Monday, June 13, 2005

My Absence/Putting Out for the Planet 

I’ve been struggling to come back to The Evangelist for weeks now. There are a number of reasons for this, but one of them was clearly a lack of motivation. I lost momentum and got caught up in reading the huge information flow that I seem to consider necessary for my existence.

For whatever reason, I am a compulsive information hound. It started years ago. Probably the first attempt to manage it came at age fourteen. I was in boarding school and I decided to subscribe to the New York Times. I thought, “I’m living away from home. I’m an individual being now. I had better subscribe to a newspaper so I know what’s going on in the world. After all, I’m no longer living in The City. I’m in the WILDS OF PENNSYLVANIA.” I had no idea what I was in for. The flood of articles began. I couldn’t make it through the paper each day, so I began piling the daily papers up so I could “get to that article later.” This quickly threatened failures of our room inspection, so I began just saving the section that had the article and it still didn’t help. The paper had too damn much interesting in it and I had homework to do. Finally, after several months of the grey fluttering deluge, I relented. I subscribed to Newsweek instead. That solved the problem pretty handily. For high school, anyway.

Some years later, when I went to grad school/conservatory, the problem cropped up again. I subscribed to Newsweek, The Nation, Utne Reader (an attempt to get more info with fewer subscriptions) and the Quality Paperback Book Club. Around that time I began to try to rotate my subscriptions so as to continually try new things, but not get overwhelmed.

That strategy worked for many years, but then suddenly during the Internet boom I discovered that there was so much I wanted and (felt I) needed to absorb. This got me to an all time high where I was subscribed to Business 2.0, BusinessWeek, Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Newsweek, The New Yorker, The Internet Standard, TimeOut NY, and Wired ALL AT ONCE. I was getting a lot of free subscriptions, which allowed me to rationalize this infoglut, but it was a lot even for me to handle.

So recently, I found myself determined to pound down some more sources and I returned to focus on my current subscription list: BusinessWeek, The New Yorker, Real Simple , Topic (a GREAT new magazine! Subscribe now!) and The Week. Real Simple has been fun, but I’ve decided not to renew it. I kept hoping that they would realize that I and my fellow metrosexuals were reading RS and shift the content, but they haven’t. (Calling all magazine publishers: there’s a market for an RS type magazine for men. I promise.)

So all of this explains PART of why I haven’t posted in ages. The other reason, which is the primary topic of this post, is depression with the state of the world. You see Elizabeth Kolbert published a well-researched, three-part article in The New Yorker (here are links to parts one, two, and three) about global climate change.It’s well worth your reading…if you’re prepared to be depressed. I don’t recommend it if you have children because the outlook for the world after the middle of the coming century is extremely bleak. That is for humans. For Mother Earth, it looks like she finally might be ready to start the global washing machine and cleanse herself of these nasty parasitic humans.

Between Kolbert’s reporting and everything I’ve been reading about the “peak oil” theory, it doesn’t seem like there is much to look forward to on a macro scale. It would appear that pretty much simultaneously the following three catastrophic things are going to happen more or less simultaneously (on a cosmic timeline, not necessarily in the same year or decade):

1) We are going to begin to exhaust the earth’s available resources of oil.

No matter how you feel about oil, you must recognize that the planet has only so much of it. It’s tempting to think that it will last forever, but you know in your heart of hearts that just isn’t possible. Logically speaking, at some point we will have hit the midway point in what oil is feasibly recoverable from our blue marble. (We may figure out how to get beyond that threshold to hard-to-recover oil, but still it is a fundamentally exhaustible resource.)

Why does this matter? Because pretty much all of what we define in modernity is the product of oil. Not just the obvious, like the gasoline that powers every moving vehicle from motorcycles to airplanes. But the power grid is fundamentally dependent on oil. So are many, many other things you think of as unconnected. Including Vaseline. (We have to have a little humor here, but that’s true, too.)

So what happens when we hit the midpoint? Supplies become unable to meet the ever growing global demand.

2) The global economy will begin to respond to oil scarcity.

Inevitably, economies will begin to plummet. Those that can get oil will survive for a while. Those that don’t will begin to spiral. This is going to start wars around the globe to defend, keep or acquire oil resources, depending on the side you are fighting on. (I’ll leave Iraq out of this discussion. But the implications are obvious. The Pentagon has created and published scenarios about the coming oil scarcity. But don’t take my word. There’s plenty of journalism available on the Web through reputable sources on that story.)

3) The atmospheric changes we have wrought will raise the oceans globally.

Ironically, our love of fossil fuels is also creating the third leg of the impending forces of doom: global climate change. After you read Kolbert’s articles, you’ll get a pretty good sense of why I’m worried. It’s not just that the planet “gets hotter”. It’s that global warming is a reinforcing and self-accelerating cycle. Essentially, we’ve toyed with the forces of entropy by heating the atmosphere. It melts the icecaps, which raise the oceans, which return to the depths pieces of continents that were formerly underwater, which increases the size of the oceans…it goes on and on. And each reaction spurs another reaction which continues to heat the atmosphere and destroy life as we know it.

So, given this sorry state of affairs I’ve fall off the old blogging horse. And if you follow, understand and agree with any part of my train of thinking, it’s not so surprising is it? But I was hanging out with some lovely folks on Memorial Day and K. and I were talking about all of this and my dear friend Mark said, “But there MUST be something we can do, right? We can’t just sit back and let this happen.”

I have obviously been feeling pretty Eeyore about it all, so I could not come up with much beyond “Well, I recycle and I vote. But other than that, I’ve pretty much given up. We’re not having children, so I figure I’ll enjoy life and then hopefully we’ll miss the worst of the cataclysm.”

Given that Mark’s delightful 11 month old was toddling around our legs as this conversation took place, he said, “Come on! You can do better than that.” Now as it happened, our new friend B. was with us. B. is being courted by a rich enviro. So I said, “Well, I think B. should marry her suitor and then we can collectively participate in saving the planet by influencing his decisions on how to spend his money.” I promptly coined this strategy as “Putting Out for the Planet.” (Conveniently for me, only B. was going to have any putting out to do. But you know. It was a holiday weekend and I wasn’t feeling up to any whoring about myself. Perfectly happen to volunteer others, mind you.)

While we were all chuckling and amusing ourselves with my handily volunteering poor B. to save us all with her feminine wiles, Mark was not having any of it. He said, “You need to write a post on your blog and ask your readership what I can do to help save the planet.”

So that’s where you come in dear readers (if there are any left after my hiatus). Mark and I both desperately want your ideas. Why? Because otherwise, it’s all up to poor B. How can we all put out for the planet? Because this is a collective effort if it is going to succeed.

So please leave any constructive action-oriented comments below on how Mark (and all other interested parties) can help save the planet. We need all the help we can get.
You should write about ballet and push ups....
A brilliant, action oriented suggestion for saving the planet. Duly noted.
Apparently porn can help save the planet . . .
You are right in pointing out that the global economy and the evironment are tightly interconnected. Truthfully, as a participant in capitalism, that is to say a persuasive force on humankind to consume and purchase more, I only endeavor in criticism of the system if I think that criticism itself can lead to sustainable benefits. Sometimes, unfortunately, those benefits can undermine the very way that multinational corporations and consumers operate. If more consumers equates to stronger economies and a stronger economy is in itself an incentive to be able to consume more, then you better believe we are in trouble. Companies follow the same model... they must continue to grow in order to please shareholders. In sectors that consume large amounts of limitted natural resources, like oil, demand is just not sustainable; consumers will be disappointed.

North Africa used to be a thriving farming community that supplied grain to Europe for centuries. The minerals in the land were depleted and with a climate shift, the land turned into what we know to be the Sahara today. Over time, farmers learned techniques to rotate crops in order to replenish the land with certain minerals for the next season's crops. This proves that there is a science to sustainability both in farming and in multinational exploitation of natural resources. (Lumber is a key example and is inextricably linked to our climate.)

In some cases, like with oil, natural resources are limitted. R&D will find other power sources like hydrogen fuel cells when we finally find ourselves in crisis.
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