September 28, 2013

Wake Up: Garbage Trucks Ready to Dump on Your Lawn

It's a fine, sunny morning in the fall, with just that nip in the air that says summer is really over. You take a deep breath, savour the freshness of the air. At breakfast, you open the paper. The front page headline says that garbage trucks are poised to dump their load onto every lawn in your town.

You figure such a thing couldn't really happen in a nice, well-to-do town like yours. You move on to the Lifestyle section and read, with interest, about Kanye West's latest caper with the paparazzi. Now there's a juicy story.

But suddenly, you become aware of a deep rumble. You realise it's the sound of hundreds of garbage trucks, deployed all around your neighbourhood. You forget your breakfast and run outside. At the end of the street is a line of garbage trucks. One has your address pasted on its windscreen, like the destination on a public bus.

Then you remember: Your town has a long-standing garbage problem. It doesn't have a landfill, and tipping into other landfills is prohibitively expensive. Meanwhile, households are generating an increasing amount of garbage from stuff they've bought, convenience meals, and all the other contraptions of modern life. So a long time ago it was agreed at a town meeting that everyone could tip their garbage into a truck, for free. But when the trucks were full, they would dump their contents onto the town's lawns.

What do you do?

(A) Go back inside, calmly eat your breakfast and finish reading the article on Kanye West, while waiting for the truck to dump its load onto your lawn;

(B) Call your neighbours and form a human chain across your street so none of the trucks can come in;

(C) Call your township office and tell them to call off the garbage trucks while you and your fellow townsmen re-negotiate the contract. Even if that means committing your family to generating a lot less garbage from now on.

What am I really talking about?

September 25, 2013

Teach Your Parents Well: Children's Views on Climate Change

“My parents talk about the beautiful country that we live in. Now I only see small pieces of it, which is enough to make me happy, but because the climate is changing I won’t have anything to show my children.”
    —Mohammed, age 15, Maldives

The children we love so much are the ones who have to, or will have to, deal with the consequences of the actions of adults over the past 150 years. And they know it. Indeed, many children are already experiencing the consequences of global warming in their daily lives. Strangely, we adults have forgotten to think of them, and to ask their opinion on the planet they will inherit from us.

But that doesn't mean they have no opinion. UNICEF has gathered views on climate change from children all over the world, and included some of their responses in a 2007 report, "Climate Change and Children", and in a 2013 report from UNICEF UK, "Climate Change: Children's Challenge". This post is a compilation of selected quotes from those reports.

Children are smart. They have their eyes wide open. And they have no pre-conceived notions of the world the way adults do. Their observations are direct, their conclusions straightforward. For instance, how both drought and flood can lead to hunger:

September 19, 2013

How My Children's School Greened Me

Welcome to the September 2013
Natural Living Blog Carnival: Extending Natural Living to the Classroom.

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Natural Living Blog Carnival hosted by Happy Mothering and The Pistachio Project through the Green Moms Network. This month, our members are talking about how they extend their family's natural lifestyle to their child's school. Hop around to each post to get some tips and share your own!


Confession time: I never did much toward greening my children's school. On the contrary, it greened me.

Oh, I had taken the first baby steps: I worked very hard to have a natural childbirth, fed my babies organic food, gave them very few toys but plenty of time for outside play, kept television outside the house, that sort of thing. I put my toddlers in bike seats, but because it was fun; I never thought of carbon emissions.

It turns out I accidentally kept a chemically "clean" house. But it was only because I was (still am) lousy at housekeeping and needed to keep things simple, so I kept one bottle of soap that I used to clean everything. Air fresheners were beyond me. I did recycle. Then again, I used whatever shampoo was on sale; never heard of parabens.

So I did my best, but looking back, it's clear to me I really didn't know pip-squeak about green or natural living.

Then ViolaPlayer went to school.
(Okay, we started in a Parent-Child class, so nobody was thinking about violas then). It was then that our green journey really accelerated. More than that, rather than feeling that we were sending our child out into the world of school, we felt that we were coming home.

September 18, 2013

Let's Talk with Our Children about Global Warming, with Sense and Sensitivity

There are a lot of myths, misinformation and outright lies out there about sex. That's why parents talk with our children about it: to enable them to make informed decisions, and so they know not to believe in outlandish notions like "you can't get pregnant if it's your first time", or "drinking Mountain Dew will prevent pregnancy". (I am not making this up; more common myths about sex here).

Similarly, there are a lot of myths, misinformation and outright lies out there about global warming. "We humans didn't do it", or "Even the scientists are confused about it", or "It's not happening".

But global warming is happening, and climate scientists agree that we humans are causing it. And since it is our children (and their children) who will have to bear the consequences, the least we can do is to give them the straight dope. While not depriving them of hope.

So let us talk with our children about global warming, and let's do that with respect and sensitivity: to who they are, to how old they are, to their emotional wellbeing. Let us first listen to them, get a sense of what they already know, and go from there. Just like when we talk with them about sex.

September 16, 2013

Global Warming Denialism May Have Origin in the Victorian Frame of Mind

In the face of ample scientific evidence that the earth's atmosphere and oceans are warming, and that the global warming is caused by humans, why do so many Americans (47%) believe that humans don't have a hand in the global warming ? Why is it that 13% of Americans aren't sure that there is warming at all, and that a further 8% are sure that there is no warming?

Climate scientists in particular are baffled by what seems like a stubborn refusal by a surprisingly large part of the American public to accept what the scientists see as the self-evident truth. What the scientists see looming in our future is deeply disturbing, and they are vexed by the lack of will to ward off what can be described as nothing less than a catastrophe on a planetary scale.

Where is the disconnect?

There is a lot of hand wringing over scientists' inability to communicate the science to the general public. I don't buy that argument. Climate science has been brought to the public by quite a few who command both the climate science and the communications skills. There are plenty of books, movies, documentaries, websites that correctly reflect the scientific consensus of human-caused global warming and the urgency of the threat.

There is even more talk of the human psyche having a hard time accepting an idea so scary as global warming and its consequences: floods, droughts, famine, wars. But I don't buy that argument either: Anomalously large fractions of people in the United States and Britain (as well as Japan) don't believe in global warming. But I can't accept that American humans are all that different from other humans. After all, the United States is famously a melting pot of humanity.

The next obvious culprit are companies protecting their bottom lines. In particular, corporations have been accused of deliberately spreading misinformation on global warming. Certainly, corporate culture is very strong in the US, and it is precisely conventional corporations that have the most to fear from any measures to combat global warming. The proposed solutions - to burn less fossil fuels, to impose a carbon tax - strike at the essence of their profitability. But corporations can't be the only culprit: after all, they act on a global scale now. If they do engage in spreading misinformation, their message must fall on particularly fertile ground in the United States. So the question remains: why is the American public so susceptible to climate change denial?

I think the answer can be found, at least in part, in the connection between the American psyche and that of the Victorians.

Wait. I'm joking, right? Aren't the Victorians those 19th century English who are so prudish and sexually repressed? -- Well yes. The Victorians were indeed prudish: they had good reason to be (more on that below). But there's a whole lot more to the Victorian psyche than that. This is explored in Walter E. Houghton's book, The Victorian Frame of Mind, 1830-1870.

September 15, 2013

Two Cellos in the House

It has come to this.

I can now wear my children's hand-me-downs. They've grown past me. I suppose I knew it was coming - but it still came as a surprise.

And now CelloPlayer needs a bigger cello. The first week of school, we went to the strings place for a full-sized rental. It didn't look all that huge. Then they pulled out a case for it. I suddenly got that sinking feeling.

Here are the two cellos (I'm keeping the 3/4 cello because I'm too small to play a full-sized one: see that I mean about the hand-me-down deal?) If you place them side by side the full-sized one doesn't look all that big.

But here are the two cellos in their cases.

See the difference? The 3/4 cello came with a soft case: very nice, very friendly, handles, straps for carrying it on your back. Real nice. The new full-sized comes with a foam-padded case. Padded slots inside for two bows. Little slot for the rosin. Altogether much better protection. And much larger. Heck, this thing has wheels, like the professional hard cases. CelloPlayer was very pleased.

But I'm sunk.

Here I am, I've been bragging that this and that gas-sipping car fits my whole family of four plus a cello. My friends, that was a little, 3/4 cello in a little, soft case.

September 8, 2013

The Toyota Yaris is Not a "Teen" Car

A few years ago, there was a dad at CelloPlayer's school, who cheerfully brought his two young children to their Early Childhood classrooms before going to work. He drove a Yaris. I asked him about it and he told me how happy he was with his car, as he was helping his children out of their car seats. Later in the day his wife would come pick them up, in a slightly larger car.

This family are back in Germany now, his company had placed him in the United States for only two years.

I think it is telling that this young professional, on a great adventure with his family and presumably enjoying a generous expat package, chose to drive himself to work in a Yaris. I asked him about that too. I mean, I know many expats splurge on a bigger or more luxurious car in the US, because cars are so cheap here.

He gave me a mystified look and said, "But... this is a fine car. I like it."