28 October 2012

Top Carnivores

I've always kind of regretted that I never took an economics course in college.  Recently I bought a textbook on ecological economics by Michael Common and Sigrid Stagl.  The book is written primarily for students in environmental studies programs, so I was intrigued to read the authors' suggestion that it would also be an appropriate textbook for a beginning general economics course:
It is our view that all economists should appreciate that the material basis for economic activity is in the natural environment, and have some idea about how that works in relation to human interests.
It's a frequent truism that vegetarian diets have less impact on the environment than omnivorous diets, but a chart the authors include early in the book brings the point quite clearly home:
Human diets don't generally consist solely of meat.  But the chart points very effectively to the inefficiency particularly of eating meat from "top carnivores," animals that are themselves meat-eaters, like many fish.  If you're trying to cut back your own environmental impact, it turns out that your diet's diet is another thing to consider.

27 October 2012

Incremental Change

The philosopher W. V. O. Quine wrote that human knowledge forms something like a vast spider web, rather than a hierarchical structure based on some first principle, and that new discoveries in the sciences or the humanities change the web at one small point, but from there, additional revisions ripple outward.

I read Quine's Web of Belief back in college, in the last millennium, and my copy of the book is at my office (closed up tight in anticipation of the impending storm), so my memory may be faulty and is certainly dim, but I've always imagined a web of human knowledge that's always rippling slightly at a variety of different points as artists and intellectuals and scientists cogitate and create away.

I also like the metaphor of a web as a way of thinking about our own indiviual beliefs.  We learn new things, and they cause slight shifts in our own thought-webs, with the potential to ripple outwards across our entire thought-webs, with time and the willingness to be open to new ideas.

When it comes to ecological thinking, small steps are an important beginning.  But changing our habits, ever so slightly, has to be a constantly evolving process, with change leading to change and shifting beliefs constantly challenging our webs.

Putting food scraps in the compost instead of in the trash might get you thinking about wasting less food in the first place.  Recycling paper for municipal pick-up might lead to the realization that batteries shouldn't go in the trash, either.

The old green mantra is "reduce, reuse, recycle."  Note that "reduce" comes first.  Recycling is important, reusing things even better, but for real impact to occur, everyone needs to reduce consumption in the first place.

26 October 2012

For Love of Composting

This is Harmony Hazzard.  She loves her job!

Harmony works for GrowNYC, an organization that has started a huge city-wide composting and textile reycling operation so that apartment dwellers all over the five boroughs* can bring their food scraps and leftovers to be turned into soil, rather than dropped into a landfill where lack of air might mean they don't decompose for decades.

GrowNYC also collects clothing, towels, old sheets, rags, shoes.  Usable clothing gets sold, and other materials get recycled into filling for car seats, insulation, and other useful stuff -- and again, they stay out of the landfill.

Here's the list of locations where you can drop off compost and textiles.  Hint on the compost: store it in the freezer.  Won't stink, and also easier to transport when you're ready to take it to your neighborhood drop-off location.

The page also lists resources for recycling CFLs, cell phones, and other things you might be finished with, but that might be re-usable or recyclable. Whenever you're about to throw something in the trash -- think for a minute: can it be recycled or reused?


* Actually, it doesn't look as though they have any locations in the Bronx.  Hope that's coming soon.

25 October 2012

Yes, This Is Political

I believe that all human beings warrant equal respect, honor, opportunity, and dignity.

Laws in this country at various times in our history, and still today, do not grant equality to all people.  Gays and lesbians, people of color, immigrants (legal as well as illegal), speakers of languages other than English, poor people, and women are and/or have been disadvantaged under local, state, and federal laws in this nation.

In some cases, laws have changed, but customs remain that allow disadvantage and inequality to linger.  In those cases, I believe that we need laws that specifically counter disadvantage and inequality, rather than allowing individual and collective discrimination to continue.

Men and women are not equal, and equality of access and opportunity under the law requires, for instance, health insurance policies that recognize that fact, and that do not treat women as deficient or ill in the areas in which we differ from men.

Our current president has pursued policies that encourage equality and justice for all -- those big words upon which this nation was founded, but those concepts this nation still has not managed to implement fully and thoroughly.

The man who would be president has made it clear that he does not believe in equality and justice for all.  He believes English should be the US official language.  He would end health care provisions that guarantee equivalent access to men and women, to wealthy and poor, to healthy and sick.  He would fight for laws that discriminate against gays and lesbians. He would repeal the fair pay act that guarantees women equal pay for equal work.

If you believe that gays and lesbians, people of color, immigrants*, single parents**, poor people, and women deserve dignity and respect, then why would you vote for a man who does not respect any of those people?


* Hey, guess what?  I'm an immigrant.  A legal one.  Like the vast majority of immigrants to this country.

** You know what really got me ticked off?  When he blamed gun violence on single moms.  My grandma was a single mom.  Not her choice, but she managed.  Don't diss my grandma. Today would have been her 99th birthday.

24 October 2012

On Not Being Patient

When I was a kid and things weren't going my way, my Mom would invariably say, "It builds character."  I remember asking once, "Don't I have enough character yet?"

Apparently not.

Because I'm trying to be grateful: for doctors, for family, for health insurance, for flexibility at work, for enough money not to have to worry about choosing between health insurance co-payments and, say, food.

Instead, I'm grouchy, frustrated, and fearful.  I'm frustrated that the first round of medications didn't take care of the problem, and I got worse and had to go back for more.  I'm worried about the possible side effects of the medications, worried about the future, worried about the effect on my kid of having a chronically ill parent, worried about health insurance plans are, through higher and higher co-payments for doctor's visits and medications, placing ever more of the cost burden on the individual ill person rather than on the pool of people paying in.

As a person with dis-ease, I'm supposed to be (a) patient.  I'm not supposed to be angry about the things I can't do while I'm resting patiently, shrugging off symptoms and fatigue and side effects with good humor.

But lurking in the background is shame. Always the shame.  It comes from my own family dynamic, my own family history; but it's also part of the culture.  Go to the Mayo Clinic's web site and look up bronchitis, and there's an awful lot of noise about cigarette smoke as cause.  In other words, sick people brought it on themselves.

So guess what? I'm also angry.  Angry at being sick in the first place, angry at missing out on life while I have to rest, angry at the ways discourse frames illness, angry at feeling lousy.  So, character?  I'll have to work on that.

18 October 2012

Riding into Peace

Between the crashing fatigue, the sheer amount of stuff I was carrying home for the weekend, an incoming upper respiratory infection, and (TMI alert) a boil in a very bad spot, I was sorely tempted -- I think for the first time ever -- to hail a cab on my way out of Penn Station instead of biking home.

But New York cabbies take driving to the level of performance art, and it's not a performance I really wanted to be a part of, so I donned shiny things and turned on flashing lights and got on the bike.

The volume of vehicle and foot traffic in midtown almost made me regret it.

But as I reached Stuy Town and Alphabet City, and alien life forms gave way to natives, and the crowds thinned, rolling along the street became more peaceful.

I reached the river, and physical fatigue and discomfort (riding with a backpack is uncomfortable even without the aforementioned TMI), started to push back against the mental fatigue, and to my great surprise, my head started to clear.

15 October 2012

Baby/Toddler Donations Needed

Lauren Schmidt is a poet and teacher whose goal is to make the world a better place, an extraordinary person I'm fortunate to have as a colleague at Monmouth.

Lauren is a volunteer at Manna House, a home for young women with babies organized by a collective of Monmouth County religious institutions -- Christian and Jewish, Catholic and Protestant.  Besides providing housing, Manna House's mission includes helping the young women earn GEDs or vocational degrees and become independent.  Lauren teaches the young women creative writing, helps them get driver's licenses, takes them on outings to see plays, and in general is trying to do all she can to make their lives better.

The women, and their children, are in need of clothing, books, and toys.  The children range in age from 6 months to three years and need jeans, shirts, winter jackets, and other clothing.  The moms also are in need of clothing. 

If you have some gently used baby or toddler-sized clothing, or would be willing to make a donation or send a gift card for a store like Target or Old Navy, the best thing is to contact Manna House directly.  Contact information is here.  Mention Lauren.

(She also  used to work in a soup kitchen, and wrote a volume of passionate and moving poems about it, Psalms of the Dining Room.)

Please pass this on.  Thanks, y'all.

14 October 2012

Repair or Replace?

I've been thinking about how much easier our economy makes it to replace things rather than repairing them.  Amazon is always only a couple of clicks away, whereas repair requires leaving home.  On an actual errand. 

Or, more likely, errands, because different repairs require different shops.  Recently, I had some boots and shoes resoled.  Still on the list: get the handle welded back on a pan, and get a watch repaired.  All different locations.  Fact is, I bought a new watch months ago, maybe almost a year, because of the hassles with locating and getting to a good repair shop.  I'm still hanging on to the other watches, though, with the idea of getting them repaired eventually.

Recently, the front fender on my bike came loose and broke.

I've been meaning to get to the bike shop for a new fender, as well as some other adjustments.  But that's another errand, and I have to leave the bike, which means I have to find another way to get home.  So I decided to try fixing it myself instead.

A couple of screws, some gorilla tape, and a few minutes later:
How long do you think it will last?