Monday, December 24, 2012

Finally A Useful Christmas Advertisement

Here is the Ad Busters' Christmas Campaign which we thought so insightful that we printed it in it's entirety (something we rarely do on this site): 

Attention Shoppers!

As our planet gets warmer, as animals go extinct, as the humans get sicker, as our economies bail and our politicians grow ever more twisted, we still find ourselves lurching to suck from the breast of the capitalismo machine. This is our solace, our sedative – consumerism is the opiate of the masses.

We're in a state of “pathological consumption,” George Monbiot explains, “a world-consuming epidemic of collective madness, rendered so normal by advertising and the media that we scarcely notice what has happened to us.”

For those of us who do notice it, who decry it, abstain, and try to eschew capitalism ... Christmas is the one time where we suddenly absolve ourselves of this stance, as we feel compelled, by a strange and powerful force within, to join in the momentous, orgiastic ritual of America's consumerist cult.

As we max out our credit cards, we hope we will become America's economic heroes – saving the nation from the fiscal cliff. But instead, we plummet further into a complicated recession, and as our spirits sink once again, the economists coo into our ears that there is a way out – consume more, they say! This is the paradox of our addiction – filling the void only to fall deeper into it.

The call to consume less – where it is heard – is denounced as pedantic, naive, authoritarian, even insane.

Decide for yourself where the insanity lies. Four out of five Americans are on Adderall, Ritalin or Prozac. One in three are obese. People in the Congo are massacred to facilitate our latest smart phone upgrades. America, Europe, Canada, Australia, we are all living 5 planet lifestyles. If you still need a reason to stop consuming – consider that manufacturing and consumption are responsible for more than half of the global carbon dioxide emissions. And if we heat up just 4 degrees more, we will witness a total and irreversible collapse of human civilization. We're killing ourselves – and even as the denial about global warming is slowly breaking over us, we still choose – sheeplike – to join the throngs in the malls. Without significant rituals, we clamour to participate in the only ones we have, like the Christmas shopping binge, driven by our desire for meaning – of which our culture is devoid.
It's not the "fiscal cliff" you should worry about ... it's the culture, stupid! We are hanging by a nail onto our collective sanity – a cultural cliff hanger.

Buy Nothing Christmas gets to the heart of this matter. Reclaiming the ritual of this magical season – consciously and deliberately – is a radical, emancipatory choice. As Christmas approaches, can you find the strength to break the addiction, to wake up from the nightmare ... will you be brave enough to plant the seed of a new way of being? Make your life a demonstration, a defiance, a piece of art, a heroic journey. Start this Christmas – dare to gather your friends and family together and vow to do it differently this year.

And from now until the New Year let's have a steady stream of revellers marching around New York's Times Square – the iconic centre of global advertising – holding up #BUYNOTHINGXMAS signs for the whole world to see.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Right Book at the Right Time

As the year 2012 comes to an end, we should pause to consider all that we experienced during this portentous year.

2012, as you may have heard, has turned out to be the warmest year on record. 2012 was also the year in which we saw a dramatic increase in the number of forest fires around the country, record droughts and resulting crop failures on a massive scale, and a frankenstorm named Sandy that many climate experts believe got much of its destructive power from increased water temperatures in the Atlantic.

With the effects of climate change being so manifestly evident, one would have expected the progressive candidate running for President this year to mention the topic during a debate or a campaign event. And yet Obama, like most members of his party, was totally mute on the subject. For their parts, Romney and his Republican cronies in congress continued their “drill, baby, drill” mantra and acted as though climate change was some kind of liberal conspiracy dreamed up to destroy the economic might of the United States.

Worse still, the American public—once committed to the goal of reducing carbon emissions—has been experiencing ecoparalysis for the past decade. Despite all the horrific events that we’ve seen this past year, Americans—unlike their European counterparts—seem befuddled about what to think about climate change or how to respond to the issue. The problem is that the issue of climate change is so huge, so complex, and so scary that it doesn’t lend itself to the kinds of simple, inexpensive solutions that Americans seem to love.

Even college-educated students seem confused about what climate change actually means. When we have a huge snowstorm one winter or a cold July, at least one student will inevitably suggest that such facts disprove the theory that the plant is warming. Apparently we are failing to adequately educate students and members of the general population about the difference between weather and climate, and this plays right into the hands of global-warming deniers, who have a vested interest in stoking ecoparalysis for their own political and economic gain.

But education on this issue is absolutely essential if we are going to address the issue of climate change in any kind of meaningful way and ask the public to make the kinds of sacrifices that are needed to reduce carbon emissions. That’s why I was delighted to see that Climate Central, an independent research organization, has come out with what I consider to be an absolutely essential primer on climate change. It’s aptly called Global Weirdness—aptly because climate change, global warming, or whatever you’d like to call what we’re experiencing is more about erratic weather patterns than about an overall warming trend that will treat all areas of the world the same way (No, the United States is not going to become a tropical paradise as a result of climate change, so get over your wishful thinking!).

Global Weirdness is divided into four no-nonsense sections:
  • What the Science Says 
  • What’s Actually Happening 
  • What’s Likely to Happen in the Future 
  • Can We Avoid the Risks of Climate Change? 
The text is very concise—only 214 pages—and each chapter is only a few pages long. Best of all, the book is written in a way that even the average person can understand. Although I’ve been studying the issue of climate change for some time now, I actually learned a few new things myself from reading the book and I also gained new ideas about how to present the issue of climate change intelligently to my students.

Global Weirdness, in short, is definitely worth the hour-and-a-half it will take you to get through it and should be required reading for every student in the country.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Small is Beautiful: The Trend Toward Smaller Living Spaces

I’m always amazed when I pass a home in the area where I live that looks like its owners are vying with the Beverly Hillbillies for garish opulence.   It’s not just the bad taste that many of these overblown suburban monstrosities typically evidence—although I must confess that most do disgust my sense of aesthetic propriety—but it’s the waste of resources needed to build and sustain such housing that really troubles me.

The McMansion trend around the country was one that boomed during the period in which oil and gas were cheap and mortgages were being offered to anyone who could sign on the dotted lines.  The eighties and nineties saw the peak of the McMansion trend with developments springing up overnight in what was formerly farmland and older homes being razed to make way for newer, more ostentatious structures. 

Just to give you some idea of how big our homes have gotten over the past fifty years, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), in 1950 the average house size was 930 square feet; in 2007 it was 2,521 square feet.  The average home, therefore, almost tripled in size during a period which saw average family size shrink.  More toilets for fewer people seemed to be the mentality up until recently.   

But, thankfully, the trend towards “bigger is better” appears to be changing now that Americans are finally becoming aware that the costs of heating, cooling, and maintaining huge homes in a period of economic uncertainty and rising oil prices is not all it’s cracked up to be.  In fact, there seems to be an anti-McMansion trend out there on the part of prospective homeowners.   The real estate website recently reported that more than half of Americans say that 1,400 to 2,000 square feet would be their ideal home size—still larger than the typical home of the 1950s but nothing like the garish monuments to conspicuous consumption that were becoming the suburban norm in the 1990s.    Current trends seem to be bearing out this downsizing paradigm:  In 2010, the average home size dropped to 2,377 square feet and it is predicted to fall to around 2,140 square feet by 2015.

The high cost of heating and cooling homes is certainly driving this trend.  But we should not underestimate the desire of younger Americans in particular to live much more sustainable lives than their parents.  Indeed, smaller homes are not the only things that are currently in vogue:  new homes are also being built using recycled materials, making use of passive solar designs, and often come equipped now with water conservation devices and Energy Star appliances.  It’s not that home builders are suddenly becoming more ecological; it’s that they realize that green home design has become attractive to prospective home buyers.

There are other advantages to owning a smaller home, besides the ecological benefits.  Smaller homes are typically more affordable than larger ones, which means that you can pay off your mortgage much quicker.  A smaller house also means less to clean and maintain, which gives homeowners time and more money to do other things.  Finally, because space is limited in a smaller home, homeowners are less inclined to give in to consumeristic spending urges, because there just isn’t the space to store unnecessary stuff.  Again, this means more money in the homeowners’ pockets and less stuff that will eventually end up in a landfill. 

As someone who believes that any living space over 1,500 square feet is a colossal waste of space and precious resources, I’m delighted that Americans are finally coming to their senses.  Now if we can just get rid of those damn SUVs!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

"Meat” Without the Meat

There are an endless number of posts on this site extolling the virtues of the vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. All of us at Ecoblog are in agreement that it would be morally optimal if human beings could avoid eating animals entirely. The debates that we have been having amongst ourselves are simply matters of strategy about the best way to convince people to move in the direction of a plant-based diet. 

The problem is that we Americans eat about one-half pound of meat daily and we really like our hotdogs, hamburgers, steaks, and fried chicken. Vegetarians, unfortunately, make up only 3% of the American population. Convincing the majority of Americans to forgo the pleasures of turkey on Thanksgiving (as Demo asked us to in an earlier post), or roasted leg of lamb on Easter, seems a tall order indeed. It’s for this reason that I proposed the idea of an 80% plant-based diet as a reasonable goal to which all of us could aspire.

My moral flexibility on this issue should not lead one to assume, however, that I think that it is ever morally justified to eat animals for food when there are viable alternatives available. And, for those who would like to do the morally optimal thing by refraining from consuming animals entirely, I’m happy to say that alternatives are available in abundance.

For about 10 years now, I’ve been experimenting in the kitchen with meat substitutes, made mostly from soy products. What I’ve discovered is that in many cases these items can fool most people into thinking that they are eating meat items. Now, I’m an Italian and a food lover. I’m as picky as they come about the quality and taste of the food that I eat. But I can honestly say that it took little or no effort at all to make the switch to healthier and more sustainable plant-based alternatives to animal products. And it’s easier than ever to find such items these days in most conventional supermarkets.

I should point out that serious vegetarians would tell you that meat substitutes are simply transitional food items, and once people get into the habit of eating whole foods, these “psuedo” products can be eliminated from their diet. But I’m not completely convinced that this is necessary. We human beings like our comfort and convenience foods, and if it helps people to live out a more sustainable lifestyle by eating food that reminds them of what mainstream eaters are consuming, I say go for it.

You’ll be healthier, animals will suffer less, and the plant will thank you for your efforts! What’s not to like?

Popular Posts