Sunday, July 08, 2007

Keeping up with the Jones' (even when they're drowning in their own garbage)

After a four-day trip to the garden state to visit friends and family this past weekend, I was already plenty riled up about the runaway consumer culture, unrestrained development, and political complacency that I witnessed in the land of my youth. Granted there are bubbles of liberalism in the garden state (I grew up in one), but these bubbles are either popping or getting smaller every day. The ridiculously high cost of living put the almighty dollar at the top of the food chain and things like the environment and humanitarian efforts get gobbled up like some helpless prey. In order to 'keep up with the Jones' (or even to simply not foreclose on your mortgage), moral values are put in the pantry and only the checkbook and gas tank get to sit at the kitchen table. With that kind of company for dinner, no wonder the divorce rate is so high.

So, after driving on the Garden State Parkway (see picture to the left-This road resembles neither a garden nor a park) and other potentially life-threatening activities, we made it back to Vermont at about 1 AM last night/this morning.

This morning, Robb and I dragged ourselves out of bed to go to the "town meeting" on global warming with Bernie and activtist/author Bill McKibben at Montpelier High School. There seemed to be a good showing. I'm not very good at estimating numbering, but it was a full house, especially for a Sunday morning in July. Bernie and the rest of the Vermont delegation is certainly pushing legislation to cut carbon emissions, but after seeing a car dealership dedicated exclusively to the sale of Hummers during our recent visit to NJ, I think that we need to push harder.

Environmental activist and author Bill McKibben, who has been sharing his knowledge and concern about the issue of global warming with the world for over twenty years had some excellent comments and responses to questions. Recently, Bill McKibben has written the book Deep Economy that I mentioned in a previous blog post. This book really focuses on the role of localism as an effetive strategy for reducing carbon emissons. He made a great comment about the way Americans eat, explaining (this is not word for word) that 'we order take out from 2,000 miles away every day.' This is referencing the distance that food travels to get on most Americans' dinner tables. Most Americans assume that they can drive through a snowstorm to go pick up a fresh pineapple. Strange, huh?

Several of the "townspeople" at the meeting offered suggestions about how indivduals, towns, states, and the nation might move foreward in terms of reducing carbon emissions. The idea that reducing our dependence on foreign oil could help not only the enviornment, but also the economy by creating "green jobs" was one great point. Nothing like some dollar signs to create a nation of environmentalists.

In addition to dollar signs, the other thing that people seem to be obsessed with in this country is status. They want to 'keep up with the Jones'. Americans have tried so hard to 'keep up with the Jones' that they make illogical and clearly immoral decisions like building houses so big that they can't even afford to furnish them or driving cars that are economically and environmentally unsustainable. They use credit cards to charge things that they do not need and can not afford so that people will think they are important. If we can get people to do things that do not benefit them simply so that they can 'keep up with the Jones', then surely we can get people to do make sound environmental decisions, like investing in renewable energy and efficient cars, so that they can 'keep up with the Jones'. If hanging your clothes on a line and biking to work was a status simple and made you look important, people would do it. So, in the future, maybe the term will change and people will try to 'keep up with the McKibbens'. After all, if the Jones' yard starts to fill with with all the electronic and plastic crap that they bought, but can not fit in their 4,000 square foot house, maybe the McKibbens' wind mill and solar panels won't look so bad.

Oh, and more importantly being environmentalist is cool. We were treated to a performance by the rising Vermont rap group X-10, who are "famous" for their "802" video. Now they have a new rap about global warming in Vermont. Have a look.

This is what happens when students have an education that teaches critical thinking and civic engagement. They actually know the name/number and contents of the Vermont Energy bill (H-520) that Governor Scissorhands vetoed. They even know that this Wednesday, July 11th, the legilature needs a 2/3 vote to over-ride the veto. Plus, they can rap about it and make learning and activism look cool!


At 3:53 PM, Anonymous brenda said...

I feel the same way when I go to visit my family in Massachusetts. It's eye-opening to get away from our comfortable, eco-friendly lives and see how 90% of the country is still wasting and trying to keep up with some false sense of success.

At 7:00 AM, Anonymous jessie said...

Well put. I think we probably talked about this when you were at my house, but the sad truth is that the raised awareness (from my perspective, anyway) that you can get from living in Vermont is barely existent not just in NJ but probably in most places around the US. The majority of Americans live, or aspire to live, like those you are so critical of.

People don't know the hidden source or cost of Things and don't want to or they can't enjoy themselves. (I count myself among this group but only to a degree.) Being oblivious helps you get through a lot of stuff that might give you pause!

At 11:32 PM, Blogger penguindevil said...

Vermont seems to be an old beacon of hope in a lot of ways. Heck, if nothing else, the lack of billboards puts it head and shoulders above the rest of the states. And I hope to one day be able to participate in one of those Town Meetings.

But yes, it's good to keep pushing for what's right... All of the people (especially, I think, from California) who have flooded dear old Portland Oregon these last 15-20 years... I don't think that a lot of them relate to our funny ways, like: recycling, public coastlines, urban growth boundaries... So I fear that those socio-enviro measures we have taken will retreat into oblivion as the native population gets smaller...

But I love the trash picture! At first I thought it was from the movie Idiocracy, but then I realized it's from the real idiocracy, which isn't too far removed from the film...


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