Archive for November 11th, 2009

Vandana Shiva on How We The Rich World Can Stop Hurting the Poor World

Sharon November 11th, 2009

I really recommend this video, in which Vandana Shiva articulates how people in the Global North can relieve some of the tremendous ecological pressure on people in the Global South. It is couched in the context of Transition Initiatives, but can just as easily apply to neighborhood or personal level actions.

Generally speaking, if we want to reduce pressure on the world’s poor, these are my recommendations, which I think dovetail with Shivas.  The reality is that if we don’t do these things, people *DIE* - and we are in part responsible for their deaths.  So this should be an imperative.

Do not buy or eat any industrial meat - period.  Grain-fed meat raises the price of commodities in the poor world.  Either give up meat or eat only grass-fed meat.

Do not support biofuel production from foodstuffs or on land that is suitable for growing human crops.

Purchase high value, dry shipped luxury goods like spices, coffee, tea, etc… *only* when certified fair trade and grown in responsible ways (ie, shade grown coffee, etc…) 

Don’t buy imported produce.  Shift your diet to eat what’s available in your locality.  Remember, flying produce around the world is using planes to transport water, effectively.  That’s nuts on a whole host of levels.

Begin shifting your “shadow acres” of imported foods, resources and goods to your own locality - buy local when possible, even if it means buying less.  If you can’t produce something in your area, look for substitutes and work to establish local manufacture and production. 



Sharon November 11th, 2009

I admit, I really kind of enjoy disaster movies.  Don’t get me wrong - I don’t like them because I get to say “see, I told you the end was coming!”  Quite the opposite - I actually like them for their unintentional comic value.  Consider, for example, “The Day After Tomorrow” which took the ridiculous “outrunning the explosion” convention and changed it to “outrunning the temperature change.”  See our plucky heroes race ahead of a wave of unusually cold weather…  good luck with trying to replicate that scene.

Or think about the spate of asteroid movies that hit in the late 1990s.  First there’s the one where we send Bruce Willis to save us from an asteroid.  You don’t actually even need to watch the movie to get the joke - that’s hysterical in itself.  Seriously, Bruce Willis.  

Or consider  “Deep Impact” which has my favorite product placement ever - in several scenes, those fixed to survive the asteroid are packing huge quantities of “Ensure” - you know, that stuff they feed to nursing home patients.  Not dried beans, not actual foods, but heavy cans of the most boring dietary supplement ever.  I could just see the advertising campaign - “When you Want to Survive the Apocalypse, Turn to Ensure!”

Because I think these movies are funny, I admit to kind of wanting to see 2012.  The movie has all the stuff that you want in a ridiculous disaster movie - major icons collapsing on top of people (only Christian ones, apparently), tidal waves, earthquakes, meteors, John Cusack assuring his family that they are absolutely going to make it as they outdrive the meteor strike in an RV….what’s not to love?

Realistically, at the rate I go to movies, I’ll see it on Netflix in the actual 2012.  And I should note that while I don’t necessarily expect life to be normal as we think of it now in 2012, I am approaching December 21, 2022 with precisely the same level of seriousness that I paid to Y2K - zippo. 

Yup, your apocalyptic prophetess of doom is not worried about Mayan Calendars, and I remember flipping on the radio on December 31, 2022 and saying to Eric that it some guy had gotten cash out of a cash machine in Australia, so it probably didn’t matter that we never even got extra cash out, much less bought a year’s supply of anything.  I’m concerned with the gradual degradation of our planet, and with potentially fairly dramatic drops in quality of life - but the end of the actual world I leave to other people to worry about.

In my long-abandoned doctoral dissertation, I explored end of the world fantasies in early modern literature, which arose as responses to the waves of the black death that passed through Europe during the Renaissance.  I wrote about the way that authors from Shakespeare to Mary Shelley extrapolated from the disasters, or perceived sense of disaster,  that surrounded them to feel that the end of the world was at hand.

This is as old a reaction as can be imagined - and as normal.  In Genesis, when the destruction of Sodom drives Lot and his daughters into the surrounding caves, his daughters, traumatized, having lost their mother and sisters, and witnessed the destruction of everything, believe that they and their father are the only people left in the world, and set about the hard practical work of repopulating the earth - incestuously with their father.  I tend to think of this story, appearing as it does right after Noah, as the reminder that sometimes the disaster does strike, but that we’re also supposed to check, maybe even two or three times,  before we leap to the most extreme conclusions. 

I argued in my doctoral work that our fears about depopulation and disaster and  overpopulation and disaster - these are linked to our fantasies about the same subjects, indeed, the two are inextricable.   And in this sense, I see the focus on 2012 as another species of the same - we cannot decide if we are more attracted to the disaster or afraid of it.  On the one hand, we don’t want to face it. Once we have, however, we often allow our fantasies free reign - and the fantasy of an emptied and scoured earth, and, of course, the plucky band of survivors (of which we are always one)  is a lot of fun - if you are going to accept the possibility of disaster, the modulated, gradual, ecological disaster isn’t nearly as much fun as the end of the world, complete with meteors.

I think the increasing obsession with the apocalypse - in literature, in faith, art, in ordinary people’s minds is an expression of a collective sense of wrongness that many people feel but cannot articulate.  There have always been historical periods that were more focused on ends than others, and that focus tends to reflect a sense of things being unsettled, and of vulnerability.  For most people, there is nothing to pin that general sense of unease upon - so they attach it to anything that draws popular attention, whether likely or not.   For this I don’t blame them - many people rightly have the sense we cannot go on as we are now.  What’s wrong is their vision of how it must play out.

To my mind, there’s nothing really wrong with enjoying a romp in the apocalypse - whether in novels (maybe I’ll bring back the post-apocalyptic novel club, actually!), or in film.  What worries me is the degree to which people believe this stuff - that they fail to distinguish fantasy from reality.  Or in which they come to believe that unless there is fire in the sky and collapsing monuments, we’re not in the disaster.  That is, we watch these highly dramaticized fantasies of the end of the world, and think that’s what it looks like, and anything that doesn’t look like a movie disaster film - say, millions more hungry people, millions of refugees,  an increasing and grinding poverty, the wearing down of collective infrastructure, the death of species - that doesn’t count.

It may seem strange for someone who warns about decline and fall to dismiss apocalyptic prophecy - but mostly I do.  I think end-of-the-world fixations operate as substitutes for the reality we face - that the world will go on, slowly, painfully, with ever increasing losses, and perhaps sudden disasters that are not the end of the world, but only the end of lives and places.  And after each one we will look around like Lot’s daughters and ask “did the world end, because it feels like it has?”  But it will not have - we will merely be one more vast loss up in a world of declines.

Every once in a while someone emails to ask me if I’m worried about Mayan Prophecy and 2012, and I’m not.  I probably will see the movie eventually, and add it to my list of comic disaster films.  And then I’ll go home, and try again to make people see that a far less dramatic, but more serious disaster is already underway.