Posts Tagged ‘well-being’

This.

Just read an excellent article over on AlterNet, discussing what impact Bill Gates’ big speech of a few days ago might have. Gates just announced that he’s putting his massive resources and personal clout behind the target of getting to zero carbon emissions by 2050. Globally. Zero.

From the AlterNet article:

Gates spoke about his commitment to using his massive philanthropic resources (the Gates Foundation is the world’s largest) to make life better for people through public health and poverty alleviation (“vaccines and seeds” as he put it). Then he said something he’s never said before: that is it because he’s committed to improving life for the world’s vulnerable people that he now believes that climate change is the most important challenge on the planet.

Even more importantly, he acknowledged the only sensible goal, when it comes to climate emissions, is to eliminate them: we should be aiming for a civilization that produces no net emissions, and we should be aiming to live in that civilization here in the developed world by 2050.

I don’t think most of us even let ourselves dream about that kind of goal. Successes in the environmental movement, especially at the global level, are so depressingly few and far between that we have a tendency to define our goals very narrowly, to try to insulate ourselves a little from the cascade of disaster that would otherwise bury us. I can imagine and work towards a bike lane on Ste-Catherine Street. That’s a goal I can see reaching. I don’t think I could honestly focus on the goal of a zero-carbon-emissions world without falling into despair.

Maybe that’s just me. Maybe I give up too easily. But I think a lot of us would be daunted by this scale of work; because we don’t normally work on that scale. And the people who do work on a global scale readily, the CEOs of international corporations and the politicians of nation-states and the generally super-rich, they aren’t thinking this way. (I’m going to define “they” in a very reductionist way here as “anybody who has access to their very own airplane”.)

That’s why everyone’s buzzing so much about this: because Gates isn’t David Suzuki, he isn’t George Monbiot; he’s one of them. And now we’ve got one of them on our side.

Is his goal realistic? I don’t know. Is he, even with all the resources of his foundation, going to be able to have much of an impact here? Maybe, maybe not. But it sure is one heck of a morale boost that he’s decided to try.

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Bike there!

I got all excited this morning when I found out that Google maps is now supporting biking directions. Then, of course, I discovered that it’s not available in Canada yet. Boo! Had a lot of fun playing around with it though, as I’m planning a cycling trip through Vermont in a couple of months. It looks like they are assuming a cycling speed of about 10 miles an hour, which at first I was thinking was pretty slow, but of course I’m used to thinking in kilometers anyway and actually 16 km/h is probably very reasonable for that kind of hilly area. (I’m planning my route to go through as many state parks, national forests, bird sanctuaries, etc as I can manage, and those all seem to be centred around mountains.) So I’m for sure looking forward to using this tool. Can’t wait for it to be available in Canada too.

It’s really impressive the ripples this has made. It’s hard to separate cause and effect in something like this, but just a few days after Google launched the new bike options, the US Department of Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, announced a new policy toward bicycling:

“Today, I want to announce a sea change. People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized. We are integrating the needs of bicyclists in federally-funded road projects. We are discouraging transportation investments that negatively affect cyclists and pedestrians. And we are encouraging investments that go beyond the minimum requirements and provide facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.”

About time, is all I can say. If only our government could follow suit. Come on, Harper, you’ve been tagging along after the US on all kinds of bizarre policies for the last few years; how about following them on something worthwhile?

Rights of Nature

From the Towards an Eco-Economy blog comes an interesting referral to UK environmental lawyer Polly Higgins and her proposal to expand the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to all life forms.

60 years ago the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was born out of the devastation of the humanitarian crisis of the Second World War. Now we have a planetary crisis. Over the past 35 years there has been an ever increasingly loud voice of those calling for proper protection of the planet. There are over 500 pieces of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ law, social documents and individual manifestos that refer to the environment, but until now there has not yet been a comprehensive codification of the Rights of the planet, nor a recognition of our role as trustees and the responsibilities that brings with it.

Go there and watch the video; it’s well worth it.

Like I been sayin’…

The New Economics Foundation, a British think tank, released an interesting report the other day recommending that the work week be cut to 21 hours.

“So many of us live to work, work to earn, and earn to consume, and our consumption habits are squandering the earth’s natural resources. Spending less time in paid work could help us to break this pattern. We’d have more time to be better parents, better citizens, better carers and better neighbours. We could even become better employees – less stressed, more in control, happier in our jobs and more productive. It is time to break the power of the old industrial clock, take back our lives and work for a sustainable future.

Which means I’ve finally got documentation to point to when people try to tell me I’m doing it wrong. Ha!

Seriously, though, it sounds like a great idea. I have not yet read the whole report, which is available free as a great big PDF, but the summary is encouraging. Although I do look forward to seeing how they deal with some of the inevitable problems that would arise. For instance, if doctors and nurses were to only work 21 hours a week, we’d need, like, three times as many. (I don’t know what the numbers are like for Britain, but I assume they’re pretty busy over there too.) The NEF talks about encouraging “active training to combat skills shortages and to help long-term unemployed return to the labour force”, but I’m not sure how we’d manage that here with regards to health services, seeing as the government has already been trying to incentivize like mad to get more people to enroll in medical training.

But that’s the kind of thing these think tanks specialize in figuring out, so I’m sure they’ve got answers for it.

Drunk with power

Do you ever just marvel at the sheer amount of stuff available? I don’t mean just weird stuff, like that Slap Chop thing the guy’s always yelling about on TV, or salt shakers shaped like the Statue of Liberty, or Don Cherry’s Rock’Em Sock’Em Hockey videos. I mean just normal stuff.

So I’m at this exhibition of outstanding McGill researchers (this is the actual present tense rather than the narrative present, btw; I’m writing this on the backs of grocery receipts while I wait for coffee [sweet, sweet coffee] to become available) and while I was setting up Peter Brown‘s display table, I managed to tear an embarrassingly large hole in the crotch of my jeans. Hurrah.

As this blog is not the place to discuss conventions of sartorial modesty, I won’t, but I will point out that everyone here is dressed much more nicely than I even without holes in my clothing. In any case, I didn’t want to sit for the next five hours with my underwear peeking out every time I moved my legs, so I went looking for a sewing needle. This is, of course, the one day I forget to bring my sewing kit with me. I’d have made a terrible Boy Scout. (Actually, I was kicked out of Girl Guides for fighting. I’m not a very sociable person. Y’all may have noticed.)

So I found a convenience store and bought one of those little $2.99 sewing kits they have by the cash register. Took it into the washroom, fixed my jeans, and now I’m sitting out here just marvelling at this thing.

Measuring tape. Two safety pins. Four straight pins. Four snaps. Eight buttons. Three needles in a little plastic tube. Threader. Tiny scissors. Ten spools of thread (no white, oddly enough). All in a little plastic box with a latch.

How staggering is it that we live in a place where you can buy this kind of thing in any corner store for less than half an hour’s pay at a minimum wage job? I would want one of these in my lifeboat or my space shuttle or my time machine to the Jurassic. They’re so incredibly useful. (Except the scissors. They couldn’t cut butter.) How much would this have been worth to a pioneer housewife two hundred years ago? How strange is it to realize that it didn’t even occur to me that I might not be able to find one? Of course I would. You can get them everywhere.

How strange is it to think that we live in a place so dependent on imports from other countries? This one is made in China – it could be Thailand or India or Bangladesh or Mexico as easily. How far did it travel to get here? How much more would it cost if it were made here, under our labour and environmental laws?

Who put it together? Who mined the steel and grew the cotton and drilled for the oil, and where? Where were all the pieces spun and molded and forged and dyed? What were the factory conditions like for the workers? How many hours of wages does $2.99 represent for them?

How many people live on less than that every day? How many people die for lack of that much money to buy medicine or water filters or rice? What does it mean that instead of spending that money to help them, I spent it on not being embarrassed at a public function I don’t really want to be at? What does it say about society? What does it say about me?

What am I doing here, sitting in this exhibition hall in my mended jeans while poeple in suits drink wine and eat little nibbly bits of fish on fancy crackers? What’s this all for? What are we contributing here? Events like this should be either useful or fun. Is this fun? I can’t see a single person smiling. Would they be happier if they had more stuff? Would I? Does this cheap sewing kit make me happy? It makes me less embarrassed; is that the same thing? Have I bought $2.99 worth of happiness?

Time to have some wine, I think. Can’t think like this all the time; I will go mad.

Freaks of nature

So I found some apples today, when due to some long and stupid circumstances I ended up going through the fridge of another tenant in my building who’d skipped out on his lease about a month ago. Needless to say, said fridge had gotten pretty nasty, but there was a bag of apples in which about half of them were still good enough to make pie with. So I started cutting up the apples, and this was the weird part. No seeds! I’ve never seen apples without seeds in them before. I looked at the package. Mixed apples from Washington. No mention of them being seedless (and you’d think that’s the kind of thing they’d advertise as a selling point, right?). Really odd. Three different varieties of apples in the bag and only one apple that had any seeds in it.

Intellectually I know that seedless apples aren’t really any odder than seedless bananas, which have a long and honourable (?) history. So there’s no reason to assume these are weird genetically-modified part-llama deliberately-sterilized freak apples. But there’s nothing in Canadian food labelling requirements that requires anyone to tell me if they are. Which is unsettling.

And, yeah, I know I said a few weeks ago that I was going to pay more attention to where my food comes from; but I’m not being inconsistent here, cause I feel like avoiding the throwing away of perfectly good food trumps most other considerations. I have no idea what the provenance of these apples is (other than “Paul’s fridge”, obviously) but the pie smells good so far, so, hey. If I get some sort of alien bursting out of my chest tomorrow, y’all will know what to blame.

(Oh, and today’s Dinosaur Comics is, as usual, topical and awesome.)

F(l)ail: How the Establishment Protects Itself While the Earth Declines

Today’s special guest post comes from Professor Peter G. Brown of the McGill University School of Environment, co-author of
Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy
and author of two previous books.

* * *

HOW THE ESTABLISHMENT PROTECTS ITSELF, OR THINKS IT DOES WHILE THE EARTH DECLINES.

1. DROWNING IN OUR WORRIES. One of the common problems of our news-saturated culture is “idea fatigue”. People are so overloaded by the constant barrage of new things to worry about, that they become narcotized and unable to be roused to action. We get tired of hearing about the environment, about Afghanistan, about the federal government’s latest shenanigans, about the spread of wildfire zones north and south, about countless other issues – precisely because they *are* countless and no-one’s mind can deal with them all at once.

2. APPOINT A COMMISSION. This is another of the ways in which entrenched institutions protect themselves: by encouraging a sense of powerlessness in people who might otherwise feel called upon to change them. The internal reform efforts which are then put forward by these institutions are welcomed despite their toothlessness – because they allow people to put that issue at the bottom of the worry pile, comforted that at least something is being done.

3. NARROW THE MANDATE. The current Angelides “Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission” is very much a case in point. Even leaving aside its actual inquiry process, which remains to be seen, the very questions it is asking fail to do more than scratch the surface of the problem. But, because it’s being trumpeted as a major reform, a lot of people will sit back and think “Well, at least that’s taken care of” and be distracted by the next new thing to worry about.

4. PRESERVE THE FRAMEWORK THAT LEGITIMIZES YOU. The “Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission” principally looks at how to keep capital markets stable, but pays no attention at all to the fact that these very markets are destabilizing the earth’s life support systems on which the well-being of life on Earth depends. With all the talk about the “getting the economy moving again” and the “recovery” they are able to distract everyone from the biggest disaster humankind has ever experienced. Summers and Secretary Geitner have pulled the wool over our eyes.