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Kelly J. Cooper

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No Impact [May. 19th, 2007|02:26 am]
Kelly J. Cooper
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I wrote this in response to something metagnat posted regarding noimpactman's experiment (that's the LJ feed; actual blog is here: http://noimpactman.typepad.com/blog/). I decided I liked it enough to put it here.


I firmly believe that, as a society, we cannot go backwards. It's more of a willingness issue than an ability issue, but it's also basic psychology. Once we have a thing - a car, a computer, an airplane flight - we do not want to go backwards to a time where we did not have that thing or where we could not afford that thing.

I, for instance, am loathe to give up asian pears. I love the damn things. But the amount of time and energy wasted to bring me an asian pear is pretty damned ridiculous. But do I have to stop eating them? The supermarket will still carry them. Other people will still eat them. Should I give up my pears and just seethe with hatred about others who won't? Stalemate? Yes, if you believe in the division between those preaching asceticism and those preaching technology.

But, if I seek a third way, that neither requires me to give up a thing nor leaves me waiting for a technologically improved way to ship me my pears, if I instead open a door to a way forward and find someone who grows asian pears locally, then I have changed the problem. I am not going backwards, I'm not waiting for the future to reach back and hand me a pear, I'm slipping sideways into a new way of looking at things.

I see noimpactman as an ascetic. He's going backwards. But at the same time, he is illuminating alternatives and opening the eyes of millions to options. For instance, the option to run our laptops on solar power - if enough people do it, the technology grows cheaper and cheaper until we can all do it. I would love to get a solar roof when we redo the house, but it's seriously expensive right now. But I'm keeping my eyes on the developments in the technology and maybe it'll be just cheap enough by the time we have to replace the roof that we'll go for it.

But we can't only rely on a few ascetics and the hope of science.

If, instead of giving up your car, you got a free meal for participating in a rideshare or taking public transportation once a week, you are moving forward. You are getting a free meal and maybe some exercise. In return, your company is offsetting its carbon footprint. That's a way forward.

It only takes 21 days of continuously doing something to make it a habit. If we managed to convince everyone in the USA to pick up one energy saving habit, we could save millions of dollars. And if we could get industries involved, that's a huge leap forward.

It was understood in the 1970s. You leave a room, you turn out the light. They drilled that into our heads and the lines to get gas reinforced that. I remember being wrapped in a blanket, dozing in the backseat, while Mom waited in line.

The technology makes it easier and the ascetics scare the shit out of us, but WE change the way things are done.

[User Picture]From: madbodger
2007-05-19 10:32 am (UTC)
Well said! I keep offering to save energy by working from home, but the contractor has instead moved my job twice as far from home and adjusted my required hours to make mass transit impractical.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-05-20 02:31 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: laurenpburka
2007-05-19 04:52 pm (UTC)
I want to start by having everyone give up their lawns. Lawns annoy me. Ok, grass is fun to lie on, but it's the #1 agricultural product of the US, and we can't eat it. Lawn grass comes from Brittain, where it is cooler and rains more. We support it with huge amounts of petroleum products and water. I say, ditch all the lawns and eat asian pears!

(Apologies to anyone who manages an organic lawn and lets it go brown in the dry season because they know it will come right back in the rain).
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-05-20 02:31 am (UTC)
Yep. Most people who talk about sustainable gardening or minimum effort gardening recommend you get rid of your grass right off. More effort than it's worth.
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From: tb
2007-05-21 10:43 am (UTC)
Absolutely. When I talk about my "lawn", I mean the area of weeds, moss, and grasses that I push a reel mower over from time to time, mostly so I don't have to wade through wet knee-high stuff on my way to the vegetable garden. Water it? What the hell for? Then I'd just have to mow more often. Instead, I water my vegetable garden (with a soaker hose, not a sprinkler). That's one of my trade-offs.

I'll bet that some of my neighbors with mini-putting-green lawns (and the the ChemLawn truck driver) tut-tut when they go by, but luckily I don't live in an area where they can do anything other than disapprove. I'm especially creeped out by those little flags that warn people to keep kids and pets off the lawn because it's been treated with so many toxic chemicals that it might make them sick. Um, hello?
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[User Picture]From: bhos
2007-05-21 12:46 pm (UTC)
I agree with a whole lot of your post, particularly about stepping sideways. And I *love* your comment "But we can't only rely on a few ascetics and the hope of science."

I'm not so sure about your initial premise, though. I agree that Western society in particular has issues with going in any direction but "forwards," but I also think that Western society has some very hypocritical notions of what "backwards" is. It's normal family values to want to spend more time with your loved ones, but "backwards" to significantly change your career and/or pay-scale to do so. It's normal to want the safest birth possible, but "backwards" to want a home birth with a midwife (that has much lower rates of intervention & complications). It's normal to want and have any kind of food available at any time (ignoring the human and environmental costs), but "backwards" to eat with the seasons and one's bio-region.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that the position that labels a behavior/practice/technology as "backwards" is one that can be really powerful and I don't think that labelling is necessarily about "basic psychology," it may also be about things like maintaining structures of power-relationships & authority. I've been reading about birthing practices around the world, and in the history of that (particularly in the West) there are many amazing & horrifying examples of this latter process at work, of practices being instituted because they made life easier for the doctors and hospitals, not the mother or child.

Separately, I think one place a lot of people start from is the "Oh my God if X (whatever the issue is) continues this society is screwed" position, which in one way is a description of the typical thoughts that go along with the stress response. People then seem to commonly shift into one of three places: ascetic (withdrawal), faith in science & technology to save us, or inaction (and therefore complicity with the situation continuing). I think the ascetic and faith-in-science positions are based in fight/flight responses and inaction is a perfect description of the freeze response. None of them are particularly grounded or "whole" responses. I haven't met someone of the ascetic sort who didn't have some sort of vice for something based in science & technology (such as electric lighting or the easy availability of chocolate), and I haven't met anyone who really believed in the power of science to not have some complaint about how the use of technology by self or other has negatively impacted the quality of their lives.

I do think there is another way, that relates to what you wrote, and that is to come back to our values and desires and behaviors (the expression of our values & desires) and make them congruent in every way possible, and that requires either getting more creative (as you described with the asian pears), and/or to creatively manage and change our values & desires & behavior (the Amish are one example of a culture that is doing this with regards to technology). Which comes back to the relationship of our society's values vis-a-vis our personal values. I think all of us in Western society are starting with a handicap in that process because our society's values and common behaviors are so often at odds with one another.

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