Archive for October, 2007

Global Warming, Sustainability & the Nobel Prize

Awarding the Nobel Prize to Al Gore and the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has once again highlighted the global crisis we now face.  While the prize raises awareness, it falls short of informing people about the big picture issue of sustainability.  So, the question I’m asking today is: what is the relationship between Global Warming and sustainability, and why is it important to understand?

The topic for this entry surfaced when I heard Lou Dobbs questioning the choice of Al Gore’s Global Warming campaign as worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize.  Dobbs commented that he believed competition for resources will constitute a greater source of conflict than Global Warming.  The truth is both are symptoms of unsustainable practices – the root cause of many of humanity’s woes.  I believe it’s important to understand because our response will be framed by our understanding of the problem.  So, if our goal is only to combat Global Warming, we will still fail the challenge and continue to face consequences of the sort Lou Dobbs refers.

Obviously we urgently need to elevate the public dialogue to include sustainability, but we face an inherent conflict in the argument because it involves changing how people see the world and live in it.  I think it’s natural for people to fear change, especially the economics, because what is unknown is perceived as a threat to their personal ability to survive.  This is why informing people about the issues, as well as articulating and demonstrating our response to the challenge, is so important – to dispel fear and engage people to change their behavior for all our benefit.

Does Gore’s new celebrity status or the popularity of his film diminish the validity of his argument?  This notion becomes particularly fierce during presidential elections.  However, if we as a democratically organized society believe what we preach, then their opinion is as valid as anyone else’s.  Democracy includes everyone, but is most effective when people are informed about the issues.  To dismiss anyone’s opinion is to denigrate democracy itself and I would challenge whether or not those espousing such opinions are interested in maintaining our democratic system.  Maybe they like the name “democracy”, but names are meaningless – it’s our actions that count.  In fact, it’s arguably a moral obligation of celebrities to utilize their fame to focus public attention in our “megaphone-based” version of democracy.  And, while it may be inefficient, it’s what we got.

I believe the Nobel Prize award to Gore is important for several reasons.  It serves as advertising for an important issue and significantly contributes to raising global awareness to create the critical mass needed for change.  Also, the fact that the Nobel committee is relating global warming with peace is significant in educating the public about the complexity of the connections involved, and hints at the integrated nature of truly sustainable solutions.  So, as someone with no megaphone, I’d like to thank the Nobel committee for using theirs to advance the cause.


October 22, 2007 at 6:02 pm Leave a comment

Loneliness and American Culture

What prompted this topic was an interview I saw with an immigrant worker.  He said he didn’t want to live in the United States because of the “loneliness and sadness” that comes with life here.   From my travels I’ve come to sense that Americans are not the happiest people on the planet, but that’s not the story you’ll hear from most of my compadres.  So, today I’m considering the topic of loneliness and American culture.

What is loneliness?  Does it go away with more “friends” or more phone calls?  Perhaps I’m unusual in that I can be in a crowded room and still feel lonely.  I’ve also noticed that the only thing worse than being lonely is being in a relationship and alone.  These observations suggest that loneliness is not just a physical phenomenon, but results from not feeling connected to other people.  Unfortunately, I think lonely people are everywhere simply because we don’t know how to communicate.  And, I truly believe you can’t communicate meaningfully with others until you can so with yourself.  So, while some may consider loneliness as a “bad” thing in life, I would suggest that it is essential to the human experience because it is a tool to help us understand both our self and our society.

I think the predominance of loneliness in our culture stems from several sources.  In general, Americans have a strong sense of independence and competition. While this may suit us in many circumstances, independent minded people may not take advantage of natural support systems such as family.  This influence is minor compared to the effects of our Great Experiment.  Modern urban planning has disconnected people through the design of our car culture.  The automobile allows us to pick and choose who we socialize with so we aren’t challenged to “just get along” and emphasizes the theme of self over community.  Furthermore, our economics is pulling families apart.  Families face financial pressures for two incomes to survive, conflicting with children’s needs to connect with their parents.  Additionally, our social system tells us that in order to survive, we have to ignore certain failures of our economics such as homelessness, poverty and lack of health care.  And, to compound it all, the speed and distractions of our world leave few with the time needed to think and reflect on such matters.  While liking yourself is a simple solution to loneliness, its fulfillment is problematic in our world.

If people reinforce their cultural beliefs through the stories they share, then are we blindly following the blind? If love is everywhere in our media why are divorce rates so high?  Maybe that IS the problem!  For Americans love is nothing deeper than a series of images or emotions we capture and hold in our head to recreate at a later time.  Maybe it’s unromantic of me to break down the notion of “love”, but the truth may lie a little deeper in the pile of details.  From my experience love is a result of trust.  Trust results from shared experiences, communication or both.  If we don’t engage in trusting partnerships, I believe the end result is the sense of loneliness.  In general, Americans start relationships at a boiling passion.  But the reality is that it can only cool from that point.  In India for example, where the couple may not even know each other describe such relationships as starting cool and warming with time into a great friendship.

How does this topic relate to sustainability?  As we promote solutions around the world we are also exporting the problems inherent with those solutions.  So, when we consider how to change our world into a sustainable one, we want to be sure that our choices do not systemically create and promote such problems.  How?  For example, pedestrian friendly communities increase the connectedness we feel with others and contribute to overall physical health.  Transportation based on public solutions rather than individual ownership eliminates systemic deficiencies while increasing cooperation, common access and decreasing the cost of living requirements.

Perhaps our understanding of freedom is still immature.  Maybe our freedom ends where our responsibilities toward others begin.  And, maybe we choose to take on those responsibilities both individually and socially to nurture and address our inherent humanity.

October 9, 2007 at 7:02 pm Leave a comment

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