Category: Sustainable Living
I was happy to see that my electric bill for July in St. Louis was a relatively low $120. That includes all of my electric bill, which heats my water and runs the air conditioning. Some would say that I don’t do a very good job of air conditioning. When I’m living at my house without any guests, I never set it lower than 80 degrees (far higher than many people I know), and I supplement that 80 degree setting with fans. It feels great in here, and it all makes sense to me–if someone said that the high temperature was going to be only 80, that would be a wonderful day. Further, when I’m going to be mostly in my office for the day, I shut off the AC entirely and use only a small window unit.
When I got my recent bill, I was in a mood to congratulate myself, but a recent article in The Boston Globe suggests that I’m not doing nearly enough. Here’s an excerpt:
But although there are a handful of anti-A/C crusaders out there, the idea that we need to be using less of it hasn’t become a touchstone of environmental enlightenment, like recycling or hybrid cars. This may well be an indication of how deeply it has shaped our world: While we can imagine giving up plastic bags and Styrofoam, living without climate control seems unfathomable, especially during a heat wave.
Until recently, however, civilization was humming along just fine without this costly convenience—and going back might not be as impossible as we think. The human body is quite well suited to deal with heat if we let it, and if we back away just a little bit from our assumptions about what it means to be comfortable, it’s easy to picture an alternate reality in which, instead of flipping on the freon at the slightest provocation, we learn to cope with the air we have. The human body is surprisingly adaptable, and by weaving together techniques from the past, ideas from hot-weather countries, and new findings from building design experts about what people actually find comfortable, we can see a surprising portrait emerge of what life might look like if we, as a society, decided we could no longer afford our addiction.
A lot would have to change. We’d wake up earlier, and nap in the middle of the day to make up for it. We’d ride bikes and scooters everywhere, and swimming would replace running as the preferred form of exercise. Maybe we’d see the return of porch culture—of screened-in card games and flowing iced tea. And maybe we’d start taking pride in tricking out our finished basements. After a while we’d get used to it, just like we got used to the artificial indoor chill we take for granted now. And who knows—eventually we might even come to like it.
Oh, and my favorite quote from this excellent article: “We’re not cartons of milk, after all; we will not spoil, even if we do sweat a little.”
Matt Tiabbi on why the Pope’s environmental message is making many conservatives angry:
That the pope’s letter inspires such hysterical stupidities speaks to how deeply upsetting it must be to our guardians of mainstream opinion. But what exactly has all of these people so upset?
To me, all of this speaks to the weirdly cultist, neo-Randian, Road to Serfdom vibe that is increasingly swallowing up the American cultural and intellectual mainstream.
Capitalism and competition aren’t merely thought of as utilitarian systems for delivering goods and services to people anymore. To people like Brooks and Rand Paul and Charles Murray (also known as Jeb Bush’s favorite author), the free market is also a sort of religion that can address every important human question.
We used to think of wealth and spirituality as being two completely separate things. But in the minds of some in modern America, they’re becoming fused. The way Brooks and others clearly imagine it, one achieves wealth first, then dignity follows behind. We’re losing the ability to imagine a dignified life without money. Which is pretty messed up.
In the past, it was completely natural for a religious leader like a pope to suggest that our economic system leaves important spiritual questions unanswered. After all, that’s what religion was supposed to be for, addressing the non-material parts of our lives. But in modern times, this idea offends many people.
Hence this bizarre wave of criticism directed against an elderly cleric in a funny hat who is being blasted for being impractical, unrealistic and insufficiently appreciative of the material, despite the fact that it’s precisely a pope’s job to be all of these things.
I’m not religious, and I’m not particularly a Luddite or an anti-capitalist. But I’m open to the idea that there should be something else in life beyond money, or that we may be losing something important when we communicate by clicks and drags instead of face-to-face meetings. Is that really such revolutionary thinking, especially coming from a pope? It seems like such a strange thing to get angry about.
Environmental Working Group’s Sustainable Food Guide is here, free.
Find sustainable stores, farmer’s market’s, CSA’s, co-op’s, restaurants and more in your choice of zip code.
The naive belief that history is linear, that moral progress accompanies technical progress, is a form of collective self-delusion. It cripples our capacity for radical action and lulls us into a false sense of security. Those who cling to the myth of human progress, who believe that the world inevitably moves toward a higher material and moral state, are held captive by power. Only those who accept the very real possibility of dystopia, of the rise of a ruthless corporate totalitarianism, buttressed by the most terrifying security and surveillance apparatus in human history, are likely to carry out the self-sacrifice necessary for revolt.
The yearning for positivism that pervades our corporate culture ignores human nature and human history. But to challenge it, to state the obvious fact that things are getting worse, and may soon get much worse, is to be tossed out of the circle of magical thinking that defines American and much of Western culture. The left is as infected with this mania for hope as the right. It is a mania that obscures reality even as global capitalism disintegrates and the ecosystem unravels, potentially dooming us all.
When I was young, I was given a thorough Catholic education that included the proclamation that I was cursed with “original sin” from the moment I was born. What did I do to deserve such a harsh condemnation? Nothing. It’s a very strange concept that you were “bad,” but not because of anything you did.
We now understand it’s about corporate partnerships. It’s not, “sue the bastards;” it’s, “work through corporate partnerships with the bastards.” There is no enemy anymore. More than that, it’s casting corporations as the solution, as the willing participants and part of this solution. That’s the model that has lasted to this day. . . .We’ve globalized an utterly untenable economic model of hyperconsumerism. It’s now successfully spreading across the world, and it’s killing us.
[I]t goes back to the elite roots of the movement, and the fact that when a lot of these conservation groups began there was kind of a noblesse oblige approach to conservation. It was about elites getting together and hiking and deciding to save nature. And then the elites changed. So if the environmental movement was going to decide to fight, they would have had to give up their elite status. And weren’t willing to give up their elite status. I think that’s a huge part of the reason why emissions are where they are. . . . where that really came to a head was over fracking. The head offices of the Sierra Club and the NRDC and the EDF all decided this was a “bridge fuel.” We’ve done the math and we’re going to come out in favor of this thing. And then they faced big pushbacks from their membership, most of all at the Sierra Club. And they all had to modify their position somewhat. It was the grassroots going, “Wait a minute, what kind of environmentalism is it that isn’t concerned about water, that isn’t concerned about industrialization of rural landscapes – what has environmentalism become?” And so we see this grassroots, place-based resistance in the movements against the Keystone XL pipeline and the Northern Gateway pipeline, the huge anti-fracking movement.
Are you thinking of putting solar panels on your roof? It would be a great idea for many reasons. Before you begin the process, though, read the story of Frances Babb, who had to fight hard to get the job done in the west St. Louis County area of Clarkson Valley.