Daily Archives: December 15, 2009
I started thinking about this “green journeys” question, and I thought about when our kids’ school went to waste-free lunches and I had to suddenly make that happen, and I thought about when I learned that I could make blankets and hats and mittens out of old felted sweaters without exercising the industry to actually knit them, and I thought about how Goodwill never wants my used shoes because by the time I’m done with them they are so battered as to be nearly useless…I thought about how I realized how much money we could save diapering my son in cloth for the last year or so of diaper use, how easy baby slings were to make, how the lotion I made myself made my skin behave better than the expensive store-bought stuff, and how proud I felt the first time I successfully grew my own tomatoes. But none of that is really the beginning.
I think if we’re going to talk beginning, we have to talk about the garden. The front yard suburban garden at the house where I grew up.
It was pretty typical suburbia, all things considered. Three different home designs in the whole big subdivision designed (unsuccessfully) to make it look like they weren’t cookie cutter houses. (It just looked like the baker had three different cookie cutters.) Pretty trees, most fairly good-sized, since the area was pretty well established. Green manicured lawns. Except for our house.
My parents had torn up the whole front yard and turned it into a fairly large vegetable garden. Not an elegant classy-looking one, either–this was rows and chicken wire fencing and big leggy plants all over the place, zucchini and yellow squash and tomatoes and raspberries (which the squirrels always seemed to eat) and God knows what-all else, since I didn’t eat vegetables much at all. To my parents’ credit, we didn’t have enough of a backyard to have a garden there, so the front was the only place.
All summer my mom tried to get us to eat zucchini and tomatoes. (I remember this one particularly ubiquitous casserole; I think she basically just cut up a bunch of zucchini and tomatoes and threw them into a baking dish with some garlic and oregano, sprinkled grated cheese on it, and baked it. It was really good the first, second, and third times she served it…but it got a little old after a while…) My folks took care of that garden, with very little help from the kids, all year round. My dad rented the rototiller every spring to turn the soil, hanging onto the thing for dear life, with his Mother Earth News baseball cap on his head. They weeded. They picked out seeds and planted and harvested and made us eat the vegetables, which we didn’t like at all.
There was always a compost jar in the corner of the kitchen. Dad would periodically empty it onto the big pile in the backyard. And somewhere he’d get a load of cow manure every spring and dump it into the garden with some compost. That Mother Earth News hat wasn’t just a nod; he actually read the thing. (Now I read it too.)
When our clothes no longer fit, or we stopped playing with any given toy, if there was still life in it, we gave it away; the idea of “throwing away” something that someone somewhere might eventually use was not in our vocabulary. We never had the biggest coolest noisiest toys, but we had books. Our family drove cars till they literally died: As of the mid-1980′s when I graduated from high school, we had three cars: a 1964 Volkswagen Beetle my mom had rescued from a trip to the junkyard and rebuilt herself, a 1982 Chevy Suburban, and a 1972 Dodge Polara–when people talk about a “land yacht,” they are talking about that old green Dodge. ( The Dodge became mine; I christened her “Olivia Neutron Bomb.”) My dad still has that Suburban, though the others have long since bitten the dust.
When we vacationed, we drove, we packed our own lunches to eat at picnic areas along the way (however longingly we kids might have looked at every McDonalds or Burger King sign we passed), and we camped and visited national and state parks. I always assumed it was to save money (in which case the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree), but I now realize that our whole way of traveling was as low-impact, low-consumption, and low-garbage as we could possibly manage. My brother used to comb the campground looking for discarded returnable bottles; he made an amazing amount of money one summer…
In a thousand little ways, my parents’ way of living–and thus teaching us how to live–set me firmly on the path to being someone who tries to pay attention to how my life and my family’s lives interact with and impact the world around us.
And sometimes I wonder…what are my children learning from me?
This is a beautiful article…I highly recommend it. (Found at http://www.grist.org/article/2009-12-13-no-time-for-tears-in-copenhagen/)
NO TIME FOR TEARS IN COPENHAGEN
COPENHAGEN—I’ve spent the last few years working more than fulltime to organize the first big global grassroots climate change campaign. That’s meant shutting off my emotions most of the time—this crisis is so terrifying that when you let yourself feel too deeply it can be paralyzing. Hence, much gallows humor, irony, and sheer work.
This afternoon I sobbed for an hour, and I’m still choking a little. I got to Copenhagen’s main Lutheran Cathedral just before the start of a special service designed to mark the conference underway for the next week. It was jammed, but I squeezed into a chair near the corner. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, gave the sermon; Desmond Tutu read the Psalm. Both were wonderful.
But my tears started before anyone said a word. As the service started dozens of choristers from around the world carried three things down the aisle and to the altar: pieces of dead coral bleached by hot ocean temperatures; stones uncovered by retreating glaciers; and small, shriveled ears of corn from drought-stricken parts of Africa.
As I watched them go by, all I could think of was the people I’ve met in the last couple of years traveling the world: the people living in the valleys where those glaciers are disappearing, and the people downstream who have no backup plan for where their water is going to come from. The people who live on the islands surrounded by that coral, who depend on the reefs for the fish they eat, and to protect their homes from the waves. And the people, on every corner of the world, dealing with drought and flood, already unable to earn their daily bread in the places where their ancestors farmed for generations.
Those damned shriveled ears of corn. I’ve done everything I can think of, and millions of people around the world have joined us at 350.org in the most international campaign there ever was. But I just sat there thinking: it’s not enough. We didn’t do enough. I should have started earlier.
People are dying already. People are sitting tonight in their small homes trying to figure out how they’re going to make the maize meal they have stretch far enough to fill the tummies of the kids sitting there waiting for dinner. And that’s with 390 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere. The latest numbers from the computer jockeys at Climate Interactive – A collaboration of Sustainability Institute, Sloan School of Management at MIT, and Ventana Systems, indicate that if all the national plans now on the table were adopted the planet in 2100 would have an atmosphere with 770 parts per million CO2. What then for coral, for glaciers, for corn? I didn’t do enough.
I cried all the harder a few minutes later when the great cathedral bell began slowly tolling 350 times. At the same moment, thousands of churches across Europe began ringing their bells the same 350 times. And in other parts of the world—from the bottom of New Zealand to the top of Greenland, Christendom sounded the alarm. And not just Christendom. In New York rabbis were blowing the shofar 350 times. We had pictures rolling in from the weekend’s vigil, from places like Dhahran in Saudi Arabia, where girls in burkas were forming human 350s, and from Bahrain, and from Amman.
And these tears were now sweet as well as bitter—at the thought that all over the world (not metaphorically all over the world, but literally all over the world) people had proven themselves this year. Proven their ability to understand the science and the stakes. Proven their ability to come together on their own—in October, when we organized what CNN called “the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history,” there wasn’t a movie star or rock idol in sight—just people rallying around a scientific data point. Now the world’s religious leaders were adding their voice.
On one side: scientists. And archbishops, Nobelists, and most of all ordinary people in ordinary places. Reason and faith. On the other side, power—the kind of power that will be assembling in the Bella Center all week to hammer out some kind of agreement. The kind of power, exemplified by the American delegation, that so far has decided it’s not worth making the kind of leap that the science demands. The kind of power that’s willing to do what’s politically pretty easy, but not what’s necessary. The kind that would condemn the planet to 770 ppm rather than take the hard steps we need.
So no more tears. Not now, not while there’s work to be done. Pass the Diet Coke, fire up the laptop, grab the cellphone. To work. We may not have done enough, but we’re going to do all we can.