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Sibling Talk : The Environment

“Helping Without Hindering”


By Michael Wayland




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How do siblings talk to one another?

Are they friends or competitors?

Do they have the same opinions?

This IFMag issue is about the environment. Catherine and Michael chat about the topic.

Cath: What a tough issue for me as an editor. I have really had to learn a foreign language as a grownup to become environmentally conscious. I never thought of our home as environmentally conscious, I thought of it as money conscious around issues like, "turn off the lights, the electricity is expensive".

Michael: I think that for me, the overt public movement to environmentalism occurred in the 1970’s. It was not something children of the nineteen thirties through fifties (like our parents) grew up thinking about.

Cath: I agree that there is a historical/context to anyone’s perspective on the environment. I open this issue talking about how I think if you look at our family in a historical/cultural context, we were raised by “World War II babies that believed excess was a victory over death". I know that sounds dramatic but I mean it in a certain way. I think having plenty meant we were safe and taken care of and miles away from war or the depression that Dad's father suffered through.

Michael: I’m not so sure about the excess issue. Our family led a solid middle class to upper middle class life while I was growing up. Remember I was the oldest and you were the youngest so we experienced different things. I don’t believe our family broke into the economic “plentitude” until the time I was graduating from college, so I missed much of that while you had the opportunity to experience it.

Cath: I agree that Mom and Dad worked very hard but I also remember eating lots of meat, never recycling and driving in big cars. I remember our focus being on us rather than nature or saving the earth or animals.

Michael: When I think of environmentalism, I think of an order to things in the world. At the top level is humans. Next come animals, birds and fish. After that is plant life. And trailing is mineral and rock. Some call it the circle of life. Human life is more important to me than the survival of a minor species of field mouse. Having said that I do understand the connectedness of the eco system.

Cath: That’s a point – “the connectedness”. When I lived in Barcelona Spain during the early 90s, I was struck very much by the food markets. Their meat markets were very different. You might see an entire pig leg on a hook. You were keenly aware that something had been slaughtered. Here in America, meat comes in these really pretty neat cellophane wrapped packages that don't even remotely remind me of a living animal. There is a disconnect between the loss and the gain.

Michael: Yea, that cracks me up. Americans don’t want to acknowledge that their food sources are often living things. If a piece of steak comes on a Styrofoam tray in the grocery store, it is OK, but most Americans would be repulsed by seeing a side of beef hanging on a hook and having their portion carved off. Suddenly we feel sorry for the “poor” animal. I guess this reflects the fact that our country has moved from 40% agrarian in 1900 to 4% agrarian in 2006. Back then they had no problem chopping the head off a chicken and cooking it. Today, many “animal rights” people protest animal slaughter for food purposes.

Cath: The loss of the field mouse or the deer for food purposes might seem like a small thing in the big scheme of things, but when their species is threatened and that sets off a chain of events in the circle of life, that is different.

Whenever I attend Native American rituals, I am struck by their awareness of the “connectedness” of things. I think they honor the animal that has been killed for their sustenance, and use many parts of it rather than waste. Funny but I also find an “awareness” in this very urban place that I live in New York City. Many people here discuss and act out environmental causes. Also, urban living has caused for me some energy conservations that I did not plan but have been a nice result. For example, apartment buildings share heat. We take mass transportation or walk everywhere. I like that very much.

Michael: Yes American urban centers seem to be significantly more involved in conservation, either by circumstance or by choice. I believe it is that urbanization and economic advancement in the US that drives many other cultures to attempt to place “environmental” limits on the USA. To the extent that other nations can slow our economic development by placing expensive and burdensome environmental restraints on us, it limits our economic advancement or at least makes it more costly.

List out the “anti-American” nations and indicate next to each one whether or not they support extreme environmental policies targeted at the US. There will be a near 100% correlation. It is clear that one of the chief reasons for anti American feelings around the world is our ability to wield our economic and industrial might. Environmental restraints are purely a non military attempt to diminish America’s influence in the world economy.

Cath: You make some interesting points, but I think Anti-American sentiment is much more complicated than that. All right let’s talk about you. You have a girlfriend right now who is very environmentally conscious, she is a keen recycler, conserves energy, lives in a city, doesn’t drive, etc. How does that affect how you are?

Michael: It really does not affect me one way or another. If she wants to separate the paper from the metal and plastic, then good for her and me. I think that is great and more people should make the effort to do so. I am not an advocate of government mandates replacing citizen’s free will though.

Cath: I am not for restrictions either unless there can be proven a direct cause and effect relationship between two things. The IPCC and the UNEP have put out some pretty convincing evidence of cause (humans and greenhouse gases) and effect (climate change). Between what I have read on the Kyoto Protocol and the new working groups in the IPCC, it is seems like scientific data rather than propaganda.

Michael: The cover stories in the 1970’s were Global Cooling and how we were going to enter another ice age. Now it is global warming. The anti capitalists have jumped on the global warming issue as another way to curb American industrial expansion.

In my doctoral program I had to take numerous classes on statistical analysis and research methodology. One thing that is statistically true is that there will be variability in all measures whether it is British soldger's shoe sizes or temperature measures over time. Man is not the driver of that. The planet experienced global warming before the rise of man or else we never would have come out of the ice age. Glaciers melted long before the first factory. Scientists can point to one volcano eruption that spewed more greenhouse gasses than the entire history of the industrial output of man. Statistically speaking, we expect variability to lead to warmer times and cooler times. When looked at over the many years of the history of the world it is a nit, when looked at over a short period of time it may “seem” the world is coming to an end when really it is just statistical variability.

Cath: If it were only John and myself that are middle age, it would be one thing. But I do worry about Brody and Jax, do you worry about Michael and Tory?

Michael: Not really. I want them to have clean air and water. I would like for them to have pristine forests to go camping in. I would like for them to not litter or uselessly damage the environment. At the same time I don’t want their economic opportunities to be limited by unnecessarily restraining environmental policies. Right now the US environmental policy prohibits our companies from drilling for oil within 100 miles of US shores (except in the Gulf of Mexico) even though it is international water. Now Cuba is preparing to drill for the vast oil reserves 50-100 miles off the coast of the Florida beaches. Clearly, that environmental policy adversely affects US economic interests while positively impacting an American “enemy”. But that is par for the course with “environmentalism” as an economic weapon.

Cath: Well, from a very different perspective, I agree with you on some things. I think you said earlier, “more people should make the effort”. On that I agree. There are big things like supporting organizations such as the David Suzuki Foundation and their efforts at wildlife preservation and ocean conservation. There are smaller things like unplugging my cell phone charger if I am not charging my cell phone. Or buying energy efficient light bulbs. Or riding my bike to get exercise and get from one place to the next. I certainly eat 60% less meat since having babies of my own. Giving birth to babies I lost my appetite for meat, strange but with some nice effects. These “helping ideas” are the ideas we can share. The ideas that help without hindering. You seem to disagree when environmentalism imposes restrictions. That is interesting. These conversations help me to figure things out. I like it when Jax listens in to these conversations that we have, I think he starts thinking about his own opinions. I like that a lot as well brother.


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