Some of the many new books on how to go green:
“Easy Ways to Protect Our Planet”
“Simple Ways to Save The Earth”
“10 Painless Ways to Save the Planet”
Do you see the pattern? We want what we want, and we want it to come easily. Without sacrifice, without hard work.
Sure, sometimes the stars align and it all flows, and we can have our cake and eat it too. But don’t count on it. It’s not a viable business plan nor a realistic scenario. I admit I can choose to get upset when I hear leaders promising “bread and circuses” (1) to appease the masses.
Mahatma Gandhi listed “Wealth Without Work” as the first on his list of Seven Deadly Sins (2); we weaken ourselves as a society when we embrace the false belief that we can have it all without a very real cost. The piper must eventually be paid and only the selfish and greedy leave the tab to be paid by future generations, such as our national deficit, our environmental thoughtlessness.
Yes, sometimes we do discover a silver bullet, (3) be it a technological breakthrough or a new paradigm. It is wonderful when these things happen, we should enjoy it when it does, and we should always look for new and better solutions. But such occasional serendipitous events are not panaceas for all the challenges that face us, and it is foolish to rely upon unforeseen breakthroughs to bail us out of the foreseeable consequences of our careless ways.
Maybe it is the Calvinist (4) in me but I accept——no, EXPECT——hard work, discipline and, yes, some sacrifice as just part of the investment required to earn anything worthwhile.
We are strong. Our country is resilient and capable. We have what it takes, more than enough actually. And how we perform as individuals determines how we perform as a nation.
We simply must find the collective will to reach down inside ourselves and face the challenges before us with calm resolve, secure in the knowledge that we will prevail if we but set our hearts and minds fully to the task.
(1) Bread and circuses (from Latin: panem et circenses) is an ancient Roman metaphor for people choosing food and fun over freedom, and was how the Roman satirist Juvenal characterized the imperial leadership’s way of placating the masses. It often appears in commentary that accuses people of giving up their civic duty and following whichever political leader offers to satisfy their decadent desires. (Source: Wikipedia)
(2) The other six were: Pleasure Without Conscience, Knowledge Without Character, Commerce (Business) Without Morality (Ethics), Science Without Humanity, Religion Without Sacrifice, Politics Without Principle. (Source: http://www.mkgandhi.org)
(3) The phrase silver bullet typically appears with an expectation that some new technology or practice will easily cure a major prevailing problem. The term originates from folklore. Traditionally, the silver bullet is the only kind of bullet for firearms that is effective against a Werewolf, witch, vampire, monster, or a person living a charmed life. (Source: Wikipedia)
(4) Calvinist: Emphasis on the necessity for hard work, work as a duty which benefits both the individual and society as a whole, an obligation to work diligently. (Source: Wikipedia)
This posting was inspired by the following editorial by Ron Cunningham, a friend for more than a decade:
Published: Sunday, December 7, 2008
“We have to abandon some of our useless diversions. If everyone understands the necessity of the whole society adapting to less, then society can pull together with a common mission to select what is essential. Presidents, governors and local leaders can explain the problem and lead society in a shared mission.” (From “A Prosperous Way Down,” by Howard and Elisabeth Odum, 2001.)
Back in the mid-1970s, when I was higher education reporter for The Sun, a professor once told me that “Sesame Street” was the worst thing that ever happened to education.
It was as though I had stumbled upon Oscar the Grouch in the College of Education.
How can Big Bird be bad for kids?
Because, the prof explained, what “Sesame Street” teaches kids above all is that education is supposed to be fun. So what happens when learning becomes hard work?
Let’s face it, Bert and Ernie aren’t going do your calculus homework for you when something really great is on TV.
I recalled his comment some years later, when, on a visit to Newberry High School, I happened upon a roomful of students watching a popular sitcom on TV. Scrolling across the bottom of the screen was a printed version of the dialogue they were all listening to.
The teacher said watching TV that way helped their reading comprehension.
It sure beat reading “Billy Budd.” I hated “Billy Budd.”
I don’t know if the grouchy professor was right about “Sesame Street” or not. But it is worth wondering why, four decades after its premier, American students still lag behind their peers in most other industrialized nations in educational achievement.
Anyway, lately I’ve been thinking about the prof’s disparaging comment in a somewhat broader context.
I’ve been reading Thomas L. Friedman’s new book “Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need A Green Revolution And How It Can Renew America.”
At one point, Friedman talks about America’s new found infatuation with “going green.” And as if to prove that green is all the rage, he lists just a few of the many new books on the market that tell us how we can all be kinder to our Mother Earth.
“Easy Ways to Protect Our Planet.”
“Simple Ways to Save The Earth.”
“10 Painless ways to Save the Planet.”
Anybody sense a pattern here?
“Who knew that saving the Earth could be so easy?” Friedman marvels.
“In the green revolution we’re having, everyone’s a winner, nobody has to give up anything, and the adjective that most often modifies ‘green revolution’ is ‘easy.’”
It kind of reminds me of the old joke about the ham and egg breakfast: The hen was involved, but the pig was committed.
In that regard, we’re a nation of hens. We’re all for doing the “right thing,” so long as it doesn’t inconvenience us.
Want to support the war? Stick one of those “I Support The Troops” bumper stickers on your SUV. And then keep burning up the cheap gas made from the Mideast oil that finances the atrocities of our worst enemies.
In that regard, W. was the perfect politician for our generation.
He told us exactly what we wanted to hear in the dark days following the attacks of 9/11:
And W. wasn’t alone. We elect politicians who do exactly what we want them to do: Keep our taxes low, keep us safe, and protect our entitlements.
And the politicians manage it the only way they can. By amassing an Everest-sized deficit that we can pass on to our kids.
Friedman argues that confronting the twin challenges of climate change and fossil fuel dependency will be anything but easy. It will require changes in the way we live, the way we drive, the way we work and the way we consume. And the only alternative to adapting is to leave our children and grandchildren a dirtier, poorer and less sustainable world than we’ve grown up in.
“If we can pull this off, it will be the biggest single peacetime project humankind will have ever undertaken,” he writes. “Rare is the political leader anywhere in the world who will talk straight about the true size of this challenge.”
And for good reason. Jimmy Carter tried to talk straight about it after the oil embargo. So we traded him in for a smiley-faced actor who told us not to worry. And then the new guy ripped the solar panels off the White House roof for good measure.
That’s why “drill baby drill” became the mantra for the last election. Neither candidate wanted to talk straight to us about the true extent of our energy and climate change problems. If Barack Obama had the audacity to do so, he would have lost.
The thing is, the longer we wait to talk about it, the more difficult will be the hurdles and the tougher the sacrifices.
Seven years ago, Howard Odum, a respected professor of environmental policy at the University of Florida, co-authored with his wife, Elisabeth, “A Prosperous Way Down.” It was sort of an early warning shot across the bow. And so far as I can tell, it was universally ignored.
“Like a giant train, the world economy is slowly cresting its trip up the mountain of growth,” the Odums wrote. “It may be ready soon for its long trip down to a more sustainable lower level.
“Precedents from ecological systems suggest that the global society can turn down and descend prosperously, reducing assets, population and unessential baggage while staying in balance with its environmental life-support system.”
Howard Odum died a year after the book’s publication. By then we Americans were busy shopping our way out of our collective post-9-11 trauma.
Anyway, there’s always a chance that the Odums, Friedman and others of their ilk are Chicken Littles who just want to scare us out of our comfort zones. Surely something will come along to save us.
A big technological “fix.” A charismatic politician. A generous foreign benefactor willing to finance our consumption orgy indefinitely.
It’s like former Gainesville City Commissioner Tony Domenech said in a letter to the editor last Sunday:
“Frankly, I’m glad we use 25 percent of the world’s oil. It is a perfect manifestation of the great lifestyle most of us have enjoyed for the last half-century.”
There ya’ go.