Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Intentionality and appreciation

After having traveled at home several times over the past few months, it has been reinforced to me that I am very lucky to be where I am, to have what I have. There is a uniqueness about each place and time, in my life and in yours. Observing this uniqueness is just a matter of living intentionally.

Rebecca mentioned in a comment a few weeks ago that while traveling at home is absolutely possible, it takes more "directed attention;" we might need to remind ourselves that we are actually traveling, even though we are at home. What I might suggest then for all of us is a directed attention of sorts. In a world of noise, one-hundred and forty character messages, and constant stimulation, this directed attention will likely require intention...hence living intentionally. What these words and phrases - directed attention and intentionality - may mean is simply appreciation.

I think our culture and society have ingrained in our minds and psyche a decided unappreciation. We are constantly distracted from what surrounds us by what we wish surrounded us. There is a constant urge to be somewhere else, both in time and in space. The very notion of progress hinges itself on a sort of dissatisfaction of here and now. As I mentioned previously, our I think a lack of appreciation is one of the fundamental drivers of our behaviour in the industrialised world. We are made to feel wholly inadequate about almost everything - women aren't "beautiful" enough, our smiles aren't "perfect" enough, our shoes and bicycling parts aren't the "latest." Very little of what we have already, and where we are already is appreciated. If we were to suffuse our every action with appreciation and intention, we would live against the grain of this ecologically degrading culture, and that is a good thing.

If we truly appreciate something, we wouldn't tolerate it being treated unjustly or violently. We would care for what we have and respect it. If we truly appreciate what the trees do for us, we wouldn't just stand by and watch as acres and acres of rainforest are cut down every day, whether for agriculture or for furniture. If we appreciate the air, the water, the land, take a stand, and live intentionally.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I believe that our attitudes towards people are mirrored in our attitudes toward nature, and our attitudes towards nature are mirrored in our attitudes towards people.

If we think people are "disposable," that they just constitute numbers, that their "utility" needs to be maximised, that some will lose at the benefit of others, that the worth of a human life is his or her ability to contribute to the economy, well, then we will think that nature is "disposable," that nature is just a bunch of numbers (of trees, of parts per million of our pollutants), that the only use of nature is for our aggregate utility, that our mountains and forests here in the "rich" parts of the world will be preserved at the expense of the nature in "poor" parts of the world, that the worth of nature is its ability to contribute to the economy (see for example this article about biodiversity and tree loss). Similarly, if we are willing to blow up the top of a mountain for coal, if we can sleep at night knowing that our pesticides are causing frogs to become hermaphroditic, if we are willing to dam rivers and block their progress, well, then we won't mind blowing people up in the name of "peace," we will allow people to ingest and work with those pesticides, and we will be willing to block indigenous peoples from fighting for their rights and their land.

What this means is that if we are to stand any chance of a less ecologically destructive future, we must come to a peaceableness with other humans. If we are to stand any chance of living in a world in which we respect other humans, we must respect nature. I hope to have conveyed over the past months that there is actually no difference between environmental issues and social issues. They are one and the same. Committing violence against people is the same as committing violence against the land, air, and water. Violence towards land, air and water is the same as violence towards people; it does not take a logical leap to make the connections.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Traveling at home: A bike ride through farmland

This summer, Matt and I signed up for a farm share through a community-supported agriculture programme. We started receiving our shares from Needle Lane Farms, from Titpon, MI, a couple of weeks ago. I feel fortunate to have access to such a wonderful programme. If you aren't providing yourself with food, knowing where something as basic as where your food comes from can go a long way in envisioning a different future for our neighbourhoods and communities. I truly believe that. So, I wanted to go and check out the farm, to actually see the food that I eat be grown and cared and tended for.

Matthew (different guy) and I decided to bike out to Tipton, which is around thirty miles from Ann Arbor. Matthew is from Tecumseh, which is just on the way to Tipton, and so we decided to see his family and check out the farm on Saturday, and bike back Sunday. On the way there, we of course got sidetracked and ended up in Milan, itself twenty-plus miles from Tecumseh, where we stopped for a beer and a root beer and a grilled cheese sandwich at Original Gravity Brewing Company.

The taps at Original Gravity Brewing Company
We eventually ended up in Tipton, and there met Beverly, my farmer, her partner John, and Zane, an energetic six year old who lives on the farm and helps out. Beverly, who is five months pregnant with her first, said that Needle Lane Farms is a third-generation, seventy acre farm, with all organic, non-GMO produce. Beverly, who graduated from Michigan State University, knew from a very young age that she wanted to take care of the farm, and so recently, she bought it from her father. She showed us around the farm, talked about the various kinds of soil, the plants, and her philosophy. I pick my share up from Morgan & York in Ann Arbor on Tuesday afternoon, and she mentioned that she wakes up at five a.m. that very day to pick the vegetables to make sure that they are as fresh as possible. One thing she said struck me - "When I go to bed at night, I feel really good." I sincerely appreciate her efforts, and could not ask for a more thoughtful person to be responsible, truly responsible, for the food that I eat and feed to others.



Beverly, John, Zane, and Matthew

An important piece


The ride to Milan to Tecumseh and back to Ann Arbor was on the order of seventy-five miles - seventy-five miles of small towns and open farmland and barns and horses and azure sky. For miles at a time, we were the only people on the road; we biked down the middle of the road. We biked through Cone, Britton, Morseville, Clinton, Macon and a bunch of other little towns, quaint and idyllic. It is really nice living in Ann Arbor, where nature and pasture are never too far away.

Barn along the way

Downtown Tecumseh

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Government, industry, and proxies

In a recent comment on a previous post, it was argued that with the US Environmental Protection Agency, the government is on our side. This may be true to a certain extent; indeed, the US EPA has jurisdiction over some of the most important pieces of legislation to ever come out of Congress - the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act (part of it). It is also clear that there are employees of the US EPA that truly do care about the environment, and value the data and numbers that science provide, and want to see those data and numbers effectively understood and acted upon. (I know of one personally.) Yet a government agency that works within a government-industry system of violence towards nature can in no way put a halt to environmental destruction; it may only serve to quell it at times.

As I have written about previously, we have surrounded ourselves with proxies of all sorts - we rely on others to grow our food, we rely on others to make sure we are drinking safe water, we rely on others to make shoes for us, we rely on old white men sitting in rooms making decisions about where our money is spent, whether for education or war. As soon as we give proxies, we lose our ability to have adequate control over what is done with our confidence. So, we end up with genetically-modified foods whose impacts are uncertain, we end up with potentially toxic chemicals in our water because of a 'risk-based' approach to chemicals, we end up with sweatshops in foreign nations, we end up with perpetual war. And when I see permits continually granted for fracking in eastern US and mountaintop removal continuing unabated, I conclude from these data that however we've structured our society and government so far just isn't working. How is it that our land can be allowed to be scarred permanently? Any moderately concerned individual would think that such behaviour just isn't right, even if you can't scientifically prove it (because you probably don't have the ability and access to do so). Our best interests, yours and mine, are not in mind, particularly if you have a government and industry adopting a utilitarian approach to promotion of "welfare."

If there is any hope to move away from a continuing destruction of nature, it is this paradigm itself that must be changed. This is the paradigm that allows pollution of air and water and degradation of land. And this is the very paradigm that is being perpetuated elsewhere - we now have "industrialising" countries, where environmental and ecological norms are blindsided by the euphoria of "growth" and "development." This paradigm shift needs to happen first and foremost in our minds. If we delegitimise industrial capitalism, violent extraction of what nature provides, and the social norms that constrain our actions in our minds, we may be on the road to a meaningful collective action that respects nature and its people.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The power and deficiencies of science and numbers

While I want to continue to motivate environmentally-related action as individuals and a collective, I want to spend a post or two laying out some of my values explicitly. Hopefully this will allow you to get a sense of where I am coming from, and where I stand. Where I stand is of course subject to change (I hope) as I try to be as open to ideas as I can be. I want to write a little bit about science and numbers today.

I am an engineer. I am an experimentalist studying combustion chemistry and air pollutant formation. I deal with physical chemistry on a regular basis, and am enamoured with physics. I believe in the power of science and numbers. Data are powerful, and a set of experiments well done, or measurements well made, considering assumptions and control parameters, can inform us greatly of physical processes; there is no doubt about that. Yet, I believe in the power of experience as much as science.

Science and technology have allowed for the betterment of some people's lives in various ways - many are now able to fly across the world to see glaciers and cultural artifacts of beauty. We are able to develop relationships with people we've never seen, and we can satisfy our urge to eat the exotic whenever we want to. Yet, I cannot deny, we cannot deny, that science and its application to technology has been used forcefully and violently against nature and the people that reside on this planet. We cannot deny that the power of science and technology has caused destruction on massive scales, has blocked rivers and submerged entire ecosystems, and has unleashed the power of the atom on the world, so much so we live in the fear of it "getting into the wrong hands" continually. Of course, once we have the power of science and technology, we are compelled to use it.

One of the necessary features of science and technology is to be able to measure things, whether it is magnetic fields, chemical concentrations, the flow of electrons. Therefore, if we are able to produce it, we are likely able to measure it, for measurement is a key component of production. But we can only measure to an extent. We cannot and will not be able to ever measure the entire impacts of our actions once the science and technology are let lose on the world. What do we do then? What is the power of science when our brains are so small, yet our collective actions are so vast, tremendous, and destructive?

In a comment on yesterday's post, it was argued that science is about "getting it right." However, with something like the climate change, for example, we're never going to "get it right," because it is impossible. But what science affords us is the ability of judgement, of experience. Many times, we are able to predict to a good degree of accuracy the impacts of something might be on the environment. I value numbers and data preciously, but getting them "right" is very rarely necessary; fairly accurate numbers are good enough for most legitimate purposes. The power of science then lies in allowing us an intuition from retrospective study that is forward-looking. Anyone can look at some data and see that something is wrong (or well, most people - again, climate change). But what science allows us to do is make judgements. This is more than the precautionary principle. It is experience. This experience is invaluable. We cannot allow ourselves to get bogged down into trying to get a number right on. We don't have the time for that.

And so my environmentalism is science-based. But as, if not more, importantly, it is experience-based. 

What role do science and numbers play in your life?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Submitting to "authority"

Awesome - it seems some people are reading this blog, because yesterday's post got a few of you commenting (if you can comment on the blog as well as on Facebook, I'd prefer that so that people who don't have access to Facebook can read your thoughts on the blog...), and hopefully some of you thinking. 

I don't want to say facts and data speak for themselves, because they never do. But facts can be scary, because what facts can reveal, if you are willing to accept the revelations, are gaps in what is known, and what isn't. When it comes down to chemicals we are surrounded by, the facts clearly state that less than one percent of the approximately 100,000 chemicals in use in the US have been studied for impacts on health. What the facts clearly state is that less than one percent of these 100,000 chemicals are regulated for amounts in drinking water. What the facts clearly state is that more than 3,000 chemicals are introduced for use each year.

What does all of this mean? (Here is where the debate gets going.) In no way am I saying (and I did not at all say yesterday) that everything man-made is bad; many of these chemicals will likely even never be present in our drinking water. Okay. But what about those that will be? Who knows? Will they be regulated? Who knows? Will they be harmful in large doses? Who knows? Will they be harmful in small doses? Who knows? Why don't we know? Since it is close to impossible to hold anyone accountable for what happens to us, those that stand to profit don't care about negative impacts. This cannot be contended. If those that stood to profit were held accountable, they would care about negative impacts. So what we have done here is given free reign to those whose job it is to maintain accountability and those you need to be held accountable, whatever the impacts.

Over the next few days, I want to challenge some of the comments I received yesterday, because they were thought-provoking, and because they shed light on so many of the issues I have tried to address in previous posts. I will address issues of apology, complexity, the desire for more, the scale of the issues, uncertainty, the power and weakness of numbers, and skepticism. Today, I want to write just a little bit about submission to "authority." 

With the statistics pointed out above, I believe that there are issues of trust and authority that arise. What if just one of the more than 3,000 chemicals introduced yearly (0.033%) is toxic? If the government either can't keep up with the quantities used, or is complicit in its use, and has given the liberty of production and disposal to industry, in the end, it is you and me that may be drinking this chemical in water, or your and my child may be born with it in its body.

I understand that there are naturally toxic chemicals - take the chemicals present in venom, for example, or the poisons present in plants. But there is absolutely no denying that it is scary when PCBs are present in our tissues and bodies, chemicals that are toxic in small quantities...and not only our bodies, for we live close to industrial sources, but even people thousands of miles away from industrial sources (Matthew, I confused the statistic for dioxins with PCBs). PCBs are man-made, completely and totally. Actually, their deleterious health effects were known much before commercial production began. The same is the case with tetra-ethyl lead that was used as an additive in gasoline for decades. Now while PCBs may be present in our bodies in too small of an amount to do harms themselves, what happens when your body houses a soup of these chemicals? What if PCBs and dioxins and synthetic hormones and man-made pesticides are present in nature at the same time? What are their combined effects on the environment? On our health? We'll never know. Ever. So do we just give up, and submit to authority? How can we continue to trust a system that allows us to live in such a state of uncertainty? This is exactly the position that those that stand to profit want us to be in. And what other classes are being used that are potentially bad for nature and us?

The issue is that we are willing to let people do things to us without a even a moderate assessment of impacts. How is it that we can just let this happen? In the end, if a chemical is non-toxic, go ahead, use it. But don't mess with me by using it first, then apologise for the harm it caused. This is not right. This is scary.
And enough ecological damage has been caused for me to not want to submit to the authority of government and industry. You shouldn't either.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Your toxic body

Did you know that you have toxic, man-made chemicals in your body? By toxic, I mean exactly that - carcinogenic, neurotoxic, or developmentally toxic. Of course, we can forever rely on our esteemed government to regulate the use of chemicals, right? Or how about benevolent industrialists that make products to make our lives better than ever before? Well, consider this. There are more than 100,000 chemicals in use in the US - cosmetics have at least 5,000 chemicals, and more than 3,200 are added to food. Of these chemicals, only around 650 have been studied carefully enough for the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists to set workplace air-quality guidelines for them. Of those 100,000 chemicals, only about 900 have been studied for carcinogenicity. Only 300 chemicals out of the 100,000 have been assessed for reproductive or developmental effects or birth defects. And while all contaminants (or chemicals) in our water that may have any adverse health affects are covered by the Safe Water Drinking Act, both Congress and the US EPA have had to establish priorities for developing drinking-water regulations, given the enormous number of potential contaminants (or chemicals). So when Mark Stevenson went to get himself tested for the chemicals present in his body, should he have been surprised to find around 100 chemicals in detectable amounts in his body (some estimate that our bodies carry at least 700 contaminants/chemicals)? I don't think he should have...

How does this make you feel? Maybe it makes you feel really bad and terrible. Wait, well, how does this make you feel? Practically no woman, anywhere in the world, can now nurse their child without feeding them polycholorinated biphenyls, which have entered the women's bodies after having been transported thousands of miles by wind and water, through their breast milk. You think that is bad? How does this make you feel? Actually, children not only ingest chemicals from breast milk, they are exposed to them even in the womb.

"In a study spearheaded by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in collaboration with Commonweal, researchers at two major laboratories found an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in umbilical cord blood from 10 babies born in August and September of 2004 in U.S. hospitals. Tests revealed a total of 287 chemicals in the group. The umbilical cord blood of these 10 children, collected by Red Cross after the cord was cut, harbored pesticides, consumer product ingredients, and wastes from burning coal, gasoline, and garbage.

This study represents the first reported cord blood tests for 261 of the targeted chemicals and the first reported detections in cord blood for 209 compounds. Among them are eight perfluorochemicals used as stain and oil repellants in fast food packaging, clothes and textiles — including the Teflon chemical PFOA, recently characterized as a likely human carcinogen by the EPA's Science Advisory Board — dozens of widely used brominated flame retardants and their toxic by-products; and numerous pesticides.

Of the 287 chemicals we detected in umbilical cord blood, we know that 180 cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests. The dangers of pre- or post-natal exposure to this complex mixture of carcinogens, developmental toxins and neurotoxins have never been studied."

We all suffer from what is called 'body burden.'

I'll deal with the implications of all of this next time, and what needs to be done to move away from this toxicity.

Monday, June 20, 2011

False dichotomies

This morning, I had a wonderful conversation with Ethan about turbulence. He's has been thinking about the contradictions between measurements of various turbulent phenomena, and what is 'accepted' knowledge about those phenomena. So we talked for a while, in the presence of Kristin, a Ph.D. student in English. (Kristin shares my enthusiasm for conceptions of nature and place, and has been lending me her favourite books on the subject.) At the end of the conversation, she, heretofore quiet, said, "It's interesting. The way you two were talking is just the way some conversation would happen in contexts I am in." That was especially interesting coming from someone studying literature, but it further reinforced to me the false dichotomies that exist in our society, our culture, our educations, our colleges, and our minds.

There have been boundaries erected between people and thoughts, a reductionism of the world, that pits one group of people against the other. The scientist might think, "Oh, well, you probably don't understand what I'm talking about because you are and English major." This sort of thinking has led to specialised languages that further reinforce these boundaries, these dichotomies. What it has also done has been to allow people to act within their so-called "disciplines" without a grasp, without an understanding of what goes on outside of those "disciplines." Even within "disciplines" exist "sub-disciplines" that barely have any communication between each other. This can of course be extrapolated out to larger scales and broader contexts that truly have significance on the world. Think about the BP-Macondo well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico last year. The insularity of something like decision-making for oil drilling from the implications on the marine environment is a sort of ethical framework that leads to terrible decisions, and terrible consequences. In the end, however, we must break down the dichotomies, the boundaries, and furthermore live our ethics. We must suffuse our daily activities, our choices, our lives with ethics that we can justify no matter what. There should not be any dichotomies between our lives and our ethical ideals, our moralities.

In that light, I would like to share some words with you by the Powhatan-Renape-Lenape man Jack Forbes, modified slightly by Derrick Jensen in his book What We Leave Behind. (Jensen replaced the word "religion" with "morality," but you can read it any way you please.)

"'Morality, is in reality, 'living.' Our 'morality' is not what we profess, or what we say, or what we proclaim; our 'morality' is what we do, what we desire, what we seek, what we dream about, what we fantasize, what we think - all of these things - twenty-four hours a day. One's morality, then is one's life, not merely the ideal life but the life as it is actually lived." 'Morality' is not prayer, it is not church, it is not 'theistic,' it is not 'atheistic,' it has little to do what white people call 'morality.' It is our every act. If we tromp on a bug, that is our morality. If we experiment on living animals, that is our morality; if we cheat at cards, that is our morality; if we dream of being famous, that is our morality; if we gossip maliciously, that is our morality; if we are rude and aggressive, that is our morality. All that we do, and are, is our morality."

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Traveling at home: Biking to Whitmore Lake

Marco and I took a short ride to Whitmore Lake yesterday, which is about eleven or twelve miles north of Ann Arbor. With both our bikes tuned up, we clipped in, and rode up Whitmore Lake road, which runs parallel to US-23. The ride is uphill, but the nice thing about going uphill is coming back downhill. On our way downhill, we hit thirty-two miles per hour at one point. Nice.

We stopped at Whitmore Lake...the actual lake...and sat in some shade for a few minutes. Now, while that was nice, what I was eying was the small ice cream shoppe right across the lake. I convinced Marco to forget about his diet for a second (which wasn't hard =)), and we walked into the shoppe, which had twenty-four flavours of soft serve, and, as we found out, was intent on having all local dairy products served. Marco had a scoop of vanilla and a scoop of coffee mocha ice cream, and I had a scoop of black cherry chocolate and a scoop of mint chocolate chip. There we met Samantha, who works there most every day.

Whitmore Lake
The ice cream shoppe, with our bikes parked outside.

The only thing not local were the flavourings for the shakes. All of the ice cream was from Guernsey Farms Dairy, Northville, MI.
What's your story? Where do you live, and where do you call home?
"I live in Whitmore Lake, and call Whitmore Lake home. I lived in Ypsilanti from second to tenth grade, but then moved back here. I moved out of my home when I was fifteen, and now live with a woman who is terminally ill, and whose son has Asperger's Syndrome. I showed up at her doorstep with my son, Hayden, who is seven months old...he's all smiles...and my bags, and now she doesn't want me to leave. I am finishing high school online at Kensington Woods High School, in Howell, MI. I didn't want a GED, I wanted to finish high school. My favourite subject is English. I've realised though at Ypsilanti schools are much harder than Whitmore Lake schools. I want to become an X-ray technician or a dental assistant when I am done with high school. I currently work at this ice cream shoppe six days a week. Everything here, except some of the flavourings, is local. The owner really cares about this. The ice cream is from Guernsey Farms Dairy. Guernsey is awesome. The ice cream has 16-17% butter fat, which makes it so much better than other ice creams." I totally agree.

How has this place, and the environment, changed over time?
"This place hasn't changed much, but has become a little more city like. But it really is the same smal town. There is a sense of community here. Everyone knows everyone, and when something happens, the whole town comes together. We've actually had two deaths of high school students in the past three years, and that is an example of when everyone came together. Jessie, a high school freshman, got into a car accident, and Emily passed away from cardiac arrest from alcohol poisoning. The Fourth of July is always fun here. About ten thousand people come here to celebrate."

What do you love about where you live?
"You know everybody here. It is much smaller than Ypsilanti. The graduating class at Ypsilanti High is the size of the entire school here in Whitmore Lake. News spreads though. Like when my mom relapsed, everyone knew."

Saturday, June 18, 2011

What we take as a given

I would like to continue some of my thoughts from a recent post on giving up, but from a different angle.

It is clear that we live in a culture, of wastefulness and violence. Our culture is wasteful of and violent towards what our Earth provides for us, and wasteful of the potential that lies within each one of us to take bolder actions, to move us away from the destruction and violence. Yet it seems that given all of the information we have, all the data we've gathered, there is still the belief that if we just continue what we've done so far for a little while longer, we'll be able to extricate ourselves from the mess we've created. If we turn the knobs just a little bit here, make oil extraction just a little bit more efficient there, and buy organic apples shipped half way across the world, we feel that this should suffice. Unfortunately, it will not suffice. Fortunately, we can do something about it. What we need to think about most importantly is what we take as a given, and what needs to be made obsolete, in society and culture, and in our individual lives.

What we take as a given deeply affects how we choose to address the problems that face us. If we take industrial capitalism as a given, that limits the solutions and options available to us in our decision-making. If we take coal-fired power plants as a given, we may be left only with efficiency options. However, among those making larger-scale decisions, what is debated is not a restructuring of society, of culture, but the tweaks that can be made such that we can stay the current course. It is evident to me that the severity of the issues hasn't be comprehended by those most powerful in our society. (Or maybe they choose to turn their backs on the issues because it is their choices that have caused these problems.) At the same time, many individuals feel that it is okay to use chemicals on our foods, and drink water laced with hormones. What does this mean for us, those that do not support what is going on, those that know that more needs to be done, yet are still affected by the negative outcomes?

I believe that we need to free our minds from what we've been taught to accept. We must question and view with skepticism everything that is thrown at us, because what is being thrown at us is disrespectful of our lives, our health, our world. Of course, this is easier said than done. Yet it is doable, possible, and necessary. While I hope that people can break from from anthropocentrism and extend the moral community to include the environment, even if you are anthropocentric, and don't even care about the environment, think about how you are feeding your very children food that is sprayed with chemicals (that don't necessarily wash off) that are potentially carcinogenic, that the air they are breathing can lead to asthma. Indeed, a simple thought like so can lead down a path of powerful introspection, the outcome of which is outward choices that can make a difference.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The more we have, the more we waste

Our society has created for us an illusion of plenty (to borrow the title of Sandra Postel's book on water scarcity). Indeed, if we were to look at the lawns of the households in Phoenix, we would think that there is plenty of water to go around for all of us, and plenty to spare, so much so that everyone can own uncovered swimming pools in the driest and hottest parts of the country. (Given even a rudimentary understanding of thermodynamics, you would think that there would be a massive amount of evaporation and loss.) When we go to a grocery store, we see plenty of food, so much so that we buy food not only for today, but for tomorrow, and the next week. Much of this food goes to waste; Americans throw away more than 25% of their food. Based on calories, the National Institutes of Health put this number close to 40%. When you walk into an electronics store like Best Buy, you would think that metals and plastics will continue to be abundant, so much so that you don't mind adding another LCD TV to the one you already have. A stroll through the corridors of Home Depot make you feel insignificant compared to the amount of wood neatly stacked. There must be plenty of trees out there. So plenty, in fact, that cutting one down shouldn't matter. Maybe cutting down two shouldn't matter..or three, or four...

But the issue is a serious one - not only are we maybe over-producing food, or not equitably distributing it, but we are spending massive amounts of energy, and using so many chemicals and so much water to produce that food, and that waste. As I mentioned previously, one quarter of freshwater used in the US goes into food that is thrown away. Electronics are thrown away as soon as new models appear, with little regard to what goes on to produce each cell phone in our pockets, each computer on our desks.Our society has surrounded us with the illusion of copious, even infinite amounts of things we can burn or throw away. When you have a lot, you don't mind spending it, losing it, or throwing it away. Indeed, the value of a small amount is lost. If I've bought four radishes, one radish going bad won't make me lose sleep.

Professor Princen has written at length about the idea of sufficiency, which is a huge step forward from efficiency. When we look at the Earth from space, what we see is not an overflowing, unbound teeming of life, but the finiteness of the space in which all life as we know exists - the thin layer of atmosphere, the brown of the land and the blue of oceans. Yet for some reason we think that within the finiteness of our Earth, we can grow, materially and monetarily, unboundedly. We have founded everything we rely on on finite sources, on ever scarce sources. But we (or the corporations and can always blame them =)) have put on blinders to that finiteness. I encourage you to think about scarcity and finiteness. One thing that each one of us can do is value what we have, and treat each and every thing we have as precious. Whether it is a cup of water, or a dollar bill, or a drop of oil. Many of these things are never coming back. The least we can do is appreciate.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Some thoughts on control

One of the central themes that has come up to the surface in thinking about trash, waste, and ecological harm is the notion of control. Control comes in many flavours and shades, and operates (or not) at scales ranging from extremely macroscopic (large government, transnational organisations), to extremely microscopic (the self, our being).

At times we feel as if we are in control of our lives, and at times we feel like we must move with the macroscopic flow of our societies, regardless of how we feel. At the largest level, control operates at the scale of government and industry - laws and policies dictate what is acceptable and what isn't, what will be mass produced and what will not. In this situation, there is very little that each one of us can do. It is as if decisions are made for us; for example, the electricity we use will come from coal, and there is very little I can do to stop that. Either I can choose to be a part of it and use electricity, or I can somehow choose to opt out. (This I explored in a previous post a few days ago.) Another example is that of the large economy - if the "economy is down," society is down, people lose their jobs, and that means we as individuals are down. Many people feel that there is little that we can do individually to change the situation, apart from debate with people, and hope that the imaginary forces of the market do their thing. They feel that we have to wait and hope so that the "economy is up," and so that we can resume the normalcy of their daily lives. Indeed, it seems to them that we are in control of our lives when the collective we are in, our communities, neighbourhoods, and societies, are "stable" as defined through neoliberal economics.

What we've done then is given up the power of decision-making to people that work in government buildings and boardrooms. We have given them proxies to provide us with the only choices from which we must choose. We have become reliant on others. For example, if you are fortunate enough to have enough money to go grocery shopping, you have a large variety of things to choose from. Yet what is provided to you is defined by the proxies we (the collective) have given to others to make decisions for us. You are thus provided with foods sprayed with toxic chemicals, uber-processed, and full of empty calories. This outcome not only negatively impacts our bodies, but also negatively impacts the environment. Unfortunately, the choices we are being presented are those which will continue to degrade our land, our air, our water. (This is obvious with continued expansion of something like oil exploration.) What is left then is a very small space within we can operate and exercise control. We are left with only unpalatable choices. Now, while I cannot expect everyone to be an activist (that would be awesome, though), I can encourage people to make responsible choices for themselves and the environment in the small space in which they can exercise control. Most all of us, especially those who are able to access this blog, are completely and totally empowered to exercise more responsibility toward the environment in our daily lives, and serve as role models moving forward.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

On bridging the macro and micro

One of the goals of this blog has been to explore the interconnectedness of the issues that face us, from war to medicine, food to poverty, law to nature. The problems facing us in each one of these "fields" or "bins" of thought are one and the same, they stem from the same trunk. They are branches connected to the same base, and the morality and ethics that feed any one of these branches are the same morality and ethics that feed the other. Indeed, we cannot tackle any one issue in isolation; that is the sort of reductionism that has lead to the issues and problems facing us. To paraphrase Wendell Berry, we cannot do one thing without doing many things, we cannot undo one thing without undoing many things.

More important to me, however, has been trying to articulate our role and our complicity in the creation of these problems, and to hopefully allow us to be more introspective about our positions in the world, and the power that each and everyone one of our choices, individually, have in either patronising systems of oppression and dominance over nature (and consequently people), or in taking a stand against these systems, and taking them down. Meaningful change can come from nowhere else but from within one's own life. Furthermore, the change on larger scales that we advocate for is a reflection of our willingness to be the models of that change. For example, it is entirely plausible that someone that is willing to give up something like plastic out of sacrifice and respect for the environment cannot envision the world without the existence of plastic. Consequently, when it comes to thinking about what this world ought to look like for everyone, we may have limited our imagination to a world with plastic as a given.

Now, as I recognised in a previous post, these issues are complicated, as we are stuck in systems that necessitate ecological degration. These systems are ingrained in our culture and act on scales much larger than our individual lives. Yet, each one of our lives serves as a microcosm for these systems. We form the DNA and RNA of the system, and it is our choices that determine what is commonly accepted and what isn't. In a cell, the DNA and RNA dictate the responses of the cell to stimuli. These cells in turn form the complexity that is our body. While our bodies operate at a scale much larger than our individual cells, it is the choices of the individual cells that determine the overall health of the body. In the same manner, if we, as individuals, lead lives that are healthful and respectful, caring and kind to the environment, there is no way these systems of oppression cannot be taken down. After having talked with a friend yesterday at length about the nature of the writing on the blog, I can see that I haven't continually addressed the "micro" side of issues, which to me is of utmost importance. Introspection on the micro scale is the goal, and I will try to write more consciously toward that end.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

On the scarcity argument for technology

One of the key arguments in favour of technological "progress" is the notion of scarcity. Over time, the concept of "progress" has become synonymous with technological advancement. Aidan Davision, in his book Technology and the Contested Meanings of Sustainability, says, " stability [became] synonymous with dynamic progress, for stability is thought to be founded upon the ability of social activity to overcome external limits." Scarcity is an external limit, one which moved with us everywhere, all throughout time. Humans have continued to have a remarkable tendency to deplete what sustains them, more so than any other creature than I can think of. If we were to look at some of the negative manifestations of our behaviour, we would note overfishing, deforestation, soil erosion, nutrient depletion in soil, water table decline, and so on. What this favours is then a new look at the technologies that allow us to deplete and overextract, and we of course find out that there are "better" ways to deplete and extract, such that we can get the same amount out for less input. Davison writes, "...fear of scarcity becomes fuel for progress. Scarcity is the goad that stimulates the productive fervor necessary to prevent technological society from collapsing on itself."

Biofuel research is a great example in which the notion of scarcity is fueling technological advancement, without a deeper understanding of social and behavioural dimensions to the problems facing us. Biofuels are being investigated as alternatives for traditional fossil fuels in combustion applications, the reasons for doing so differ depending on who you talk to. One of the reasons is that biofuels may have the ability to have "net-zero" carbon dioxide emissions, that is, the carbon dioxide emissions that occur through burning the fuels will then be reabsorbed by those very plants, that will then be converted back into fuel, and so on. Yet what seems to me equally, if not more, fundamental drivers of biofuel research are 1) an inability to move away from technological systems already in place (cars, planes, etc.) and 2) the drive to overcome external limits, in this case, limited fossil fuel stocks. This second point leads to all sorts of national security arguments, which I talked about in a previous War and the Environment post. In fact, much of the work being done in biofuel research is being done by the Air Force and Department of Defense.

But as has been explored by myself and Dr. Jack Edelstein, Jevon's Paradox continues to rear its head in all technological applications. Now while there is nothing wrong with efficiency (shout out to Matthew L.=)), in many cases, we actually end up doing more harm trying to move away from scarcity by making something else more scarce, particularly because many engineering designs are not modular, and therefore not conducive to modification or reuse. With biofuels, while being a step away from fossil fuels, there have been increased tendencies to cut down trees to plant biofuel crops. We therefore deplete and make scarce trees, and consequently the ecology supported by those trees, let alone affect indigineous peoples and their homes.

I believe that something powerful that each and every one of us can do is consider more thoughtfully the impacts of our choices, because in today's world, many of our choices are technologically driven. Scarcity arguments will continue to be used to research and invest in ever more diverse, new technologies based off of extraction. Yet we continue to deplete and degrade with our quest for such technologies. It is important to realise that each one of us lends our patronage to this system if we choose to participate. Now while not participating in these systems may be difficult, as I wrote about yesterday, it is entirely feasible to limit our impacts and to continue to have discussions that will hopefully make those around you understand these points of view.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

How much should I give up?

As I wrote previously, individual action and sacrifice (here, here) can be undertaken to show that some things are not valuable, but rather degrade the value of everything else because of their existence. Indeed, sacrifice and giving up have incredibly positive meanings, and the acts of sacrifice and giving up allow us to more thoughtfully appreciate the relative importance and unimportance of what surrounds us. Yet a question that always rises when any action is taken is, How much should I give up? I have written at length about how my current actions are not extreme, but are hopefully a step toward an ecologically sustainable world in which such actions would be normal. What is more difficult to determine, however, is how much to sacrifice while still being able to effectively work towards change. This question has been fresh on my mind given my recent writings on poverty and access.

I had a really long conversation about poverty and ethics early this morning with Ashley at Pastry Peddler (awesome!). Ashley is a doctoral student in social work and psychology, and is a cornucopia of thoughts and wisdom on these issues, and she constantly struggles with the urge to give everything up, and live "poorly." This is absolutely analogous to trying to reduce environmental impact, which I wrote about a couple of days ago. However, there are several issues that arise because of such actions, issues that we must be mindful of at all times.

What plagues the environmental movement generally is that many of the things that need to happen to encourage large-scale change involve some environmental damage. My typing of this post, which hopefully a few people will read and react to, is requiring electricity, likely generated by burning some fossil fuel, is requiring plastic from oil, as well as rare earth metals mined from some part of the world. In an ecologically sustainable world, however, such toxicity wouldn't exist. But right now, there are few other options available to me to get my message out. Consequently, I can, along with many environmentalists, be viewed as a hypocrite. Yet, if environmentalists were to completely give up fossil fuels and plastics, right now, at this very place, what that means quite literally is a disconnection from the communities we are trying to change. If we were to go live off of the grid, off of the land, without a car, it would be difficult for us to get our message across. In fact, it seems to me that this is exactly what those who are unconcerned would want. Our disconnection would guarantee the continuation of the status quo, which means continued ecological degradation, and injustice towards people and place.

How much can you give up while still being able to effectively act towards change? The amount that you can give up is probably directly proportional to your current ability to communicate your message to people. For example, if I were to give up everything, people would just count me as a crazy person, and would continue on with their lives. On the other hand, if I were to take some "baby" step, those around me might consider my action as doable themselves, and might choose to take that action. This is because my influence is very limited compared to other people that exist in the world. Now let's think of celebrities. In contrast to someone like myself, if someone like Miley Cyrus or Sarah Palin were to give up everything, people might actually stop to consider and think..or, well, maybe not. But you get what I mean, right?

I do believe in the end, though, that each and every one of us that is fortunate must sacrifice and give up. Many people might that would mean are depriving ourselves, but that depends on your frame of reference and how you choose to view your actions. Of utmost importance is the ability to recognise how fortunate we are to have what we do, and that we live lives of relative ease. We don't have to worry too much about whether we are going to eat, but maybe just where or what. What this means is that there must be a full appreciation of what we have. Yet I recognise that it may be very easy to go down a path in which we choose to give up everything you have. But how does that affect the message we'd like to get out?

Friday, June 10, 2011

FRACK YOU - The government-industry-university complex

I came across a piece on Dot Earth today about a recent report out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the future of natural gas in this country. What is written and recommended in this report is all that you'd expect from the government-industry-university complex that holds neoclassical/neoliberal economics as key, that is technocratic and technology-driven, that is committed in continuing behaviour that has led to ecological degradation, and that will continue to tradeoff the environment and local peoples in pursuit of broader policies. The fundamental question the study asked was, What is the role of natural gas in a carbon-constrained economy? What a lousy, narrow, and short-sighted question to ask. I fully recognise that the answers that come from such a question are those that the question askers want to hear - investing in fracking is the way forward. What is more disturbing though is the power such documents wield in policy-making and politicking, as well as the recommendation that there must be a reliance on industry best-practices, given that regulation is difficult, with an eternally constrained and curtailed EPA. Here are some key bullet points, with emphases and comments added by myself.
  • In a carbon-constrained economy, the relative importance of natural gas is likely to increase even further, as it is one of the most cost-effective means by which to maintain energy supplies while reducing CO2 emissions. This is particularly true in the electric power sector, where, in the U.S., natural gas sets the cost benchmark against which other clean power sources must compete to remove the marginal ton of CO2. (So it's not that continued energy use is the problem. It's just the source.)
  • The current supply outlook for natural gas will contribute to greater competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing, while the use of more efficient technologies could offset increases in demand and provide cost-effective compliance with emerging environmental requirements.
  • The environmental impacts of shale development are challenging but manageable. (?) There has been concern that these fractures can also penetrate shallow freshwater zones and contaminate them with fracturing fluid, but there is no evidence that this is occurring. (?) There is, however, evidence of natural gas migration into freshwater zones in some areas, most likely as a result of substandard well completion practices by a few operators. There are additional environmental challenges in the area of water management, particularly the effective disposal of fracture fluids. (to where?) Concerns with this issue are particularly acute in regions that have not previously experienced large-scale oil and natural gas development, especially those overlying the massive Marcellus shale, and do not have a well-developed subsurface water disposal infrastructure. It is essential that both large and small companies follow industry best practices. (How do we trust them? Why should we trust them? Please some one try to convince me.)
  • Government-supported research on the fundamental challenges of unconventional natural gas development, particularly shale gas, should be greatly increased in scope and scale. In particular, support should be put in place for a comprehensive and integrated research program to build a system-wide understanding of all subsurface aspects of the U.S. shale resource. In addition, research should be pursued to reduce water usage in fracturing and to develop cost-effective water recycling technology. A concerted coordinated effort by industry and government, both state and Federal, should be organized so as to minimize the environmental impacts of shale gas development through both research and regulation. 
  • The U.S. should support unconventional natural gas development outside U.S., particularly in Europe and China, as a means of diversifying the natural gas supply base.
Sweet! So there'll be money to be made, so industry is happy, there'll be more jobs, so the government is happy, and of course, there will need to be research, so universities are happy. If you were to take a look at the participants and advisory committee members in this study, you would find only those names on it who stand to profit from fracking. Indeed, the report was written at MIT, not at Lehigh University or Bucknell University or West Virginia University or any university close to the Marcellus Shale (picture below), where much fracking is going on and anticipated. The ill-effects of fracking I've written about previously, with much more to be found in the work done by ProPublica.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

On choice, poverty, and sustainability

I have written about choice a few times before, and I've tried to explore the issue in the context of tradeoffs, political consumption, and the choices that may (or should?) be available to us in an ecologically sustainable world. For the past few days, I have continually thought about the issues of choice in light of living on two dollars a day recently (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). I have realised how lucky I am that I can make choices for myself in many regards, while recognising of course that I am still embedded in an ecologically degrading society.

I would like to write a little bit about the linkages between poverty and sustainability through the lens of choice. I pulled the following graphic from the Unhappy Planet Index 2.0 website. What you see for each country is the number of planets that would be required if everyone lived a certain way. For example, if everyone in the world lived as they do in India, what this planet, our Earth, provides for us would be "enough," so to speak. If everyone, however, lived like we do here in the US, well, then we'd need more than four planets worth of provisions to fulfill everyone's lifestyles.

What is not difficult to realise is that all of the countries that are in red are the highly industrialised countries, countries with a lot of choice, and those in yellow and green are the unindustrialised or industrialising countries, countries with limited choice, or growing choice. It is clear that an increase in choice defined through natural resource extraction is unsustainable ecologically. I realised that when I lived (symbolically) on two dollars a day, I made even more sure that my hedonism and profligacy was kept in check, which I am certain reduced my burden on the world. What this meant, however, was that my choices were limited, no doubt. Yet what the above graphic shows me, given the dominant and hegemonic trends of capitalism and natural resource extraction, is that increasing choices that do not take into account ecological burdens, such as choices that have been made for the past couple hundred years in the West, is unsustainable. This is of course clear with ever new technologies and fads. But what a paradox - the countries with the most "choice" (or "freedom" as many would say) are the "richest" yet at the same time the most degrading. The poorest countries are less degrading, with lifestyles being more sustainable.

What the problem of sustainability throws in our way is the issue of limits, which necessarily will limit the choices available to people. I concede that I do not have the answer to what the choices we have should be pared down to, but I do know that this is probably not the right direction to look in, macro to micro. Rather, we should look at ourselves first, and see what it is that we think constitutes a happy and meaningful life, given the constraints the natural world puts on us. I think this is a more tractable approach.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

War and the Environment - "Green" death machines

As I've mentioned previously, there are limits to what you can get away with in a "just war," and this is the basis of just war theory. Yet when one thinks of war, one rightly thinks about destruction - destruction of physical objects, destruction of lives, destruction of nature. At the same time, what goes on in the military during non-war time is equally damaging to the environment, and people around the world. In the end, however, no matter how much the killing machine reduces its environmental impact through measures like efficiency, or building solar panels, there is a schizophrenia about these actions - under no conditions is war benign to the environment, and under no conditions is preparing for war benign, either. But you may have come across this article, in which it is stated that the US military wants to go "net zero" for energy, water, and waste.

What are interesting, but sad, really, are the military's definitions of "net zero." For energy, that means that they'll just produce on site what they need, which is a lot (the US military uses as much energy as the entire country of Nigeria, with a population of one-hundred and forty million people). For water, "net zero" means that they'll purify the water they use before they reintroduce it into the watershed (this sounds good, credit given, but I am wary of the accounting), and for waste, "net zero" means "no landfilling" bur rather converting waste into things with "resource value." Hmmm...

So the military "cares" about the environment and is at the same time preparing to kill other people and destroy lives elsewhere when it inevitably does go to war? What is the difference between humans and the environment? And when does the environment go out of the window? Of course, when we the military feels the pinch to say "mission accomplished." Gone then is the care for the environment, because if success requires another building to be blown up with a missile made from metals and toxic chemicals, then, so be it.

What is a discouraging about all of this is that since the military is such a massive institution and organisation in the US, with expenditures and presences dwarfing the sum of the expenditures and presences of all of the other militaries of the world, any portrayal of the US military doing anything "green" is lauded and commended with no thought that the very notion of war is unsustainable. Would a "green" military entice more people to join it? Would it result in committing to it more young minds and hearts, who will wield a gun in promotion of peace and "environment"? With that in mind, consider the following headline:

The Navy will demonstrate the 'Green Hornet,' an F/A-18 Super Hornet powered by a 50/50 biofuel blend, on Earth Day, April 22, at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., as part of its Energy Strategy.

You can read more here, here, here, here.

Do you find anything wrong with this? Is there something contradictory and morally depraved about this? I think so, and so does Matt, who told me about it. He said, "Last year, National Geographic ran an optimistic article, 'First Green Supersonic Jet to Launch on Earth Day.' It was a Navy F/A-18 Super "Green" Hornet(!) I was wondering how many things we could find morally/ethically wrong with this event and its implications - living plants harvested and chemically transformed to fuel a death machine to be launched on a day dedicated to our plant and the life it supports."
 couple of weeks ago the U.S. Army announced that it was on the verge of identifying a group of bases to adopt a net zero policy for energy, water and waste, and now we can all stop holding our breaths. The U.S. Army’s net zero bases were just announced and the program is even more ambitious than it first appeared. Net zero energy, water, and waste are assigned to six bases each, and two bases have volunteered to go net zero in all three categories. For those of you keeping score at home, that doesn’t actually add up to twenty, because some bases are going net zero in two categories. In any case, the point is to position the U.S. Army as a showcase, leader and learning center for sustainability, not only for the rest of the military but for the civilian world as well.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Traveling at home: Lonnie Compeau, honey, and the Old West Side

A few days ago, I heard from Barrie and Elana that there is a house on the historic Old West Side of Ann Arbor where you can get honey from, right off of the porch. They said it was close to Bach Elementary. I immediately set out by foot. I arrived in the Old West Side, and ran into the famous Jefferson Market and Cakery
Jefferson Market and Cakery
One thing that to me is very distinct about Ann Arbor compared to the other places I have been to is the sheer number of big trees. Now of course there are big trees in places out West, but I'm talking about big trees all along residential roads, just feet from these homes. Not pruned, artificial-looking big trees like you'd find in Birmingham or some other rich suburb of Detroit, but big trees just left to grow. So nice.
Big trees...
 I found the home I was looking for because I spotted the sign hanging off of the porch awning.

I rang the hand-bell on the door, but no one opened. But I decided to come back to meet the person collecting this raw honey. I did stay to take a few pictures, and get some honey, which any one, any time, can pay for by putting money into the little locked box.
I went back yesterday (without a camera) to see if someone was home, and Lonnie Compeau was sitting on his porch, fully welcoming. (Quinn Davis of the Washtenaw Voice recently wrote a long piece about him in the Washtenaw Voice.) I spoke with him for about two hours. He had a lot to say. He makes and sells raw honey, and used to sell to many stores, like the Mediterranean Market, Ed's Bread, and other places. Not anymore, though. Just off of his porch, since he's in his seventies now. But his honey is taken by his regulars everywhere, from Alaska to Algiers and Lebanon. He has worked all over, doing nuclear-related work, with tons of stories of working on campus over several decades.
A photo of Lonnie Compeau taken by Jocelyn Gotlib
Where do you live, and where are you from?
"This is the Old West Side of Ann Arbor, where many people are doing so many interesting things, where the houses are named after people that used to live here. I bought this house in 1967. I am originally from Livonia. I left high school when I was seventeen, I didn't finish, and I joined the Navy working on submarines and diesel engines. When it came to applying to college, my high school didn't want to support my application because I didn't actually finish high school, but a high school in Mississippi, where I was working, supported by application and gave me a GED. I came to the University of Michigan, flunked out of Mechanical Engineering, and went to Eastern Michigan University to study Physics. I came back to UM to get a Master's in Public Health, and then I went to work for Bechtel."

What do you love about where you live? What is unique about where you live?
"All sorts of things happen in college towns, doesn't matter if it's Madison or Ann Arbor. There are other parts of Ann Arbor, though, where uppity people live. Not here. Here you'll find students and anthropologists, social workers and architects. There is more a sense of community here and people are down to earth. On Potter St., there is an old lady that has run the Boston Marathon. I put a big zucchini out one time, and it came back in the form of zucchini bread made by her. She just left it on the porch. The houses are four feet from the sidewalk, so you have to interact with people that walk by. Not like in subdivisions, where houses are further back. Those are sterile communities."
How has this place changed over time?
A lot of the family homes now have just one person living in them, or are rented out. There aren't too many children on the street. As nice as it still is right now, there has been a loss of community. There was more neighbourliness. For example, the lady across the street would hem my pants, and I'd do odd jobs in her house in return...just as a neighbour. Nobody protests anymore, either. Regarding the environment, if you look at birds as an indicator organism, some species like the nighthawk don't lay here anymore. But populations seem to have gone up since we stopped using 2,4-D as a dandelion killer. We have more nut hatches, more wrens, more coopershawks and more woodpeckers. Since people don't leave food out anymore, though, animals like raccoons don't live around here anymore.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

My TEDx talk

On the power and appeal of individual action and responsibility

Saturday, June 4, 2011

$2/day - On knowing what's out there

Brett asked me the other day if I wanted to go to a Phish concert this weekend. "They put on a really good show, I hear!" he said. In reply, I said that I couldn't, because I couldn't afford to (this week, at least) as I am living on two dollars a day. I realised that this was probably the first time I said no to something because I couldn't afford to go. As I mentioned previously, I have never felt the shortage of money. In our world today, what that means is that I haven't felt the shortage of the opportunity to experience something. It is clear to me that money provides opportunities. If you are wealthy, you can have a summer home in the British Virgin Islands. One of the primary reasons you are able to have that home is because of the doors opened to you, the access granted to you, because of the money you have. What that means is that money opens doors, and a lack of money tends to keep them shut.

I thought about this experience with Brett, knowing all well that the concert was actually going on, yet I couldn't go. I didn't feel bad about it, because I know I'll get the opportunity to go to a concert next week, when I'm not living on two dollars a day. But what if that opportunity to go to a concert never came back to me because I just didn't have the money to go to it? I started to wonder what it must be like then to know everything that is going on around you, yet being unable to access those experiences. I thought about what it must be like to be a homeless person sitting outside the Michigan Theatre, or Hill Auditorium, seeing people all dressed up going in, after eating at Silvio's or some other nice place. There are a couple of things you might be feeling at that point, I assume (I assume, because I don't really know.) - 1) you might have previously been able to afford to go to a concert and dinner, you know what doing that is like like, and you maybe miss doing so and/or feel bad about the fact that you can no longer afford to do so, or 2) you may never have been able to afford to do so, and so maybe you don't know what it is really like, but you know that it probably feels good to be able to afford to do so.

(Spoiler alert!) One of the most fascinating scenes of the movie Waste Land, which I wrote about previously, is the discussion that Vik, his wife, and his colleague are having when the time comes to decide whether or not someone that works as a picker at a landfill should be flown out to London for an auction, since the piece that is being auctioned (made by Vik) features the picker. Vik's wife is initially opposed to taking the picker to London. "How do you think it would feel to go to into this glamourous world for just a couple of days, and then end up going back to a landfill in Rio?" she asks. Vik then raises the valid point that if he was poor, and someone came to him with an offer to move out of poverty for a week, knowing all well that you'll end up back where you came from, that he would of course take up the offer. The picker does end up going to London, and sees the art piece featuring him fetch fifty thousand dollars at auction. In the same way, I suspect that some people that have been disenfranchised and have ended up living on very little money have actually had experiences they wish they could continue to have, yet are not empowered by money. (That is not to say that these people are not happy, because I don't really know. Maybe they are.)

This week has been a fascinating experience, and has given me much to think about.