When I was taking care of my nieces for a week recently, I couldn't help but examine how I (and the media) influenced them as little consumers. The 2-year-old seems to fly under the radar by still having one foot in babyhood. The 4-year-old, however, with her bright and curious mind, is ripe for the messages of wanting and consuming. It would be nearly impossible to shield her from a culture of stuff and prevent her desiring things. Her parents are committed to buying secondhand for toys and clothes, which is great, and of course she doesn't know the difference. Something new to her is something new, period. But she is beginning to exhibit a consumeristic side. One instance occurred while we were watching a children's video. She likes to watch the previews; rarely do my attempts to surreptitiously fast forward through them escape her vigilant eye. One preview was an advertisement for a computer game related to the movie we were watching ... her eyes brightened and she exclaimed, "Look at that game! We should get that for our computer! We need that game!" Naturally my heart sank a little. The period of innocence before our materialistic society turns us into buying and wasting machines, is so painfully short. We're not greedy in our heart of hearts, I truly believe ... but we are simply incapable of resisting such bombardment from the media, and we have a powerful urge to fit in with everyone else. As children, we don't yet have the information and ability for abstract thought that enables us to see the more sinister purpose behind these messages and products - to make rich companies richer, at all environmental and cultural costs. I offer these questions to earth-conscious parents: How do you address these issues? Do you allow television and movies in the home, or must these mediums be avoided in order to raise children who are less swayed by materialism? Do your children feel "different" from their peers? How do you reconcile your own desire for stuff with your desire to set a good example?
T. (my other half) and I attended a community meeting the other night, held by a group called Citizens Against Sprawl / Save Downtown Ellensburg. Wal-Mart wants to build a major retail center at one of two freeway interchanges a couple miles outside of town, and the townsfolk are concerned, naturally, about how this will impact Ellensburg and its businesses. It's obvious to all of us that despite claims to the contrary by the plan's proponents, this will not draw more business to Ellensburg, but will have the opposite effect. Wal-Mart is all about cheap one-stop shopping, and there's nothing to encourage customers to travel a couple more miles into town. Also, a big store like Wal-Mart will attract other businesses to build adjacent to it; so even the employees of the store won't travel into Ellensburg to eat lunch or do their own shopping ... they'll stay right there at that major interchange, which will have become a strip mall when it's all said and done.
There was a lot of talk at the meeting about growth: how growth is inevitable, how we must "own" the change that will inevitably come, how we must expand as a town and attract tourists and businesses, while maintaining our historical charm and appearance. This is where I get confused. Is it necessary for a town, or any place for that matter, to grow? If you have a community committed to maintaining the town exactly how it is, with the exception of changes that lessen environmental impact and encourage sustainability, isn't that enough? Or do inflation and the larger economy dictate that we must always be growing economically, generating increasing revenue? Building more businesses? I don't know enough about it. I do know that "no growth" is a radical enough idea that I don't dare bring it up at these meetings. I'm sure it would seem especially outlandish coming from some young chick who's only been in town a few months (I'm not that young really, but T. and I were among the youngest there). Does anyone out there have some insight for me on this? Capitalism is based on unchecked and infinite growth, which, as far as I can tell, is a doomed proposition. There is no bottomless well of resources, so at some point (now, I hope) we must decide we've got plenty, or more than plenty, and find a way to reduce our impact. At the meeting, folks kept talking about keeping growth in the town, building up instead of out, encouraging local business and light industry, etc. But no one asked, why do we have to build or grow at all?
I just finished an article in the 1/9/06 New Yorker by Elizabeth Kolbert, entitled "Butterfly Lessons," about the impact of global warming on butterflies in particular, but a number of other species as well. It's not an encouraging article in the least, and though I've read so many things about extinction, it never fails to pierce my heart to the core. Extinction is a natural process that would happen over time with or without human influence, but the rate at which it currently occurs and the causes of it are truly heartbreaking. The most frightening prospect of all, is that we don't even know (or care?) what we are destroying. Two quotes that struck me:
"Over the past two million years, even as the temperature of the earth has swung wildly, it has always remained within certain limits: the planet has often been colder than today, but rarely warmer, and then only slightly. If the earth continues to warm at the current rate, then by the end of this century temperatures will push beyond the 'envelope' of natural climate variability."
"A few years ago, nineteen biologists from around the world set out to give, in their words, a 'first pass' estimate of the extinction risk posed by global warming. They assembled data on eleven hundred species of plants and animals from sample regions covering roughly a fifth of the earth's surface. Then they established the species' current ranges, based on climate variables such as temperature and rainfall. Finally, they calculated how much of the species' 'climate envelope' would be left under different warming scenarios. The results of this effort were published in Nature
in 2004. [I believe this
is the article.] Using a mid-range projection of temperature rise, the biologists concluded that, if the species in the sample regions could be assumed to be highly mobile, then fully fifteen percent of them would be 'committed to extinction' by the middle of this century, and, if they proved to be basically stationary, an extraordinary thirty-seven percent of them would be."
Food for thought. Every tiny percentage of greenhouse gases we save by walking instead of driving, or hanging clothes on a clothesline, or reusing a cloth napkin instead of purchasing paper towels, gives us a little bit more time to figure this out.