Tag Archives: social change

The Age of Angry Women

I’ve been keeping journals since elementary school, and they are, generally, what you would expect from journals: hard-back notebooks filled with lined pages covered in a not always legible scrawl of to do lists, New Year’s Resolutions, goals I had or things I wanted to try, quandaries I was trying to work through, and of course, what was going on in my life and how I felt and what I thought about it.

Or, often, what I thought I should think about it. What I thought I should feel about it. In my first journal from elementary school, I’d gotten the idea that girls were supposed to write about their crushes in their diaries, so I invented crushes so I could write about them in my diary, but not all of the things I thought I should think or felt I should feel were so entertaining. Often it was things that made me sad, or angry: I wrote about those feelings in the hope and expectation that by getting it out I wouldn’t be sad or angry anymore. It never worked.

In January 2017, I stopped writing in black and blue ink and brought out the coloured pens. I started to make charts, draw sketches, record dreams I’d had, write down quotes from books or poems I’d read.

This is one of those things that’s very awkward to say, and which I’ve been told is scientifically either implausible or impossible so I don’t mention much, but: I don’t have many memories of my childhood. I remember some friends, some teachers, school trips, other kids’ birthday parties, summer camp, the cottages. I have a handful of memories of my Dad and my brother. Of my mother, I have one clear memory before the age of 14, and a handful of other extremely unpleasant memories of things that involve her or where she was present–I know she was present–but her presence in that memory has been wiped clear as a white-board. For me, narrative memory starts sometime in middle school. Before then, I have my journals, and things people have told me, and weird snatches, and lots of stuff that doesn’t involve my family, and that’s it.

This image, for instance, does not resonate with me at all. I don’t have a childhood self to return to–though if you do, that’s great, and I’m happy for you. Apparently it resonates with a lot of people because it is all over my FB feed.

So early in 2017, in addition to watching the world slowly side into a dumpster-fire the size of Jupiter, I also was tired of trying to figure out what was in those missing years, who I would have or should have been, how I turned into who I am. Unlike most other people, I’m not tethered to a remembered history. It’s odd, it’s often uncomfortable, but it’s true, so I may as well make myself up. And my journals became a way to do that: to construct myself.  I still wrote to-do lists and plans and quandaries and what I thought I should think and how I thought I should feel, which still never worked, and pages and pages of — questions, quotes, the bits of myself that I inherited from trauma and wanted to keep (eg. loving nature), the bits that I inherited from trauma and wanted to change (eg. fearing people), the bits that might actually have nothing to do with trauma at all (eg. sewing), and what exactly I wanted to put in the empty spaces between them (eg. dancing).

We all engage in self-construction somewhat. The difference is, if you had parents who loved you, you had people from your earliest memories mirroring back to you a version of yourself you could flourish in. You might outgrow it, you might need to stretch or bend it, but there was part of that mirroring you could live in. When your parents hate you, the version of yourself they give you is ugly and contorted. If you try growing into it, it kills you.


In October of last year, I read through Adrienne Riche. Here’s some bits I wrote down:

it’s your own humanity you’ll have to drag
over and over, piece by piece,
page after page
out of the dark.

Which was as good a description of my project as I could ask for. But then, in relation to all those feelings I was trying to write away, this:

Anger and tenderness: my selves.
And now I can believe they breathe in me
as angels, not polarities.
Anger and tenderness: the spider’s genius
to spin and weave in the same action
from her own body, anywhere–
even from a broken web.

Maybe, I thought, I didn’t have to write them away. Maybe the anger isn’t the problem. Maybe I can let the anger be?

This, of course, is not a problem unique to me: We live in a world that delights in convincing women that we don’t have the right to feel our feelings, and if we do, we don’t have the right to express or act on them, and if we choose to anyway, we can’t expect anyone to take them or us seriously. We are hysterical, we are emotional, we are too sensitive, we are irrational, we are illogical, we are hormonal: if we want to be taken seriously in almost any context, we need to strip ourselves of any evidence of emotion, and then be labelled “cold.”

On the one hand, my upbringing made this worse: I lived in the same misogynistic culture, and was brought up in a misogynistic fundamentalist Church, and had a deeply abusive family. From all quarters, I got the message that I was not valued, and not valuable. It was awful. I won’t sugarcoat it. I’ve struggled with suicidal depression since elementary school (for which I was also blamed).

On the other hand, it’s meant I had nothing to lose in walking away.

Oddly, I’ve come to view this as a gift. Though maybe that’s the wrong word, because it came with a very steep bill.

Regardless, when I came across the message–and when it then proliferated across the literary landscape like a climate change-fueled wildfire–that my anger was not the problem, I could embrace it, without facing unpleasant pushback from people in my life who would tell me that the anger was ugly and uncomfortable and I should shove it back in its box.

In June of this year I fell into Jan Zwicky again. I don’t know why she isn’t a better-known or more-loved poet. Here’s some bits from Beethoven: Op. 95:

…You were right: stupidity
surrounds us, and our own
splits the skull most sharply.
Also: that nothing
is achieved without the grimmest labour
on the slenderest of hopes. …

…you were right
about discipline, and politics,
the steep well of fury, and finally
what the fury goes through to: love
like a hand through the wall of the chest,
like a hand in fire, fire
tearing itself, in the hand’s flame
a heart, in the heart’s fist
an ear.

That image!

What the fury goes through to: love like the hand through the wall of the chest.

There’s been, also, approximately a hundred books written very recently by women about women being angry and getting shit done using that anger as fuel, and I’ve read three of them: Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper, Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister, and Rage Becomes Her by Soraya Chemaly. I recommend all three, and I recommend reading them close together because they bolster and complement each other beautifully. Rage Becomes Her is approximately 250 pages of all the shit making women angry followed by 50 pages of what to do with it; Good and Mad is a historical and present-day journalistic narrative account of women using their anger to achieve positive change for society; and Eloquent Rage is a personal exploration of the uses of justified rage in the life of one Black Feminist activist. As well, all three provide an intersectional viewpoint that, while not complete, at least makes a conscious effort to broaden the scope beyond the most privileged.

Spoiler: they’re solidly pro-anger. Anger is justified, anger is fuel; anger tells us what’s broken and gives us the energy to try to fix it; and we live in a world that veers between discomfort and vilification where angry women are concerned, where it is hard to believe in the validity and uses of our anger. Where we still feel the necessity of bottling it up and slapping a smile or a joke on it. Where if you aren’t angry whatever happened didn’t bother you that much and if you are angry, you’re the problem.

Chemaly, Cooper and Traister would all like you to be angry, to express that anger, and to use that anger to propel activism in service of making a better world.

Cooper:

“This is a book by a grown-ass women written for other grown-ass women. This is a book for women who expect to be taken seriously and for men who take grown women seriously. This is a book for women who know shit is fucked up. These women want to change things but don’t know where to begin.

“To be clear, I’m not really into self-help books, so I don’t have one of those catchy three-step plans for changing the world. What I have is anger. Rage, actually. And that’s the place where more women should begin–with the things that make us angry.”

Chemaly:

“See your anger not only as a possible symptom but also as a way to recover yourself. If you are among the millions of people who have experienced abuse in childhood, for example, or physical and sexual violence in adulthood, anger is inevitable. Women who suppress this anger suffer more deleterious effects related to that suppression. Recovering from these assaults and their memorizes is hampered by ignoring what your anger represents as an agent of better health.”

“Anger is an assertion of rights and worth. It is communication, equality and knowledge. It is intimacy, acceptance, fearlessness, embodiment, revolt, and reconciliation. Anger is memory and rage. It is rational thought and irrational pain. Anger is freedom, independence, expansiveness, and entitlement. It is justice, passion, clarity, and motivation. Anger is instrumental, thoughtful, complicated, and resolved. In anger, whether you like it or not, there is truth.

Anger is the demand of accountability. It is evaluation, judgement, and refutation. It is reflective, visionary and anticipatory. It’s a speech act, a social statement, an intention, and a purpose. It’s a risk and a threat. A confirmation and a wish. It is both powerlessness and power, palliative and a provocation. In anger, you will find both ferocity and comfort, vulnerability and hurt. Anger is the expression of hope.”

Traister:

“‘It’s so powerful and kind of reminds me that the other side of the anger is the hope,’ Morales wrote to me. ‘We wouldn’t be angry if we didn’t still believe that it could be better.’

And if it gets better in part because of women’s ability and willingness and need to feel their anger and to let it out into the world, then what we would be living through right now would not be a trend or a fad or a witch hunt, but an insurrection–a righteous revolution, led by angry women.”

These books are fabulous and necessary and inspiring and, yes, enraging. I graduated from tea to wine to whisky while reading them, because believe me, they made me want to burn the world down. Traister, Cooper and Chemaly are right: women have a lot to be angry about; and our anger is not only justified and useful but necessary if we are going to fix the mess(es) we’re in.

But they missed one thing.

Anger isn’t just accountability and revolution and hope and optimism and power and independence and motivation and clarity and purpose and the place we should begin. It isn’t just good for our health and our souls to feel and own our anger.

Anger is love.

Fury is love, the hand going through the wall of the chest to the heart.

What you are angry on behalf of is what you love. If you are only ever angry on your own behalf, you only love yourself. If you are never angry on your own behalf, you don’t love yourself. Everyone I know who is never angry is a victim of abuse, usually starting early in childhood, that convinced them that they’re not worth defending and it’s selfish to defend themselves and it’s hopeless to even try. My father never got angry at the way my mother treated him, or very rarely, because he’d been convinced and then continued to convince himself that it was wrong and bad to value himself enough to feel anger on his own behalf. There are others in my family who are much the same–all women, mind you.

Think of when you have been angry in your life, and why, and look behind that anger, and you will find what you were defending–what you love. Anger on behalf of the poor, the exploited, on behalf of victims of assault or abuse or misogyny or racism; anger on behalf of children, of the environment, of the future, is a positive expression of love. You can’t love those things and not be angry when they’re threatened.

(And yes, the white man who only ever gets angry when his comfort and position are threatened only loves himself, and his comfort and position. It is absolutely a reflection of a person’s values and their heart.  Similarly the person who only ever gets angry on behalf of victims who live on the other side of the world, and can’t be bothered to react emotionally to victims in their own life.)

Anger is an angel. Anger is tenderness. Anger is what allows us to spin and weave a better future, even from a broken web. Fury goes through to love like a hand through the wall of the chest. Be as angry as you need to be.

The Old Year

A Year In Sewing

I tend to be wordy even when I try hard not to be, Dear Readers, so no recap. Just a few links to some favourite projects and a couple of duds.

Things I Wear All the Time

Favourite Dress to Wear to Meetings, Warm Weather Edition

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It’s super comfortable, a bit different, eye-catching and–of course–it has pockets.

Favourite Accidental Favourite

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Technically this was a practice project, but I wore it all the time this summer.

Favourite Flounces, Times Three

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I Need A Nap

And I’m thinking of making it again with long sleeves, for the cold weather.

Favourite Floral

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For obvious reasons.

Favourite Dress Maybe Ever

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Which made all of the practicing worthwhile.

Favourite Dress to Wear to Meetings, Cold Weather Edition

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In ponte. Yay for ponte! I wear this one at least a few times a month now that it’s cold out.

Favourite Knit Shirt

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Except not really, because I also like a lot of the altered Renfrews I’ve been sewing, but I haven’t blogged them (yet). Of the ones I have blogged, though, this one gets a ton of wear.

Yes, this is seven; it was still hard to narrow down, and there are so many more I wear all the time and are either too new or just narrowly less loved than these ones.

Duds

Why Is Yellow See Through?

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Size is wrong; needs altering before I make it up again; haven’t worn this version even once. Sigh.

Not the Flounce You’re Looking For

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Maybe in a different fabric; not in this lawn.

 

A Year In Reading

2017 was a fantastic year for literature; this tends to coincide with political and cultural turmoil, so I can’t say I’m 100% wholly happy about it, but I did really like a lot of books. I’ve made a GoodReads shelf for this year’s reads, and below are my top 7 with reviews.

Amatka

Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

The Lonely Hearts Hotel

The Stone Sky (Broken Earth #3)

The Black Tides of Heaven (Tensorate #1)

Her Body and Other Parties

The Break

If there’s one that you must, simply must, make time for, it’s N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, of which The Stone Sky was the conclusion. It was stunningly, brilliantly good and a perfect comment on and antidote to our current moment.

A Year in Greening

This used to be a green blog, and in my actual day-to-day work life I’m still a professional tree-hugger, and this has been a year for environmental issues and happenings. I won’t dwell–in this post–on the climate change clusterfuck of 2017 of wildfires and hurricanes and Trumpster and his disaster cabinet leaving the Paris Accord (lucky you! something to look forward to on zoopolis next year), and will instead dredge up a few moments of hope.

I’m really looking forward to being a part of this initiative, recently announced and long worked-towards.

And I’ve spent a good part of my work time over the last year working on climate change impact adaptation planning in the community, which has been a mostly fulfilling way of combining intersectional politics with my climate change work. We* all know that climate change impacts vulnerable populations the most, globally and locally; but vulnerable voices are notably absent from climate change adaptation plans generally, which tend to be based on assessments by technical experts, who tend to be professionals and engineers, who tend not to be members of vulnerable communities. Starting the process of getting out into the community and finding those voices has been slow and difficult but mostly great.

(*”We” being those people not so stupid as to believe that 99% of climatologists globally have been somehow bought into supporting the theory of anthropogenic climate change.)

A Year in Quoting

One of my (admittedly geeky) habits is to reread A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve, and one or more of the other Dickens Christmas books over the holiday. In all of the fighting over what Christmas is, what it means, and who it’s for, we tend to overlook how singularly important Dickens’ ideas of what it was about are to how we celebrate it today and the importance it has in our modern holiday calendar–and we have almost completely lost sight of the ways he used the holiday and his writings about it to focus on the less fortunate. Dickens’ Christmas books are not about middle-class happy families enjoying turkey and a nice bottle of wine after opening welcomed and appropriate gifts; they are about the vast numbers of people who can only dream of that. Dickens was a Victorian Social Justice Warrior, and he used his Christmas books to affect change in the attitudes of his contemporaries. (Except, of course, notably, for women.)

If I were you, I’d bypass The Battle of Life and The Cricket on the Hearth (the latter of which was more popular than A Christmas Carol in his lifetime), and read The Chimes or The Haunted Man. Here, to round off this year, is a bit from The Chimes, which takes place on New Year’s Eve:

The Year was Old, that day. The patient Year had lived through the reproaches and misuses of its slanderers, and faithfully performed its work. Spring, summer, autumn, winter. It had laboured through the destined round, and now laid down its weary head to die. Shut out from hope, high impulses, active happiness, itself, but active messenger of many joys to others, it made appeal in its decline to have its toiling days and patient hours remembered, and to die in peace. Trotty might have read a poor man’s allegory in the fading year; but he was past that, now.

And only he? Or has the like appeal been ever made, by a seventy years at once upon an English labourer’s head, and made in vain!

The streets were full of motion, and the shops were decked out gaily. The New Year, like an Infant Heir to the whole world, was waited for, with welcomes, presents, and rejoicings. There were books and toys for the New Year, glittering trinkets for the New Year, dresses for the New Year, schemes of fortune for the New Year; new inventions to beguile it. Its life was parceled out in almanacks and pocket-books; the coming of its moons, and stars, and tides, was known beforehand to the moment; all the workings of its seasons in their days and nights, were calculated with as much precision as Mr. Filer could work sums in men and women.

The saddest thing about The Chimes for me is how utterly contemporary so much of it feels. The wealthy assholes who pepper the book with their observations on the low character and ingratitude of the poor can be found any day of the week in a modern newspaper–now together with immigrants, refugees, and millennials. Inequality is rising. We seem so determined to repeat the mistakes of the Victorian era (in some cases literally, eg. the Trumpian’s determined clinging to a coal based economy, ffs); there may be lessons still to learn from the authors who took that society to task.

Review: Banned on the Hill: A True Story about Dirty Oil and Government Censorship

(What happened? Summer. Also, home laptop broke. New laptop working, but would not connect to network. None of these things facilitate blogging.  Hiking and gardening are more fun anyway, yes?)
Banned on the Hill: A True Story about Dirty Oil and Government Censorship by Franke James
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am the first person to mark this book as “read” on Goodreads. I find that a little depressing … but I’m happy to be the first to tell you why you should read this fabulous book:

1. The art. Franke’s illustrations and visual essays are always striking, quirky, and to the point.

2. The number of essays included. If, like me, you’ve been following her work for the past few years, this is a great way to have several of the back-story essays (including “Dear Prime Minister,” “Fat Cat Canada” and “What Can One Person Do?”) as well as the “Banned on the Hill” essay that chronicles her attempted censorship by the fine folks the Department of International Affairs.

3. The information and the stories. It’s infuriating that this is happening in Canada, but since it is, it’s better to know about it than not. And it is wonderful to have people like Franke James so determinedly bringing that message to so many different audiences

There were at least a dozen pages I wanted to rip out and frame. Instead I might scan, print and frame them (solely for personal use of course).

If you care about climate change and the obstructionist position Canada has taken both internationally and domestically on this issue, you will want to read this book. When you’re done, share it widely.

View all my reviews

Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?

Picture by Franke James. Her artwork is fabulous; please visit her site to see more. Her arts funding was cut earlier this year by the Harper government because her work criticizes Canada's actions on climate change.

Hallowe’en is over; Christmas begins. Soon–much sooner than most of us are prepared to think–Canadians will be wrapped in blankets on the couch cradling cups of hot cocoa or eggnog, watching reruns of one of the many versions of A Christmas Carol. We will empathize with Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim (or at least I think so–have I been misreading it all along?), and drown in a pleasant soup of good feelings at Scrooge’s annual transformation.

I find it puzzling, then, that we are as a nation so determined to emulate Scrooge in every way.

Take, for instance, this recent Globe and Mail piece, In Harper’s Canada, Will We Give More of Ourselves to Get Lower Taxes?

Umm, what? Translation: In Harper’s Canada, will we give more so we don’t have to give so much? A more absurd question could hardly be posed. If we as Canadians insist on giving less, what are the chances we will use the extra money to give more? Have any previous tax reductions resulted in an increase in charitable giving? As the author of the piece himself acknowledges, no: previous tax breaks have shredded our social net and, if anything, decreased our charitable giving.

“As Stephen Harper moves toward rewriting this country’s social contract, he presents each of us with a moral question.

“If we want lower taxes, are we prepared to give more of ourselves to others?”

In fact, as the article later makes clear, we aren’t being presented with any sort of moral question; the social contract is being rewritten bit by bit without any input from Canadians on the entirely faulty assumption, which we already know is faulty, that private donations will pick up the slack.* But of course people give less when the social safety net disappears: if there is nothing there to catch you when you and your family fall, you will keep every bit of extra for yourself (or spend it on fancy toys while you can–consumer debt has skyrocketed in this same period). By slashing social programs, each one of us is made meaner through fear.

Oh, but it gets worse: “But in an era where fiscally restrained governments confront rising need created by economic turmoil, the private sector must do more. And the private sector is each of us.”

Excuse me? The government is fiscally restrained? Then why on earth is tax reduction even on the table? Which is it: are we being asked to give more so we can be rewarded with a pat on the head via tax break, or are we being asked to give more because the government is out of money? If the government is out of money, the last thing they should be contemplating is tax breaks. We need to raise taxes.

At the same time that Canada is rewriting the social contract (i.e. eliminating our supposedly-costly safety net) for citizens–the ones who vote for them–we continue to subsidize private industry to the tune of many billions of dollars annually. According to a 2008 Kairos study, the federal government gave $8 billion dollars in subsidies to the oil and gas industry alone between 1996 and 2002. That’s a million dollars a day, according to Kairos. Meanwhile, studies show that these subsidies create no jobs because the industry is so heavily mechanized–our tax money buys them machines so they don’t have to hire workers.

Isn’t this supposed to be a free market economy? Don’t companies survive or fail based on their merit? Why are our children’s educations and the health of our planet’s climate being sacrificed via slashing social programs to keep bad companies afloat?

Worse again? In 2011, the federal government cut $222 million from Environment Canada’s annual budget, mostly affecting climate science positions and programmes, although that funding creates jobs and costs less than one year’s worth of oil and gas subsidies.

Do we have a fiscal problem? No: we have a priority problem. Canadians pay taxes (moreso than corporations; corporate tax rates in Canada in 2000 were 28%, and as of January 1 2012 will be 15%. Yes, boys and girls, they’ve fallen by almost half) to the federal government, who distributes them to large international corporations while crying poor when it comes to supporting individual Canadians. We transfer money from the people saving the earth to the ones wrecking it. We transfer money from the budget for crayon for our kids’ kindergarten classes to Exxon’s budget for buying earth movers.

Between 1994 and 2007, Canada gave $203,000,000,000 to bail out corporations. Two hundred and three billion dollars!** Are we poor, or are we rolling in cash?

Canada used to be a socially progressive country with a healthy safety net; for the past 20 years we’ve coasted on this reputation, though no nations but our own fall for it any longer. We undermine international climate negotiations, push tar sands oil into as many countries as we can for our own gain and damn the consequences, slash social programs while raising corporate welfare–in effect forcing Canadians to subsidize private industry, block the Robin Hood tax, cut arts funding and funding to charitable organizations, eliminate public funding for political parties (thereby cutting off any parties without corporate sponsorship at the knees), and force students to carry an ever-larger load of their own education costs–turning them into debt slaves for decades. Oh, but we still have quasi-universal health care and some of our jurisdictions now allow gay marriage. That’s great, Canada. Very impressive.

Canada is well on its way to becoming Victorian London, complete with smog, extreme poverty, female subservience, eradication of job security & rights for workers, usurious interest and crippling debt, and a sentimental and totally ineffective reliance on private charity to provide for the needs of individuals and families fallen on hard times. I guess we’re still missing those prisons & workhouses….

No, wait: Harper’s taking care of those, too.

~~~~~

*An American stat, just to complement the Canadian stat and show that this is not a uniquely Canadian phenomenon. Lower tax rates do not result in greater charitable giving. Period. Bury the idea, and move on.

**This lovely figure comes from a right-wing think tank, no less, and represents total corporate subsidies between all three levels of government.

Ecology, Economy, and Ego

When spotted owls were threatened with extinction, we cried and passed laws. When whales were threatened with extinction, we screamed and wrote international treaties. Now, when polar bears are going extinct, we rage.*

But when bumblebees threaten extinction on us we panic.

Why?

Because what’s big, ultimately, is expendable. It’s what’s very very small that matters, ecologically speaking; our world belongs to the bugs, the worms, and mold. We are visitors only, and while we like to look down on the rest of the planet because it could never have been Shakespeare (as if you or I were ever capable of being Shakespeare either–but I digress), the fact is, Shakespeare could never have been, could never have breathed nor eaten nor grown, without the bacteria, decomposers, insects, and photosynthesizers that made it all possible. Not to mention all of the, you know, actors and set designers and stuff.

Polar bears are very cool, don’t get me wrong, I want to live in a world with polar bears. But if polar bears were to go extinct tomorrow, their ecosystems would hobble along until a new status quo establishes itself. Whereas if plankton disappear (and they might), every aquatic ecosystem on earth is toast.

I went down to Occupy Toronto at St. James Park last Saturday, just as they were setting up the tents and tarps. A sign reading “Abandon Greed, Kindness is Worthwhile” greeted me and stuck a goofy grin on my face that stayed all afternoon. People were smiling, friendly, laughing, playing guitars and singing in a rainy 10C. Two mics let people give short speeches to the crowds, and the diversity of speakers and opinions was heartening and lovely. Buy local! Find the love within! Let go of fear! Do God’s work and help the poor! Tax corporations! Remember we are already on occupied land; native rights are important too! Health care for all! Forgive student debts! Build wind and solar! Solve climate change! Stop pollution! Racism kills! Listen to my hip-hop song about the revolution! There’s flouride in the water! Stop buying crap!

Disorganized, yes, but my activist heart sings because all of these conversations ARE related and important and we’ve needed these disparate communities to sit down and talk to each other about how they’re related and how to fix it for at least fifty years. The same system that gives banks millions of dollars for depriving average folks of education and a home, while doing nothing to help those average people, is the same system that gives corporations inalienable rights to destroy the atmosphere and climate upon which human civilization depends. The same mechanisms that send some kids to Harvard and Yale send other kids to the army or jail. That 1% on top doesn’t just depend on corrupt government (but hey, it doesn’t hurt); it also depends on sexism, racism, environmental degradation and externalities, cheap foreign labour and globalization, debt slavery, fossil fuels, and, yes, the internalized terror that keeps most of us from doing more than making a largely futile x on a piece of paper every four or five years. (“Why don’t you just vote!” the columnists scold. “Has it occured to you that we’ve tried that and it hasn’t worked out particularly well!” we reply.) It’s all related. No meaningful solutions will come until all sides have come together and discussed the common sources of their problems.

Regardless:

As with ecology, so with the economy: the big need the small. The charismatic carnivores of the economic system–billionaires, millionaires, banks, and in a global sense much of the first world–intimately rely on and cannot function without the producers and decomposers–mothers, teachers, janitors, manufacturers of clothing, farmers, plumbers, etc. The charismatic carnivores have done a pretty good job of convincing the rest of us that we need them–their money, their ‘jobs,’ their ‘investments,’ their continued presence gracing our lucky countries–but nothing could be further from the truth. They need us.

If every CEO on earth vanished tomorrow, how would it affect your life? Now imagine a world tomorrow without waste collectors, truck drivers and electricians. Our society could not function. The 2009 garbage strike in Toronto brought the city to its knees.

Generally speaking, your contribution to society is in inverse relationhip to the size of your paycheque. If, as a mother, your paycheque is $0, congratulations: you are truly indispensable and will, as a partial reward, spend your lifetime hearing about how your personal choice should in no way affect anyone else’s tax share and, by the way, please keep the brats out of any restaurant where you order at a table from a menu.

Every so often, literal charismatic carnivores wipe out the underpinnings of their own species by devouring their prey to near extirpation. The prey population collapses, then the predator population collapses, then both rebound, and balance is restored. Again, as with ecology, so with the economy: every so often the charismatic carnivores devour the underpinnings of their prosperity by pushing the working class to the point of collapse; but human beings, being human, generally respond by fighting back and swiping a few fangs from the carnivores’ mouths. And you get slave revolts. Class warfare. The civil rights movement. Feminism. The anarchist rebellion in Spain. The Magna Carta. The American Revolution. The Arab Spring. You get Occupy Wall Street and its many, many derivatives. Whenever the very small (economically speaking) remember that the rich need us, but we don’t need them.**

Just like bears need bumblebees, but bumblebees could manage just fine without the bears.

~~~~~

* Please note that all of these species are still facing extinction. We’ve been enormously unsuccessful at rescuing our victims.

**Not a plea for the extinction of the rich, just for a little mutual perspective and humility.

Lappe’s Eco-Mind & Jensen et al’s Deep Green Resistance: the matter & anti-matter of environmentalism

It's either a Tilter's produce of Jensen's worst nightmare, or Lappe's dream come true. Or maybe it's just a wind turbine.

Reading Deep Green Resistance followed by Eco-Mind over the course of a few days is a great way to get vertigo.

They’re both written by well-respected, well-known environmentalists and authors.

They rely on many of the same facts: 90% of fish gone, global warming inevitable, hundreds of millions of human deaths to follow, screwy notions of “democracy” in the western world, and so on.

Yet you could not find two more different books resulting from such similar premises.

Deep Green Resistance: Western industrial civilization will never undertake a voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of life, so it is up to people who see what is going on to organize, make some explosives, and start blowing things up.

Eco-Mind: Western industrial civilization has not largely undertaken a voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of life, but look at Costa Rica! They are doing some interesting things. And Denmark! Let’s all be like Costa Rica and Denmark. There, all fixed.

Deep Green Resistance: Indigenous cultures have a lot to teach us about how to live with and in nature. Most of them will tell you that “listening to nature” is not a metaphor, but something serious, and if you do, nature will tell you what it wants you to do to protect it. When I listen to nature, it tells me to organize, make some explosives, and start blowing things up.

Eco-Mind: Indigenous cultures have a lot to teach us about how to live with and in nature. Indigenous peoples all over the world have loving and respectful relationships with their immediate environments. We should emulate that. There, all fixed.

Deep Green Resistance: Green technologies are promoted by hacks and sell-outs who want western industrial civlization to continue, and therefore, they are all nature-haters who will be the first against the wall when the revolution comes. Especially wind and solar energy. Ugh. You know, wind turbines and solar panels are produced in industrial processes with pollution and effluents and crap. No, it’s definitely time to organize, make some explosives, and start blowing things up.

Eco-Mind: Green technologies are a fabulous way to maintain our current way of life while reducing our carbon footprint. Look at Denmark! They produce all kinds of green electricity, and they’re not barbarians living in caves in the woods, either. We need lots and lots of wind and solar energy. Turbines and solar panels are produced by angels whose only industrial wastes are a few discordant notes from their heavenly choir. If we all produced as much green electricity as Denmark and Germany do, that might take us a whole quarter of the way towards solving the global climate change crisis. I mean, challenge. What about the other 3/4? Umm, look, angels! There, all fixed.

Deep Green Resistance: Five billion people are going to die at least and the sooner we get started, the fewer people who will die, not to mention all of the other species we’re driving to extinction, and they count too, you know. Nothing good for the environment ever came out of western industrial civilization, so the whole thing has just got to be destroyed. Who’s with me? Let’s organize, make some explosives and start blowing stuff up!

Eco-Mind: OK so people are dying and species are going extinct and deserts are growing and we’re not sure our grandchildren will be able to breathe whatever atmosphere we’re creating for them, but that’s no reason not to think positively! Only our thoughts and perceptions of the environmental crises are holding us back. OK so we’ve created a few little problems here in western industrial civilization but I’m sure it’s nothing we can’t fix with some optimism and determination. Look at Denmark! And there was some guy in India who started growing crops differently, too. Eh? There, all fixed.

Conclusion 1: If two intelligent and well-informed people can take the same set of facts, more or less, and construct such entirely different narratives with recommendations in such different universes, then whatever is going on here has precious little to do with rational argument and full consideration of the facts. (I would however like to point out that neither one of them is saying, “Ocean collapse? What ocean collapse?”)

Conclusion 2: I’d like to take Jensen and Lappe and lock them in a room together, not letting them out until they collaborate on a book. Now that–if they survived it–would be something to read.

Jensen et al don’t account for anything good or any progress whatsoever (ozone layer, reforestation in some parts of the first world–yes, I do realize that’s because we’ve exported our deforestation to poor countries–and so on), yet Lappe never analyzes whether these bits and pieces of progress could ever add up to a liveable world for ourselves and our children. Their blind spots are so complementary it’s frightening.

If you’d like to get the same effect without shelling out for the books, they both have websites:  Deep Green Resistance and Eco-Mind.

Here is what I would like, in my ideal LappeJensen Frankenstein book:

Lappe’s analysis of our destructive and incorrect assumptions about human nature, how they’re harming us, and what to replace them with.

Jensen et al’s analysis of the scope and extent of our environmental crises and exactly how much trouble we’re in.

Lappe’s summary and analysis of the good that people are doing about it, worldwide.

A Jensen analysis of how much those solutions will actually solve, and what problems will remain when they’re done.

Some Lappe ideas about what might bridge the gap.

And some Jensen proposals for how to hurry this thing along using stronger activist approaches than “write to your politicians, sit in the square and be arrested” left-wing thing that’s been doing us so much good so far.

In other words, I’d like the truth, solutions that match the scale of the problem, and enough optimism to keep working at it.

If you read both books, once you’ve recovered from the migraine induced by having two authors use the same facts and ideas to pull your brain in opposite directions like a piece of silly putty, you might have some sense of where that is. Or you might not. You might just have a desperate need for painkillers and a nap.

New Year’s Resolution

And I make no apologies

Hey, I have an idea: this year, let’s save the world.

Oh I know, we’ve promised to before, but this time, let’s really do it.

Let’s get off our comfortable asses and decide to put real money and effort into climate change.

Let’s get that using  a tonne of metal and litres of gasoline to ferry one person and their shopping bags around for maximum personal convenience is a historical accident, not an inalienable human right. Let’s  start doing stuff ourselves again, like walking to the store, opening cans, sweeping floors, and shoveling snow. Let’s start using calories, not coal.

Let’s realize that a hundred years ago, people lived happy and fulfilling lives with three outfits, two pairs of shoes, no televisions or computers or cell phones, in a 1000-square foot house without a garage. The rest of this stuff we keep stuffing our lives with is fun and it triggers all kinds of happy chemicals in our heads, but those chemicals are fleeting and then we are left with the debt and the environmental burden. Let’s distinguish needs from wants, and learn how to say no to ourselves. We are not toddlers. We will not die from the  disappointment nor throw temper tantrums at the mall.

Let’s believe that a growth economy is not the only way to prosperity for all, that it doesn’t work on a finite planet and we may as well begin figuring out how to wind it down now, before it crashes into the twin walls of the Laws of Physics and biospheric collapse.

Let’s save the world! Let’s prioritize our health, our savings, our time, our happiness and, yes, our environment over the GDP and our personal acquisition scorecard.

Sound good? Who’s with me? For a New Year’s Resolution it’s hard to beat.

Excellent! Now that we’ve got that settled….

I only have one New Year’s Resolution for myself this year, and it’s goofy and saccharine and not specifically environmental, so you don’t get to read it here. But you could probably guess that I absolutely intend to get some wind energy projects built this year.

Political Interlude: Wherein I Get Angry

 
 

I never thought the end of the world could be so pretty.

You would have thought, given the way some people speak and write about climate change, that this is a moderately important issue, perhaps even a very important issue. Say, on par with the Iraq or Afghanistan War, women’s rights, health care, child poverty. (All very important issues.) Instead of, you know, the end of the world.

OK, look. I know we’re used to the apocalypse, in movies and text going way back to prehistory, screaming down at us from a blackened sky while monsters gibber out of newly-formed flaming holes in the earth. I get it. We’re not used to the end of the world looking like sea level rise so slow you need to measure it over a century, gradually rising temperatures that shift the zones of tropical diseases, a permanent dustbowl in the American southwest, the drip-drip-drip of 100 extinctions per day over hundreds of years, the oceans choking on CO2 and acidifying so that massive dead zones form–a gradual, barely perceptible, frog-in-a-boiling-pot apocalypse that most of us fail to see, absorbed as we are with our Very Important Issues.*

Where are the massive spaceships filled with evil aliens who will enslave and torture us? Where is the corrupt empire bent on conquering the world, bringing us to world war III? Where are the volcanoes spewing ash and lava into the sky, choking out the sun? Where is Ragnorak? Where’s the freaking asteroid? Where is the easily-identified enemy, preferably wearing a uniform but we’ll take a natural disaster or two if that’s all that’s on offer, who we can hurl ourselves at in possibly futile acts of desperate heroism?

There isn’t one. OK? Get used to it. This is a drip-drip-drip. The most heroic thing that most of us will be able to do, and just as futile as the small band of heroes in a Hollywood action epic throwing themselves courageously against an overwhelming foe, is write a couple of letters or emails, change our buying habits, choose better housing, make informed political decisions, beg, and pray. Your moment in the sun is not coming. Unless you mean your moment to roast in a sun-baked desert, newly formed as a result of climate change.

But here’s the thing:

Some people are working very hard on this climate change thing. I am not even a foot soldier in that army. Maybe a soldier’s symbiotic parasite. The all-I-can-do, which I am doing, means researching and writing articles and interviewing and blogging and volunteering in larger efforts wherever I can, and it’s not much. The actual foot soldiers work on this forty hours a week or more, holding rallies and lobbying governments and drafting legislation and fundraising and developing green technologies. They are burning out, incidentally. It’s probably a lot more than you do, Dear Readers, and I don’t blame you. You have your own issues, Very Important and otherwise, which claim your attention and divert your energy. All well and good. Not everyone needs to be a foot soldier, or even a foot soldier’s symbiotic parasite.

But do you think, as they march past trying to save your planet for you and your kids, that you could at least get out of their way?

Could you stop voting for politicians who shamelessly pander to coal and oil companies? Don’t you know those people think that their bank accounts are more important than your children’s and grandchildren’s lives? What better definition of evil are you looking for?

Could you stop placing your short-term comfort above the goal of cultural survival? Maybe? Look, I know it’s a pain in the ass and will involve some disruption and material loss, but the unassailable fact of the matter is that energy should cost us several more times what it currently does. If you factor in simply the human death toll per coal-fired electricity plant per year, it is estimated that the cost of electricity in your home should be fifty cents per kilowatt hour, which is approximately 10x more than you presently pay. Gasoline, too, and the entire driving culture, has been so heavily subsidized that any sane, rational future in which people have actual food to eat will mean that you pay much more at the pump than you do right now. Several times more. I’m sorry, I know you like your big house in the suburbs, but that world is dead and gone. Let it go. At the very least, be prepared to pay a fair price for it. Your electricity bill will triple. As a start.

And maybe could you also stop picking at insignificant details in climate science and reporting? The scientists working to define and solve climate change are getting death threats. For the love of god. Death threats. Somehow people have gotten into their brains that the big house in the suburbs with the big car and the walk-in closets full of cheap clothes made in China were inalienable human rights bestowed on them by Providence, and any effort to undo that is satanic and evil. Thus the very people working hardest to save the world now live in fear of being assassinated for it.

Anyone who reports honestly on the issue, too, is slandered, typically for bias. Look. Newspapers, news shows, news magazines, articles, etc., are not a child’s playground. No arbitrator is obliged to make sure each of us gets equal time in the sandbox. Nor is this a play-parliament operating by Robert’s Rules of Order. The obligation, the only obligation, of any writer or journalist in any medium is to understand the facts and communicate them as clearly as possible. They do not need to be nice to any politician or political party. They do not need to be equal in their apportioning of blame. They need to tell the truth. And the harsh, cold truth of the matter is that the right-wing in nearly every country I can think of has fairly earned more of the blame than the left.

The left ain’t all that great. I don’t consider myself a leftist, for all that I am so accused every time I open my mouth or pick up a pen on environmental issues. I am willing to do anything at all that looks like it might work, regardless of who thought it up and what their political affiliation is. It’s the end of the world! I’m going to quibble? You want to implement a market-based solution? God speed. A conservative has an idea to sequester carbon** that might mean some people profit from halting climate change? Great! Can you start last week?

Forty-four Democratic politicians in America from coal- and oil-producing states voted against cap-and-trade last year. For sure, they are as evil as any Republican politician doing the same. Jean Chretien dithered and procrastinated on climate change as only he could, and I hold him responsible for the failure of Kyoto in Canada. But get this straight: no journalist, no scientist, no academic, no writer, no author owes equal air-time or pissing-time to all wings of political thought. They are required to research and report the truth. If the truth is unflattering to one political wing or party, then that is what they will and should write. If you don’t like the way your politician or party of choice is reflected in the media on this issue, then first determine whether or not the presentation is fair and accurate. If all you can do is whinge and moan about how unfair the media is, how biased it is, how liberal it is, without having a clue’s shadow in the (newly-expanded) Sahara of whether or not it is true, then please keep it to yourself. The people researching, reporting, and working on this issue have more important things to do with their time than to defend themselves against groundless accusations of bias from people who don’t even bother to consider the facts.***

I so wish that all of the politicians so implicated, left and right, and their various funders and lobbyists, working so hard to smother the world in a blanket of heat and smog and who the hell cares so long as the share prices continue to rise?–I so wish, that each of them, every one, could be quarantined on their own separate section of the earth, to live out the results of their actions, the species collapse, the ocean collapse, the coral collapse, the heat, the desertification, the storms, the floods, all on their own, while everyone else got the rest of the planet the way it was and should still be. The completely fucked-up and unfortunate truth is that the people slaving away 24/7 to end the planet will continue to profit from their current actions while still enjoying the benefits of the sacrifices being made by others, even as they work to undermine, attack and slander the foot soldiers.

You don’t want, or need, to spend your days marinating yourselves in the realities or predictions on climate change. Neither do I. I know enough to lose sleep at night, I know enough to know the scale of the problem and the required solutions, and to be motivated to do everything I am capable of, and that’s enough. I enjoy spending my life in fear and anger as little as anyone else, and choose to devote my resources and energy towards every positive step I can think of and afford. So that’s fine. You want to spend your days thinking about your issues, Very Important and otherwise, while knowing that someone somewhere is taking care of this for you.

If that’s the way you want it, then the very least you can do is get out of their way.

~~~~~

*Nothing wrong with Very Important Issues! They are Very Important, and deserve our attention and action. They’re just not the END OF THE WORLD.

**The problem with carbon sequestration is that it is, at this point, a purely hypothetical and untested idea, commonly promoted by the coal- and oil-industries as a way of maintaining business-as-usual practices. There are, at this moment, no feasible or proven techniques for seqeustering carbon. If there ever are, I guarantee you, climate change activists and scientists will be rushing out into their backyards to build them out of popsicle sticks and duct tape, if necessary.

***And the truth of that is that we can now afford party- or affiliation-based worldviews and responses as little as we can afford suburbs filled with McMansions, drive-thrus and 3-car garages. Of course, because I stated here that the right-wing has earned more blame than the left, I will be accused of having party- or affiliation-based responses, as if the very concept of an unbiased assessment reaching such a conclusion is impossible. This is as sensible as the claim that “unbiased” classrooms should include “Intelligent Design” in the science curriculum because clearly any open-minded assessment must inevitably lead anyone to give ID equal time with evolution, as if UNBIASED by definition means a 50/50 split. It doesn’t, any more than UNBIASED courtrooms automatically lead to the acquittal of fifty per cent of cases.

If Not Greed, Then What? or: what Darwinism never taught you

People don't just see pretty things and enjoy them; they record them for posterity. And then they don't keep those images for themselves but share it with friends, family and strangers via networks like Flickr. Face it: people like to share

Of course, people will often tell you that selling people on environmental change by appealing to their values is romantic, i.e. unrealistic, i.e. sentimental and doomed to failure. That human beings are innately and inherently greedy, i.e. selfish, i.e. competitive, and that any proposal that does not rest itself solidly on the human incapacity to care about anything beyond the pleasures and possibilities of the self is a futile enterprise.

Let’s pretend momentarily that there isn’t a substantial body of environmental psychology establishing that appealing to values works, and appealing to selfishness and greed does not.

Let’s instead spend a mini-post digressing into evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology,* in which cooperation is much, much more important than competition. I know, it goes against everything you were taught about evolution. Darwin was a really smart guy, but he did get a few things wrong (for instance, his bizarre belief that only the male of the species evolved through sex selection, predicated on his Victorian social values). Greed and competition are real, but there is plenty of scientific evidence for a much more hopeful view of human nature.

Think for a moment about reading this blog post.

In order to be able to do this seemingly simple act, thousands of years ago, groups of human beings had to cooperatively agree to all treat black squiggles of ink on parchment identically. They agreed that those squiggles would make certain sounds that had certain meanings, and that those meanings had to be arranged and interpreted in a certain way.

They used this newly invented system of written language to agree on a number of other things: codes of conduct, the price of bread or flour, how to define the angles in an isosceles triangle, dialogue lines in a play, how to grow beets, etc. Most of the things so defined and codified were carried out in groups: temples, tribes, families, neighbourhoods, schools, professions, guilds, theatres, cities, nations, schools.

After the discovery of electricity, western societies embarked on a massive enterprise to wire up their countries with standardized wires and outlets. The invention of computers was followed closely by societal agreement on programming languages and rules. There is a lot of cooperative behaviour underlying my production and your consumption of these paragraphs.

The internet is nothing but one gigantic cooperative venture involving millions of people. Competition takes place on the internet but it wouldn’t be possible without vast underlying stores and structures of cooperation.

We don’t always use our cooperative natures for good. We don’t always use hammers or crayons or purses for good either. We’re not innately, entirely good. But we are innately, basically cooperative. Even the most competitive of our modern ventures depend on mass cooperation, without which the competitive venture would be impossible. How would football get played if we didn’t agree what the size of the field should be and where the marking should be painted, if we didn’t work together to build the stadiums, install the seats, sell the hotdogs and tickets, and jump up to yell like idiots when a certain kind of ball passes a certain spot on the field? Even war depends on cooperation, as without it no tyrant would be able to coordinate millions of people and socialize them in the slaughter of other groups of millions of people.

Cooperation is so basic to everything we do, everything we are, everything we think, that it is utterly invisible, and so we focus our attention on the troublesomely rare competition. Which wouldn’t garner so much attention if we weren’t a cooperative species–lions spare no grief for the elimination of a rival tribe, groundhogs do not ruminate on the consequences of their consumption, bonobos–a social and cooperative primate species if ever there was one–don’t torture themselves with guilt if their behaviours eliminate the habitat for another species. (It’s unlikely it ever would, but if it did, bonobos would not establish organizations and hold demonstrations to save another species. They probably wouldn’t even notice they were gone, unless it was a species they ate.)

For a much longer, more thorough and more scientific treatment on the basic cooperativeness of the human species, I recommend Sarah Blaffer Hrdy’s Mothers and Others, in which she argues that the human ability to empathize and intuit the emotional and mental states of others drove our ability to hunt, build, educate, worship, move, and even fight in groups, and was essential to the evolution of the human species and society. Pick it up and read the first chapter, “Chimps on a Plane.” And see if that doesn’t permanently alter your view of human nature. 

When a wild animal adopts the young of another species, it makes headlines around the world. When a human adopts the young of another species, we charge them a fee and force them to get a license, it’s so common. When a wild animal feeds a member of another species, it inspires books and films. Whereas it’s so common for humans to feed wild animals that we need to erect signs in public places to discourage them from doing so. We put out birdfeeders, for gods’ sake. Can you see wolves putting out rabbitfeeders?

Yes, we cooperate because we expect to benefit from those efforts; but we also cooperate when we either won’t benefit at all or could even lose out. And we enjoy doing it–so much so that some people will argue that the only reason we extend ourselves and sacrifice to help others is because of that good feeling. Dear Readers, ants don’t feed aphids because of the good feelings that sharing gives them, and even our closest primate relatives lose Theory of Mind (the ability to intuit what someone else is feeling or thinking from their facial expressions and behaviour) after early childhood. We’re special. Get used to it.

So go ahead, advocate for human goodness. It’s just as much a part of our basic natures as selfishness, greed and competition–and evidence shows that it works. We don’t need to invent a human capacity for cooperation, we just need to dust it off and polish it up after a few centuries of being blitzkrieged by competitiveness and greed and channel it towards productive ends.

~~~~~

*I’d like to state in advance that I know that not everyone in those fields would agree with this statement.

Greed Stinks: why using self-interest to motivate environmental change backfires

This bee isn't actually greedy, he just looks like it.

If you go to enough environmental activist group meetings, you are bound to hear, at some point, “What we need is more education”; the assumption being that the general public is too ill-informed to know that their behaviours are causing Issue X (biodiversity loss, climate change, smog, ozone depletion, mountain-top removal, whatever), and that if only they knew better, true and correct behaviours would flow forth naturally from their hands and hearts forevermore.

This is bunk.

It’s interest and passion that drive the need to be well-informed, not vice-versa. Pouring knowledge, statistics and information into the cranium of an otherwise unmotivated person is precisely like pouring boiling water into a candle-mold: it won’t stick, and you’ll get them all steamed up.

More importantly, education does not transform behaviour without a great deal of forethought, planning, audience-targeting, message-crafting and follow-up–and even then, Dear Readers, it’s a tough slog. The general public is already overwhelmed with information that they perceive to be irrelevant to their lives, overly complicated or technical, outside of their control, or too frightening to be entertained. Your educational efforts on Issue X when directed towards someone who is uninterested or frightened will almost certainly go to waste, and may be perceived as harassing or worse.

Environmental psychologists have been puzzling over the interesting quandary of what exactly gets people to adopt pro-environmental behaviours (PEB–I do love good jargon) with increasing alarm over the past several decades. Are you ready? It’s not what you think.

It’s values.

OK, it’s not just values; but values count.

Researchers have divided value systemsinto three broad categories: egoistic (concerned mostly with the self), altruistic (concerned mostly with humanity) and biospheric (concerned with living things generally). Those with biospheric values were the ones most likely to adopt PEB even when it cost them in time or money; those with altruistic values could adopt PEB when they learned about how it affected human beings, and preferably human beings close to home; those with egoistic value systems would only adopt PEB when a specific environmental issue threatened them personally.*

But! Researchers also learned that they could manipulate a person’s value system: for example, by “priming” someone with exposure to nature, either through images or through going to natural settings, a person’s value system notably shifted towards biospheric orientations. Whereas priming someone with a message about how adopting PEB X–let’s say, compact-fluorescent lightbulbs, programmable thermostats and fuel-efficient cars–benefited them, their values shifted towards egoistic and they became less likely to adopt PEB in other areas, where it might cost them.

Your kindergarten teacher was right, and the geniuses in charge of Wall Street are wrong: greed is not good. Sharing is good. Greed is bad. Greed is the end of human civilization: the rampant and uncaring destruction of any ecosystem we personally can’t live in where we can derive temporary and short-term economic benefit by such destruction; the devil-may-care extinction of 50-150 species per day on the basis that we personally can’t miss what we never knew; the theft of a viable future from our grandchildren by wanton disregard for atmospheric physics today; the insatiable modern consumer appetite for stuff over any thing that might actually matter (more on that one next time); greed kills. Those who promote greed as an answer to any significant problem ought to be tarred, feathered, and lit on fire in a public square.

OK, not really (I’m too nice for that–I have a biospheric values orientation). But greed is not the answer. When you appeal to people on the basis of greed, you teach them to be greedy. I’m not claiming that greed has never motivated the development of a system or technology with the capacity to be a solution to our environmental problems; it has. But greed prevents us from adopting those systems and technologies in any useful way by encouraging us to spend our savings instead of saving it, as per the Rebound Effect. The Rebound Effect is greed in action.

Selling pro-environmental behaviours on the basis of perceived self-interest backfires, and it backfires spectacularly. Stop doing it.

If you want to save the world–or, if you’d like to move the general public a little bit closer towards a sustainable society on Issue X–move your audience closer to a biospheric values orientation.** The farther they shift towards caring about living things in a global sense, the more receptive they will be to your educational efforts and the more likely they are to adopt pro-environmental behaviours even when expensive or inconvenient.

Whereas when you sell the public on a pro-environmental behaviour on the basis of self-interest, that is exactly what they will do. And that is all they will do. When it’s easy. When it’s cheap. When it affects them personally. And nothing else.

*

Next up: why modern greed is the biggest shill ever devised, and how shifting towards biospheric values not only opens up space for rainforests, endangered species of frogs and impoverished third-world villages, but for happiness too.

~~~~~

*I’ve posted an annotated bibliography on my favourite papers on this subspecies of environmental psychology for the viewing pleasure of anyone interested in where to go for more information or to track down sources and statistics. Enjoy.

**What that means and how it works is a post for another day, but as a first step: encourage connections and identifications with non-human nature; talk about values–the kind of people we want to be, the kind of world we want to live in, the dreams we have for our children.