About two and a half years ago now, I left a cinema with my then fiance, (now wife), with a rather tight knot in my stomach, and a general air of despondency. We had just seen "An Inconvenient Truth", Al Gore’s film about climate change and the implications of our collective global inactivity on the matter.
had both long been greenies / conservationalists / environmentalists,
(what other sort of people would pay money to see a film like that?),
so in some ways the message was being preached to the converted. What
was so appalling though, was the whole size and impact of the problem,
and the fact that, by then, despite the overwhelming evidence,
Governments were still arguing
about whether or not it really was a problem. Our Prime Minister at
the time was more concerned with the impact to our resources industries
and how that would play out on our broader economy.For as long as I can
remember, I have quipped the line that ‘You can have an environment
without an economy, but you can’t have an economy without an
environment’ to those usually older citizens who wonder how to justify
the perceived economic impact of ‘green’ actions. Trying to then
explain triple bottom-line economic outcomes usually didn’t work.
Thankfully, the screenings of "An Inconvenient Truth" lifted the
undercurrent of concern here in Australia to the mainstream. The timing
was such that the public and media attitudes couldn’t help but move the
topic into the spotlight, and thankfully it has stayed there ever
since. Our recent change of Federal Government has moved the process
along with Australia finally ratifying the Kyoto Protocol. albeit five years too late.
been quite scary for us in the rest of the Western world as we watch
horrified at the inaction from the ‘Leader of the Free World’ about
climate change, and more so, the inactivity of the American population.
I am well aware that along with Australia, my country, not taking on
the Kyoto Protocol spoke volumes for were President Bush was at, but as
the representative from a small Pacific nation said at the recent
Climate Change Summit in Bali to the US representative, "If you are not
going to take a leadership role in this issue, then get out of the
way." It was with some bemusement that we witnessed President Bush
issue a seemingly rush press release on America’s greenhouse gas
emission levels after a recent meeting with the Pope at the White House.
So it is so pleasing to see mainstream media – Time magazine, Vanity Fair and the New York Times Magazine, to name a few – take up the matter and use Earth Week to publicise this subject through ‘green’ issues of their publications.
And it’s an article by Michael Pollan
in the current New York Times magazine that’s sparked my interest.
Pollan is one of America’s most fascinating, original, and elegant
writers who has been writing books and articles for the last 20 years
about places where the human and natural worlds intersect, often food,
agriculture, gardens. The Omnivore’s Dilemma – in which he
explains how our food not only affects our health but has far-reaching
political, economic, and environmental implications – was named one of
the 10 best books of 2006 by the New York Times and the Washington Post.
In this current article, titled ‘Why Bother’,
he goes to some lengths to explain exactly why all of us in the Western
world need to bother – "Let’s say I do bother, big time. I turn my life
upside-down, start biking to work, plant a big garden, turn down the
thermostat so low I need the Jimmy Carter
signature cardigan, forsake the clothes dryer for a laundry line across
the yard, trade in the station wagon for a hybrid, get off the beef, go
completely local. I could theoretically do all that, but what would be
the point when I know full well that halfway around the world there
lives my evil twin, some carbon-footprint doppelgänger in
Shanghai or Chongqing who has just bought his first car (Chinese car
ownership is where ours was back in 1918), is eager to swallow every
bite of meat I forswear and who’s positively itching to replace every
last pound of CO 2 I’m struggling no longer to emit. So what exactly
would I have to show for all my trouble?"
He goes on to quote former Czech leader Vaclav Havel
who has said that people need to begin to “conduct themselves as if
they were to live on this earth forever and be answerable for its
condition one day”. Pollan then suggests that "The idea is to find one
thing to do in your life that doesn’t involve spending or voting, that
may or may not virally rock the world but is real and particular (as
well as symbolic) and that, come what may, will offer its own rewards.
Maybe you decide to give up meat, an act that would reduce your carbon
footprint by as much as a quarter. Or you could try this: determine to
observe the Sabbath. For one day a week, abstain completely from
economic activity: no shopping, no driving, no electronics."
completes the argument by stating the virtues, both personal and
communal, that are achieved by growing our own food, as he says "that
the abundance of nature is not exhausted. The single greatest lesson
the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be
zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can
plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to
provide for ourselves without diminishing the world."
that Mike Pollan could be onto something here; I like what he is
saying, and will track what else he writes about. What say you? Is the
tide turning on Climate Change? Has America had it’s head in the sand?
Is it still there?