Today, a plethora of Bleaty goodness - Earth Day memories and the Rick Santorum pile-on, all typed at the kitchen table while my wife watches American Idol and I refrain from wondering aloud how Paula Abduls head can look like a concrete block with a wig one week, and the epitome of hubba-hubba the next. But first, a round of applause for Mark, the worlds finest website support person; he called me at home to tell me my domain expired soon, and Id best renew. Thats service.
This is the fifth anniversary of this domain, more or less. It had existed on AOL for a year and a half before that, back in the days when Home Pages were the new thing. Now its blogs. Next itll be IdSpots, or SelfLocales, or EtherZines, or whatever term they slap on it. However the model changes, the Bleat will still be the Bleat.
Tuesday was Earth Day. I forgot to note this with the usual rituals - offerings of twigs and guano to Gaia, ceremonial crushing of small toy cars, hymns to the Great Round Dirt Mom who nourishes us all. (When you pray to the earth, shouldnt you look down at the ground?) I remember Earth Day in grade school - we all had Scholastic-issued manuals that taught us how to be good Planetary Citizens. They were Bible-thick, culled from a hundred sources, and virtually unreadable. Many dire stories of what would happen if Mom didnt switch to a non-phosphorous laundry soap. We were all eco-warriors then; we were all shamed by the Indian on TV whose single tear made us want to leap up and shout IM SORRY! ITS NOT MY LITTER! I HATE LITTER! (That the Native American turned out to be an Italian American actor was one of lifes more savory ironies, but nevermind.)
What I remember from the Earth Day celebrations, if thats the word, was a curious mixture of earnest concern, vapid utopianism, and doom. So - much - doom. As Ive mentioned ad nauseum, my later childhood was suffused with dystopian predictions - from Soylent Green to The Population Bomb to The Late Great Planet Earth to any number of books, TV shows and movies that took for granted a big bad nuclear war, it was all going to be downhill from here. Even Star Trek was cold comfort - its wonderful future was predicated on another big world war, and being a member of the society that would be consumed by that conflict, the best I could hope for was being frozen in a prison ship along with a genetically enhanced crew of eugenics enthusiasts. O joy.
Ive never bought the idea that were running out of space for our trash. No one who grows up in North Dakota can believe such a thing. But this doesnt mean Im prodigal with our bounty. I try not to be wasteful. I dont buy much packaged food. We produce one (1) trash can of garbage per week. We recycle. I dont put chemicals on the lawn; when a drought comes, I let the lawn go brown. I wouldnt buy an SUV that got crappy mileage because I dont need a big vehicle, and I dont like buying gas more than once a week. These seem like sensible decisions, and if you can apply the idea elsewhere in your life, do it.
Then today I read an article about the Ecological Footprint Quiz, You can find out how many acres it takes to sustain your lifestyle, and how many planets it would take if everyone lived as you did. My score: Six point six planets! Whoo-hoo! Im supposed to be chastened by this, but to be honest my first reaction is start working on that warp drive, Zephraim; were going to need lots of class M planets.
The quiz is so riddled with BS its hard to know where to start; like most of the doom & gloom models, it presumes static reactions to dynamic events: if everyone in the world lived like I did, wed need more resources. Maybe yes, maybe not, but if everyone lived like I did theyd have fewer children, and this would affect not just what people need today but what theyd need tomorrow. It also presumes that greater demand for resources requires us to loot more planets, when its likely that the resources can be found right here under Gaias sofa cushions. That was the gist of the old Ehrlich vs. Simon debate - as the price of a resource goes up, people try to find more of it, which expands the supply and depresses the price. Repeat until matter-replicators are invented.
How does the survey suggest I should reduce my Footprint? Well, I could take public transportation. I actually plotted out how much time this would take - it would add over 2 hours to my commute, once you figure in all the transfers, and the idea of doing this in January, with a toddler, is not an option Ill willingly choose. I could grow my own food - yes, they suggest this. Uproot the rose bushes and plant Victory Cabbage. I could give up meat. I could live on boiled toenails and nettles. But Id still be working in a four-earth multiple, I fear, thanks to an amorphous category called Goods and Services. The category is defined here:
GOODS AND SERVICES: 8.6 acres
Goods include appliances, clothing, electronic items, sports equipment, toys, computers, household furnishings and cleaning products.
Services include water, sewage, garbage, telecommunications, education, health care, entertainment, recreation and tourism, military and other government services.
To reduce: Because our lifestyles increasingly depend on goods and services, this part of the footprint can be significant. To reduce, lower your score on food, housing and mobility. Another approach: repair, don't replace. Think energy efficiency when you buy and recycle whenever possible.
So you have a category that lumps together tennis rackets (sporting goods), Tomahawk missiles (military expenditures), cable TV and cellphone towers (telecommunications), emergency room visits, trips to the Grand Canyon, and Park Board Sunday concerts (government services). The category is so broad its meaningless, and makes me suspect that even Gandhi himself would turn out to be a two-planet man.
Again, this is what drives me nuts about the eco-movement. Weve made great progress in the last 30 years, thanks in part to the scolds, thanks in part technological developments set in motion by a desire for efficiency, or by a vague sense that the scolds might have a point. But it's never enough. Planetary collapse is always right around the corner. Perhaps it is - but one of the reasons I'm innured to the nightmare scenarios is because I've heard them all my life. They're the boys who cried wolf every day, even as wolf skins were worn by the village elders, wolf-steaks served for supper, wolf-heads used to scare off other wolves, and wolf-blood used to make wonderful vaccines that prevented lycanthropy. Yes, we have made great progress. But a wolf could kill us all any day!
Just for fun, I plugged Gandhi values into the survey. No meat. All food from the neighborhood. I live with ten people. My house is 20 metres in size. Its a freestanding house without water or electricity. Each week I travel 0 KM on public transportation, because I cannot afford it; I beg outside my shanty. I bike, walk, or use animal power to get around. I never fly.
IF EVERYONE LIVED LIKE YOU, WE WOULD NEED 1 PLANETS TO LIVE ON
Lets try it again. I am a 65 year old Indian female who is giving the same responses I gave as a 44-year old Minnesota male.
IF EVERYONE LIVED LIKE YOU, WE WOULD NEED 1.7 PLANETS TO LIVE ON
So its adjusted for your location, then. Being Indian rearranges several factors. Lets give the same answers from a Saudi perspective:
IF EVERYONE LIVED LIKE YOU, WE WOULD NEED 5.1 PLANETS TO LIVE ON
Same answers plugged into the US model:
IF EVERYONE LIVED LIKE YOU, WE WOULD NEED 7.2 PLANETS TO LIVE ON
Ergo, it is better to be a woman in Saudi Arabia than the US?
This is why I get annoyed with the eco-scolds - they get that dial-tone expression when you suggest that freedom is as relevant to happiness and sustainability as the amount of time one spends riding oxen to the communal produce plot (fertilized with night soil and donkey glands). Perhaps even more so.
The survey notes that Bangladesh citizens lifestyle has one of the smaller footprints on the earth, and by the standards implied by the survey they would seem to be the most eco-holy. Okay: here are two glasses of water. One is from the Topeka Municipal Water System, drawn from a water cooler in a government building. The other is tap water from Bangladesh.
Which would you give to your child? Keep in mind that a grave has a very small footprint. Compared to a living, breathing child. They tend to eat, after all.
And then theres Rick Santorum, whose quotes are all over the web these days. The article attributes some ideas to him, and some points I agree with. I think he's correct when he says that two-parent familes are good for children. But this is the money quote:
If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual (gay) sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything," the Pennsylvania lawmaker said in a recent interview, fuming over a landmark gay rights case before the high court that pits a Texas sodomy law against equality and privacy rights.
This is uber-stupid. Oh, it appeals to elements in the bedrock base of the party, but theyre not going to shy away from voting GOP because party luminaries have stinted on comparing gays to incest advocates. Well, I like the Republican positions on taxes, defense, school vouchers, faith-based initiatives and all, but there hasnt been enough talk about how adult gay consensual sex is indistinguishable from giving minor family members some of that sweet, sweet lovin. I guess I'll have to vote Nader now. Its also an electoral loser for the center, the sorta-maybe-kinda conservatives who actually know some gay people, or who actually are some gay people. It reinforces the idea that people who hold a certain set of ideas about taxation, government involvement in the economy, and the necessity of a strong defense are also consumed by the idea that somehow, somewhere, Tab A may not be going into Slot B. This is not the same thing as having a religious belief that frowns on homosexuality; if that's what your doctrine believes, and you choose to believe it, that's your right and your choice. But it's no more a matter of public policy than the Catholic prohibitions against divorce are a basis for civil law. The public sphere accomodates these views, inasmuch as it does not ban them - preaching against homosexuality or divorce is not prohibited speech. But the public sphere is not obligated to burn these precepts into the tables of civil law. We're not talking about granting a new right here - this is about removing something that shouldn't have been there in the first place. It does not encourage behavior that isn't going on now - for heaven's sake, if they repealed a law against riding dogs while naked and slathered with Crisco, would you strip down, grease up and find a pliant Schnauzer?
Santorum's remarks are not a recipe for electoral success in the 21st century. Things are balanced right now - a Democratic presidential candidate who insists that the Statue of Libertys mannish features prove shes an example of transgendered statuary will find no national sympathy. And a Republican who seems inordinately bothered by the fact that police cant kick down a door and taser lesbians for snoring in a common bed - well, hes toast, too. But the Democrats only need to be silent to win this issue. They win it just by being Democrats. Republicans lose the issue by raising it. Come out with guns blazing, demand that the Supreme Court slam their big gilded gavel down on the very concept of sodomy, and they run the risk that people will go to the dictionary, look up the word, and say: I aint giving up that for a capital gains tax cut. Not on this or any other six planets.
That said: if anyone insists Santorum should suffer consequences for his speech, they are denying his First Amendment right to dissent! A chilling wind is blowing across America! If anyone disinvites him to an event, the black cloak of Ashcroftian Throat-Chokery has been draped across another dissenter! If you dont buy his book, Joe McCarthy cackles from his personal pit in hell!
Dont worry, Rick; Tim Robbins will be the first in line to support your right to speak your mind.