Sunday, August 26, 2018

Paying attention to climate change

craning for attention
TY cheskapoon
I started this post last year, then succumbed to the distraction that was summed up nicely in Tim Wu's The Attention Merchants", a thoroughly annotated analysis of  how our attention's been hijacked. If I'm going to contribute usefully to the interwebs, I better damn-well make it meaningful, so I'm reconnecting with my writing. Blogging's been dead for a while, so I'll just call this an article while I figure out where to share it next.

I’m bumping up against something that I’m guessing other people have bumped up against too.

How we spend every single dollar and every second of our attention is a measure of what we value, "walking the walk", right? After visiting The Chef's Garden last week, learning about their world-renowned agricultural practises that make them a sought after supplier to 4 and 5 start restaurants nationally and internationally, I stopped at McDonald's for lunch. Wait, what? Right. I signaled I valued convenience over all else.

Then this well-researched piece chronicling the origins of our climate change knowledge and collective inaction crossed my radar. It felt too long...wait...what did I just say about attention? So I read it. I came of age in the 80's and early 90's, the time period in which we had the best chance of acting on the climate science. As I attended WPI through 1994, I have little recollection of climate change being a topic of conversation or concern. Surely this was a result of my chosen discipline, circle of friends, and social pursuits. So I've emerged dismayed by the history I was refreshed with and how little we've accomplished.

It's a long article, and worth reading. Here are a few excerpts and observations that feel as relevant today as they were 30, 40, or 50 years ago.

“Do we have a problem?” asked Anthony Scoville, a congressional science consultant. “We do, but it is not the atmospheric problem. It is the political problem.” He doubted that any scientific report, no matter how ominous its predictions, would persuade politicians to act.

Distraction by insignificance: after James Hansen testified in Al Gore's subcommittee within the Committee on Science and Technology in 1981, "That night, the news programs featured the resolution of the baseball strike, the ongoing budgetary debate and the national surplus of butter."

Exxon's rhetoric about becoming a leader in decarbonizing our energy system in 1982 was interesting to learn about. I was 10 years old, and not paying attention - Voltron, He-man, and The Thundercats were far more important.

Phrasing is important. This is evident in the section on the "ozone hole" in 1985. While it was not technically a "hole", only a severe reduction in atmospheric ozone concentration, "ozone hole" was headline worthy and understandable. Result? Action. The Montreal Protocol of 1987.

"The ozone hole, Pomerance realized, had moved the public because, though it was no more visible than global warming, people could be made to see it. They could watch it grow on video. Its metaphors were emotionally wrought: Instead of summoning a glass building that sheltered plants from chilly weather (“Everything seems to flourish in there”), the hole evoked a violent rending of the firmament, inviting deathly radiation. Americans felt that their lives were in danger. An abstract, atmospheric problem had been reduced to the size of the human imagination. It had been made just small enough, and just large enough, to break through."

What might have been for the first Bush administration. "In March 1988, Wirth joined 41 other senators, nearly half of them Republicans, to demand that Reagan call for an international treaty modeled after the ozone agreement. Because the United States and the Soviet Union were the world’s two largest contributors of carbon emissions, responsible for about one-third of the world total, they should lead the negotiations. Reagan agreed. In May, he signed a joint statement with Mikhail Gorbachev that included a pledge to cooperate on global warming."

John Sununu, White House Chief of Staff from 1989-1991 is to George Bush I as Grima Wormtongue is to King Theoden of Rohan. Just sayin'. It pains me that Mr. Sununu wielded his MIT Mechanical Engineering Ph. D. in his attack in the science of climate change. As an WPI alumni with a Bachelor's of Science in the same discipline, trained to solve problems, that's what engineers do. Climate change is right in the wheelhouse. Oh wait, then there's politics.

The author summarizes thus, challenging us to take a stand, "Everyone knew — and we all still know. We know that the transformations of our planet, which will come gradually and suddenly, will reconfigure the political world order. We know that if we don’t act to reduce emissions, we risk the collapse of civilization. We also know that, without a gargantuan intervention, whatever happens will be worse for our children, worse yet for their children and even worse still for their children’s children, whose lives, our actions have demonstrated, mean nothing to us."

I can only guess that if there had been representatives from marginalized communities, people of color, and/or more women, in the room the climate change conversations would have been much different in the 1970's and 1980's.

So, here we are. I can only think of taking the actions we can take to reduce our impact. I'm not interested in having my kids ask, "what did you do about climate change?" and having nothing to say.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018


Holy ____!
Not the actual hands...

The vulnerability of being a parent hits me like a ton of bricks occasionally, coming in waves of nearly paralyzing emotional overload out of the blue.

The triggers are many and varied.

Today, it happened to be dropping our oldest (first grade) off at school. He missed the bus due to unforeseen bathroom delays...such is we packaged him and the younger brother (3.75, as he'll tell you) in the car and headed to elementary for the first stop, followed by daycare.

No sooner were we in the building, signing in at the office, and walking towards the classroom did it start.

I looked back and noticed that the boys were holding hands. I'm not sure who initiated it, and why (it didn't matter), but that simple act of tenderness and love smacked me right in the emotional gut...tears welled up immediately. Really? WTAF. What am I feeling here?

Could it be connected to the mere fact that we have these two beautiful children? Our process for procreation was not "off the shelf", adding about 5 years to the family journey. So, the fact that we ended up with these amazing little people in our world is somewhat of an extra blessing.

What about the cultural violence manifesting itself in our schools? Perhaps I'm reminded just how powerless we are shepherding our children in the world when I walk into a school. Sure, we can seek to lock down every damn minute of their lives, but what kind of life is that, and, what does it say about us, or more specifically, our failures?

You know, in the end, the why doesn't matter that much, the vulnerability won't go away.

It's about letting it be there, being OK with it, and moving forward doing the best we can.

For one thing, it's reminding me to be present.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Unfriending socials

About a month ago, I decided to deactivate my Facebook account.

I have not done it yet.

I realized that the time I spent there was NOT time well spent. In fact, between mindless scrolling and "friends" far outnumbering the Dunbar Number, I was skimming the tops of my relationships.

I noted this in my professional life as well. I have over 1000 connections on LinkedIn. Are they enriching for the person I'm connected with? For me? Have I skimmed the surface there, and by doing that limited my potential? Or, are the weak network connections just as important?

I'll be using the phone, hand written notes (egad!) and emails to nurture the relationships that I want, past, present, and future. So far I've done OK at best.

Then, I listened to this episode of Note to Self, a podcast I’ve found approachable and insightful for those that might “think too much” about what's shared online. It talked me off the edge.

Yes, our social shares of #food or our kids’ adventures are curated representations of the life we want our connections to think we have. It’s personal branding, whether we call it that or not.

My mistake was knowing that, and wishing it were something else.

P.S. I wrote about unionizing Facebook back in 2012. Is it time?

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


It happened.

Our oldest child started kindergarten today, about 90 minutes ago.


I've been particularly moody and anxious the past few days...seemingly unprovoked. Now I know why. In a conversation today I mentioned that being a parent has made me vulnerable in a way that I'm not sure I've come to terms with. Maybe it's coming home to roost, whether I like it or not.

This is a pretty big transition, maybe bigger for me than it is for him. But, do I really know? Heck, he's 5 right? I can ask him. I'm guessing he'll respond with a little smile and a nuzzle of his lovey called "Puppy", with a casual mention of the people he met at school.

I suppose it's another step in the process of "growing up", whatever that means. Spending structured time with peers in the community's care. Heck, he's been in daycare since he was 3 months old. I still remember my lunchtime daycare check-ins (I was lucky to be able to do that). He'd usually be sleeping, and be fine, great even.

So, I'm thinking these feelings are a reflection of my insecurities with the great big world he's going out in.

Really, though, considering the violence suffered by children the world over, what am I concerned about? Could bad things happen here? Yep. Will worrying about them prevent them?

Not so much.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Natural Gas Pipeline in Hinesburg

If you're in Vermont, you've probably heard about the VT Gas pipeline expansion in the news, maybe even the controversy about the planned route passing through Geprag's Park in Hinesburg.

As a member of a renewable energy company here in VT, was I happy about investment in old-tech, fossil fuel infrastructure? No. Was I hopping mad? No. I have to say, my reaction was more like, “seems to be inevitable, right?” Look, I'm not perfect, that's where I was.

Well, we bought a house in Hinesburg, moved in at the end of March. We’re thrilled to be joining this community. New neighbors, meeting new people, visiting schools where our kids will be enrolled, new friends for the kids, grabbing a coffee to and working with other occasional digital nomads at the Bristol Bakery (which hatched an idea...more on that later), and generally being a cheery newbie. Then, I learn about the proposed route of the pipeline, with what appears to be a less than optimal process between the Town and Vermont gas. Here's what happened June 1st.

Well now, that’s a bummer.

Did I mention our house has natural gas service? So, we'll be paying for that pipeline too.

Well, we’re a member of a Community Solar Array (CSA), we're exploring solar on our new home (imagine that), installed a wood stove (I know, they’re not necessarily “sustainable” - it depends) and are investigating the addition of multi-zone cold climate heat pumps, and maybe even a plug-in hybrid. So, are we perfect? No. Are we CO2 neutral? Heck no. Are we seeking to get better and do the right thing? Yup.

While the burning of fossil fuels contributes to climate change happening right here, it's about more than that. It's about waste, crappy design, and short term thinking. It's even about how we envision the future we'll all be sharing - we build that future with every decision we make. Whether or not one believes in climate change, the waste associated with combusting dead dinosaurs is staggering. Does anyone know how the EROI works out for natural gas heating (LMGTFY)? What about the dollars we pay for that energy? Staying here? Nope. 

When we dig up the earth for hundreds of miles to bury a pipe that'll carry flammable gas through towns, parks, and backyards, what does that say about our values? What happens when those pipes are old and leaky, decades after we've moved past burning fossil fuels? Who owns those stranded assets? Will we be uncovering toxic impacts decades later? Look what's happening in North Bennington with PFOA. Oh wait, in Essex and Colchester too. Good times.  

What's my point? It's easy to sit back and say that this pipeline is "inevitable", that it's progress. It's progress, and not necessarily in the right direction.

We have choices.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Coworking in Hinesburg? Why not?

Wait, what's coworking? From Wikipedia,

"Coworking is a style of work that involves a shared working environment, often an office, and independent activity. Unlike in a typical office environment, those coworking are usually not employed by the same organization. Typically it is attractive to work-at-home professionals, independent contractors, or people who travel frequently who end up working in relative isolation.Coworking is also the social gathering of a group of people who are still working independently, but who share values, and who are interested in the synergy that can happen from working with people who value working in the same place alongside each other."

And, surely you can't be serious.

Of course we're serious. It's not just for urban areas. It's for the 'burbs and rural communities too.

Hinesburg and surrounding towns have a healthy dose of solo-preneurs, entrepreneurs, home-based businesses, and free agents that love this little corner of Chittenden County.

The old "commute to the office", while still part of many of our daily lives, is not what it used to be.

Folks like flexibility. They want to work from home BUT the isolation can be deafening. They want short commutes to leave room for fun things in their lives. Yet, working remotely either full-time or part-time can be isolating and downright depressing.

For me, it's about being easily available for activities as my oldest child enters school this fall, and minimizing non-value-added time in my day - like driving. It also means spending more time in the place I live, the place I'm putting down some roots. That has value.

It'll be a place to share professional struggles, find solutions, maybe a new client of business partner. Plans include a partnership with CVU to offer students the chance to work on interesting projects with members, gaining real world experience and strengthening community connections.  

So, a few folks are working on this coworking and networking idea. It's a merger of things that've been percolating here for a while, and informal market research with laptop wielding folks at The Bristol Bakery.

There's a real need to foster community connections between people that work remotely in the same town.  Supporting those networked connections with a physical a community space is part of the puzzle.

We're forming HinesburgHUB believing that work-at-home folks, corporate knowledge workers, cultural creatives, and solo-preneurs value social connections as much as they value their independence. And need personal and professional support from time-to-time to achieve their visions.

Our mission is to connect folks and bring them together in a collaborative, supportive, easily accessible and affordable fusion of virtual and real-world office-place, and community third space.

So, maybe you'll join us?

If you have not already passed along your insights with our short survey, you can do so here.

Join the list and we'll keep you updated on The HUB's progress.

Oh. Visit us on facebook, follow us on twitterinstagram, LinkedIn - and of course, like and share. ;-)

Friday, April 01, 2016

#AprilFools Day 2016 #9to5story

Here resides the entirety of the #9to5story published with twitter April 1, 2016. Tweets appeared every 5 minutes for the #AprilFools workday. Enjoy.
  1. He stamped out his cigarette with contempt.
  2. "I can't tell you what to do with your life," she said.
  3. Silence. The two old friends looked a bit lost.
  4. "Well, then..." he paused, "what can you tell me?"
  5. She looked away, over his shoulder into the distance at nothing in particular.
  6. "You see, this thing we call 'life' is all a big joke."
  7. "Though, it's not funny at all, the joke's on us," she continued.
  8. "Wait," he interrupted, "don't start with the 'all the world's s stage' crap," he waved his hand dismissively.
  9. "Please stop thinking you have all the answers" She said, freezing him with a stare he knew well.
  10. "OK. OK. You're right," he apologized with his eyes, "I'll listen."
  11. "To continue," she paused, "the joke's on us because we take it so seriously." She shifted in her seat.
  12. "Sure, there's serious shit to deal with, violence, hatred, famine, disease, you name it."
  13. She fiddled idly with a napkin, "But, there's nothing that says we're compelled to be miserable about it all..."
  14. "Wait," he interjected, "how, exactly, might one NOT be miserable about that stuff? Ever heard of empathy?"
  15. She sighed, "You're doing it again. I'm not done." A waiter dropped off a glass of water, ice tinkled innocently.
  16. "Yep, misery loves company..." he trailed off and took a sip of the cool water.
  17. "That's one way to look at it. We're better off searching for the joy in it all, as difficult as that may seem."
  18. "Because, it's there. Within all the pain and suffering, it's there. You know why? Because WE bring it."
  19. "How do you mean, exactly?" his brow wrinkled and his head cocked to the side, like a dog.
  20. The bar was busier now. He had a hard time staying focused as sweaty revelers crowded the silent spaces.
  21. She noticed. "Wow, there are a lot more people here now - weird for a Wednesday afternoon."
  22. "Other people like to day drink," he smirked and took a pull from his warmly held pint.
  23. "Point taken. So, as I was saying, we bring the joy to the world, it's a distinctly human creation."
  24. "Like the Christmas song?! Ha!" he threw up his hand in mock celebration.
  25. "No. well, maybe, sure. It's up to us to forge the reality we want." she countered.
  26. "It all seems so insignificant. Why bother?" he asked, taking another long pull from his beer.
  27. "There's a BIG assumption! Why is it so insignificant? What makes you think bringing joy doesn't matter?" She leaned in.
  28. "What if it's hugely significant, like, if Karma's real?" she leaned back again in her seat, almost visibly tired.
  29. "Yeah, right," he said. "That ship has sailed. It's BS, a human construct to help us feel least less lost."
  30. "It guilts people into being nice because something bad might happen to them. End of story." -
  31. "How do you know? And, what if we're nice and help people and Karma does not exist? So what?" she paused.
  32. And continued "Haven't we made the world a better place anyway? That matters."
  33. "I suppose," he snorted. "I should just be nice to everyone like my grandmother." His cynicism hung in the air.
  34. "That depends, assuming she is nice," she added with a touch of her own cynicism.
  35. "The reality is that elders are not always the nicest, they have there own hang-ups" she continued and then paused.
  36. "Thanks for bringing the rain to my already soggy parade," he smirked.
  37. "OK Reset. Let's assume we're all good people. Does that help? Making that leap in character judgment is important."
  38. "Right...#1 assume people are inherently good," he pretended to write it down.
  39. "Good. Good. Your mockery serves to reinforce the idea." She pushed a few cold french fries around her plate with her fork.
  40. Something changed. She looked up and her eyes began to fill with tears.
  41. "Whoa, what's up? What's wrong?" his concern was sincere. "What onion did we cut into?" He touched her hand.
  42. She welcomed it, then pulled it away slowly but deliberately. "Don't," was all she said.
  43. "Okay then," he was annoyed and pulled his hand back quickly.
  44. "It's been far too long to pretend we're connected - like that," she dried her eyes and blinked a few times.
  45. "Get over yourself." he flung it at her, "I've moved on." He warmed, "I pains me to see you that way, as a friend."
  46. "With benefits?" she laughed to shake off the chill that overtook them.
  47. " But, whatever. Can we get back to the 'Meaning of Life?" He didn't laugh.
  48. "Sure. I thought about someone I'd judged severely and then regretted. Rule #1 came a little late."
  49. "A life lesson, eh? Well, you learned from it," he stated it plainly.
  50. "I think so, I mean, Yes. Sometimes. I have my moments." she paused again and looked away.
  51. "We forget about Karma all the time. Or, maybe we intentionally un-remember it." she continued.
  52. "Sure, when we're barraged with stories of suffering, violence, loss," he paused.
  53. "If that's happening to people, they must've been pretty bad to pile up Karma demerits," he said.
  54. "Another reason for avoiding the news, though ignorance is not a great strategy for living."
  55. "Where was I?" she shook her head. "Joy. We're on the hook to bring the Joy with a capital J."
  56. "I guess I struggle with that. I always feel like whatever I'm going to do is not enough," he mused.
  57. He continued, "In the face of so much 'bad', my little gestures just get lost in the cosmic background radiation."
  58. "Jeez. Are we going down that path - we're all made from stardust?" she looked irritated.
  59. "Well, pretty much, depending upon the creation myth you adhere to", he stated this flatly.
  60. "Let's just call that an 'unresolved issue'," she made quotes in the air. "Maybe new evidence will come along."
  61. "How does The Game fit into this?" his tone grew sinister.
  62. She shot him a terrified look. "We're done with that! We agreed."
  63. "Ok, Ok," he leaned back and smiled, "I was just testing. It's been awhile."
  64. "Wait. We're off topic again," he continued and thought about lighting another cigarette.
  65. "The beliefs associated with creation myths matter in this conversation," she was certain.
  66. "Beliefs. Indeed. They define our reality." he nodded agreement.
  67. "Exactly. Back to your Joy comment. If you believe that your actions are inconsequential, they will be," she paused.
  68. "Or, you're missing opportunities to move the positive needle forward," she motioned a needle moving across a gauge.
  69. "Maybe. I suppose if we all stuck to that, it'd be a pretty gloomy place," he allowed that to sink in.
  70. "Right," she smiled. "I bet you remember a small gesture that meant a great deal to you."
  71. "Ya know, that happened recently," he pointed at her, "a stranger bought me a cup of coffee, just because."
  72. "That's all it takes," she folded her arms triumphantly and sat back, sinking a bit into the old booth cushion.
  73. "But, I analyzed the hell out of it and concluded the guy was trying to make up for something," his brow furrowed.
  74. "So what if he was? Balancing the yin and yang. It still matters," she was admonishing him now.
  75. "And," he emphasized, "if it's a punishment for something, then what?" he was serious.
  76. "What, like 'community service', right? Still matters, again my point, whether court ordered or not," she paused.
  77. "OK, I'll take that. It's another way to think about it," he allowed.
  78.  "I've found that looking at things as if I were a child is helpful - NOT looking for motives," she stopped.
  79. "What? That came out of nowhere," he lit that cigarette he'd been thinking about.
  80. "Well, they're pretty much innocent and don't have much baggage," she waved away his second-hand smoke.
  81. "Well said," he took a lazy drag.
  82. "Notice I said 'much' not 'any'? They have some from previous lives," she surprised him.
  83. "Good one," he smiled, "Or, Original Sin - going back to the creation myths," the smoke annoyed him too.
  84. "I guess you must think life's fleeting if you're still smoking those things," she was visibly angry.
  85. "Tell me about it. I guess quitting matters more to those around me than to me," his eyes half-closed.
  86. "And, as we've concluded, that matters," she lectured now.
  87. "My health is important to those around me," he recited with feigned seriousness, like a 5th grader.
  88. "Right you are!", she slapped the table, returning his mock enthusiasm.
  89. "But, you know, I'm kinda tired of the bullshit," he took another drag - purely out of spite.
  90. "Really? You're so good at it," she said.
  91. "That's my point. I'm tired of playing the game that it's all OK," he was getting upset again.
  92. "What do you mean?" She sensed something had changed, something unsettling.
  93. "There's too much smiling and nodding, not having the hard conversations about what we need to fix," he continued.
  94. "Well, are you willing to be the one that raises the discomfort topics?" she asked with a tone of derision.
  95. "About The Game? Yeah right. You know that's not something that anybody's ready for," his tone turned sinister again.
  96. "No!" she hissed and looked about furtively, "That's NOT what we're talking about. We agreed!"
  97. He looked back at her, paused, raised an eyebrow, and before she could reach him,
  98. his thumb found the button in his jacket pocket and pushed it.
  99. Her face went white as the bar started to blur, edges turning fuzzy, sounds were muffled, then she lost contact.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Vermont is a Place

I'm writing this after attending the Burlington City Arts panel conversation, "Of Land and Local: The New Working Landscape: Renewable Energy and the Aesthetics of Vermont" hosted at the Coach Barn in bucolic Shelburne Farms on October 13th. It wasn't quite what I expected, and I came away with altered ideas about renewable energy and place.

My family migrated to Vermont in the summer of 2014 from the Boston area for a number of reasons, many of them related to Vermont's wonderful landscape, from the NEK to the Green Mountains to Lake Champlain and everywhere in between. We want our kids to have easy access to the outdoors, something that's such a part of Vermont's culture. We also appreciate Vermont's progressive energy and environmental policies, something that helps preserve those things that both long-time Vermonters and recent arrivals value.

As a new arrival I'm noticing is that most Vermonters have a deep appreciation for the world around them, and their place in it.

There's a strong desire to protect and preserve while forging ahead with solutions that are right for Vermont. These are sometimes at odds, as the evening's panelists illustrated.

Ryan Walsh, a poet who grew up in West Virginia made the observation that struck me most deeply. As photographs of mountain-top removal mining "from his West Virginia backyard" flickered across the screen, he commented matter-of-factly that worrying about the aesthetics of renewable energy borders on lunacy in the face of ecological damage done elsewhere in the pursuit of fossil fuels. So, we're facing a luxury problem, right?

Nora Mitchell, Director Emerita of the Conservation Study Institute, noted that Vermont's stories are those of the past, and those stories change and whether the pace of change contributes to some folks' discomfort. So, I'm wondering if we're concerned with change as much as we're concerned with renewable energy.

Rick Smardon, studying the psychology and sociology of landscape change noted, what is it that drives acceptance of renewable energy? and that folks tend to think that an impending change will be worse than it is. Typically, when asked after a change is made, they say, "it's not so bad", but the perception is that the change is bad - this is not always so.

Pamela Fraser, artist and Assistant Professor of Studio Art at the University of Vermont commented on the aesthetic impact of power lines and our adjustment to them over time. There were most certainly people that objected to them at some point. She also commented on the use of the word "nostalgia", that it can be a crutch for resisting change. We've adjusted to grain silos, to ski trails hewn out of forested hillsides, highways, power lines, gas stations, etc. These were new technologies (good or bad is another topic) that were at one point resisted - how did we adjust?

Time for the disclosure.

I work in renewable energy with certified BCorp and Vermont Benefit Corporation SunCommon, where we focus our business lens on people, planet, and profit. What made our move to Vermont possible was the creation of renewable energy jobs here in Vermont, which top 16,000 at the moment.  Depending on what you read, we're the demographic needed here, a young family that will help fuel the economy and add to the tax base as we buy homes and our kids enter local schools. Renewable energy helped make that happen.

I'm confident that we can overcome the challenges associated with the current renewable energy debates. We have to. Climate change is happening.

We can do our part to preserve the Vermont environment that generations have appreciated. Maybe, just maybe, the seventh generation of my family will be real Vermonters, and find themselves in a world we helped make better by what we do right here and now.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Dead Children - Something's Wrong.

I'm not sure where to start with this.

I've written about it before, nearly two years ago and ten tears ago. It unleashes frightening emotions.

The image and headline flashed before me in my Facebook feed, posted by an old cycling friend. I tried to ignore it, simply for fear of what I'd feel. My fears were realized. It's right there, I'm sorry, they can not be unseen, but you've probably seen them already.

I wept (I was not alone).

The dead children, washed up in the shore at a Turkish resort, called to me. Their eternally frozen faces struck at me deeply - as a father of two beautiful boys.

What was it?

My inaction in the face of this travesty? The circumstances that drove their parents' desperate attempt to flee in search of a better life? What of the uncounted thousands of children expiring among us, in our world of plenty? What of the children abused right here in my adopted state?

All this feeling only when I drop my guard and let the horror of what's happening creep into my consciousness amid the blah, blah, blah of daily life. I imagine these children barely afloat, clutching with all their tiny might to anything to keep them breathing and alive. Can I even contemplate for a moment that feeling? Then, the last hopeless gasp before all passes into darkness - NO!

My God! The blessings that my children are! The blessing of my family, of the fact that I was born where I was born.

Can anyone gaze on these images and not be moved?

What is our moral responsibility as a member of this global community to act? This is simply not right.

I pray, this godless man prays.

Now, I look for ways to do something - this will not be easy.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Vacation Reflections - Sustainable Tourism?

Well, it happened. We went on a vacation - with members of our extended family. It was long overdue, something that had been talked about for at least a decade. We collectively deferred, as we could not find a common "good time". Well, time marches on, and depending on your point of view, there may never be a "good time". Someone put a line in and the sand and said, "we're going here at this time, who can join us?" We just decided to go, and received gifts to help make it happen, which we were/are incredibly thankful for.

Now, the catch, we went to a resort in the Caribbean. Ack, a manufactured vacation experience carved out of a beautiful place, with all sorts of negative environmental attributes. Despite these assumptions and misgivings about visiting such a place, it was quite nice (once I shut off my cultural/sustainability critic - which one might argue one should not do) and enjoyed the time away with members of our extended family.

Note on parenting: in general, my parental anxiety setting is probably at a 7 on a scale of 1-10, so the thought of traveling with our kids didn't help. Who knows what could happen (I envisioned the worst). Here's where my brain goes - when the flight attendant started reviewing the safety information, and then stopped by with an infant life vest (since we were traveling with a little one), I envisioned the scenario of a water landing. It was terrifying. My mind dramatized a cross between the movie Titanic and Jaws - with a poor outcome. I had to shake my head to change my frame of mind. The good news, nothing bad happened. The kids were great travelers, they did not get sick, and the oldest will (hopefully) fondly remember the time playing with his cousins for a long time to come. So, I think I've successfully knocked my parental anxiety setting down a few notches to a 4 or so.

Back to the whole "vacation resort/sustainability thing".

More on that word resort. I could not help but envision an artificially carved out piece of western culture extracting resources from the local economy through cheap labor - feeding the heaving, sweating, sun-roasted masses gathered there for a respite from wherever they came from. Of course, big-bad investors/owners were from elsewhere, benefiting from the resource extraction - but is that true? Kind of, I guess, but I haven't studied it.

In the first few days there I marveled at the scale of the operation. Arriving at a warm place like this is a bit jarring after about 12 hours of travel with children starting at 3:45 AM in Burlington, VT. I'd never been to a resort before (never mind the terrible one I visited with college friends in Cancun for spring break in 1993ish) and could not help but be surprised by the packaging of the experience. Music followed you along the covered walkways connecting the facilities, piped in through speakers disguised as rocks. I felt a bit like I was in a vacation mall, complete with an extra deluxe food court that you had to make reservations for and an enormous buffet that teemed with people 3x/day. I tried not to notice the plates heaped with food.

A small army of staff made this all possible. There were machete-wielding men hacking at shrubs in the early morning light and the like to keep them in order, innumerable women mopping floors multiple times/day, and countless attendants in the buffet to clear tables and guide exhausted families to their nourishment. Yet, I wondered, how did the resort's jobs affect the local economy and the people? Was this a boon for them? What percentage of the workforce worked there? Did it contribute to their economic well-being in ways that I discounted? Do the benefits outweigh the costs? Assuming that natural resources are undervalued as they typically are in our investment calculus with ecological negatives treated as externalities, I'd have to guess that the benefits do not outweigh the costs.

What about the resource and energy flows to make this all possible? I envisioned the mass flow rate of inputs and outputs with the system boundaries of the resort. Bottled water by the thousands/day. Tons of food. Was laundry done on site or subbed out? How did they treat the pools? Where did the power come from? Oh, and don't forget the energy and associated emissions from the thousands of guests that make it there over the course of the year. Judging from the languages in the communications collateral, the resort owners targeted the US, Russia, France, (and I'm missing a few). But wait! They're Green Globe Certified - oh, that makes it all OK.

Despite my reservations, mostly that voice in my head saying "you're here and therefore contributing to the systemic problems", I'm glad we made the trip - to visit with family and enjoy their company, and knock my parental anxiety scale down a few notches.