The other night, as part of an attempt to understand and control my life, I considered the question, "What do I spend most of my time thinking about and wishing for?" I first approached this question by making two lists: one of the positive thoughts I typically think ("what can I sew or knit next?" was on that list) and one of the negative thoughts I typically think.
As you might expect, the negative list was much longer. Well, maybe you wouldn't expect that.... Maybe you are one of the people who is happy, and who thinks a lot about how happy you are. And actually lately I'm fairly happy.... But happy to me doesn't require all that much thought. Happiness, when you're feeling it, is not a problem to be solved. But unhappiness IS a problem, requiring a solution, which must be found.
So I have tended to think a lot about things that make me unhappy, and not always in terms of finding a solution--sometimes just in terms of how much a particular situation sucks. And I resolved to work to curb that impulse. As I wrote in my journal, it's quite true that certain dreadful things have happened or are slated to happen, "but is reminding myself that really what I want to focus my energy on? Well, no, except maybe for the 'global warming is BAD' part."
Yesterday I had coffee with a friend and we talked about some of the measures we take to reduce our carbon footsteps and how people find them ridiculous. There are, of course, additional things she and I can do--the next car I buy will be much more efficient than the one I'm driving now, for instance--but still, after reading an article about how much energy common household appliances use, I started doing things like unplugging my vcr when it's not in use and uplugging my microwave when I leave town so that the "energy bleed" is gone (because things like tvs and vcrs can use as much energy in "stand-by" as when they're operating). And some people think I'm nuts. How can one person make that much difference? Well, one person can't. But one person trying to make a difference times six billion--that can have a big impact.
Whereas, when I meet someone who isn't so concerned about global warming that it occasionally keeps them up at night, I think, "WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?"
I admit it: I've ended friendships with people because their attitude to the environment was intolerable to me. I can hardly bear to visit one of my sisters, even though I enjoy her company very much, because her household uses as much energy as some third world countries. And I have friends I email regularly who never respond to my statements about how upset I am about global warming, and I just think, "What planet do YOU think you live on?"
But I am finally starting to figure out that people hate rants, so I've refrained from writing about certain things--like this news story (which you won't be able to read unless you have that "Times select service, because it's way old) about how very beautiful and exceptional parts of Arizona--the "sky islands," fragile and wonderful ecosystems at high altitudes--are being destroyed by global warming. Or this story about how much energy is consumed by meat production. (And no, I am not a vegan, but reading this story did persuade me to persist in my efforts to reduce the amount of meat I eat.) Or this article about the droughts facing large portions of the US.
But this morning I read this story discussing a paper by half a dozen prominent scientists (including James Hansen, director of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the first scientist to warn the US Congress about global warming) announcing that the earth stands in "imminent peril." The situation is absolutely dire with regards to global warming--we have only a few years to prevent massive and devastating climate change, change so severe that the civilization we have built will not survive, because our infrastructure is designed for THIS climate, which is going away.
How can people not think about this, most of the time, as the basis for other thoughts?
And then there's this whole computer business.... turns out that personal computing devices, including not just computers but cell phones and blackberries (not to mention flat-screen tvs, which use TONS of energy), produce as much CO2 as the aviation industry. Not only that, but the average life for most computers is a mere three years. Makes me glad that I used my first computer for seven years before upgrading, and used my second one for six before upgrading. See? When I want software and such that's compatible with my old computers so I can still use them (because after all, they do still work), I'm not just being a luddite; I'm being a conservationist. And that's not an excuse created after the fact; I have kept my first computer for 13 years because I couldn't see the point in throwing it away when it still works.
But at least there is an effort to get computer manufacturers to go green, to produce machines that use less energy and to build the machines to accept upgrades rather than being replaced.
And then there is this effort in my home state, to make college campuses greener. This heartens and encourages me. But it ain't enough.
Why don't we all think about this, all the time? And not just global warming, but our impact on the entire world. As this editorial from the NY Times on the dramatic disappearance of many bird species in the US states, " The Audubon Society portrait of common bird species in decline is really a report on who humans are.... We look around us, expecting the rest of the world’s occupants to adapt to the changes that we have caused, when, in fact, we have the right to expect adaptation only from ourselves."