Sunday, March 17, 2019

myth: ablutions

Once upon a time, people crafted everything they needed with their own hands. They relied on each other for what they couldn’t do or make themselves. This was called community. They had community with the earth that sustained them and each other.

To ease their labor, they improved their technology. They tasted leisure and wanted more. Others saw that profit could be had from this desire for leisure. Technology, the earth and people were then diverted to make machines and to make things, rather than husbanded equitably to provide for all.

People left their crafting for what became known as work to make money to buy the things no one knew how to make anymore. People were unable to feed and clothe themselves. They did not know how to make water or heat. Because people unlearned how to heal themselves, they feared and hated death. 

Because they relied on things, their hearts forgot the meaning of community and they became attached instead to things. Their impotence created a hunger for more, a fear of losing things. Their appetite was as insatiable as their dissatisfaction. Thus community became enslaved, sacrificed, burned, upturned to produce things. 

Because it was too painful to reckon with their impotence, too painful to reckon with their appetite, too painful to reckon with their wreckage, they devised rituals to atone. Each week, they separated recycling from trash. The more zealous ones, further separated materials into compost and glass. The most pious offered their electronic offal, their electric detritus at designated shrines. Still others poured what was no longer useful into trash bags for the poor and needy. 

They emptied bins, closets and garages and they deemed it righteous. These ablutions cleansed them, freed them to consume more.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

not the but our

The park near my home has a dramatic incline ideal for many uses. Dog owners lob tennis balls for eager pups; golfers practice their aim; Independence Day revelers shoot off fireworks. And when there’s snow, it is perfect for sledding; hence its gruesome nickname, ‘Suicide Hill.’

Days after our last snow, sprinkled all over the slicked slope were remains: stray mittens, scarves and large bits of brightly colored plastic.

I wondered at the debris. If parents bring children and sleds break, did they say, just leave 'em? Or if a child trudges back uphill missing a hat or toy truck, why wasn’t it retrieved? How are things left behind? 

It brought to mind the definition of the commons: pertaining or belonging equally to an entire community, nation or culture; public.

Why do we feel entitled to use the commons but not entitled to their upkeep? Leaving behind my busted sled is a microcosm of what we do to the ultimate shared commons, earth.

This is referred to as the Tragedy of the Commons: individual users act independently according to their own self-interest and behave contrary to the common good of all users. But this is a passive paradigm; as though these mishaps or this way of being is a given, like gravity.  

Instead, we should call the Tragedy of the Commons what it is: environmental privilege.

Like other forms of privilege, environmental privilege is predicated on commodification. We narrow our perspective to a specific intention turning the commons, including who or what reside there, into a commodity to be used then disregarded as we move on to the next thing. 

Consider Mount Everest. Climbers discard unwanted materials and leave human waste, which endangers water during monsoon season. That meticulous planning and training goes into preparation for the climb without consideration of one’s impact on the actual terrain and its inhabitants, shouts privilege: class, race, species, environmental.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with sledding or mountain climbing. But in both instances we function out of entitlement to silo our interaction with the commons. 

This blinkered paradigm is killing us physically and spiritually. As Jacqueline Patterson, director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, points out, ‘instead of commons, we have sacrifice zones: public areas-forests, mountains, oceans and rivers choking on the debris we leave behind.” Good grief, we even ditch wreckage in outer space.

Since words shape ideation, environmental privilege plays out in the language we use.

Recall the definition: pertaining or belonging equally to an entire community. The park by my house to Mount Everest to the ocean is not really the commons. It is our commons.

By no means does belong  here imply license to exploit according to one's whim as when ownership is wielded by the ignorant, arrogant hands of entitlement. No. If something belongs to us, then we belong to and are responsible for it. Belonging equally. 

Take the word commons. Ever received a postcard from there? Yea, no me neither.  Because there is no such place. The commons is always a specific convergence of longitude and latitude. It is where a host of beings, human or otherwise, live. 

What do you imagine when I say the beef industry utilizes the commons for grazing? If we have a notion cows graze in a vague somewhere (the commons) we need not think of it. Ambiguous language creates distance, a privileged position. What do you picture when I say the beef industry utilizes the Amazon for grazing?  Once ruminants requiring pasture are placed in the Amazonian rain forest, we can imagine ramifications.

And given that we have a dozen or so years to address our climate catastrophe, this is exactly what we are called to: imagine ramifications.

To do so we must throw off our opportunistic language and siloed ideation. Throw off commodified engagement that fosters distance. 

We are called to a deeper, farther reaching belonging; to and with one another, to and with everywhere latitude and longitude converge. 

If you think it's impossible to have relationship with 'everywhere,' I invite you to take inventory of your food, clothing, furniture, vehicles and technology which come from all over our planetary commons.

But we are not called to the commons. We are called to communion. 

Imagine the possibilities. 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

it’s just peanut butter, right?

Dear Mothers,

I can’t win.

Even when it's something as ordinary as peanut butter, there are variables the sum of which equal a purchase I can feel good about.

I want organic. And not just for my health. While workers at organic farms endure what amounts to slave labor practices, at least they aren’t inhaling and touching poison like the men, women and children working chemical farms (in Doublespeak: conventional farms).

I want only peanuts. Not sugar. Not HFCS. Not hydrogenated vegetable oils. Go figure.

I want a glass container.  Recycling is undergoing a major shift and its future is unclear. Besides, I don’t want to support the petroleum-military-complex any more than necessary by buying plastic.

Buying glass means:
1) I can recycle it via Ripple
2) it'll be turned into something useful right here in our region
3) I'll be supporting a local business = supporting local families
4) less petroleum use
5) less plastic being shipped somewhere far for recycling or landfilled

Yes, all this goes through my mind as I shuffle through pretty much any store quoting Michael Douglas (albeit for different reasons) in Falling Down: “this whole shelf is suspect.” 

After navigating a vertical mile of PB, I finally found this:

organic peanut butter in a glass jar

I was so ecstatic, I missed this:

Palm oil is definitely NOT part of my good purchase equation.

Each time you see the words palm oil understand it means the loss of habitat. Translate that into dead orangutans. And elephants. And tigers. Understand it means the loss of indigenous, independent ways of life for a people. Understand it means the eradication of a carbon sink. Translate it into climate refugees. 

Sacrificing people + the planet = cheap food. In this equation, no one wins. 

Momrades, it is soul death to deny what we know in the service of variables that do not equal our integrity. If we do not make these seemingly minor choices with integrity, how will we train for the significant decisions climate change will force upon us?

Thursday, November 8, 2018

every vote counts

Dear Mothers,

I voted today, November 8, 2018. Yes, after the big election. Did you?

I went to the grocery to buy something for my fifth grader. Her class is having a party where they’ll be bobbing for apples. Only instead of apples, they want clementines.

I was asked to buy at least three bags for the 25 students because they may bob multiple times. As you may know, clementines don’t grow in the Midwest in November. The clementines I found were from Chile. That’s right: three bags of fruit from Chile for a class party.

Needless to say I lost my shit.

Here’s why.
1)   Do these students even know where Chile is?
2)   Or that this fruit traveled over five thousand miles to get here?
3)   Or that Chile is semi-arid and citrus is a water-intensive fruit?
4)   Do they know what fruit grows where?
5)   Or what fruit grows when?

If you’re going to eat something you didn’t produce yourself then at the very least learn something about where and who it came from and how it got to you. That is how you live, not just say, grace.

6)   Did they consider what conditions are like for those working the clementine groves?
7)   Do they know the majority of agricultural workers around the world are female, subject to unspeakable violence and little representation? 
8)  Do they know that climate change experts warn if we don’t change we’re essentially driving ourselves to extinction?

Caught in the web of capitalism, we are constantly buying things we need, desire or are required to (really basketball couch, my oldest daughter needs another set of Nike warm ups?). Last week we bought candy for Halloween and soon we'll be preparing for Thanksgiving. Many of our goods are made with palm oil. No doubt slave labor is involved because we like our stuff cheap. 

For the handful of days we go to the polls, we take the time to study the issues and candidates to make informed decisions. However the average American spends up to $100 daily. Beyond how an item fits our specific need, do we research its entire cradle to grave impact? That'd be like voting for Ocasio-Cortez because I like her lipstick. And yet daily we buy shiny without knowing its environmental and species politics. 

Capitalism is how we vote literally everyday.  And capitalism is killing our planet.

So Momrades, can you understand why I lost it?  

In the era of climate change, I’m buying three bags of clementines from Chile. If every vote truly counts, then in essence, I am casting my vote toward present-day injustice and the destruction of our children’s future. This is not how I want to vote. 


a momrade

Saturday, October 27, 2018

dear mothers,

I’ve been thinking about you. Every time I read about climate change I wonder if you’re reading too and what passes through your mind. My mind is on our children. I think about the things we do to prepare for their future. In fact we’ve been preparing since before they were born, haven’t we?

We ate the right foods, studied birthing options, became vigilant about safety and consulted Those-Who-Went-Before on everything from poop viscosity to piercings. Now my oldest is studying for the ACT. My middle practices her debate skills ALL. THE. TIME. and my youngest transforms every room into a Ninja warrior arena. I'm sure your children are pursuing adventures of their own. And I see you.

I see you at PTA and recital. I see you shuttling to practice then to Target for poster board while deciding which is less unhealthy: Sonic or McDonald’s as you live a life on the go, accommodating their busy schedules.

I see this in light of what I know about climate catastrophe.

I’ve been blogging about we’re doing to our soil, air, water and other living beings for nearly a decade. I also work in the environmental field with people striving to change corporate culture and public policy. I participate in workshops to increase communal awareness about a future worse than the dystopian novels my oldest is fond of.

And you know what? I’m often the only mom there with kids at home. That’s right. Rarely are there parents with school age children at gatherings focused on the planet’s health.

Where are you?

Of course I know where you are. You are at soccer, tutoring, driving  carpool, making dinner or helping with homework. 
You are attending to your child's present needs to ensure their well-being down the road.

Yet based on all existing evidence--beyond the scope of practices, meets and SATs--that future we’re preparing them for, won’t exist.

It won’t exist because everything on our planet is falling apart. In life’s relay, the earth we’re handing off to them is not the one handed off to us. What we don’t think about—stable weather patterns, breathable air, viable soil, clean and plentiful water, thriving ecosystems—is in severe crisis. The hopes we have for our children are predicated on a planetary stability that is profoundly disintegrating.

I often think we are the swindling tailors in the Emperor’s New Clothes. We weave pure illusion, duping our children regarding the naked facts of their eminent peril.  What we're currently doing will not ready them for the reality to come.

Our schools aren’t preparing them.
The enrichment activities we’re frenzied over won’t either.
Ironically, the externalized costs to the planet via fossil fuel expenditure and resources consumed for these activities jeopardize their futures even more.

Are you up at night wondering how to equip our children for this unprecedented reality? I am.

Only this time we cannot consult Those-Who-Went-Before. There isn’t a virtual or actual community sharing tips on how to thrive as a climate refugee, or after your island has been submerged, after the rivers have become toxic or dried up, after FEMA leaves or declines assistance, after the entire forest has been razed or burned. Or when you literally walk thousands of miles away from the only home you’ve ever known because there’s nothing to eat.

You know what else keeps me up at night? Children, just like ours, across the world, suffering because this future is already their present.

Ah but we’ve been here before, remember? When we first found out we were going to be mothers, we peered into a great unknown.  At the brink of that unprecedented reality, compelled by love and necessity, we got busy.  We prepared.

It’s that time again. 
In fact, we're already past due.

a momrade
Image result for climate refugees

myth: ablutions

Once upon a time, people crafted everything they needed with their own hands. They relied on each other for what they couldn’t do or make t...