor is a powerful way to inspire and educate.
I do have one bone to pick though. Sawin says that CEOs don’t give a crap about the common good and that “by definition, the people calling the shots cannot make the long term their first priority.” It’s so common now to define corporations as non-citizens, which therefore “by definition” don’t consider the common good. I think this is dangerous, and also lets people like Ken Lay off the hook. If businesses by nature aren’t citizens, then what did Ken Lay and Enron do wrong?
I would argue that even businesses must be citizens and that they should all start modeling themselves after the Patagonias of the world.
Some letters reacting to Lomborg’s book, as well as reactions to the reactions, provide the usual examples of faulty thinking on the part of people eager to discredit “environmentalists” (said with a sneer, like “liberal”). One letter says Grist’s “pathetic” opposition to Lomborg’s book exposes the environmental movement “for what it really is.” As usual, however, the letter writer does not say what “it” is; instead, there is the usual implication that the environmental movement is so obviously up to no good that details are unnecessary — it is sufficient to allege an “agenda” without explaining it.
Then there is the usual assertion that since certain catastrophes predicted 30 years ago haven’t come to pass, the people who predicted them were wrong, and there are not now and never have been any environmental problems. This assertion ignores the obvious probability that those earlier predictions were not borne out precisely because people started paying attention to the issues in time to avert or at least mitigate the projected outcomes. This is related to the assertion that until irrefutable evidence is produced that shows a direct connection between a particular industrial activity and some sort of environmental damage, no connection is possible and therefore no caution is necessary — suspicion is insufficient grounds for modifying one’s activities. This of course ignores the time scale of earth processes, which can take years, if not decades; by the time the damage is recognized, the original culprit may no longer even exist — and this is, of course, what industry lawyers depend on.
There is one thing more frightening than the prospect of resource depletion, worldwide flooding, overpopulation, and any number of other potential environmental ills. It’s the rise of anti-rationalism in environmental policy, where every critic is running a “scam,” every opponent is launching a diatribe, and no actual discussion can take place because of all the ad hominem attacks and close-mindedness flying around.
As a free thinker, I’m interested in hearing every perspective. Bjorn Lomborg is a thoughtful, smart person with ideas that deserve to be heard — and criticized. But calling him names, and shrieking like dervishes at the first sign of dissent, is just not cool. Not only because it’s the province of the pre-schooler to behave this way, but also because it stinks of “eco-fascism.” Beating someone up, silencing debate, and overreacting to genuine criticism is pathetic and deserves to be pointed out.
Enough with the dark, satanic straw men. Let’s open up debate and dispense with the immaturity. Otherwise, I fear for the future of the environmental movement.
Los Angeles, Calif.
I just read “Let Us Not Praise Infamous Men,” Kathryn Schulz’s commentary on Bjorn Lomborg. Excellent piece of work. Just before that, I had read “Misleading Math about the Earth” [Jan. 2002, Scientific American], in which four top U.S. scientists expose Lomborg’s book for what it is — a piece of amateurish trash. It reminds me of what I learned in a statistics course at Northwestern University during my doctoral residency: Statistics can “prove” anything. Perhaps the saddest thing about it all, though, is Schulz’s explanation of why the media is so eager to jump on the skeptic’s bandwagon. As a former broadcast journalist and current freelance writer, I find that most distressing.
Keep up the good work.
Ogori City, Japan