Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On "resources"

I come back to the use of words and how words shape our thoughts, and the meanings we prescribe to the world around us. I have had particular trouble with the use of the word "resource." When one mentions the word, anyone's gut would say that a resource is something that is drawn upon and used whenever wanted. I wanted to see how the authorities of English define the word, and so I did a basic search to see how different dictionaries define the word "resource." Here's what I found.

"A stock or supply of money, materials, staff, and other assets that can be drawn on by a person or organization in order to function effectively" ~Google definition search

"A country's collective means of supporting itself or becoming wealthier, as represented by its reserves of minerals, land, and other assets" ~Google definition search

"Something that one uses to achieve an objective, e.g. raw materials or personnel; A person's capacity to deal with difficulty; To supply with resources" ~Wiktonary

"A resource is any physical or virtual entity of limited availability that needs to be consumed to obtain a benefit from it." - ~Wikipedia 

"Personal attributes and capabilities regarded as able to help or sustain one in adverse circumstances" ~Oxford English Dictionary

Such definitions say a lot about how we view our surroundings and people. When something is coined a "natural resource," we implicitly state that it is only in its use that that particular thing in the environment is valuable. Also such a definition draws dangerous boundaries between our actions and their effects. We fail at recognising the important role that something serves without its explicit use. Even when we conserve a resource, we imply that we are saving it for later use. Now, if someone's goal is to prolong the use of something, conservation makes sense. The concept of sustainability has been morphed into one of sustainable "development," with conservation being one of the key pillars of development. But this is only a stepping stone to where we need to be.

What conservation may result in is just a slower use of a resource, without leading us to question the behaviours that lead to consumption and degradation. We operate then with the same broken cycles of existence. The notion of a resource then is dangerous. The essential thing that the definition of "resource" connotes is that things are limited, because we live in a finite world.

Professor Larimore said last night at dinner that Native Americans don't have the notion of "resource." This is something Derrick Jensen would agree to. Rather than view something as solely for the benefit of humans, things have worth and importance in themselves, and have unique positions in ecology, each with their own energy, their own role. When something is "used" by humans, there is a responsibility in the end for that thing to end up back so that someone or something else can "use" it. The notion of a resource then, would be counter to Native American philosophy. Think of the things that you consider "resources" in your life. How would the way you interact with them change if you no longer called it a "resource?"

Monday, August 29, 2011

FRACK YOU: The tyranny of energy

As an engineer, you are trained to think about the flow of energy. Efficiency, a key concept in engineering and design, is basically an accounting of energy. But energy isn't only something that is confined to engineering. Rather, it is a basic feature of all of nature. We live because of the energy of the sun. Food provides our bodies with energy to keep us alive, breathing and warm. Weather is Earth's response to the flow of solar energy. The fossil fuels we burn is stored energy from eons ago. To live, energy must flow through us. But for the past few hundred years, we've wanted more and more of it, and our living has been conflated with how much energy we can use.

This world is using more energy than ever before, and we're looking for newer and newer ways to extract it from this Earth. The less abundant it is, the more we have to search for it, and the more we are compelled to do whatever it takes to find it. As you can imagine, none of this is benign. For all the hullabaloo, natural gas, which "clean" burning, is in no way cleanly obtained. Fracking has been the latest type of energy extraction to tyrannize this Earth and its people. Here are some responses to Sandra Steingraber's recent piece in Orion, When Cowboys Cry.

"While reading Sandra Steingraber's column, I thought of a recent visit to my father's ranch in Montana, where I confronted the aftermath of hydrofracturing. The land had an alkali sheen to it; little pipe installations were everywhere, and the ranch and road had obviously been flooded many times. I had seen this place once before - when it was a retreat for the coal company that owned it - and it was beautiful. Now, my father would cry to see it." ~Iris Blaisdell, Gardnerville, Nevada

"Sandra Steingraber is right to point out the threat hydrofractuing poses to groundwater. The implications are especially worrying in the Upper Peninsula of my state, Michigan, which is crisscrossed by spring-fed waterways from west to east. All through the state - along roadsides and deep in the woods, where people stop to collect water in containers - an amazing number of these clear, drinkable fountains erupt from hillsides. Others babble forth from smaller openings in the earth and join together to make drinkable creeks and tannin-colored rivers - all of which end up in the Great Lakes, which hold almost one quarter of all the fresh water on the planet. In the midst of this network are hundreds of old farms whose owners and families straddle poverty, and whose acreage is targeted by energy companies for fracking. What dispossessed farmer could resist the cash?

I was out recently at my favorite hillside water fountain, lively with frogs and trillium and jack-in-the-pulpit. The beech trees, too, are still there, along with their store of nuts that feeds nearly everything in that forest. I approached the water, and I drank. I still can - but for how long?" ~Bob Vance, Petoskey, Michigan

"The tyranny of energy corporations described the Sandra Steingraber has also visited my community in rural Ohio. The township where I live has more signed leases for hydrofracturing than any other in the state, and local politicians and lease signers are happy to believe the claim that fracking has been going on harmlessly for decades. Nothing seems to matter except quick cash. My neighbors have signed leases, and as a result, the spring-fed pond and well from which I drink are in peril. When my well and all those surrounding me are fouled, none of us will have the "opportunity" to sell our homes and farms and move elsewhere - no one, after all, wants to live in a toxic dump." ~Karen Kirsch, Marlboro Township, Ohio

Sunday, August 28, 2011

An honest effort

This post is inspired by my mother's thoughts on my last post, We all start at different places, hopefully to end up somewhere together. She said,

"It's when we recognise the problem, that we have to do something about it. Thats the reason most people don't see or address the problem. It requires effort to change something. Most people don't want to make any effort. It is easier to ignore the problem, and live, than make an effort to change it. So people will always complain about things but rarely will try to find a solution. Effort is the key.

For the privileged, there are few worries. Yes, everyone has their "stuff" that they worry about, but never do we think that we won't have enough food to eat, water to drink, or a place to sleep. The stresses that we face are of a different kind - will I get the particular job I want? Will I be able to get on the very flight I want to be on? What section will I be seated in for Michigan American football games? For many of us that are privileged, it is easy to get through life with few worries then.

Most people do not want to make any effort. By effort I don't mean going to the ticket office to get your tickets (although nowadays everything can be delivered right to your doorstep, including groceries.) What I think this culture has done has allowed many things to be a black box for us. We are able to flip the switch in our living rooms and get light. But what we fail to recognise is that we invoke a massive infrastructure of power lines, engineers, operators, fossil fuel combustion or nuclear fission when we flip the switch. We are unappreciative of the light, but complain when the light fails to turn on. As Aidan Davison has written, in Technology and the Contested Meanings of Sustainability, there is a dichotomy between means and ends.

We have done then is forsaken effort for convenience. I recognise the "effort" (or subtle slavery) that we put in to earn money so that our lives are convenient. But this isn't the effort that I am talking about. The effort I am talking about is the one that is required in response to doing something that is required to lessen our burden on the world, to demolish walls of inequality, to march ardently on the path to sustainability.

What this does is make us think that many things are available without effort. At most the effort that is required for light is the flipping of a switch (and paying the bill), but no more. This then translates seamlessly into thinking that others will solve the problems for us, if they ever arise, and that no effort is required on our part. We hope that the ethereal, murky worlds of politics and policy will result in concrete and tangible outcomes. We then think that effort is not for us. We forget what effort looks like, and what it entails. And then we end up becoming blind to problems, or unwilling to recognise them.

This effort required is more than the convenient and easy, like changing light bulbs and taking cloth bags to stores. These are stepping stones. An honest effort is required of us to stand up to the problems we've created - a moral, ethical, behavioural, spiritual, rhetorical effort.

Friday, August 26, 2011

We all start from different places, hopefully to end up somewhere together

It's been about a year and a half since this project commenced - my choices have become subconscious now, and I no longer have to think about "trash-free"ness or things of that sort. I think that if you are committed to something, if you are committed to personal change, you move from one state of subconscious to another state. It is difficult to say when that transition happens - it is a sort of gray state of mind - but the changes are real, they are hopefully permanent, and they hopefully serve as a foundation to the continual journey that each one of us needs to embark on to achieve a lasting harmony with people and place.

Everyone talks about sustainability vaguely, many times using lofty rhetoric or abstract words. But what does sustainability mean in our daily lives? What does dealing with climate change really look like? The best view you will get will be from your own experiences, given that change is something you are willing to accept. Indeed, talk dealing about sustainability and climate change without fundamental changes in our worldview and our daily behaviour is impossible; anyone telling you otherwise is either lying or not acting in good faith.

What we do know is that this culture, the burdens it puts upon us, our choices, and their subsequent reinforcements to culture are all unsustainable. They are unsustainable in different ways, depending on where you live, where you grew up, and what your current subconscious dictates you do. I grew up in India, and it didn't seem "natural" for me to able to buy something as readily as you may here in the US. At the same time, for people that grew up in the US, not using toilet paper doesn't seem like the accepted, the culturally defined way to be. Of course, in the end, this is a very unimportant example compared to something like the accessibility to personal transportation and so on. But it serves as an example, a tangible example of the spectrum of detail that we must address, of the spectrum of choices that different people in different places will have to make. In the end, the places we must adapt to are the places we live in. Each place is unique, and each place has its own pressures. Sustainability here doesn't look like sustainability there.

But we must recognise, admit, and fully accept that we have a problem. It is only then that we will be willing to do something about it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Blind and/or psychopathic

Today, I want to write in response to a comment I received on my post The chink in the armor, a couple of days ago. Here is the comment.

"Kyle, as you may have gathered from the rest of the blog, Darshan wants to replace corporations with a pre-industrial anti-human "society," or, ideally, with the extinction of humanity. He doesn't want to live in a world with complex things like cars and computers--he wants to live in a world where rocks are afforded the same status, dignity, and moral weight as humans. Everything he ever writes expresses a deep hatred for humanity and freedom, and a love of totalitarian destruction of civilization."

Of course any thoughts contradictory to the status quo trample on the freedom of those who have benefited most. These are the "free" who have given themselves and their kin the "freedom" to destroy. Such sentiment comes from a deep psychopathy - of remorselessness, of insensitivity, of violence.

Freedom is a contradictory notion because we afford freedom to those most powerful, and then oppress other people to deal with the situations we've created for them. No better example than Delray in Detroit, where years of neglect and injustice by the powerful have put people in a situation they cannot escape from. In essence, the freedom of the powerful takes away from the freedom of the not-so-powerful. Many might say that people are free to do as they please. If someone doesn't like where they live, they can pack their bags and move away. Such thought comes out of either an ignorance of the world, or a knowledge that those being oppressed cannot be let free, because if they are, they might tell everyone else of the reality of their situation, making others want to take the powerful down. So instead, the powerful act innocent about the state of other people's lives and the environment, and live their lives as if nothing is wrong. Such an existence is devoid of even the basic moralities we would hope anyone to have.

In general, we are always told we have "freedom". We are free to vote and choose leaders to serve us. We are free to spend money in the way we choose to. But that’s where the train stops, because all the while, we have created behemoth structures and organisations, and even larger problems. When it comes to addressing these bigger issues, we are intimidated, beaten down and told that the problem is too big for each one of us to address. In a sense, we are told to make choices for ourselves, and just forget about the bigger picture. I've realised that we are given freedom when that freedom serves in the interest of behaviour that inevitably leads to ecological harm, but if we were to take a stand against this, we are labeled “tree-huggers” and “job-killers.” There is then an inherent contradiction between independence of choice, and the powerlessness to solve big social and environmental problems. We have the freedom to “consume” but not the freedom to change what it is that drives ecological degradation. 

Our right to freedom does not allow us to freely destroy. There is almost a libertarian sense that I get from hearing some people speak, how entitled they are to their possessions and belongings. What they fail to notice are the extreme injustices that lead to their entitlement. Those that support large corporatism are those that have benefited most from it; they aren't the ones living in Delray or Sumpter Township or Fox Township or the Niger Delta. When you disaggregate the costs and benefits, a feature of large corporatism, you disaggregate your ability to perceive wrongdoing. Or maybe it is the other way around. Actually, that's probably how it is.

People have today been enslaved because of circumstance. Many people actually believe that "working in sweatshops is better than what they would be doing anyway." How do we come to accept this? Why should sweatshops be the best people can be afforded? Because there is a hierarchy of power in this world. People at the top would not have it any other way. They want to keep you and me from speaking up against the injustices we are inflicting on the environment and people living in that environment. This is the corporatism that must fall.

And so my intention is a resolute take down of a system of society that on its face is one based on concepts of "justice" and "equality", but in the end is one of a subtle yet debilitating oppression, and the complex web of corporatism and government, the way we've structured them right now, does exactly that. The "humanity" we've created for ourselves blasts this Earth and its people to smithereens. This is not the humanity I subscribe to.  

One thing no one can argue with is the physical finiteness of this Earth. Conservation of mass, energy, and atoms dictate it. What this means is that if there is 100 of something, and I take one of them, there are only 99 left. Yet we act as if we can take all 100 with the blind faith that there are 100 left. Unfortunately, such people do not understand basic truths about nature. This is the physical world. Well, what about the emotional world, the spiritual world? There is luckily an infinity here, because we can always be kinder, we can always be more just, we can always show more love. What limits us is just the breath in our body.

The problems we face are of our own doing. Cutting down trees remorselessly for biofuel plantations and blasting through soil to get to tar sands are a rape of the Earth and its people. They are a result of mental and emotional constructs of society and economy influencing our physical presence in this world. And the only way they can be fixed is by fixing the source of the problems - this society, this culture. This is a culture that is founded on benefits for some, costs for other, and a privileged dishonesty about these costs. Thest costs move beyond just cost on human lives - this culture is oppressive and violent.

I like to ask myself the following. At what cost am I able to live the way that I do? Taking coal from underneath the ground inevitably degrades the ground, because we are incapable of doing anything benign. We are incapable of not leaving a trace behind. Instead, we pillage and plunder, and we'll blow the tops off of mountains. And the people that are doing the blowing up do not care, because they aren't the ones living in the valleys of West Virginia. They are probably living in their suburban homes, with their well-manicured lawns and big cars. They likely produce two trash cans full of toxic waste a week. No one would live in the place they degrade. Only psychopaths have the ability to somehow convince themselves that they are working in the best interests of other people, when they clearly are not.

We act far from "civilised" in the true meaning of the word. We act in ways that are indicative of moral and spiritual voids, ones that we feel we must fill with materialistic junk and physicality. The culture we live in depends on the Earth more so than any other culture in history. We use almost every element on the periodic table, we extract more and more petrochemicals and cull virgin forests and use more water than ever before. Exposed here is a deep contradiction that the privileged seem to not want to appreciate. In their efforts for "conservation," they use. In their use, they degrade. Technology as we conceive it is founded fundamentally on use of material, not on personal development and education. And yet it is a culture that degrades this Earth exponentially and categorically.

Things don't have to be this way. If we were to take a deep look around us, to observe, and really observe, and think about the complicated systems at play, we can boil much of this ecological injustice to very simple things, but things that would take diligent effort, thought, and consciousness to address. Or we can buy into what those that are privileged want us to think - that just because you are afforded the luxury of a car or computer or home, that things are good everywhere else. Of course, people have a tendency to surround themselves with people that are similar to us - similar in socioeconomic status, people of similar skin colour, people of the same political leanings. Perfect. This is what the oppressors want us to be like. They do not want us to think about what is wrong, they do not want us to look to the other side. Delray is cut off by I-75. Landfills are placed many miles from where we live. Africa is several thousand miles away. Sweet. Out of sight, screw what is happening there. This is a reality we are forced to believe. A reality of mirrors. We see ourselves, and then others like us. We do not see the other side.

And by the way, if you are going to bash my writing and thoughts, at least have the courtesy and courage to tell me who you are.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Heirloom living

It is late August, and you know what that means in a college town...move out. (Most moving in college towns happens in the beginning and end of summer. In Ann Arbor, that means in late April/early May, and late August/early September.) Walking the beautiful streets of Ann Arbor, it is difficult to pass a couple of houses without tons and tons of stuff piled along the sidewalk. This is the stuff that people are choosing to discard because they just don't want to deal with lugging it to their next living destination. As you probably know, most all of this stuff is perfectly functional and usable. In the beginning of last summer, I was taking my early morning walk to the bus stop when I came across such a large pile of stuff. I saw another man going through the heaps, and we started talking about all the stuff that we've found in the move-out season. The man said, "You wouldn't believe the things I've found in such piles before. I've found four iPods and two laptops, all is especially those East Asian kids...they leave everything behind when they leave."

Growing up in India, things were sparse, not because we couldn't "afford" things, but because my parents wanted to teach us that you don't need much to live, and that we must always strive to live simply but wholly. Most of India is a hand-me-down society. I would wear the school uniforms my elder brother wore, I would use the books my elder sister used (and then pass them on to someone else who would use them for a year, and give them back to us because my sister would be ready to use them, given she was a couple grades/standards behind me), and so on. And when things fall apart, they are mended back together generally. The only new things we'd get (apart from maybe a new pant and shirt each year, maybe) would be new notebooks. It would always be so exciting to open those new notebooks.

Wendell Berry has said we are not materialistic enough. What he means by this is that we do not value all of the materials we have invested in as much as we should and we do not recognise what has gone into them. In talking to many people here, suggesting that maybe what they are looking for is available at a second-hand store, they say that they "are fine with buying new things," which I take to mean, "I don't want anything used." I fail to see how used things are gross, or how they are less functional than new things, of course barring for planned obsolescence. All of this comes in a culture of transience, and its effects spill over onto human relationships, and relationships to place. A culture of transience fails to attach meaning to anything, which allows us constantly devalue and denigrate what we have.

Lia wrote beautifully about meaning, material and heirloom living. She wrote,

"You can have all the objects in the world.  So what?  Is your life so much better (than someone who has no objects) because you have an adroid phone, or a big screen TV, or this season’s newest sweater that you will only wear 5 times?  You are the one that gives them meaning.  You are in control of that choice.

There is so much unused stuff in this world.  Why not try and use it as much as possible?  Why not find and appreciate these objects, build that meaning?  Human ingenuity gives us the power to make objects, but I don’t think that’s what makes us human.  I think it is instead our human capacity to appreciate, to build webs of meaning, to be responsible, and clever, and artistic with the raw materials of life."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The chink in the armor

A profound and powerful corporatism is driving our world. We rely on corporate boardrooms for most every aspect of our lives. Even "public goods", ones that not all of fully support, like defense and military spending, are influenced heavily influenced by corporations. They are growing ever more powerful, and the government is relying ever more on them. Take for example the public-private partnerships that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson hails as the next big step in the quest for more efficient cars. Or the American Insurance Group, which our government called "too big to fail."

How is it that these social constructions, corporations, have become so powerful? I do not claim to know much about this. But no one can deny their power, so much so that many "environmentalists" think that working through the corporate world can yield larger changes than work through the policy world. This may be true, but it does something that I feel can be dangerous - it further legitimises their existence. Furthermore, I am always skeptical of the benevolence of entities that exist to make a profit. (Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil's Dictionary,  has defined a corporation as "ingenious device to obtain individual profit without individual responsibility.") Corporations as they stand must be taken down. As Scott Russell Sanders has written, "We need to restore the original definition of a corporation as an association granted temporary privileges for the purpose of carrying out some socially useful task, with charters that must be reviewed and renewed periodically by state legislatures."

At brunch yesterday morning celebrating Krista and Serge's wedding, I was in the company of some very astute people, and Professor Emeritus Ann Larimore (of Women's Studies and Geography) was one of them. (I am growing heirloom tomatoes in her front garden.) She has been highly involved in politics and activism, and thinks deeply about issues of justice and environment. She said, "There is a question that I have been asking for about five years now, a question that I do not have an answer to, and a question no one has been able to answer. With corporations, where is the chink in the armor? Is it possible to take them down?" Corporations have continued to find chinks in the legislative and regulatory armor of the government. There has to be a chink in their armor. We must take the metaphorical sword to them. We must.

As I wrote about yesterday, our individual activism must be projected outwards to coalesce into something social, something bigger than ourselves. I would be fascinated to see how our anti-corporate individual actions can form a movement big enough to find the chink in the armor, bigger than boycotts, bigger than buying local, more fundamental and more powerful than government regulation. Thoughts?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The path from here to there

I question myself at times. Am I doing enough to combat the problems I see in the world? I know I am not, because if I were, I would hope to see much less strife around me. And thinking that I am doing enough can lead to a moral stagnancy and a privileged complacency. Such thoughts are rife with entitlement. Of course there is a sense of satisfaction in small steps. But where we need to be isn't a quantum step from here, but rather a paradigm shift from here. Where "there" is is unclear, particularly because while I can envision a small farm being self-sufficient, the scale of the problems cannot be solved by envisioning a small farm somewhere. We need small farms, of course, but we also need massive structural changes around the world. How can this happen? What is the path from here to there? There are likely an infinite number of paths from here to there, but they all fundamentally need to be founded on a new ethic of our place in the world, the articulation of which is this blog's primary goal.

The journey that I believe we must all be involved in is one of observing, introspecting, changing the self, and then projecting the self outwards. Let me explain a little bit more. We must first face the world openly, and be open to being affected by it. We cannot disconnect ourselves from what we observe and the emotions it evokes in us. That means being affected by observing a homeless person, and being affected by observing the dumping of chemicals in rivers, and being affected by observing discrimination. Such observation allows us to question underlying assumptions we have about the world, and how we are complicit in those outcomes (homelessness, pollution, discrimination, etc.). In the beginning and in the end, it is us who add or subtract legitimacy to structures that perpetuate these problems. I believe this introspection is absolutely essential. The changes we wish to see in the world can come from nowhere else but from our own lives. We must question our morals and ethics, and put ourselves in other people's shoes, not the shoes of the elite and privileged, but those of the oppressed and disenfranchised. Where we go from this point on is a matter of responsibility. As I said previously, for those of us who have realised and understood the degrading effects of this culture, we cannot let others not know. There must be a projection of ourselves outwards. Only this will allow change on the scale that is needed, a scale which is larger than ourselves, but guided and influenced by changes in our own lives.

This process mustn't stop, because we mustn't stop observing.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Reconciling behaviour

We live our lives in ways that ebb and flow with the times, and it is a true that we are born in a time, and that we must live in that time. Nostalgia and reminiscence are nice and fun, but they cannot take away from the fact that life is lived now, or it is never. This doesn't mean that we accept all of the norms of the time we are in. Rather, the way we view the world must be nuanced and interpreted under the lenses of history and experience, as well as the immediate experiences we go through. Put more plainly, we must learn from the past, understand how the past has influenced the present, and see what needs to be done to avoid continuing behaviour that wreaks havoc on lives and this Earth. But even though we've gained a lot of knowledge over the past two hundred years, we've gained very little wisdom. Wisdom stands the test of time. Much knowledge can be fashionable.

It seems to me that there are two kinds of action or behaviour - those that are fashionable and ephemeral, and those that are true and good no matter what time or place or situation you are in. ("No duh," you might say.) It is clear that many fashionable behaviours, like industrialisation (it's been too long a fashion cycle, you might say!), are those that cause ecological degradation, and those that are good no matter what time we live in, like kindness and respect, are those that seek to preserve and sustain this planet. There is a dichotomy between scales here - industrialisation is a larger scale of activity than our individual lives. Why do many of our collective behaviours directly contradict our individual beliefs? I wrote earlier that the moral fabric upon which they operate is defined through the collection of our moralities. However, in the process of the weaving of the fabric, individual moralities are averaged out, resulting in a destructiveness that was from the outset unthinkable. 

And how do we reconcile what we are doing now with what we should be doing, individually and collectively? I believe there can no reconciliation, other than appreciating the effort that some people and some organisations are making in trying to better this world. More importantly, however, there can be no reconciliation, because the way we behave just isn't sustainable. This is the crucial point; we cannot eat our cake and have it too. If we cannot agree to the sustainability of our of individual and collective lives, then there's no reason to continue behaving the way we do as individuals, and there is no way we should be allowing larger organisations to behave in ways that are against the values we preach as individuals.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

One more time...

It's election season again. Can't you tell?

Today, I watched Texas Governor Rick Perry's speech in which he threw his hat in the ring for Republican candidate for President of the US. The man is a forceful speaker, zealous and passionate, and you can tell that he is a firm believer in what he stands for. But I had a hard time understanding his arguments, and why people were cheering his every word. Many of the things he said were things we have heard before, in the last election...and the election before that...and before that...that "the USA really is the greatest last hope of mankind," that "it's time to get America working again," that "change" needs to be brought to Washington, and he is the man to make it happen. Change is a platform nearly every candidate at every level of government has run on, it's just Obama that articulated that message more eloquently than others.

And one more time, we are requested to vote, to pick a side in this toxic politics, a politics that pays no heed to you or me, or the Earth we tread on, the air we breathe, the water we drink. Yes, we now have a plethora of environmental laws that have been passed to "protect:" the American people, and yes, there is much more we could be doing to effectively use those laws to ensure a less polluted present and future. But I am not reassured by the short-sightedness that characterises elections. Candidates seem to be interested in stemming the flow of blood, while the infection grows deeper, evermore complicated. Someone might say, "Well, that's what sells, Darshan." While this may be true, I wonder when time will come when a truer picture of our actions will be painted for voters, if ever.

I do not mean to harp on Rick Perry, or any candidate for that matter, because most all of them look the same to me, regardless of party affiliation. Each candidate seems to cling on to a bullishness that pervades this culture, that we are the best, that we have the "greatest fighting force on the face of this Earth, the US military," that our economy is the only way an economy can be. (In the end, the only differences between policies of the dominant parties are cosmetic.) Some people might mistake bullishness for optimism. Actually, there is a vast difference between the two. Bullishness says we can do no wrong, we've never done wrong, and that "we are the greatest last hope of mankind." Optimism builds on experience, with an understanding that people and institutions are fallible, and that we can remedy our mistakes, and hope that we don't do them again. Indeed, optimism comes out of a security in knowing that we can do better. Bullishness, on the other hand, comes out of insecurity. This insecurity is well-deserved - social structures like "health care" and "social security" and "the economy" are crumbling all around us. They have been propped up by burdening ourselves and the future with ecological crises that are truly vast.

I would hope that each one of us has the optimism that we can envision a vastly different future for ourselves, one in which we consider the impacts of our choices on our communities and neighbourhoods, those that we live in, and those that others live in. We must bear in mind that regardless of what economy and politics we subscribe to, a pristine environment is more important than them. We must reject the bullishness of our ways by recognising the deep insecurities of this violent culture. We all want this world to be a better place, and for that to happen, we must be better people.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Money and good work

Listening to an episode of Being from a couple years ago, called The Soul in Depression, I thought about how the most meaningful parts of our life, the ones with the most visceral and emotional impact on us and those around us, have nothing to do with money. Rather, it is the things that are immeasurable that can truly shape and change our being in this world, whether it is family, friends, a nice conversation, a good piece of advice, a flower, helping someone in need, a nice meal in your backyard.

I cannot deny the importance of money in this particular culture, and I can understand the need to "work" for money, especially for those that have been oppressed in this culture. But "work", and what what this culture likes to equate work with - a "job" - are two totally different things, unfortunately. The "jobs" people have are more often than not a mindless slavery, wholly unsatisfying and undeniably degrading.  By work, I do not mean only what we do at our "jobs". I do not mean only what we do to earn monetary compensation that we can then trade for something else. I also mean are the things we choose to do with our time. Of course, I would hope that the jobs people have are of their choosing.

And those people that do the most valuable (not in a monetary sense, rather, in an immeasurable sense) work in this world, work that is founded on respect, care, nurturing, and kindness are those that are least compensated by money. Whether it is being a social worker or a psychological therapist, a good parent or an environmental advocate, this is the work that is most challenging - it allows us and forces us to expand our moral imaginations, while at the same time exposing the contradictions of this culture, its carelessness and ruthlessness. How can we structure this all-encompassing work, which includes our "jobs", such that it is founded on respect, care, nurturing, and kindness? Maybe such work will allow us to tread lightly enough on this earth so that our physical presence vanishes quickly, yet our emotional presence endures, while at the same time enriching the experience we have on this planet. Good work nurtures what nurtures us.

It is obvious that many of us are trapped in situations in which we feel the push and pull of life in this culture and society. Many do things, have "jobs", that they don't like to support what they like. But why have we structured an entire culture and society on this notion of unhealthy work? Even when we are unemployed, we are drawn back almost zombie-like to an economy and culture that is counter to good work. I've realised that we cannot buy back what we've lost, and so why lose it in the first place? Why not vigourously, ardently, steadfastly protect what we cannot afford to lose, like our environment? Why not expand our moral imaginations to encompass those people and places we don't know, now and in the future? This is radically different from the "work" we do nowadays - of fighting militarily, of extracting and pillaging and plundering.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

On legacy and time

Time is several things. It can be a measure of experience. The more we go through, the more time we feel has passed. The two weeks my class and I spent in Detroit felt like two months, because the sum of the experiences was tremendous. On the other hand, time might mean something very different for the Hadza in Tanzania, who lead hunter-gatherer lives. Michael Finkel, a journalist who spent time with the Hadza, met up with them in the following way. (I love this story.)

"Merely getting this far, to a traditional Hadza encampment, is not an easy task. Year's aren't the only unit of time the Hadza do not keep close track of  - they also ignore hours and days and weeks and months.n The Hadza language (Hadzane) doesn't have numbers past three or four. Making an appointment can be a tricky matter. But I had contacted the owner of a tourist camp not far outside the Hadza territory to see if he could arrange for me to spend time with a remote Hadza group. While on a camping trip in the bush, the owner came across Onwas (the eldest member of the group) and asked him, in Swahili, if I might visit. The Hadza tend to be gregarious people, and Onwas readily agreed. He said I'd be the first foreigner to ever visit the camp. He promised to send this son to a particular tree at the edge of the bush to meet me when I was scheduled to arrive, in three weeks.

Sure enough, three weeks later, when my interpreter and I arrived by Land Rover in the bush, there was Onwas's son Ngoala waiting for us. Apparently, Onwas had noted stages of the moon, and when he felt enough time had past, he sent his son to the tree. I asked Ngoala if he'd waited for a long time for me. 'No,' he said. 'Only a few days.'"

The Hadza have been living in the same place for tens of thousands of years, and are successfully living there right now. Does this have anything to do with how they perceive time?

What about when we are gone, those of us embedded in this degrading culture? What do we leave behind? Will our time on this Earth have mattered? Will our individual lives have mattered? What does time mean in this case? There seem to be two components of our legacy - a physical component, and a less physical, but more emotional and spiritual component. The physical component is comprised of things like trash and non-degradables, buildings and art. The emotional and spiritual component is comprised of what we strove to do with our lives, the impacts of our words and deeds.

When it comes down to it, what do we want to leave behind? I would hope that once we are gone, our physical impacts on this Earth should be as little as possible. Any imprint of our physical existence should decay quickly, or just not be there at all. Trash then becomes a massive problem. And anthropogenic climate change is a physical legacy, too. I would hope that where we once tread, only flowers return year after year, no toxicity, no degradation. What about the emotional and spiritual legacy? I would hope that the good work we do on this Earth, our words and our deeds, have a longer decay time than our physical legacy. But first and foremost, our work must be good, our deeds must be good, our thoughts and actions must be good.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The loss of nuance

With the scale and vastness of the problems that face us, it is difficult to not view these problems as monolithic problems. This is not to say that "poverty" or "climate change" as problems are disputed. But what these problems mean for different people, in different places, is different. This is something we cannot get away from, and something that comes up time and time again in thinking about sustainability. What this means is that the outcomes of these problems in different places is different, and it depends on where you lie socio-economically, and so forth. Climate change means something for us here in Michigan than it does for those in Zimbabwe. Consequently, how to deal with the problems changes depending on where you are.

But if you were to hear any politician or any large engineering firm PR person speak, you would think that they have the answer to the problem (however they choose to define it). You might hear someone say, "What we need are two hundred solar energy farms in Arizona, and all of our problems will be solved," or "We need to create a large entity that will regulate and oversee how things happen on Wall Street, and our economic problems will be solved." You might notice that party A wants to do B, and party Y wants to do Z - it's simple black and white. Party A thinks that B should solve it all, and party Y thinks that Z will solve it all. The real issues, and the real solutions, are more complex, and more nuanced than this.

And so this sort of rhetoric is dangerous for many reasons. First, it makes us think that the problems are monolithic. Second, it makes us think that the solutions to those problems are monolithic. Third, it makes us think that they have the solutions (to the problem that many times they created in trying to solve other problems), not us. Fourth, it reduces our thinking to sound bites and Tweets. The problems we face are because of the loss of nuance - the bulldozing of unique places and cultures to give them all the same feel, the homogenisation of tastes and of "development." This is why people think that lawns in Phoenix are okay. 

The loss of nuance is seen in our education, in which we are trained to be one thing or the other, a doctor or an engineer, or a sociologist for that matter. We've applied the same mentality of "secularity" of science and technology to our society and to education, and we are now seeing the outcomes of such a mentality. The problems we've created for ourselves (yes, we) are so vast and intricate that there cannot be blanket solutions. Yet at times what science and technology, government and industry want to do is to centralise these problems, and apply blanket solutions.

As a first step, we must get rid of this reductionism in our lives, though, and not bin ourselves as A or B, but rather a complex melding of A and B, as well as C and D. To give you something to think about, complete the sentence for your life -  "I am not solely an engineer (or whatever you are), but I am also..."

Thursday, August 11, 2011

On entitlement

A couple of days ago, I was listening to an episode of On Being. The guest was Barbara Kingsolver, and she was talking to Krista Tippett about the ethics of eating. Barbara Kingsolver used to live in Phoenix along with her husband and two children, but then decided to move her family to a farm in Virginia, which they had been regularly going to for several years. The reason why she moved was because she realised that the food that her family was eating was coming from very far away, and that from an ecological perspective, this was terribly damaging. She is right, of course. And so over the next year, she and her family grew their own food, prepared everything themselves, ate seasonally, and so on. What struck me most, though, was the fact that rather than staying in the Sun Belt of the US in Arizona, (which has the second fastest growth rate of all states in the US...consider the fact that between 1990 and 2000, the population of the Phoenix metropolitan area grew by 45%) she moved away from it, recognising its role in the unsustainable society we've created for ourselves.

Places like Arizona and the arid West have bloomed from damming of rivers, there is no doubt about this. Yet while people have been moving in droves to these places, their expectations have remained the same. Wherever we go, we want what we've had in other places, and if this comes at the detriment of the environment, then so be it. Take a look at this picture of suburbia in the Phoenix area, which shows parts of Ahwatukee, Chandler, Gilbert West Valley, SW Valley, Scottsdale, and Mesa. You see most every house accompanied with a lawn, maybe with some desert vegetation. And so even when we move to an arid region, we expect our physical landscape to look like that from the water-rich Midwest. In places like Phoenix, outdoor water use for things like lawn account for two-thirds of resident's water use. As Chris Martin, a horticulture professor at Arizona State University mentions, "If you withhold water, desert plants do use less water, but your yard looks like a desert. So there's this big paradox. People say,' Well, I'll plant desert vegetation, but I want it to look green and healthy, so I'll irrigate it so it grows like crazy.'"

There is an entitlement that pervades this culture, an entitlement that allows us to conflate our rights and our wants. Clearly, having a green lawn in Phoenix is a want. But the fact that water from the Colorado River is being channeled to Phoenix under the facade of abundance allows us to demand, almost righteously, that the water be available for whatever we want to use it for. This is the same entitlement that allows us to not think twice before eating a strawberry in winter. It is the entitlement that allows a continued export of a materialistic "development" philosophy to other parts of the world, in the expectation of course that it will benefit us more than it will benefit them. In the end, however, we all lose with this philosophy. Our right to freedom does not allow us to freely destroy. Further, our entitlement to this freedom doesn't mean that the way we've behaved so far is the only way we should behave. What we must do is break from this entitled, abundant past, and accept and embrace a scarce future. We cannot continue to expect that we can have both ecological protection and rejuvenation and a continuation of the lifestyle we've grown accustomed to, indeed, entitled to.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I gave up toilet paper...

Prior to the start of this journey, I had already stopped using most other paper products, including paper towels, paper plates, and so on. I had decided not to use these things for obvious reasons. I had always blown my nose in the sink if I had to, or used a piece of cloth. But at the start of this journey, I did I gave myself just a little bit of leeway. I decided that I would continue to use toilet paper that went down the toilet know what I mean...

We moved to India when I was seven, and at that point, we had grown a little accustomed to Western-style toilets (although they are certainly less comfortable than plain old squatting toilets). So, we had these Western-style toilets installed in our apartment, and these toilets had water jets that would spray-clean you. Toilet paper was super expensive in India, and no one really used toilet paper. I guess they made some for the expats that just couldn't fathom not using toilet paper. Sometimes my dad would bring some toilet paper when he came from the US, felt like him bringing little trinkets. "TOILET PAPER! YAY DAD! WE LOVE YOU!"

Since then, of course, we moved back to the US, and quickly got readjusted to wiping our asses with toilet paper. Sometimes it is that really rough stuff that just plain hurts. But of course, that soft stuff is really ecologically degrading. (Side story: When I was working in Belgium at the von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics, I rented a room from a lovely elderly Belgian couple. They were super-rich. The house was a mansion. They provided the toilet paper. It was luxurious, actually. Quadruple ply. Have you ever heard of that?!) I mean, it's paper. It comes from wood, or recycling of other paper. All bad. (read here, here, here, here for facts and numbers)

But when this who no-trash-waste thing started, for some reason, I thought it was unreasonable to expect me to give up toilet paper. For many people, it is the personal stuff, maybe just one or two things, that is difficult to give up or sacrifice. (Of course, sacrifice is wholly positive.) It is almost like some invasion into your being. But then I thought, that's what this whole project has been about - about showing that it is possible to make changes and question what is thrown at us, and to consider our daily habits, the almost ritual-like motions we go through without thinking about them. Deep-rooted in this culture's psyche is its obsessiveness with its sanitary ways, toilet paper and paper products chief among them. The ecological impacts of our standards of sanitation? Hmmm...we really need to confront the "gross" factor. And so a few months ago, I gave up toilet paper. I just decided to come out to the world today and say it, and show that it can be done. That's right. No toilet paper. No "recycled" toilet paper, no toilet paper whatsoever. I use a little water bottle, And take it easy, I still use soap.

It works, and it feels so much better than wiping your ass with a piece of paper.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Money - What the rich cannot afford

We have a government that spends money on practically everything, including more than six hundred billion dollars each year on a military machine for "peace" and "democracy." We have a government that at some point decided that it could afford tax cuts on the richest and most powerful in the country, to the tune of two trillion dollars over the lifespan of the cuts. We continue to borrow money from other nations, and the citizens of this very country, to finance government spending. There seems then to be no dearth of money, or "value" more generally in this country. (The value I am talking about here is not what something means to you emotionally, but rather the hard currency value of a "good" or "service.") This country affords to do a lot, and chooses to do things that it thinks it can afford, especially in the name of economy.

If you've spent even an ounce of time reading the news over the past two or three years, you cannot go once without hearing some talking-head or reading some headline about how this nation's, and the world's economy is in peril, that we are in a "recession," and that "investor confidence is low." But it is very difficult to get away from the fact that even in a recession, this country generated on the order of a fourteen trillion dollar gross domestic product (GDP), a quarter of the world's total. Hard to argue with data from one of the very defining institutions of this economy, the World Bank.

The GDP is an indicator of the "value" of goods and services in the economy, and you are right in thinking that this is a "money" value. Of course, the GDP isn't measured in smiles or hugs or quality of the land, but rather dollar or currency terms. Looking at equations used to calculate the GDP, I do not think I am incorrect (I am no expert, of course.) in assuming that the value of these goods and services are tradeable, which is basically what money is an indicator of - the tradeability of value. So, there's a lot that this country can afford to do. I mean, fourteen trillion dollars...

What the numbers tell me is that the economy doesn't care about you or me or your neighbour. It does not care about what is happening in Ann Arbor, or in Detroit. It does not care about the quality of water you are drinking. The way we've structured the economy, especially in our minds, is that it is endless, and that the only way for it to exist is for it to consume itself, for the furtherance of itself. And so what is tossed at the wayside are the air we breathe, the water we drink, and everything that sustains us. But when it actually comes to thinking about life and the environment, we cannot get past the monetary value of the "services we are provided." It seems as if this is the only language we understand. Whether it is a cost put on your life in the cost-benefit analysis done by some government agency, or the monetary value of "ecosystem services," a Pigouvian tax that necessarily results in a degraded environment, or just plain old Pareto-optimality, a monetary value is essential in determining the fate of the environment.

And yet, at every climate change negotiation, at every mention of the phrase "protection of the environment," we are told that this country just cannot afford to value the environment. "We promise we'll protect the environment voluntarily. We'll agree to this accord! We'll also come up with the best new technologies that will not only save the environment, but will spur innovation, grow the economy! Win-win-win!"

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Monday, August 8, 2011


I have written several times about the role of language in shaping our perceptions of reality, of the problems that face us, and what we choose to do about them. I want to revisit language today by writing a little bit about the importance of questioning.

With much of this recent debt talk, and "bail outs" of governments and corporate entities in the European Union and the US, I wonder how long we can continue to think that the problems our society are dealing with are superficial - that we're spending too much, that we aren't collecting enough taxes, that interest rates need to be kept lower to encourage borrowing (let alone the ecological problems facing us). I wonder how those that have the power to do something about these problems are actually framing the problems. I wonder if they ever wonder about the problems, "Why?"

The importance of this question cannot be understated. because it leads us down a path of questioning that inevitably leads us to question our morals and ethics, those parts of our mind and spirit that guide our behaviour toward people and place. Such questioning would allow us to stare in the face of our deficiencies and weaknesses, as well as strengths and positives. Indeed, it allows us to gain a fuller understanding of why we're facing the problems we face. If we aren't able to clearly articulate what "the problem" is, how can we have any faith that "the solution" will do anything for us? Will the so-called "solution" just worsen the situation?

And so the question "Why?" plays a powerful role in framing and articulating the problems that face us. It allows us to use language, to construct other questions, to point out alternatives that hopefully take us in directions that are novel and meaningful. The language we use broadens or narrows the scope of our imaginations. It seems that we are being held hostage to a narrowed, myopic imagination. What is needed more than anything else at this point in time then is a broadened imagination, a broadened morality, and more meaningful dialogue regarding the problems that face us.

Each and every one of us uses the question "Why?" in the metaphysical sense all the time. We wonder why we are on this Earth and why life came to be the way it is. And while the metaphysical is fascinating, it is easy to lose ourselves in such thinking. What about this world? Our society? This culture? I think we need a thorough application of "Why?" to the physical consequences of our society and to our daily actions and choices. If we are unwilling to tackle the problem head on, in our individual lives, in our collective lives, the solution is only going to make things worse.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Money - Skewing value

While many may feel that a monetary value assigned to something is an accurate reflection of its worth, especially in relation to other things, it is not difficult to see that this is patently untrue. Until recently, our society placed little value on those features of our world that provide us sustenance, all in the name of a mythological progress. And when we do try to value, we have a tendency to undervalue.

On the other hand, the values that different people attain through the same monetary value are very different. A one thousand dollar diamond is worth close to nothing (if not having a negative "value") to some, while the prestige of having such a rock on your finger is worth those one thousand dollars and even more. It is not difficult to see then that people can resort to unseemly acts for prestige and power. Money, as a recent comment on a previous post suggested, turns hegemonic, wielding an influence over our lives that is intoxicating.

Furthermore, as is mentioned in this episode of This American Life, and in the essay by Scott Russell Sanders in Orion, money itself hinges on a social compact of its value. How we've allowed something fictional such as money guide our behaviour, rule our emotions, and physically affect the real world is puzzling. We have allowed it to dictate environmental and social outcomes, rather than allowing the reality of our existence, and that of the world, to temper its value.

I wonder about scenarios in which we decide whether or not money is able to be used as a medium of exchange. Rather than predicate our behaviour on the guarantee that money will transfer hands, could we  predicate our behaviour on the guarantee that we preserve and nurture what sustains us, and relegate money to being a token of appreciation?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Experience it for yourself

I grew up in Mumbai, a mega-city if there ever was one. The pollution there wasn't as invisible as it is in many places here in the West. You could see the pollution every day, maybe barring the rainy days. This isn't like intermittent smog events because of temperature inversions that may envelope a city for a day or two. No. This is constant. If you haven't experienced this, it is hard to describe. And so it goes that our choices, our daily choices, here in the West, or anywhere else, are made without an understanding of their implications on places far away from us in this globalised world. In fact, one need not worry about a place far off like India. Just look around you. The implications of our choices are all around us, if we choose to look.

If we are then made to talk about sustainability, dealing with climate change and social injustice, without an understanding of our choices or how we've gotten to this point, our vantage point is one of an unemotional elite, one of privilege. It is very easy to recommend that we need more efficient cars and computers to power our society, without seeing the destruction that is caused in the preparation of these cars and computers. And of course, those that have the power to make such policy decisions are generally those who are furthest away from the impacts of those decisions, while benefiting the most. It is unclear to these decision-makers the true "costs" of building a bridge, or deciding that a rainforest should be converted into a biofuel production facility. Have these decision makers lived a life of hardship? Have they cut down a tree that has supported native peoples? Furthermore, the scales of the decisions being made, with their environmental finality, with their centralisation and a lack of nuance, and at times downright arrogance, have the potential to further worsen the situation. And therefore, such decisions cannot be made in a vacuum, whether at an engineering firm, or the state capital, or the White House.

I'd like to end today's post with a quote from one of my student's journals, who was writing about his time in Delray, Detroit, for the class on neighbourhood sustainability I was helping teach last semester.

"This trip has made me realize, first hand, the pains of environmental hardship. You can be told things many times and still never understand fully what you are being told. It's not until my eyes burned, my throat was scratchy, my lungs were continually being vacated of air from the coughing that I could really understand. I smelled some of the foulest air I have ever inhaled, and it was all different varieties. I don't blame that lady who leaves two or three days a year because she just can't take the smell mixed with the heat. I wish they cold all get up and leave forever, but then again, I wish they didn't live in a situation where that was the best option."

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Contradictions of "progress"

I feel as if I always return to thinking about what "progress" means. I have written about this concept in many forms, explicitly (here, too) and implicitly, over the past months. It is a notion that has caught on almost everywhere in the world - that we must "progress" from the dark ages of yesterday and today, and seek the future.

Yet this progress is an unsettling one, in many ways. It is unsettling in its current scope, and it is unsettling in its outcomes. The scope of progress is clear when you can have massive institutions and organisations such as the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund dictating the rules of engagement in a globalised world, with real, tangible consequences for people not in the global North. The outcomes of progress, unfortunately, have led to massive ecological disaster and climate change, and an acceptance of trade-offs in decision-making that puts costs on those people and places that have borne the most. This is in no way denying the gains that have been made for many, but at what cost and to who? I still can't get past the mess we have gotten ourselves into.

And so, I am constantly struck by the inherent contradictions that exist in this culture - we have "freedom", but we are constrained by the rules of a violent capitalism, we have "progress", but we are undermining what it is that allows us that progress. What has been missing from all of this, therefore, is introspection. No one in their right mind would think that we can constantly degrade what it is that sustains us. Leaving money to future generations in no way brings back clean air and water and land, things that people will need regardless of how big their pockets are.

If you were to ask someone what is meaningful to them on a small scale, in general, they would inherently say that well-being of their family, their community, their friends, their surroundings is what they are most concerned about. So then why does the "progress" we subscribe to on a larger scale inherently undermine all of these for others? Why is it that we strive for an increasingly interconnected world, in which we can interact with people of different cultures, but are unaware of the potential impacts of our actions on them are?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The American Dream?

This is a picture from outside the Delray Community House in southwest Detroit. In the foreground you see a new playground. In the near background, you see the incinerator at the Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant. Notice the brown coloured effluent coming out from the smoke stacks. That effluent made the entire neighbourhood smell noxious, so much so that many residents leave the neighbourhood for a few days every year because the heat mixed with the smell are just too much to handle. Add to this the pollution of thousands of semi-trucks, an oil refinery, a cement factory, a steel factory, and what you have is a full-blown environmental disaster.

This is Detroit, the very definition, the soul, the beginning of The American Dream.

The people of Delray (see posts under the theme "Sustainable neighbourhoods in Detroit"), and many of those still residing in Detroit and other parts of the Rust Belt, have borne the brunt, the downside of The American Dream. The American Dream - of convenience, luxury, independence (as expressed through the automobile), and disposability - was envisioned when the world was thought to be abundant and plentiful for all. As has been explored throughout this blog, however, this dream was founded most fundamentally on a materialism that has required, and continues to require, a violent disturbance of nature. And as has been reiterated again and again, any violence towards nature is automatically translated into a degraded place for life. What follows are the very worst sorts of injustices and behaviour - of discrimination, of abandonment, of negligence.

The people that haven't been able to escape the so called "decline" of the Rust Belt have been those least able to leave, because of that invisible yet profoundly tangible hand holding one back - oppression. The people of Delray know this all too well. My students and I witnessed this first-hand. It is these people (and of course, the environment) that have borne the costs of the benefits we so glibly accept as our natural rights; they continue to do so day after day. They deal with corrupt government officials, they deal with inhumane corporate officials, and most sadly, they deal with our negligence of them. Think about it. This isn't some "Third World, developing country", this is Detroit, the heart of the US, thirty-five miles from Ann Arbor, the elite college city. This is happening right under our noses, within biking distance of our homes. And we are contributing to this situation.

We like to think that it is the "developing" world that needs "sustainable development", but first, let's look in our backyards. Let's see what we are a part of that is causing such injustice towards the world, in our backyards. If we all strive to make where we live a better place by not taking advantage of other places, I believe we will be on a path towards sustainability.