Pollan on climate change


in Economics, The environment

Michael Pollan (whose books I have previously reviewed: 1, 2), has an article in the New York Times about climate change. Essentially, the piece is about the need to change lifestyles in a way that goes far beyond making a few trivial gestures and waiting for technology to save us:

Here’s the point: Cheap energy, which gives us climate change, fosters precisely the mentality that makes dealing with climate change in our own lives seem impossibly difficult. Specialists ourselves, we can no longer imagine anyone but an expert, or anything but a new technology or law, solving our problems. Al Gore asks us to change the light bulbs because he probably can’t imagine us doing anything much more challenging, like, say, growing some portion of our own food. We can’t imagine it, either, which is probably why we prefer to cross our fingers and talk about the promise of ethanol and nuclear power — new liquids and electrons to power the same old cars and houses and lives.

It is refreshing to see someone else getting the big picture and accepting the reality that global emissions absolutely need to peak in the next 10-15 years, if we are not to live in a world transformed.

The whole article is well worth reading, though Pollan’s argument that growing a vegetable garden can significantly change a person’s outlook doesn’t strike me as hugely plausible. That said, it is not something I have ever tried.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Sarah April 25, 2008 at 4:40 pm

Um, gardening might lead to attitudinal shifts; I can think of a few potential insights off the top of my head:
1) Food availability is highly dependant on predictable weather & few (or controllable) pests;
2) You can produce quite a few of the items you consume, without needing much training or startup costs, if only you invest a little time & energy (this applies to food one grows, to clothes you can sew, knit or crochet yourself, to furniture or pottery which can be made etc);
3) Things take time & planning – if you (or society) wants lettuces in June, then someone needs to plant seeds in March;
4) People don’t steal as much or often as you fear they will (gardens are generally unprotected; plants & veg are very rarely taken)
5) Slugs, pigeons and crows are evil. Evil! (ok, this one may not have so much in the way of broader applicability);
6) We value things more when we know the time & care that went into the production. This is likely to provoke thought about how little we value / pay for many other objects (hence underpaid workers, environmental damage etc);
7) Rain and sunshine are awesome & essentially free resources – they rock! If they can turn tiny little seeds into large, delicious fruit & veg, maybe we should try to harness them for other things;
8) Bees are really important for pollination (and also quite cute).

I would like to see a society in which people were helped & encouraged to grow fruit & veg in their gardens instead of ludicrous city edicts requiring the maintenance of wholly unproductive lawns that require a ton of watering & nasty chemicals. As a new gardener, I think that sort of change could make a significant difference.

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