Thursday, April 16, 2009

133. 'Green' once a year not enough

April 22 is Earth Day and, thanks to the many events throughout Ohio and the country, it is a day for raising the awareness of environmental issues. The idea has come a long way, and I hope that one day it will be a national holiday.

The problem is that only raising environmental consciousness on Earth day is like only attending church on Christmas Eve and Easter. Environmentalism is something that needs to be practiced every day, it needs to be a part of every decision we make.

I am grateful for the many Earth Day programs that one can enjoy, including the Cleveland Zoo and the Lorain County Metro Parks. EarthFest, promoted by the Earth Day Coalition has many fine events including green home improvements, clean transportation and many environmental exhibits

The Lorain Metro Parks similarly have an Earth Day Extravaganza which advocates the simple things like replacing burnt out light bulbs with florescent bulbs and composting. The day includes crafts, games, hikes and activities.

However neither of these programs, nor many of the others I have run across, include programs that speak to vegetarianism as one of the best, if not the best, methods to promote environmentalism.

I am sure the problem considered in the planning of these events is a matter of interest. However, if the issue cannot be discussed here, among a crowd of people supposedly dedicated to preserving the Earth, where can it be considered?

The truth is that promoting environmentalism through recycling aluminum cans is like promoting fuel efficiency by making sure your tires are properly inflated. Sure it helps, but if you really want to spend less on gas, the better suggestion is not to drive-walk or ride your bike. If you must drive then drive a small hybrid. To drive a large Sport Utility Vehicle with properly inflated tires is better than driving one with poorly inflated tires-but, in comparison to other solutions, and in the grand scheme of things, both are practically useless alternatives.

The issue is so significant that one vegetarian group even sells a t-shirt that says something like, "If you are not a vegetarian, you are not an environmentalist." The argument is well settled as noted by,

"In November 2006, the United Nations released a massive report that details the environmental consequences of eating meat. It's called Livestock's Long Shadow, and it concludes that raising chickens, pigs, and other animals for food is "one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global."

It is spelled out in detail in the environmental magazine, "E,"

"E, the respected environmental magazine, noted that more than one-third of all fossil fuels produced in the United States are used to raise animals for food. It takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of animal flesh. If we have to grow massive amounts of grain and soy-with all the tilling, irrigation, crop dusters, and so on that are required-truck all that grain and soybeans to factory-style farms and feedlots, feed it to the approximately 10 billion land animals who are raised for food in the U.S. each year, truck those animals to automated slaughter facilities, truck the dead animals to processing centers, run the processing and packaging machines, and then truck the packaged meat to grocery stores-well, there's a lot of energy being used up at each one of those stages."

The result, according to John Robbins, is that,

"the average vegan uses about one-sixth of an acre of land to satisfy his or her food requirements for a year; the average vegetarian who consumes dairy products and eggs requires about three times as much, and the average meat-eater requires about 20 times that much land. We can grow a lot more food on a given parcel of land if we're not funneling crops through animals."

This is just the tip of the ever-melting iceberg, as it does not even include other environmental issues such as water usage, water and air pollution, global warning, and the destruction of the rain forests and aquaculture.

When you consider the impact of eating meat on our planet, one wonders what exactly these Earth Day program committees are thinking about. Surely they understand, don't they? Are they afraid to challenge people's values or morality; are they afraid that the farmers will protest? Talk about the elephant in the room!

The obvious point is that we keep ignoring the major environmental factors-the ideas that will result in significant change. Whether it is due to power, greed, ignorance or the inability to make personal sacrifices, we keep cowering in the corner when it comes to the one real solution to our problems.

I am not suggesting that it is realistic to expect everyone to live a completely environmental life-such as a vegan diet, recycle, and drive a hybrid or electric car. There is so much that can be done, to the point that our lives could be paralyzed in indecision. However we can all do more.

In this respect, I understand change takes time, and I appreciate that doing something is better than doing nothing. Everyone doing the little things can have a positive impact on the environment; the numbers do add up in a hurry.

However, at the same, we need to be able to have honest conversations about the things that can really impact the environment, not just those small things that make us feel better about ourselves. This is the conversation that is necessary to initiate the consideration of change.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

132. Respect is earned, not ordered

There was a lot of media attention last week concerning President Obama's trip to England and his meeting with Queen Elizabeth. Michelle Obama also made the trip, and, likewise, was introduced to the queen.

The meeting was drenched in tradition and etiquette. And there was some controversy about whether Michelle Obama inappropriately touched the queen, or whether the iPod was an appropriate gift (the Queen, by the way, gave President Obama a picture of fitting!)

She is the Queen of England (she is also the Head of the Commonwealth, Supreme Governor of the Church of England, Duke of Normandy, Lord of Mann, and Paramount Chief of Fiji, according to Wikipedia)-and there are rules as to what you can say, how you are supposed to act and a list of those things that you cannot do.

According to various sources, some of the rules include:

Do not attempt to touch the queen. Wait for the queen to extend her hand.

Do not bow or curtsy (this would be the rule if the subjects meeting the queen were British).

First greet the queen as "her majesty," then as "ma'am."

Do not turn your back to the Queen.

I think a show of respect is a courtesy that should be extended to all human beings, regardless of your age, sex, race, socioeconomic status, religious preference or last name. It is something that we as Americans probably do not do well-we often rush to judgment, declaring our own interest superior to others.

However, the idea that queens and kings still exists, let alone that they are still privileged to special treatment and etiquette, is outdated and preposterous. A quick historic review of monarchies offers the reminiscences of war, revolution, power and greed. Is that not in part what Americans fought against, the idea that people should not be controlled by royal dynasties-unaccomplished kings and queens, declared such simply because they were delivered from the noble womb.

Think about those people you have respect for. Are they those people that have worked hard-gone to school, worked two and three jobs, endured both success and failure, and who not always act in their self-interest, or is it someone born into privilege, deserving of admiration simply because of their family name?

In this specific case, who do you think deserves more respect-an African-American, born to a middle class family who works himself through law school and the American political system, or the current queen, who was born into privilege, and unexpectedly became the queen only because her uncle, Prince Edward, Prince of Whales, never had children?

Let's be serious, if there is a matter of respect to be shown, it should be the queen offering it to President Obama.

I realize and understand that there could be a book-length discussion on the queen herself, her responsibilities and that, in many respects, it is the tradition of the royal family that lives on. But the point is still the same-who cares? We make it important simply by adhering to archaic political and historical systems. That time has passed; it is time to earn respect.

As to how respect is earned, it is different for everyone. Some people are respected for becoming the best at what they do, for being elected to political positions or becoming highly educated. Others are respected for the amount of money they have, their athletic ability or their artistic talent. Finally, others are respected for simply working hard at whatever they do, providing for their families and making sacrifices for others-such as donating time and money to worthy causes.

I probably respect all of these people, and it is not that I am necessarily out to disrespect the queen. However, I think it is time to reevaluate, as a species, those traditions that are built on nothing else more than tradition itself. There needs to be a reason-a qualitative or quantifiable reason that is more than "She's the Queen!"

When it comes to matters of tradition, the question should always be, "what happens if..." In this case what happens if President Obama reaches for her hand first, calls her something other than "her majesty," or if Michelle Obama wore a sleeveless dress? Who is harmed? Who has suffered?

Most importantly, if it was done without the specific intent to be disrespectful, how silly it is that anyone would care-when there are more important things in this world to worry about.