26 November 2016

Green Your Life

Our president-elect believes that climate change is a hoax. He has appointed, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, a person with degrees in philosophy and political theory who doesn't believe scientific concensus about climate change. He has announced he is going to eliminate funding to the NASA division that studies earth science and gathers basic data on climate, year to year, decade to decade.

He is planning on reopening coal mining and expanding oil drilling and fracking. Climate groups like Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Greenpeace will be fighting the new administration's proposals, and one way to fight back is to use your holiday gift-giving budget to make donations in the names of friends and family members. Lists of effective groups are here and here and here.

Meanwhile, you can make changes in your own life to reduce your carbon footprint, and encourage friends and family members to make similar changes. Many people making relatively small changes in housing, mobility and food consumption can have more impact than one person making drastic changes. 

1. Reduce your consumption of beef and dairy.

You don't need to go vegan to have an impact. Americans eat almost 215 pounds of meat per year, on average. That's 9.4 ounces per day: two and a half quarter pounders, four 6" turkey sandwiches from Subway, or nine slices of bacon. Cutting your meat consumption in half would have a significant environmental impact. Since lamb, beef, and cheese have the highest emissions of carbon dioxide and methane per pound, switching from steak to chicken wings has almost as much of an effect as going all the way to tofu-burgers.
Bonus: eating less meat is healthier.

2. Drive less.

Half of the trips people make in their cars are three miles or less; a quarter are less than a mile long. You can choose to make some of these trips by bike or on foot. 
If your community doesn't have safe walking or cycling routes, call up your local elected officials and join with other interested citizens. Transportation Alternatives lobbies for safer streets in New York City, and many other communities have similar groups.

Bonus: getting more exercise is healthier.

3. Downsize your house or apartment.

The smaller your living quarters, the less you need to spend on heat and and light. If you're considering a move, think about downsizing rather than upsizing. Meanwhile, switch from incandescent to LED lightbulbs and turn off anything that's not in use. In the winter, put on a sweater and turn the heat down a couple of degrees; in the summer, close the blinds on the sunny side of the house and sip ice water.

Bonus: You'll save money.

4. Don't buy so much stuff.

The businesses that send us all those catalogues and pop-up internet advertising are banking on making you want seasonally colored towels and placemat, clothing in new colors and designs, and yet another gadget for your kitchen. Just say no. 

But how to get off the buying cycle? Every time a catalogue comes in the house, call up the company and tell them to take you off their mailing list. Only buy things that you love, and that you think will last indefinitely. Make a plan that every time you buy something, you have to get rid of something. Want a new pair of shoes? Which pair are you going to get rid of? Contemplating a fancy new garlic peeler or lemon zester? What kitchen gadget will you take to the thrift shop to make room? 

Bonus: You won't need such a big house.


None of this has to be all-or-nothing. You might consider vegetarian breakfast on weekdays, and save the bacon for a Sunday brunch treat. If cooking is Your Thing, don't sweat the gadgets, but get your books from the library and forego another pair of yoga pants. Commit to one small change at a time. If you hate it, try something else. But do something.

12 November 2016

Now What?

Since the election, I've been trying to figure out where to put my energy to have the most impact on disrupting Trump's presidential program.

The bloggers at Savage Minds have pulled together a great list of suggestions and resources. Several Slate writers likewise came up with a good list of suggestions for action. Neither list includes gay and trans rights, and I've asked both groups if they might consider adding additional resources.

Yesterday, my family and my son's best friend's family went for a hike in Bear Mountain State Park. Both boys were born in New York City; three of the four parents, like so many New Yorkers, were born outside of the US. By the end of the day, up and down over Ramapo Mountain, the Timp, and West Mountain, I'd realized what I need to do moving forward is keep doing what I've been doing.

And to keep trying to do it better, with sharper analysis of how the Middle Ages shaped the modern, and how understanding the past can help us to understand where we are today.

I teach courses on environment and the humanities. I teach linguistics and history of the English language, and I include work on the relationship between social power and judgments about language. I teach medieval literature, and I look at how medieval cultural formulations about others continue to inform political discourse today.

On Monday, I spoke about the marginal monstrous semi-human figures drawn near the Nile River in Africa on the Hereford Mappa Mundi, a world map drawn in England in 1300, and argued that contemporary discourse about Mexicans, Muslims, and immigrants is in a direct line with medieval formulations of others. I pointed out that some humans treat other humans, and animals and landscapes, as "resources" in seeking profit and power, and that too ties medieval social structures with modern ones. I tried to ignore the Trump sticker one student had stuck to his laptop computer.

The difficulty I had on Wednesday morning, operating in a state of shock and grief with very little sleep, was that I had to go on teaching all of my students. What I said to them on that day, in between tears, is that our classroom must remain a space for civil discourse on difficult subjects and for respect for all.

Meanwhile, I've decided to return to blogging, with more regularity and more discipline. In the past year, I've averaged a post a month; I aim to return to posting once a week. I ask my students to blog and to think about how to write about academic subjects for a more general audience, but I haven't done enough of that myself lately.