Friday, July 06, 2007

Cold Feet on Global Warming

I went to Fry's Electronics yesterday with my daughter to get an expensive gizmo she just had to have. I was overwhelmed not only by the kinds of expensive gadgets intended to do jobs that I didn't want done, but by the range of gadgets in each category and was, briefly, proud of myself for not owning, or wanting, any of this stuff.

But not for long, because I am a sinner--not because I'm rich and greedy, but because I'm (relatively!) poor and pressed for time. I eat meat and processed foods because they're cheap and because I don't have the time to prepare ecologically sound vegetarian fare. I drive to work because I can't afford a house close to my job and because I can't afford the 4 hours a day it would take to use public transportation. And, with three kids, I have in my day sent tons of paper diapers to our local landfill.

Diapers were an issue when my kids were babies. I remember one TV program featuring a Saint of Ecology who noted that though she and her husband were "child-free by choice" some of her best friends, who had "chosen to have a child," made a point of using environmentally-friendly cloth diapers which they washed themselves. I was seriously skeptical about whether it was her best friends who were sloshing the shit off of these cloth diapers in their toilets. During the tour of the compost pile behind her Connecticut saltbox home she explained the benefits of using organic cleaning products, compounded of lemon oil and beeswax, to maintain her antique furniture. I found myself in vigorous agreement with her housekeeper and her best friends' nannies that this woman should have been drowned at birth.

Rich women rarely notice the toll ecological correctness takes on the women who have to clean the shit off their kids' diapers and polish their dining room tables with beeswax. Men never notice. The babies have clean diapers and the dandy whole foods fruit and nut casseroles appear on the table: they haven't got the faintest idea of the time and energy it takes to scoop these beans and whole grains out of bins at the local organic food market, to soak and process them, and to cook them in elaborate recipes to make them fit for human consumption. It's easy enough to serve decent Anglo-Saxon fare if you aren't fussy: chicken, steak or pork chops on one third of the plate; instant mashed potatoes and canned veg on the others. Healthy, ecological or vegetarian food takes much more time, effort and imagination.

The real ecological burden however falls on the really poor--the low and middle-income countries. Locally, Mexico dumps raw sewage in the Tijuana River estuary. We hold our noses and despise them in the way that we despise fat working class wives who serve their families fast food after a long day behind the Walmart checkstand because they don't have the time or money to do better. China, which now bills itself as the world's factory, pumps out pollution. When I was there two years ago, after my dog (lab of course) ate my glasses I was pumping in eye drops every 15 minutes to make wearing contacts tolerable. What do you say to people who just want minimally decent lives, not the glitzy garbage at Fry's, who just don't want to spend all their waking hours working and crapping around with the business of life, who just want a little bit of leisure--and pleasure?

Years ago, as one of my professional duties, I had to put up Tom Regan, an animal rights activist promoting vegetarianism. I showed him the cheap generic canned goods in my cupboard and challenged him: if you vegetarians want to promote your agenda subsidize garbage like this so that we can eat cheap crap and I don't have to cook. If we, the privileged, want the luxury of glaciers and rain forests, we should pay for it. The Bad Guys aren't greedy pigs aiming for more Fry's products--they're decent poor people who want a decent life, and don't want to spend all their waking hours working to eat and eating to work.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

HE -- you pasted this twice.