Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Money makes the environment go round...

I'm a not-so-filthy-hippie. It's a fact. I'm all about the environment. I rant, I rave, and am generally passionate about the subject. I am trying to make my life as environmentally sustainable as I can, while still living in the city, maintaining a career, and not overwhelming my partner. I take public transportation, I buy organic for the most part, I try to shop ethically and in general minimize my carbon footprint.

So when I read the following article about how the best way to motivate people to be greener is by increasing the cost of fuel, I was surprised to find myself in cautionary agreement. While in theory I agree with the idea that money talks and that we're (as a society) only going to change when we're forced to, I'm not really sure that this is actually our best solution. I'm actually concerned that fuel tariffs will only increase the economic divides that already exist.

Higher fuel prices will translate into higher public transportation fees, raised grocery bills, and increased service rates. Even if the government taxes fuel and the money goes into the national coffer, will it be used for the people or to line the chests of the rich corporations. Or worse, will it go into increased military spending. I live in Canada and every time we turn around the government is cutting funding. Our healthcare system is a mess and education funding is a joke. I'm leary to suggest that we give our government more money to mismanage. Petrol is already heavily taxed in our country and yet the profits don't seem to be redirected towards tangible services in most communities. I am sure that the same is true globally and is not a problem unique to my country. I'm all for raising the cost of creating a large carbon footprint but I'm uncomfortable with the idea that such an act might actually be a greater disservice to people who are already struggling. I know that poverty in Canada is not as pronounced as it is in many other countries, but it is still a serious problem for us nonetheless.

The author of the article is correct in stating that the only way we'll see change is through our pinching wallets but if raised rates is the way we're going to go to make the change, I believe that it needs to come with several clauses and serious consideration on our parts.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The White Tiger

Aravind Adiga

I recently finished this novel and am of 2 minds aobut it. Although I liked it, I can understand why some people took issue with it. The prose was simple and clear but the tone was bordering on overly polemical. Many of the Indian authors/novels I've read have been based in realism but haven't been as flagrant in their criticism on Indian political/social culture.

Perhaps I find this particularly significant because I just read India from Midnight to Millenium and am feeling somewhat glutted with information.

I guess I find The White Tiger different because it goes where most Indian novels touch upon but rarely state so blatantly.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

To breed or not to breed

Population control. It's a taboo subject that has recently received more media attention.

The argument: that the single most environmental act that we can do to help our environment is to limit the amount of people that are brought into our world. In other words, think twice before having children. In and of itself the news isn't shocking. After all, my generation was raised with China's population control policies and the falling birth rates in western society. Isn't that enough?

Apparently not. Not only are we starting being told that we need to reduce our resource consumption, we need to think twice about even having one child. When I broke the news to my mother that my partner and I were thinking of only having one child, she quickly told me that one child will grow up selfish and spoiled. She then went on to cite how I didn't know how to share until the ripe old age of 7 when my little brother was born. Apparently my desire for my family's undivided attention, nay, my assertion that I was entitled to said attention is empirical evidence that single children are undesirable. Flawed argumentative strategies aside, the need to breed more than once could be dismissed as a generational attitude.


A close friend recently made the case that only children don't grow up with the same connections that children with siblings do. The argument: once our parents die it is very important that we have siblings so that we still have someone to share our history with. While I cannot refute the logic that my brother understands my parental history/baggage in ways that no one else ever will, I'm confident that the friendship bonds that I've made over the years are just as strong, if not sometimes much stronger, than the bonds of family. And, I have known my fair share of siblings that loath one another thus casting a certain amount of skepticism over the idea of needing someone with whom you share your family history/identity.

Thus I have come to the conclusion that should one opt for parenthood, the most ethical form is adoption; that taking a child who is already here is the clearest course for someone who wants to act according to their environmental conscious and experience the joy of raising children. In fact, I can make the claim from personal experience that there is no difference in the bonds you create with your blood vs adoptive relatives.

Yet here too I have met with my fair share of naysayers. Unbeknownst to me, parenthood is a large, breeding, dna social experiment. The point of having children, I have now discovered from one of my peers, is to see what kind of child you and your parent will create. Nature vs Nurture: which one will play the bigger role in your child's development? While I certainly don't ascribe to this rationale, having been raised with half, adopted, and foster siblings, I do understand the appeal of wanting to look at your child and see yourself in him/her; see your families joined through a child that has your eyes and your partner's nose. The irony is, my adopted brother looked more like me growing up than my half brother did. Go figure!

And then there are those who have decided that having children is not what they want. How do they fit into the social scheme? Are they environmental crusaders or selfish individuals unwilling to make sacrifices? I realize that I'm being slightly trite in the question presented but it seems like the question to have or not to have children in this day and age is more and more complicated. Gone are the days when you just have a baby because that's what you're supposed to do. Having a child is a personal decision that can be fraught with social and environmental implications that our parents may have never considered.

Chief Seattle is quoted as saying that it is our responsibility to consider the next 7 generations before making a decision. In the case of parenthood, one can't help but wonder what will be left for our future generations? Is it ethically right to bring a life into a world that is so full of doom and gloom for the future? Or is not having children mean that we are giving up our hope for the future? I don't know about you, but it's a choice that prompts a certain amount of debate and contemplation.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Community, Apathy, and the Global Village.

Today on my daily commute to and from work I read two articles (Education and Darfur) in this month's Utne Reader that prompted a fair amount of introspection about the nature of compassion in our current society. In the article about Darfur the author was asking why we are so indifferent to the crisis in Darfur given that we are inundated with horrific images that demand our action.

The question is obviously rhetorical. We are indifferent because we are overwhelmed. There are too many crisis', too many people in need, that the individual no longer knows where to start, what to invest time, action, energy, or money into. I don't think that people care less, rather they are overrun by too many problems that they are paralyzed into inaction and apathy.

So while the teacher discussed in the education article is right in saying that what we need in the world is more compassion, I also think that maybe that individuals need to pick a cause or two and focus on them. This doesn't mean that I think that we should only learn about those causes we've invested in, but rather that we should realize that one person can make a difference if they focus their energies on making it happen.

The education article went on to discuss how specific communities invested in making a change (in the 60s) and made things happen, whereas now that hasn't happened. Bear in mind that the article is focusing on a specific incident and that I am extrapolating rather loosely. However, the point is that my metro ruminations left me with the feeling that perhaps our parents moved mountains more because they only saw one or 2 mountains that needed moving. Obviously there were many issues at hand during the 60s, but the amount of information and media bombardment wasn't anywhere near what it is today. I wonder if the media isn't doing us a grave disservice by blasting us with so much, so quickly, and then moving on. Maybe this is the downfall of the global village. The great irony is that for all that the media and global village allow access to one another, they cause us to lose touch with each other.

Yes the world needs more compassion, but where should we be directing our compassion? The well is only so deep.


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