Procrastinators Rejoice! It Isn’t Too Late

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Have you made a New Year’s resolution yet? Are you thinking about making one? If so, you’re among the 44 percent of Americans who, according to a December 2016 Marist poll, say they are likely to make a resolution for 2017.

The Marist survey asked: “What is it that you will resolve to do or not do in the New Year?” (Here’s a link to the poll in case you’re interested in analyzing the data: http://maristpoll.marist.edu/wp-content/misc/usapolls/us161201/Marist%20Poll_National%20Tables_New%20Years%20Resolutions_December%202016.pdf#page=3).

The results of the poll show that many of the most common resolutions involve reducing some kind of consumption. While the top vow is to “be a better person,” resolutions to lose weight (that is, to eat less), spend less money, stop smoking, and stop drinking are also popular. Absent from the survey are resolutions to achieve materialistic goals. Apparently, Americans aren’t resolving to become rich and famous in 2017—or, if they are, they aren’t admitting it.

In addition to resolving to be a better person, people are vowing to improve themselves by exercising more, eating healthier, getting closer to God, going back to school, setting goals, and getting a better job. They say they want to use their time better, increase family time, enjoy life, be kinder to others, and get politically involved. Worth noting is the fact that, with the exception of the 1% who are resolving to get a new house and the less than 1% who want to travel, Americans are resolving to do things in 2017 that are either environmentally benign or environmentally beneficial.

So now that it’s January, and the super-duper, holy-cow(!), consume-like-there’s-no-tomorrow season is behind us, a lot of us are thinking about reducing our consumption of food and other stuff and spending our time involved in more meaningful pursuits. If we follow through with our resolutions, we’ll not only make our own lives better, stronger, and happier, we’ll also be reducing the strain our consumption puts on the natural world.

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IT’S A BIRD! IT’S A PLANE!

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No, it’s a weathered, shredded plastic grocery bag.

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Inevitably, when I’m out for a walk, I see plastic bags blowing in the wind or snagged by a branch and flapping in the air. Often, I pick the bags up and carry them with me till I get to a store with a recycling barrel. Plastic bags weigh next to nothing., so carrying them for a little while isn’t a big deal.

I realize, of course, that picking up and recycling a bag or two makes approximately zero difference in the grand scheme of things. At the same time, I’m pretty certain that an individual turtle or sea bird or some other marine creature will be spared harm because I took a second to pick up a plastic bag.

What’s happening in the world’s oceans is appalling. If you haven’t read this before, you might think that I’m making it up, but, in fact, there are continent-sized patches of floating garbage in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans.* And most of that garbage is plastic. Consequently, more than half of the Earth’s sea turtles and almost all of its sea birds have ingested plastic.

So if you’re out for a walk and you see a plastic bag blowing by, you can prevent it from landing in a creek or a storm drain and being carried by the current to a river and then to the ocean and then to the stomach of a century-old tortoise by picking the bag up and recycling it. If recycling is too inconvenient, throwing the bag away in a trash can will at least keep it from ending up in the stomach of some marine creature.

http://education.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/great-pacific-garbage-patch/   http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/03/100302-new-ocean-trash-garbage-patch/   http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/04/140404-garbage-patch-indian-ocean-debris-malaysian-plane/

If your nerves can stand it, check out one or both of the stories linked below.

By 2050, Our Oceans Will Hold More Plastic Than Fish

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/01/24/oceans-more-plastic-than-fish/79267192/

By 2050, There Will Be More Plastic Than Fish in the World’s Oceans, Study Says

ON PURPOSE

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Most of us who live in wealthy nations don’t need more stuff. What most of us are lacking is a sense of purpose. We want our lives to have meaning. We want to know we aren’t just taking up space and consuming resources. We want to believe we’re making a difference—not just to ourselves and our families, but also to our communities.

Lacking a sense of purpose, we tend to gratify ourselves with things. Although we generally lose interest in what we’ve bought in no time flat, we keep buying things because we get a brief boost with every item we purchase. Going from one brief high—a bite of chocolate, to the next—a new pair of jeans, to the next—a new car (or whatever), we string our consumption of things together like beads. The more often we consume, the closer the beads fit on the chain and the less time we spend between highs.

Our ancestors’ impact on the ecosystems that supported them was typically negligible. Back in 1900, for example, the population of the world was approximately 1.6 billion, and, by today’s standards, most people had few possessions. But now, with 7.3 billion people on the planet and consumption levels rising in rich and poor countries alike, humanity is straining ecosystems and the services they provide to the breaking point.

At this point in history, we must recognize that our health and happiness in the future will depend on our consuming fewer resources and producing less waste in the present. And if we’re looking for a purpose—if we’re looking for something to give our lives meaning—what could be a better goal than handing down a thriving planet to coming generations?

BUT WHAT ABOUT CHINA?

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At last week’s Republican debate, when Jake Tapper, of CNN, asked about climate change, Senator Marc Rubio and Governor Chris Christie asserted that policies designed to reduce carbon emissions would harm the U.S. economy and do nothing to counter climate change. “America is not a planet,” Rubio maintained. “And we are not even the largest carbon producer anymore; China is.” A little later when his turn came, Christie said, “I agree with Marco. We shouldn’t be destroying our economy in order to chase some wild left-wing idea that somehow us [sic] by ourselves is [sic] going to fix the climate.”

The Rubio-Christie view is one shared by certain Republicans who are willing to acknowledge that climate change is—or, at least, might be—occurring and that there’s a chance greenhouse-gas emissions are a factor. Nevertheless, they ask: What sense does it make for the U.S. to regulate our carbon-dioxide emissions when China, India, and a number of other countries don’t regulate theirs? As these Republicans see it, regulating CO2 emissions will destroy the U.S. economy and enable other nations’ economies to boom.

For a long time, I thought the right-wing argument was specious. It reminded me of the claim that one kid makes when she’s caught doing something wrong that another kid is also doing. “Well, he’s doing it!” she whines. “Why can’t I?” Upon further reflection, however, I realize that, up to a point, right-wingers make a valid point. They assume that consumers will always want more and more goods at the lowest possible prices. As long as that assumption holds true—as long as the demand for goods grows—the stuff will be made somewhere. Given that pollution controls tend to increase costs and reduce profits, producers of goods are likely to concentrate in countries where power plants and factories can spew carbon dioxide into the atmosphere with abandon. So, if regulations are strong in the U.S. and lax, or nonexistent, in China, China will benefit economically at the expense of the U.S.

Anyway, that’s the argument, and it’s fine as things currently stand. It would fall flat, however, if we were to shift our preferences from possessing a lot of inanimate goods to nurturing living things. And that is precisely the shift we must make. Why? Because there are too many of us, and we’re putting too much strain on the ecosphere. If we don’t begin to take care of what we have, in years to come, we will deeply regret our profligacy.

If, on the other hand, we reduce our consumption, we will consequently reduce the CO2 emissions of countries like China and India because a large percentage of those emissions are directly tied to the goods they export to us.

And what’s more important, by reducing our consumption, we’ll set an example of how to achieve a brighter, more vibrant future. As we blaze the way forward, we can tell the world: We tried consumerism and found it was a dead end. Yes, it did bring short-term gratification, but we paid for that gratification in big psychological, societal, and environmental ways. Let’s all slow down, be satisfied with having enough, nurture the life around us, and give nature time to heal.

Will It Begin Today?

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As I mentioned in earlier posts (“Hat’s Off” and “Floating down the River . . .”), I’m aware that scaring people about the deteriorating health of the environment can be counterproductive. People who are frightened and see no way to fight back are inclined to go out and buy more stuff, surround themselves with comforting things, and distract themselves from the source of their fears. I’m equally aware that the way we’re living is unsustainable. In the process of tearing through resources and pumping out waste, we’re racking up a long list of environmental bills. Sadly, our children and grandchildren will be forced to cope somehow when those bills come due.

Knowing those facts, I walk around with my hair on fire under my hat, wanting to grab people by the collar and shake them till my hat (or theirs) falls off, and shout: “Don’t you realize what’s happening? Don’t you understand that we’re all contributing to environmental problems by buying a lot of stuff we don’t need? Don’t you know that there are environmental costs to all the stuff we buy? Species extinctions, groundwater depletion and pollution, soil erosion, desertification, endocrine disruption, climate change, ocean acidification, and on and on. You’d better take these problems seriously and do everything you can to fix ’em, or there’s a very good chance that down the road your kids and grandkids are gonna curse your memory.

The problem with that idea (in addition to the risk of having my lights punched out by some temperamental soul who doesn’t appreciate being shaken by the collar and screamed at) is that few of us are inclined to deny ourselves the pleasure of buying new things — especially if we suspect that our choices will not affect the environment one way or the other. And, in fact, most of us realize that environmental problems are so enormous that the effects of our little, individual indulgences (or sacrifices) are truly insignificant.

So what we’ve got here is one big — and growing — environmental mess. With each day that we fail to reduce our burden on the ecosphere in the present, we compound the difficulty of correcting environmental problems in the future. And because we believe that our own actions are largely irrelevant, we passively wait for government regulations or technological innovations to descend from above, deus-ex-machina style, and fix all of our problems for us.

The trouble with the sit-around-and-wait strategy is that it ain’t workin’. The government is hobbled and nearly dysfunctional. Republicans not only oppose new environmental regulations, they want to roll back most of the ones that are already in force. While the President can issue some executive orders for the sake of the environment, his ability to make big changes is limited. As for technological solutions, to be brief, inventions that help the environment in one way generally (perhaps inevitably) harm it in other ways. Beyond that, the ecosphere is unraveling along a multitude of seams. Even if we could develop side-effect-free technologies (which isn’t going to happen), we can’t invent and deploy those technologies fast enough to mend all the rips and frayed edges.

So it’s up to each of us to cut our unnecessary consumption and thereby reduce the wear and tear we inflict on the planet. Since one person’s consumption reduction has no appreciable impact on the environment, what we need is a movement — an anti-consumerist movement — to sweep the nation and the world. With the release today of Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, that movement may be about to begin.

One More Time: So Why Am I Blogging?

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Hey there, Blog Readers!

For a number of reasons, I haven’t been blogging lately. I hope to start adding new posts soon, but till then, I will repost some old stuff. 

Here’s one of my first: “So Why Am I Blogging?”  I hope you like it.

Thanks so much for taking the time to visit my blog!


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SO WHY AM I BLOGGING?

Let me begin, Dear Reader, by explaining that this blogging business goes against my grain. In the past, I’ve been shy about expressing my opinions, especially when they imply criticism of other people’s opinions and values.

Nevertheless, I intend to speak out—as often and as forcefully as I can about the ecological impact of consumerism—because I’m convinced that our out-of-control consumption is causing the environment to unravel at an accelerating rate. If we hope to inhabit a planet that is healthy enough to afford decent lives in the decades to come, we’d better start shifting our values from maximizing consumption to nurturing living things now.

For consumption-reduction to have a significant environmental impact, a whole lot of people must make that shift. My blog alone won’t bring about the shift, of course, but, with any luck, a rapidly expanding chorus of voices will succeed in spreading the message and produce a critical mass of shifters, intent on bringing us back from the environmental brink.

A Link to the Zero-Waste Guru

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Dear Blog Reader,

For now, I’d just like to pass along a link to an article, “Zero Waste Guru’s 10 Tips for a Happier and Healthier Life.”

http://ecowatch.com/2015/03/10/bea-johnsoon-zero-waste-guru/?utm_source=EcoWatch+List&utm_campaign=038636c6d5-Top_News_3_14_2015&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_49c7d43dc9-038636c6d5-85933793

Thanks for taking the time to check out my post!