In summer of 2006, I asked a “highly placed Israeli source” this question: “What’s with Olmert?” New Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was botching the Lebanon war, relations with the territories and his Kadima party’s coalition, as well as facing criminal indictment. The source’s resigned reply: “We work with what we’ve got.”
That reply sounded both realistic and defeatist. Realistically, in any given situation, we each do the best we can with what we’ve got. And if we believe this is the best we can do, then it follows that we’re always at our best. Which is where I found the hapless Olmert.
We can also defeatedly whine about results, saying, “This is all we we’ve got to work with. What did you expect?” In other words, we deserve to end up like this, we didn’t achieve anything, and it’s not any one person’s fault — especially not mine. In this, we see more than a difference between glass-half-empty vs. glass-half-full folks. We see the difference between humans who will be able to get themselves out of serious political and environmental trouble, and humans who won’t.
People are now making wars all over the world. High-profit technologies, such as genetically modified foods, nanotechnology and laser uranium enrichment are being advanced without regard for their consequences. Politicians and their supporters are screaming at each other rather than conversing. And human-created gases and pollutants have re-ordered our planet’s seasons and cycles in ways we’ve never seen before.
This new form of Earth is what we’ve got to work with now. And I believe our only way forward is to dedicate ourselves to tikkun olam — healing the Earth, and those who live on it. There’s no better time to embrace healing than now, as our children return from idealistic weeks at summer camps. Let’s reinforce their idealism, and assure them of a peaceful future on a healthy planet — not use fatalistic excuses to betray their expectations and trust.
The strategy is straightforward. As Bill McKibben notes in his book, Eaarth, we’ll have to live differently now on this different planet. Fortunately, we’ve already begun shrinking fossil fuel use and meat production, and boosting resource efficiency, alternative energy and organic farming. We must continue these actions, but you may be surprised at how familiar these steps already sound:
1. Plan car trips to combine errands with commutes, and use high-MPG vehicles;
2. Use the car less. Instead, share one, ride the bus, walk or bike;
3. Use Earth-friendly cleaners at home, work, school and camp;
4. Only use and buy Energy Star or better electronics, appliances, heaters and air conditioners;
5. Conserve water — with low-flow faucets, toilets, and appliances, and metered landscape irrigation;
6. Use low-wattage lighting;
7. Use a clothesline for drying;
8. Share more — through Zeitgeist (www.zeitgeist-movement.org), the Venus Project (www.thevenusproject.com), Neighborrow (beta.neighborrow.com) and other alternative economic structures;
9. Grow your own organic vegetables and fruits, without fossil fuel garden or landscape chemicals;
10. Support local agriculture, through CSAs (community supported agriculture), farmers markets, natural foods supermarkets, and slow food activities;
11. Support your local economy: get your mortgage and other loans from community banks or credit unions, join cooperative enterprises, shop locally, and volunteer in your community;
12. Remodel and build “green.”
If you shop at chain stores, buy from ones that sell healthful products. For example, Trader Joe’s sources all its products from non-GMO ingredients; Safeway and Kroger are pricing organic products competitively against conventional products; Pharmaca (www.pharmaca.com) provides a healthy pharmacy alternative, and membership-based Costco and REI are always responsive to member input.
A world without burning fossil fuels is healthier, quieter, and smells fresher — which may initially feel odd to America’s city-dwelling majority. Recall the quiet days after 9/11, when U.S. commercial aircraft were grounded, and few vehicles drove the roads. We could hear the wind, rustling tree leaves, birds, conversations and other human activities. The flight stoppage kept at least 220,000 tons of aircraft and airport vehicle carbon emissions out of America’s skies, and gave George W. Bush the dubious honor of doing more for the environment those few days than in his eight-years of presidency.
Other positive notes: America’s “clean economy” now employs more people than the steel, fossil fuel or biotech industries — 2.7 million, according to a new Brookings Institution-Battelle report. Organic farming has grown more than 600 percent since 1990 — to six million cultivated acres, according to USDA, and accounts for 1 percent of U.S. agriculture. The organic livestock sectors have grown even faster.
We know what we’ve got, now. And even if we talk a fatalistic game, we’ve never been the kinds of people who were willing to let circumstances dictate the outcomes for us without a fight. So, let’s show up at our best, and work with it.