Starting from Where You Are

Sharon March 25th, 2007

My daily hatemail generally includes 3-4 messages using quite a string of obscenities to describe the indecency of my daring to speak about peak oil and climate change because I have four children. This morning I got a nice one suggesting that I should practice “retroactive abortion,” which I thought was particularly charming. Oh, and I got one that reassured me that it really, really wasn’t that I was Jewish that was the problem, it was my family size - but they made such a big deal about the fact that it really, really wasn’t that I was Jewish that somehow I got the impression that it really, really *was* that I was Jewish - along, of course, with the sin of having a big family.

Now I’m a big girl, and I’m the one that chose to put my family status out on the blog, and in my public bio. I could easily have left it out, since there are other people in the peak oil and climate change movements with children who don’t discuss their families. In fact, I can’t think of a single major male figure (which is pretty much all of them) who discusses their children in their bio. By talking about mine, not only do I draw a great deal of entirely expected hostility, but I also reduce my own credibility - women who write about children and parenting are generally not taken as seriously in the guys clubs as men who write about depletion rates.

But it would be dishonest, IMHO, not to talk about my family status (although if the emails keep increasing in violence, I may change my mind about this). My kids motivate a great deal of what I do in two ways - first, because I am concerned for their future, and second because I do have more children than my just share, and thus I’m obligated to reduce my family’s impact further. Our goal, not yet achieved, is to have the same ecological footprint of a family the same size in India. It this point, we use resources at about 1/3 of the rate of an American family of four. We’re getting there - but it is a process.

What I find interesting about people who react so strongly to my having so many children is that it isn’t really clear what they expect me to do about it. They say something along the lines of “but what you don’t seem to understand is that your having all those kids is the root of the problem.” But having had all those kids, and starting from where I am - what would you suggest I do? Should I stop writing? Spend all my time weeping and penning mea culpas about my reproductive habits? Would it be better if I switched this blog to being movie reviews and stories about the cute things my kids said, so that I never disturbed anyone by talking about anything more important? Frankly, the latter two sound pretty boring to me, but I live to serve.

Like everyone who comes to the peak oil and climate change movement, I have a past. Perhaps all of those reading this blog have a perfectly ethical one - you’ve lived your whole life in a one-room cabin lighted by your own hand-dipped beeswax candles. But I don’t. I flew. I bought groceries from the supermarket. I had Barbies when I was a kid, - I’m pretty sure the plastic from will outlive my grandkids - and I didn’t always fully understand the implications of population. And so I start writing from a post-lapsarian, fallen position, in which I have consumed more than my share, done environmental harm, and contributed to quite a few problems - including overpopulation. I admire those of you who come to this from a different perspective - who have never harmed the environment, and have always made wise choices. I have no difficulty at all admitting that you are better people than I am.

For the rest of us, we start from where we are. If you worked in the defense industry, or you had more than a just share of children, you bought designer clothes made by slaves, you burned oil that warmed the planet and that nigerian peasants were murdered for - the only thing we can do is to go forward from where we are. The thing is, if the only people who are allowed to speak are the ones who have always done the right thing, and always lived the right life, it will be a very quiet place. Me, I’m for having everyone speak. It isn’t that I’m suggesting absolution - each of us has to deal with our prior impact in our own way. But angst about what is done is an indulgence I don’t think we have time for - there’s simply too much useful work to be done.

My children are my one great selfishness, and I don’t deny that. I never made much money. I didn’t drive a car until I was 28 years old, and I grew up with a father who never owned a car. I was poor, so I ate cheap and low on the food chain and I always liked interesting work and political activism better than vacations and nice clothes. But I have four kids, from a combination of desire and an absurdly high fertility level that has defeated every form of birth control known to mankind. And I’m very fortunate - more, perhaps, than I deserve.

There’s a story in the Talmud: Jacob has four wives, and it has been prophecied that he should have 12 sons. So the matriarchs agree that each of them should have three children. But it doesn’t happen that way - Leah is fortunate, and she has a fourth son, who she names “Judah” which means “Now I will praise G-d.” She praises G-d because she was given a gift that was greater than her own just share, and she knows it. And she knows also that her gift comes at a price - another of Jacob’s wives has only two children. In the end, the only thing that she can is be grateful, and to acknowledge and recognize that she has more than her just share.

I too have more than my just share. I don’t represent myself as a role model in this, and I know that it doesn’t pass the sniff test - everyone can’t do what I have done. And that’s true of a disturbing number of things I still do - for example, there isn’t enough oil in the world for everyone to have a car, and yet, I still have one. And there aren’t enough resources in the world for everyone to have four children. And yet, I still have them. Like Leah, all I can do is minimize their impact in the world, and be grateful I have them, while also not representing myself as a model for anyone else.

That said, however, I’m not wasting any energy on guilt. I did what I could with what I knew and the resources I had, and if you all want to engage in navel-gazing about your SUVs or your kids, go for it, but not here. Nor do I think that everything that is said by the zero-population growth folks is true - I believe strongly in the voluntary reduction of population, and I support measures to encourage that, but when people start talking about sterilizing the poor and other undesirables and forcible abortions, I’m right out - sometimes it is about me being Jewish. And I still think that an Amish farmer with 8 kids is better for the world than a suburban pet psychologist with two. Over the last half century, the population growth rate has dropped like a stone, for a TFR of 5 in 1950 to a TFR of 2.7 and falling. All that reduction has come from the empowerment of women and rational choices for the most part by those women - statistics show that less than 20% of that change is due to birth control availability (which is not, of course, an argument against birth control availability - it is merely an interesting observation that women are rather good at controlling their fertility when they have high status, regardless of the technology they use). That is, once women started to see that they didn’t have to have six kids to see them survive to adulthood, they don’t for the most part. This is not a byproduct of wealth, either - Cuba, Kerala, Sri Lanka, Georgia, Albania… all of them have TFRs below the US’s, and all of them are poor. So I believe strongly in *VOLUNTARY* population reduction - and voluntary means voluntary - that means that women like me who get pregnant by accident despite their best intentions, and people whose religion, or personal reasoning leads them to a different conclusion get to do what they want. I’ve no objection if we offer major tax penalties or pegging a system of rationing to family size so that you only get X amount of carbon emissions no matter how many kids you have - go for it - I’ll help! - but voluntary is voluntary, and we’re all going to have to suck up the fact that statistical outlyers will exist, no matter what. As long as you are reasonably civil, though, you can be as mad as you want at me for being one.

The thing is, people who are here are here. That means the children we’ve had, and the aging baby boomers who are past their best hoeing years but still keep eating are all on the same footing - the goal is to keep all of us alive and fed and to offer everyone a fair share of what’s necessary. And we still have the resources to do that - if we choose.

And from there, all of us need to work as hard as we can only using only a just share of resources - period. And I don’t mean a just share by American standards, I mean a share that leaves enough for everyone else in the world. Some people, including me, will have to work harder and give up more than those who haven’t had as many children. Some may never get there - elderly people, for example, may always need to use more resources than younger ones, and the only choice that we younger people will have is to consume a little less still, to leave some for those who need it more. And sometimes we’ll all fail - we’ll fail to do the right thing, we’ll fail to make the right choice when we should.

The peak oil and climate change movements needs more people - and that means people who haven’t always lived perfect lives. That means people who spent their money on frivolities, who watch tv, who eat meat, who have kids, who bought an SUV, who supported the Iraq war, who are against abortion and don’t use birth control, who wear leather shoes and smoke cigarettes. This simply can’t be a movement of the perfect - there aren’t enough of you. Heck, Julian Darley worked for Disney, I’m told, I’m willing to bet that Matt Simmons is still neck deep in the stock market, and I’ve heard a rumor that Richard Heinberg used to drive a van and play rock and roll. I fear our Gandhi may not be here yet (actually, don’t look to close at Gandhi). Me, I’m just a girl with too many kids and little taste for martyrdom. If you don’t like what I write, feel free to read someone else - there’s plenty of someones out there.

And for those of you who are pure, who begin having never used more than a just share of resources, I salute you. I admire you. I can’t be you, because I’m me. But I do admire you, and I understand why my failures offend you so. I just don’t understand why so many of you, instead of working in your gardens, have so much time on the public computers you must use to write to me, and why, with all the free time for thought you must have, you can’t think of anything better to do than tell me that it really isn’t that I’m Jewish…


38 Responses to “Starting from Where You Are”

  1. norbertoon 25 Mar 2007 at 4:22 pm

    Right on Sharon ! I believe this is more a movement of those of us who have realized our mistakes and problems, and believe there is still time to make a shift, and are trying to make this shift in our lives and our communities, for the benefit of future generations.
    What we made in the past is the past, we didn’t know any better; but at least we are now trying hard to minimize our impacts.
    A “perfectly clean, 100% carbon- free, zero footprint” leader (or whatever you want to call her/him) does not exist, that is for sure!
    Thanks for your words !

  2. Eileenon 25 Mar 2007 at 4:57 pm

    I’m sorry to hear about the hate mail. That is appalling.

    And I didn’t have any kids, so you can have my share.

    But it is something I have noticed–there’s such an odd purity test about all these issues now. If you aren’t powering you computer with solar panels you are a liar that you care about the planet. I saw a dreadful comment on “No Impact Man” from a person who said you absolutely can’t be serious about the environment and live in NYC. But then she went on to complain about people encroaching on her sacred ruralness. Well, what do you want–you want everybody there? She demands to know the last time you saw someone in the city walk to the grocery store. Well…I’ll look out the window…

    Someone saw Al Gore in an Escalade at an event. That’s it–he’s not worth hearing.

    I guess they are all scared–all sides. And, well, they should be.

    But I’ll keep making progress as I can. From my pre-existing urban homestead. So there.

  3. Sueon 25 Mar 2007 at 5:32 pm

    Hear, hear! That’s all we can do, start where we are. We’ve all heard of the occasional Chris McCandless or Chuckawalla Bill or Marshal South or Everett Ruess-type who gives up literally *everything* in order to try to live a physically minimal and spiritually harmonious life. The problem is that so few people are willing to do this that the cumulative reduction of impact, from the perspective of the global resource situation, is nil. But many people are willing to make smaller actions. So when one learns of a Thoreau, the Nearings, the Astyks, the No Impact family, it’s far easier to be inspired to do *something* — whatever changes we can handle in our own lives. And whether those changes stick or fade over time (assuming the options to go back are still there, culturally speaking), the cumulative effect of millions of people taking *some* actions is far greater than only a few people going all out. Besides, what about the people who start with small changes and then decide it works for them and then do more? Should the fact that they went public with their actions in the midst be reason to reject them for not being absolute? Who knows how things will turn out? All we can do is what we can do. Sharon, you are a great inspiration to me (the Atheist/Taoist/Pagan ethnic-Jew with no kids on the other side of the country who is not quite but almost old enough to be your mother :D )

  4. iamdeadnowon 25 Mar 2007 at 5:39 pm

    What is interesting about EVERY ethical movement like this, is that we are always in a minority; and a slim one at best. Most people have to figure out on their own the process of living in a productive, happy, green and free lifestyle. Not everyone was born to someone with that leaning. Some of us [me?] have had to undo years of indoctrination into the cult of use, abuse and throw away. All the power to you.

  5. Davidon 25 Mar 2007 at 6:30 pm

    It’s no accident that movements aimed at improving the world always get wrapped up in this holier-than-thou bullshit. It’s one of the many flavours of disempowerment: to think that no action is meaningful until all action is pure. It’s an easy cop-out for many people, and allows the movement to create internal divisions. An old story.

    Thanks for writing about this from your perspective. I’m sure what you’re experiencing resonates with many of your readers.

  6. Janaon 25 Mar 2007 at 7:08 pm

    Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

    Maybe you are extreme. I think we need extremists on both end of the spectrum. Call it setting high expectations if you want. If you don’t set the bar a little too high you will never know how high you can jump. I may never do 100% of the things you do, but if I take 40% of them I am sure as hell making progress.

    I have 4 kids also and just recently–before becoming aware–moved into a 3000sf house on 2.5 acres in the middle of my town. I have to start where I am because I have no other choice.

  7. Gareth Doutchon 25 Mar 2007 at 7:58 pm

    You might like to see Transition Culture. Rob is open about the fact he has four kids!

  8. LizMon 26 Mar 2007 at 12:12 am

    Oh dear oh dear oh dear. “Little taste for martyrdom”? You have a positive flair for it. Do you think that those of us with no kids, no car, and recycled hemp shoes don’t get hatemail? Of course we do! And probably more than three or four emails a day.

    People who send hatemail have their own issues. It’s not about you, and I think you probably know this aleady. As long as you’re practice is starting where you are, take another piece of advice from Pema Chodron. Hate mail is like all forms of rudeness: wind on vocal chords.

  9. RASon 26 Mar 2007 at 12:48 am

    As lizm pointed out, the hatemail is not about YOU, it’s a reflection of the people sending it. I’m going to psych out for a minute: People who send hatemail are almost always projecting their self-hatred and feelings of inferiority on someone else. If I might make a suggestion? Stop responding to it. I know that’s easier said than done, but giving ANY sort of response to people like that just encourages them. And I’m certain that’s the last thing you want to do! ;-)
    Furthermore, its no one’s damn business why you have four kids. They’re here, and that’s the end of the matter, or should be. ‘Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone.’ (I have no idea who said that, but it fits.)
    Oh, and if the emails do keep increasing in violence you always have the option to report them to the police! Sending threats is a crime -and if they’re anti-semitic at that, that’s also a hate crime.

    And don’t give up! We need you!

  10. Anonymouson 26 Mar 2007 at 2:20 am

    Hi Sharon:

    God I just love your postings - you are out there, open and honest, warts and all. I’m damn glad you had four kids - if they grow up as level-headed as their Mom (and I’ll bet they will), they will be a wonderful boon for humanity.

    As for those who take you to the woodshed for past sins, to hell with ‘em! If we all wait until we are perfect to open our mouths, it’s gonna be mighty quiet, and none of us will learn a damn thing from each other.

    U-Go Gurl

    Hans Noeldner

  11. jewishfarmeron 26 Mar 2007 at 2:26 am

    I guess I am naive - I tend to assume that most people don’t get daily hate mail, in part because while I’ve been an active voice on various forms of the internet and forums since way back in the BBS days, I’ve never before really gotten anything with any regularity. I guess 15 years of good luck had me fooled.

    Perhaps it is a form of martyrdom to acknowledge it publically - mostly, I think it is comforting to me to write about it. I find violent suggestions about my kids disturbing - much more than I find similar statements about myself, and writing about it is a way of settling my own anxieties. I admire your ability to just ignore it, but I’m afraid I don’t share it. And because I’ve put identifying details on this blog, I’m starting to regret that.

    Sorry if writing about being troubled by this offends you in some way.


  12. LizMon 26 Mar 2007 at 3:29 am

    The martyrdom is not in acknowledging the attacks, or the bad feeling they engender; it’s in thinking they have something to do with you. And of course I’m not offended.

    I blogged (under my own name) for more than a year for a populist Senate campaign. You can’t imagine the nastiness that came over the transom, and this was mosty from members of our own party. If you put yourself out there, regardless of the particulars of your life, some yoyo is going to decide it’s his mission to cut you down and make you feel rotten about it, largely for the reasons RAS describes.

    I’m just saying that adopting the position that it’s actually about you and that your life requires defending or explaining is, in effect, making common cause with the attacker, or with his/her confusion.

    Violent suggestions about your kids should be reported to the police.

  13. Anonymouson 26 Mar 2007 at 4:11 am


    Thanks for being honest! I enjoy your posts. They are a refreshing! Keep writing!


  14. Kiashuon 26 Mar 2007 at 4:18 am

    I’m afraid that it is that you’re Jewish. Our perspective is that the world is not complete, we were put here to complete it, and that though we are not perfect, we should concentrate not on what we have done in the past but what we can do in the future.

    The dominant way of thinking is a Christian one; that belief matters more than action, that publicly confessing your sins is absolution enough, that actually making up for those sins isn’t required. See for example any day of talkshows.

    The idea of a faith which requires no belief at all, only action, a faith which admits human imperfection… that’s offensive to many people.

  15. Anonymouson 26 Mar 2007 at 6:54 am

    Your four children are lovely. I hope they have the most wonderful lives. I’m betting they’ve got a good start on that. Thanks for the thoughts. -Rochelle

  16. Bevon 26 Mar 2007 at 8:10 am

    Ignore the hate mail Sharon (I know it’s hard!). I’ve been an environmentalist for 20 years and been called a ‘ratbag greenie’ more times than I can poke a stick at.

    Your kids are obviously being brought up in an earth-loving environment. A lot better than many kids in smaller families.

  17. RASon 26 Mar 2007 at 12:40 pm

    NO ONE was offended by you writing about this and your feelings about it. We are all just trying to provide support and encouragement. I know how hard it must be. We are all standing behind you!

  18. jewishfarmeron 26 Mar 2007 at 1:15 pm

    Thanks everyone. I wrote my previous post at what was a disturbingly late hour for me (after 10 pm - the kids get up at 5 and I usually don’t visit the computer after 8), and what I mostly take from my prior response was that I shouldn’t write at night ;-). I do appreciate the support and kind words.

    First of all, I was joking when I said I’d stop writing - and when I said I’d switch it over to movie reviews. What I do rather wish is that I could go back in time and remove some of the personal information from this blog, but it has now been out there long enough that I don’t think there’s any point in trying to get rid of it - it would be easy enough for someone to find, so I’ll live with it.

    Perhaps I shouldn’t have started this essay by mentioning the hate mail - I think that gives a disproportionate sense of what I’d been responding to. I’d been planning this post for a while, in part in response to the nastiness I’ve been reading about Colin Beavens’ NoImpactMan experiment - that is, I find it interesting that he gets attacked for trying to live sustainably in Manhattan, I get it for having kids, etc.. But yesterday’s email kind of distracted me, and I think I made a rhetorical mistake by starting this essay with this stuff. Ah well - you win some, you lose some. As you say, it probably isn’t about me.

    I would have written the same analysis of where we start anyway - but it would have been more useful to refer to the less vitriolic assessments. My response, to a large degree, wasn’t about answering the nastier attacks, but about answering the more general assessment that my reproductive history undermines my ability to write about the environment. Because I do feel like as a movement, peak oil is probably not much improved by the amount of time we spend discussing one another’s failures to achieve perfection. I’m guilty of that as well - I’ve done my share of nit-picking.

    I do know that anyone who puts themselves out there will get attacked now and then - but after years of putting myself out there in other forms, I mostly have had the experience of getting direct, if sometimes hostile attacks from people who sign their names. I’m more troubled by the anonymous vitriol directed at my kids.

    I learned a long time ago not to write about anything on the net you weren’t prepared to discuss - so I don’t object to talking (within certain limits) about why I have kids. I think the subject is fair game to a certain degree, and I make my position public because I don’t want to hear the population discussion dominated entirely by either pole - either the “America should be China” groups or the “Technology will let us feed all the kids we want” group. The problem, of course, is defining the limits. Generally, I’ve preferred to err on the side of public, but I’m doing some backpedaling now - when 8 people read this blog, one of them my mother, it didn’t really matter what I wrote. Now I don’t control the flow of information, and I haven’t gotten used to it yet.

    I am told that legally, the two messages I have both fall within the bounds of permissable, one quite barely. So I’ll keep an eye on it. It is, as you probably say, hot air. I certainly hope so.

    Anyway, thank you all for the advice, support and kind words. I really appreciate it. I suspect this would be a better essay had I not mentioned the email at all, however - because honestly, more than the nasty email, I mostly care about the larger issue - that we not become a teeny tiny little club of the morally pure.


  19. Anonymouson 26 Mar 2007 at 1:21 pm

    Besides, who will take care of you when you’re old if you don’t have children to love you?

  20. post_femon 26 Mar 2007 at 2:08 pm

    >> Over the last half century, the population growth rate has dropped like a stone…
    Didn’t Jacob say, “And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be G_d’s house.” Do your critics also aspire to Jacob’s moral valuation?

  21. Stephenon 26 Mar 2007 at 2:42 pm

    I’m sorry you’re receving hate mail about having had four children. But anyone who has the technology to email you is benefitting from the fruits of an industrial civilization that is destroying the earth, as you know. So who is he or she to criticize?

    We are all caught up in this world system, and we will live and die together, whether we feel we’re together or not.

    Stephen Bach
    Charlottesville VA

    I like what you write, but I don’t always read it through … just too much going on.

  22. Anonymouson 26 Mar 2007 at 3:05 pm

    Sharon, you know how I feel about your family (and the choices I made to have mine) and the relative merits, etc. etc. I’m just sorry that people are still raggging on you for it and don’t see the big picture.



  23. Michelle in Gaon 26 Mar 2007 at 4:45 pm

    I wish I had more kids. You get
    2, see how wonderful they are
    and start nagging God (like a
    gnat in his ear) about wanting
    more. Raising a young person to adulthood and hearing “Well done,
    my good and faithful servant.”
    is my greatest accomplishment.
    Raising my mug o decaff to you.

  24. Anonymouson 26 Mar 2007 at 6:23 pm

    I’m a regular reader but never commented before. I have no kids and a spayed cat, so as Eileen said, you can feel free to claim you’re having my share if you like. You seem to be doing a much better job of raising them than I would anyway! I agree with those who say that population is the essential environmental issue, worldwide, and it’s fine to say as a general statement that people should limit themselves to replacement fertility. But I wouldn’t have the nerve to tell any particular person how many children they should have in the future, much less how many they should have had in the past. What IS the recipient of such comments supposed to say — “Oh, you’re right, I’ll just go home and put little Susie out for the wolves”?? Don’t take it personally; some people just have no brains.

  25. wimbion 26 Mar 2007 at 10:30 pm

    Hi, Sharon. I’m the geezer who thanked you for your great talk at the Yellow Springs conference last fall, in the chow line- and got a hug in response.

    When I got home and reported your heart warming performance, and bragged about getting my reward for praise well earned, both my wife and my daughter got jealous- but they both started reading your blog.

    “Well, OK, I gotta admit she can really write”.

    Anyhow, for me at least you have perfect pitch. This one on kids is exactly right to my ear- and I bet to many others’.

    Ignore the hate mail. You would get it no matter what you say.

    Well, ok, you can’t ignore it. So here’s the plan. When you get some HM, just mentally assign it to your enormously talented HM committee, who will think of perfect responses that would satisfy simultaneously Spinoza, Jesus and Torquemada- and THEN forget about it.

    It’s so good to hear a woman’s voice in this fracas!

  26. Squrrlon 26 Mar 2007 at 11:17 pm

    Sharon, this is how I think of it: I’d a lot rather live in a world where only people who truly love children and parenthood and are willing to come to the job with thought and care feel obligated to have kids. In such a world, presumably some people aren’t going to have kids, and some are going to make the experiment and stop at one, and that’s fine–that’s great. In which case, if some people are responsibly limiting themselves to replacement, and some aren’t replacing themselves at all, then…well, that’s not sustainable either, is it? So be proud, mother, because I find it hard to read your writing and not believe that you’re just the kind of person we need raising children. And as for the rest of what you said, you are, as usual, dead on.

    On a mostly unrelated note, I only found your blog a few days ago, and I wanted to say that you are a miracle and an inspiration, and that in part because of you, I’ve finally had the guts to actually talk about what matters and start speaking out on Peak Oil on my own blog–so thank you. Thank you.

  27. Anonymouson 27 Mar 2007 at 6:22 am

    Defended with your usual spirit. Well done.

    You are an inspiration and hopefully a Paul Revere-type tipping point person for the new myth that we hope is emerging to help change the world. (as discussed by someone who matches you for eloquence, John Michael Greer)

  28. Anonymouson 27 Mar 2007 at 4:54 pm


    Some folks don’t like kids even if the world was powered by moonbeams. My wife and I have 4 kids (1 mine, 1 hers, 2 ours-still in our home) and we are in the process of adopting 3 infants/toddlers we are fostering. There’s a big need for “good” parents out there and I’ll bet your kids are glad on that score.

    I often wonder if the naysayers are up to the task.

    Keep up the good work - NiKfUrY69

  29. Lizon 27 Mar 2007 at 5:30 pm

    Sharon, I understand that you feel it’s too late to shield your kids on the ‘net, but if you are really concerned, I’d suggest taking their names and ages off your profile on the sidebar. It’s a little thing, but may help you feel more comfortable.

    I have no kids (and don’t intend to), so you can have my allotment, too. :) BTW, I get “hate mail” for raising and killing animals for meat for my own consumption. Oh, and eating liver. I guess everyone’s got a bone to pick. Makes you wonder why we put ourselves out there on the ‘net the way we do, huh? ;)

  30. M. Squirrelon 27 Mar 2007 at 6:37 pm

    Being also a person with a past (and a future, I might add), it got my goat that people are being so rude to you. I have three kids myself, but I don’t make apologies. One day, the world is going to need people who have the skills to survive whatever comes along. And one day, your kids and mine will probably be teaching everyone else’s how to grow their own food, bake bread, and make what they need from improvised scraps.

    Of course, there are those who send nasty E-mail merely as a way of entertaining themselves. Great world we live in, isn’t it?

    Please keep up the excellent teachings…myself, my family, and our friends have learned a lot from you, and I’ll continue to turn others onto your excellent writings.

  31. Anonymouson 28 Mar 2007 at 12:05 pm

    People who write hate mail have issues. Some people quite frankly don’t like Jews very much either(ask Kunstler about his anti-semetic hate mail some time). Just ignore them-I know it’s hard to do. And I think it is ok to point out that yes you have four kids and yes you know that is not too responsible in terms of popuation issues, but stuff happens and here they are; are you supposed to return them to sender or what?

    Anway- many people would react in anger to much of your message and that of others who are suggesting that we need to live more sustainably and that our way of life cannot last as is currently practiced. I teach this material at the college level and I get some students VERY angry at me. They don’t want to hear that climate change is occuring or that Peak Oil will happen soon if not already. They much prefer to believe that they can go on living the life they have come to expect and that if anything were to happen it will do so only long after they are dead and gone(or only to poor people of color in Africa or something). A lot of the anger is I think part of those stages of grief- denial, anger, you know the rest…

    So, I wouldn’t take it personally, and I seriously doubt your kids are in any danger even though the e-mails may feel creepy. Just keep on doing what you’re doing-it needs to be said.


  32. Emmeon 01 Apr 2007 at 9:18 pm

    Sharon - excellent, as always. As a mother with more than “my fair share” of children, I admire what you are doing and how you are teaching your children. I truly believe that choosing to live lightly with more children may be better for the environment than consuming much more with fewer children.

    And I tell people that I “can’t put them back.” Ouch!

  33. Craig Mackintoshon 04 Apr 2007 at 9:06 pm

    I find blogging is a bit like driving in traffic. People shout and wave their fists at you, but only because of the anonymity. Were the lights to change, and they found themselves just in front (or, dread the thought), just next to you, they’d wind their window up and pretend they were listening to the radio.

    Some people don’t know how to make a contribution. That is not their purpose. If you sense there’s a window to inspire them, then make the effort, if not - it’s only a one-click movement to hit the delete key.

    We’re all in this together, whether we like it, or realise it, or not.

    “There is no use pretending that the contradiction between what we think or say and what we do is a limited phenomenon. There is no group of the extra-intelligent or extra-concerned or extra-virtuous that is exempt. I cannot think of any American whom I know or have heard of, who is not contributing in some way to destruction. The reason is simple: to live undestructively in an economy that is overwhelmingly destructive would require of any one of us, or of any small group of us, a great deal more work than we have yet been able to do. How could we divorce ourselves completely and yet responsibly from the technologies and powers that are destroying our planet? The answer is not yet thinkable, and it will not be thinkable for some time - even though there are now groups and families and persons everywhere in the country who have begun the labor of thinking it.

    And so we are by no means divided, or readily divisible, into environmental saints and sinners. But there are legitimate distinctions that need to be made. These are distinctions of degree and of consciousness. Some people are less destructive than others, and some are more conscious of their destructiveness than others. For some, their involvement in pollution, soil depletion, strip-mining, deforestation, industrial and commerical waste is simply a “practical” convenience. For others, this list of involvements is an agenda for thought and work that will produce remedies.

    People who thus set their lives against destruction have necessarily confronted in themselves the absurdity that they have recognized in their society…. Once our personal connection to what is wrong becomes clear, then we have to choose: we can go on as before, recognizing our dishonesty and living with it the best we can, or we can begin the effort to change the way we think and live.” - Wendell Berry, The Agricultural Crisis: A Crisis of Culture, p.19, 20

  34. ljsullivanon 07 Apr 2007 at 1:13 pm

    Your good common sense, uncommon intelligence, and genuine humanness are so refreshing!

    This column appeared on a listserv to which I subscribe, and inasmuch as I’m trying to reduce the size of my e-mail stack (now 1,742), I looked at the length of this post and was tempted to just delete it …

    But I didn’t. I also did not read every word (yet) — but I liked what I saw.

    About your kids: I had three (but I had two husbands, so they are just ‘replacements’ for their parents). And between the three of them, they produced a total of only two children (with their spouses). They won’t be having more.

    Seems to me, then, that our family has ‘credits’ for four more. So if you still need some, you can have some of ours.

    This is what is wrong in the thinking of those who criticize you. As a medical transcriptionist, I am aware of a growing problem of infertility in this country; and also the increasing problem of ‘erectile dysfunction’, which gets lots of play in the commercials late in the evening.

    Many people cannot have children; and many others do not have them for a variety of reasons. So if some others have a few extra — beyond simply replacing themselves — we can afford it. Especially offspring of highly intelligent people! One of them may be the next Einstein, who knows?

    Beyond that, I really like the emphasis you have placed on the importance of sharing, a basic tenet of your faith. I have been a Christian for 60 of my 72 years, now a “Christian in exile,” as Bishop John Spong describes it. I am ‘in exile’ because I do not regard any of the churches with which I am familiar in my community as on the right track (I have no Christian community, in other words). They are focused on ‘who Jesus was’ and belief systems about him (all in the head) rather than on the religion of the heart that he taught and exemplified. And huge amounts of energy are expended in getting converts, which only happens when prospects first accept the huge guilt trip laid on them (they are ’sinners’ condemned to eternal damnation in hell) so that there’s a ‘reason’ to buy into the rest.

    His teachings and his example are, for me, the essence of Christianity — not the mythic elements of his story and certainly not the current fixation on the Book of Revelation at the end of the New Testament.

    He taught that what G-d the Father was concerned with was what was in our hearts — not with outward appearances of piety. He was explicitly condemning of the ‘purity’ folks of his day, because that made them very judgmental toward others, rather than loving and forgiving - just like the ‘purity’ folks of today, even those who are atheists. He was thoroughly Jewish and would not recognize in most contemporary Christianity anything that he taught or demonstrated.

    I.e.: Generosity of spirit, welcoming the stranger, inclusively caring for others rather than exclusively (for those ‘just like me’), sharing what we have, giving more than we are asked to give. In short, loving G-d and humankind. Loving your neighbor — whether ten feet away or 10,000 miles away — as yourself. Treating others as you want them to treat you.

    No, can’t say I see much genuine Christianity happening in our world today. Jesus said that just a little real faith — the size of a mustard seed — could move mountains. Haven’t seen many mountains moved lately, except maybe by strip mining …

    I am 72 and have been disabled since I was 46. I get blasted for continuing to drive a car rather than 1) walking everywhere (physically impossible, with severe spinal stenosis, degenerative joint disease and advanced peripheral neuropathy - as well as the fact that some places I need to go are 30 miles or more away), or 2) riding a bicycle everywhere (physically impossible with a loss of strength and of the sense of balance), or 3) riding a bus everywhere (a bus doesn’t exist that can get me where I need to go in the time I have to get there and back); eating meat (I have tried vegetarian/vegan three times and had to give it up within a week because I became ill on it; all people do not have exactly identical bodies or metabolisms, and I become malnourished); and for not having perfect health, which to the Holy Ones means that I am obviously a ’sinner’, not living right, etc. (Shades of Job!)

    Also, I live in a big house which my daughter and I bought nearly four years ago. However, buying this house enabled her to give up commuting 70 miles round trip five days a week; allowed us to move her corporate headquarters into the formal living room in the new house (we have a large family room, which is enough for entertaining, having meetings, etc.); and gave us the space and good soil to have a small orchard and a good big veggie garden.

    We had the landscaping overhauled to install a permaculture landscape, front and back, which is being used also as a demonstration garden for permaculture classes, so people can see what ’sustainability’ looks like and learn how to do it in a suburban setting.

    We also had a solar system installed which provides us with all the electricity we need during our sunny days, which is most of the year here on the Central Coast of California.

    My daughter and I both grew up in poor families; our present relative prosperity came about when my daughter, tired of being ‘downsized’ out of a job, or treated like white trash in low paying positions, with a former co-worker decided in 1999 to start their own medical transcription business. Shortly thereafter, she trained and mentored me, and I became a subcontractor in her business.

    It isn’t necessary for everyone to become an ascetic, though that does have a certain appeal for some who are accustomed to plenty. You aren’t likely to find too many hungry, impoverished people enthusiastic about getting rid of everything they have. They need to go through a period of wallowing in relative luxury, in fact, before they strike a balance (been there, done that).

    But what IS necessary is to share, to use what you have for the good of as many others as possible. Give away the excess, instead of having a yard or garage sale — you can always take a tax deduction; and the waste of time and energy putting on such sales (and generally getting so little in return) simply isn’t worth it. But giving it away can really be a joy. For one thing, you have it out of your way for a change - and that feels great! And if you give it to one of those thrift stores that is a fund-raiser for the women’s shelter or abandoned animals, etc., you know you are helping a worthy cause. Feels great!

    And incidentally, Sharon, we get criticism simply for being mothers, regardless. Fifty years ago, when my daughter was 2 years old, and just out of the bathtub one day, she decided to take off down the street while I was retrieving her baby brother from the tub. I dried him off and popped him in his crib and took off after her.

    She had gotten around the corner, I couldn’t see her, and I was frantic. When I rounded the corner, she was standing there talking to a woman — who proceeded to read me the riot act for being a negligent, horrible mother for allowing my little girl to run naked down the street.

    I had three clinically hyperactive, neurologically disabled, learning disabled but very bright kids. I was in hot water all the time. But just being a mother is sufficient to bring down fire on your head, because we have a nation of Watchers, all looking for the flaws in others. So — blow it off. Writing about it is a great way of dealing with it. Keep it up!


  35. Anonymouson 08 Apr 2007 at 1:33 pm

    We’ve as many as you, Sharon.
    The world doesn’t need fewer children; it needs more children better raised.

  36. Von 10 Apr 2007 at 12:20 pm

    It is nobody’s business how many kids you have. Sometimes activists go off the deep end and forget the whole point of the matter. All of those holly rollers are supposed to be living green so the children will have a planet to live on. And now you are supposed to kill yours because you exceeded your quota? It makes me feel better that you had them and are raising them well. I forgot to have children. So there, you can have my quota.

  37. Lizon 20 Jul 2007 at 10:51 pm

    Having just discovered your blog a couple of days ago, I’ve been reading your archives right through from the beginning, and I wouldn’t be doing that if you weren’t who you are. If you were less honest (or more hypocritical) about your family, and concentrated on the gloom and doom of depletion and martyrdom, I wouldn’t still be reading, because I’m a mother with a family (currently 2.6 kids) and I need hope, not chastisement for not being perfect. So, you can’t have any of my kid quota, (although maybe there were offers enough in this thread that I can have somebody else’s, hey? ;-)), but you can have my admiration and my thanks for putting yourself out there the way you do.

    Liz in Australia

  38. Anonymouson 13 Feb 2008 at 7:57 pm

    Sharon I don’t have or want kids but I personally think it is an individual’s decision about whether or not to have children and how many (if they choose to have them.) (And other people should NOT bug them
    about it!!)
    I get annoyed when people say nasty things to me cause I don’t want children or hound me about “why why why” but I don’t think people should bug someone because they DO have children
    Horrified to hear you’ve gone through this! I had a nasty guy once send me emails that got nastier and nastier because I said (on a dating site) I didn’t want children so I can relate a bit too!
    I hope you only get nice
    mail from now on!

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