Urban Foraging

Walking through the park yesterday I saw someone weeding. When I first saw her, I thought she was urban foraging (since most of the weeds around here are edible).
Turns out she was bringing the plants home for her ducks and chickens.
Long Beach, you rock.

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GMO argument? Go ahead and argue your gut.

This morning, I read a Salon article on “Anti-Vaxxers” and a Resilience article on gardening and I think to myself: “So being ‘anti-GMOs’ – is this a privilege thing?”

In other words, with an ever-increasing number of people on the planet, can we truly in good conscience be against a thing that makes more food?

I’ll save you some time if you’re busy: I don’t really know. I still think this article to be worth your time. I hope you’ll agree.

It’s a tough thing to discuss, because like so many other things, a lot of political weight is given to terminology that it shouldn’t have. Indeed, should not be expected to support. For example, what do we mean by GMOs, and is that what it really means?

Definitions

GMO stands for genetically modified organism. What this means at the root level is that humans have purposefully selected traits in another plant or animal that they find favorable and encouraged its growth while simultaneously discouraging the growth of other plants or animals that do not exhibit those traits. It also means that the converse is true: In trying to eradicate a plant or animal, we kill off most of it, but the strongest survive, leading to stronger and stronger plants and animals (and bacteria) we consider “undesirable”. The first we have done intentionally – I often hear “since the beginnings of agriculture”, but I surmise that it might have begun even before that. The second, unintentionally, we have done only for as long as we’ve had the populations and energy to do so. We drove species to extinction before, but things really ramped up as we hit “industrial society”.

Every decision we make, individually and collectively, about which other organisms we will allow to live or choose to kill (or spay or neuter[1]), we’ve made a modification to the total gene pool available to the future of that organism’s species. As a result of who we are as a species, ie: intent, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that every other species on the planet is a GMO for some reason or another as a result of our actions – intentional or not.

When I talk to others about GMOs, and give these definitions, I am quickly told (as if I’m from another planet) that this is obviously not what they meant. They’re right, I’m being obtuse. What they mean is scientists in labs messing with science. I find that these arguments, when Socratic-ly investigated, fall in to one of two categories.

The first stems from not actually understanding (or knowing) many of the scientific processes and basing opinions instead on TV pundits, politicians, or other people who they perceive to know more about the subject than they. Unfortunately, I have also found that many of these opinions come from people who also have no idea, but feel their credibility stands on having an answer, whether fabricated or not.

This last is especially dangerous, since the authority is based on our collective cultural assumption that “authority” is a thing, and that certain people should be authorities on every subject. I’m looking towards politicians at this point, who we expect to know everything, but couldn’t possibly [2]. We give away our personal power and expect parenting, but this is not what we get.

Eula Blis writes in the “Anti-Vaxxers” article mentioned above, that,

Power is gendered, so even if we’re talking about a female doctor talking to a father, there can still be that sense of mansplaining, because you have someone speaking from a position of authority and power to someone who is subject to that authority and power.

Further, she explains that the people we put in authority rarely have the time or inclination to give us all of the information we need to make these important decisions for ourselves, leaving us doubly at the mercy of authority: once because we want to give ours away, and once because we will not or cannot support it, and choose it anyway.

We (many?-most? of us) don’t have the scientific background needed to understand scientists in labs doing science, and (many of the) scientists have been told (or at least, behave as if) that credibility lies in writing in such dense language that we without scientific literacy cannot understand it, and we as a society keep them busy enough that they can not, will not, or do not take the time to explain it to us such that we can understand [3]. Thus, the arguers are left with no real information. No information, that is, except saccharine-sweet corporate cheerleaders (who we will get to in a moment), and Hollywood fictional horror a la Frankenstein and World War Z. Both stand to make millions by taking opposite stances. Both rely on gut feeling rather than scientific method.

The second category of arguments has nothing to do with science, but with corporations. GMOs in this case have everything to do with a (possibly deserved) distrust of the concentrated wealth and power that are represented by modern multinational corporations. This, too, is based on our collective desire to have someone else do the heavy thinking and deciding, as well as Hollywood’s horror show. This time, exemplars include Elysium and In Time. Again, gut feeling.

In either case, we are left with gut feeling, and that gut feeling is fueling the debate. I wonder if anyone, myself included, would recognize unbiased scientifically rigorous information if it started growing in our front yards.

Privilege

What do we do with our gut feeling? It depends. Those of us with little access to options in food eat what we can get, whether they are engineered or not. Those of us who feel that GMOs are dangerous and have money to support it go to great lengths to ensure (often unknowingly unsuccessfully) that they do not support it. Eula Bliss speaks of vaccination:

In comparison, we have relatively more economic stability, relatively better controls on our pharmaceuticals, relatively better government oversight, and relatively better healthcare in general, with more access for more people—but we still have problems. Part of what’s going on behind the resistance to vaccination here is a response to problems in all those areas: It’s a response to corruption in pharmaceutical companies; a response to problems in the way our government regulates and oversees things that have an impact on our health; problems with unequal access to medical care.

But replace “pharmaceuticals” and “medical care” with “food” and “vaccination” with “GMOs” and an interesting question emerges: if the choice to not vaccinate is a problem of privilege that hurts those without, is resistance to GMOs the same emperor in a different outfit?

To answer this, what are the arguments for GMOs? 1) More output on same land to 2) feed the growing population using 3) foods better acclimated to various specific environments. Additionally, to 4) make the plants resistant to the chemicals being dumped on them to destroy various “pests” which build up in monoculture.

Well, the original question is: can we truly in good conscience be against a thing that makes more food? Let’s go backwards.

#4: If more food comes at the expense of potable water in the form of poisons in the waterways, then more, cheaper food comes at the cost of having to purchase drinking water. That’s net-zero for the poor and a net-loss for the Earth. At least theoretically… at a gut level.

#3: Foods better acclimated to certain climates is a great idea, but they generally already exist. I don’t need GMO low-water rice in a world where quinoa, amaranth, and sorghum (to name but a few) already exist. The problem isn’t that rice isn’t acclimated to my area, the problem is that I’m resistant to trying new foods, and the other problem is it’s cheaper for food giants to use machinery already in use. At least theoretically… at a gut level.

#2: The problem of overpopulation isn’t solved by feeding all of us. This is a very unpopular sentiment, and it’s probably going to keep people from sharing this article, but this goes back to the authority thing: we want someone else to make the hard decisions about how to reduce population. Government-mandated population limitations lead to problems, so the only things that can possibly work are voluntary action and finally hitting global limits. Delaying the hard decisions means there’s no reason to make the hard decisions, so why bother?

#1) The claim that GMOs will enable more yield from the same amount of land. Ignoring the meat issue [4], it is unclear whether more is necessarily better. Yes, some food is better than no food from an individual standpoint, but Claire Schosser argues,

Focusing too intently on growing the most food in the smallest possible space as the answer to the problem of increasing human population and decreasing farmland area may not allow us to consider how everything interacts to produce that food and the impact that food has on our health. For instance, if we are producing less nutrient-dense food as a result of focusing excessively on increasing yield (weight per unit area), we may need to eat more of that food in an attempt to obtain the nutrients we need. If that’s the case, even if someone following [one method] does not obtain as high a yield as someone following [another method], the latter may find she needs to increase the size of her garden in order to eat the same amount of nutrients as is produced by someone following [the first] method on the same soil.

By this way of thinking, genetic modification is not the (pardon me) root of the issue, but soil. We have placed technology at the center of our collective lives. Perhaps GMO fixation is really just the answer provided by the belief that technology will solve all of our problems, an offshoot of the core belief that we are other-than-nature, outside of natural processes. If we had the Earth, or soil, at the center, how might we behave differently?

Is profit, not technology, the center? I want the answer to be “no”. In my gut, I want to believe that what the corporations are saying (things like, “we’re trying to feed the world”) is true, that really, profit is secondary (or better yet, quadinary). But as a society, we have made the pursuit of profit the center of our collective effort, rather than sharing or being kind, or any of the other things we tell our preschoolers about how the world works best.

How might we behave if profit were taken out of the equation? Here’s an issue rarely mentioned in the GMO debate: energy. Does it take more energy – from an LCA perspective – to splice genes or breed? My gut feeling is that gene splicing requires glass beakers, fancy equipment, microscopes… lots of embodied energy. We wouldn’t go to all of that trouble if there was no promise of profit at the end.

For me, genetic modification is just an extension of what we have been doing all along, and with oversight of people with the best interests of Earth, of nature, and of humanity at large, could be used for good. Who decides good? Who decides who these benevolent overseers are? Ultimately, isn’t it all hubris? I think that there are already plenty of plants out there that will see to humanity’s needs without manipulation. If, indeed, GMOs are truly in the best interest of the people, there is one way that I think we could prove it.

Pro-GMO corporations do all of this research because the countries of the world have agreed that the manipulation of life is patentable. If you can patent it, you can profit from it, above and beyond the profit inherent to feeling good about making a dent in world hunger – until we breed ourselves to new problems, when we’d need to manipulate again.

Let’s make genetic manipulation and exploration open source. Let’s ensure there can be no individual profit in the tinkering with the world’s genetic heritage. Let’s leave profits out of the equation. Then, in the name of science, let’s see who still wants to argue in favor.

GMOs wouldn’t even be possible without the privilege of fossil fuels and extensive specialization that are offshoots of our society and exploitative economic system, so of course it’s a privilege thing. Take away the assumption that nature is there to be exploited and suddenly GMOs no longer make sense as a response to anything, much less our collective irresponsibility in the form of human overpopulation.

But that’s just my gut talking.

 


Further Reading – Smart folks who don’t see things my way:

Monsanto: An Overview of the Safety and Advantages of GM Foods. Accessed 2015 Feb 1.
Because if anyone is going to make a glimmering case, it’s Monsanto.

Genetically Modify Food. Intelligence Squared Debates. 2014 Dec 3. Accessed 2015 Feb 1.
Debate between “authorities”.

Unearthed: 5 GMO arguments to stop making, pro and con Washington Post. October 27, 2014. Accessed 2015 Feb 1.
Ironically, I made two of the arguments that Haspel asks us not to.


Footnotes [0]

[0] Really? Footnotes? Is this the person I’ve become?

[1] Am I advocating we stop interacting with other creatures? Absolutely not. Keep spaying and neutering your pets, please. As long as there are shelter animals being killed, we have too many pets.

[2] I don’t want to get too far off track here, hence the footnote, but we put certain members of our community up for failed expectation because we want them to decide in our place, someone to do the heavy work of thinking and deciding so that we don’t have to, and we expect them to know everything about everything. Like a father-figure or mother-figure. Because of this, I think many of us answer questions even when we don’t know. I’ve tried to stop, but in my teaching, I have only gotten as far as the phrase, “I don’t know, really, but I can provide my best educated guess,” giving it, then ending with, “but you’d be best served by finding out yourself from reputable sources.” I then watch many students decide that my guess is enough information and then use this information in their own conversations and writing. In other words, I did it. Why? Shame that I did not live up to the cultural belief that I as a teacher, I as an adult, I as a man am supposed to know everything about everything. I don’t. Nor should I (nor anyone else) be expected to, yet I continue to pretend.

[3] This is, I think, why people who do take the time, such as Neil DeGrasse Tyson and the Vlog Brothers, etc have such numerous and dedicated fans – we are thankful that those who know have taken the time to explain things to us “mere mortals”.

[4] You don’t want to ignore it? Good. If 75% of the vegetable matter produced goes to feeding meat animals, it follows that growing vegetable matter for direct human consumption would make a much larger dent in feeding those hungry masses. The real question is how badly do you want to feed those hungry people? Enough to reduce the impact of your own diet? Enough to sacrifice even a little of your own privilege?

 

Consumption Reduction

The majority of the stuff that comes in (and out) of my house is food. If we are to have a discussion about what we buy, food is usually the biggest area of (physical) consumption – by weight, by number of shopping trips, by volume…

When looking at my trash and recycle bins, food is by far the most of what is going out. Some of it is food, and some of it is packaging. The packaging is mostly a result of pre-made “convenience” food, most of which is over-processed crap. How can we reduce this waste? Well, what is it? Some of it is food, and a lot of it is packaging. Let’s look at food waste first.

Food Waste

1. Purchasing: Some of us purchase too much food. I know I have been at the store and think “I’d love to make [this yummy dish]” and then purchase the ingredients for it. Let’s pretend there is zucchini involved. A week later, I find the zucchini, sad, wilted, with a colony of life growing on it… What happened? How did I forget?

One problem is that I might not have had a plan. I have taken to planning a week of meals – and then here’s the hard part – and sticking to it. I buy only the ingredients for that meal. The plan takes multiple factors into account: How much time will I have for cooking? Can I use the leftovers from one thing as an input in another meal? When I make this, and there are leftovers, can I make more or less of it such that leftovers are either an entire meal (having soup on Monday AND Wednesday) or non-existent? I can want to make a meal that takes two hours to prepare, but when I get home exhausted with only one hour between commitments I am not going to WANT nor be ABLE to make that meal, and the ingredients might spoil.

My plan shows four meals each day: Breakfast, Snack, Lunch, and Dinner. I’ve been avoiding dessert, but I throw that in with the meal it goes with when I plan to have it, usually dinner. The plan comes as a chart, Sunday to Saturday. There is a fifth row to label the days, and a sixth row to notate what is going on that day as reminders.

2. Preparing: Another good way to ensure that ingredients don’t get lost in the back of the fridge is to make the meal in advance. Sunday is a great day to take a few hours to cook, and choosing an extra dinner or two to make helps us to eat good meals when there isn’t time to make meals. Then, I just focus on eating leftovers before preparing new meals. A few starter ideas: Tabouleh; Pasta sauce; make lasagna then freeze it.

3. Compost: It is inevitable that some food won’t get used: the brown root-y part of the onion, sometimes skins of potatoes, etc. Plus, no matter how hard we try, sometimes things spoil. What to do with it? For most people, into the bin it goes. Consider a worm bin. If you’re running it properly, it won’t smell, and the worms want to stay in the bin. Otherwise, compost isn’t a terrible idea.

Packaging

I am blessed to live in Los Angeles County, where our waste companies have vowed to recycle anything with a recycling logo on it. I am led to believe that other municipalities will only recycle certain numbers, and that makes me sad. Anyway. There is a lot of plastic in packaging that comes with no recycle label because it is too thin to be recycled. I can attempt to avoid such packaging by staying away from processed foods. So many foods that would be considered whole – flour, rice, beans, etc – come in plastic packaging, or waxed papers, or plasticized papers… So that’s out. What’s left? Bins. What is provided to take bin-food home in? think plastic bags.

1. Mentality: I think we’re way too concerned with “germs”. I put whole vegetables directly into my cart and directly onto the conveyor, and directly into my reusable bags. Yes, I know where all of that has been. I’m going to wash it when I get home. It’s going to keep my immune system strong via workouts, and I’m shopping at places where carts and conveyors are being cleaned regularly.

2. Reusable bags: I wear undershirts. By the time they are worn thin, they are perfect for reusable grocery bags for loose bin stuff. I turn it inside out, sew the bottom (where my waist was) in one straight line, then turn it right-side out again. Next, I put what I want to buy in the neck-hole, and use the sleeves to tie a knot in the top, effectively curbing escape. If you are seriously concerned about the tare difference, you can go to the checkout in advance and ask the checkout clerk for the tare weight.

3. Glass jars: Glass jars are much more recyclable, and with careful handling, have a much longer lifespan. Some stores will allow you to bring in your own jars. Get the tare weight up front.

4. Bulk-buying from original packaging: How did the contents of the bulk bins get there in the first place? Much of it comes in large bags, or paper packaging, or 5 gallon plastic bins… all of which the store was going to throw out anyway. Many stores offer a discount for buying in this style, plus it helps with any qualms you might have had about the “germs”, since it never left the package. This step doesn’t make sense for most people, though, because the food will go bad before you ever get through it, which brings me to…

The coup de grace: family style

The best thing we can all do, environmentally speaking, is eat together. Five families of four, each cooking a meal, uses far more energy and produces far more waste than one group of twenty people. Fewer chefs needed, less electricity or gas (or both) used overall in the cooking process. Less food waste per person. The list goes on. Practice will reduce food waste further. Careful planning enables the group to make use of alternative food prep, such as solar ovens, etc.

But how do I find these people to eat with? Go knocking on doors and see whether anyone is interested in dinner exchanges – five families could cook once per weekday and be cooked-for for four days. Eating together will increase how well you know your neighbors, which increases social capital and welfare.

Couple this with community gardening, tool sharing, time banking, etc, and suddenly the waste is practically gone, and what replaces it is a sense of place and a sense of community.

Because what our packaging allowed us was the illusion that we don’t need each other. The consequence? We lost each other. Maybe packaging waste is a pollution caused by isolation? I’d love to hear your comments.

No one will give up [bacon]

“But Mr. Welch, no one will ever do that.”

This is what I inevitably hear after throwing another great sustainability / resilience idea out there: Give up your car and use public transportation and your bicycle for the environment; Give up your cell phone for the welfare of the Coltan miners; Give up meat for your health and the environment and the endangered species. Let’s pretend that today, it’s the meat thing, not that it matters.

I always smile at this point: another student laying his mind bare, ready for a fundamental shift.

“No one, huh?” I ask, “Why not?”

The student grins: “Because bacon tastes great.”

Other students might nod their heads. This helps the original kid look more confident. But I like to think that deep down, he knows that the trap has already been sprung.

I ask, “How many people can you control at one time?”

Blank stares: what has this got to do with anything?

“C’mon,” I prompt. “That kid over there was texting a minute ago. If you control him, I should take your phone and send it to the dean.”

I’m crazy; I could do that sort of thing… maybe. He gets defensive of his own phone: “I didn’t make him take out his phone.”

I put a little edge in my voice. “No. But if you can control him, then you allowed him to take it out, right? You didn’t stop him, so give me your phone.”

“I can’t control him.”

The edge is gone; I smile: “You’re right. You can’t. You can threaten, intimidate, cajole… as I have just done to you. Did you happen to notice that a lot of people in this class just, as subtly as they possibly could, checked to see if their phones were off?” Giggles around the room. “People might do what you say as long as they think they are being watched. But when you’re gone, anything they don’t like, anything they don’t believe, out the window. Rome learned that. Napoleon learned that. Robespierre. I could go on…”

I pause. Then: “So, who can I control?”

Another voice – I’m not much for hand-raising. “Ourselves?”

I smile. “Me. Myself. I control myself and only me. You each control yourselves individually.” Back to the original kid. “Yes?”

Hesitant; less confident now: “Yes.” He looks a little defeated, but a new day is dawning. A new, uncomfortable, responsibility-filled, glorious and beautiful day.

“When I say, ‘no one will do that,’ that is my subconscious trying to justify my own beliefs and actions by hiding in the group. I don’t care what ‘no one’ will do. I care what I will do. I care what you will do.”

I look around and see the faces. It’s a mix: shock on some, thoughtfulness on others. One or two: finally an adult is confirming something they’ve long known or believed.

I continue: “Change is hard. I never want to change beforehand. You tell me that you will never give up meat? Fine. But it’s your beliefs that are stopping you. Belief in yourself. Belief that a new way could never be the same as or as good as what you’ve got going now. Bacon tastes good. I agree. But all of the data – the health, the environment, the morality – all of the data says ‘stop’.”

An outburst; they do raise their hands when they’re all talking. Everyone has a reason justifying why they can’t stop. Can’t. Not won’t. Well, I won’t sacrifice the momentum.

Back to the original kid: “You ever see The Matrix?”

There I go again. On a tangent. “What?” He asks. “Yeah.”

“Remember when Neo is put at the top of the building and Morpheus tells him to jump over to the other, far-away building? He doesn’t believe he can do it, so he can’t. (Sure, he jumps, but how often do we do something without believing we can? Most of the time, we fail, and use that as confirmation that it’s impossible – but how often do you put in half-effort to prove to someone that something cannot be done – sabotaging the experiment, as it were, just to stay comfortable with our current conception of possible?) Later, Neo unconsciously dodges the bullets fired by the Smith and is surprised that he could do it, but by then, he’s already done it. By then end of the movie, he’s stopping bullets with his mind.”

There’s always a clown: “So we should all jump off the roof, Mr. Welch?”

“If you do, don’t say I told you to, because you very probably shouldn’t. It’s a metaphor: until we try, until we practice, until we fail a few times, we won’t believe we can. Like riding a bike, we’ve got to learn to balance. We’ve got to learn the tricks, which takes time, effort, and wounds.

“There’s another story, about some guy who could walk on water. Perhaps you’ve heard about it.”

“Jesus?” somebody says.

“Jesus walked on water and everyone was impressed. What very few people think about is: was he always able to walk on water? I wonder: how many times did Jesus get wet before he pulled off that trick? It’s a story, and it’s not about him, it’s about us.”

I point to a quote on a sheet of paper hanging in my room. “Wittgenstien said, ‘The limits of my language stand for the limits of my world.’ If I can’t name it, I don’t understand it. Once I have a word for it, and I add ‘can’t’ to it, I’ve got the concept, and it’s impossible. Like human flight. Human flight was once impossible.” Pointing: “That kid went to Boston and back over winter break. That kid went to Taiwan – it’s a very long walk to Taiwan.

“If you say you can’t, you very likely won’t. If, however, you say you can, and it’s not hyperbolic metaphor like walking on water, maybe you will. For now, try. Try again. Keep an eye out for the Yodas of the world and ask them for help. Invent something. Break down boundaries of the possible for yourself and for humanity.

“The question for you is this: When you are educated – as you now are – when you’ve read the research and know both the consequences of doing something and the consequences of doing nothing, will you choose to continue the hedonistic, short term wants and sacrifice the future and your children to get it, or will you put your fears aside and try to make a difference – try to be an example to all of those people who you say ‘will never do that’?

“Me? I choose my grandkids – the children of the children I plan to one day adopt. I choose your children. I choose you. Because I love you and I love the Earth that much.

“I really enjoyed bacon. I sometimes miss the satisfying crunch, but there is plenty of other less harmful deliciousness out there in the world. Bacon isn’t worth the real cost.

“So, I don’t care about what ‘no one’ will do. I care about what you, personally, will do.”

Free Will – Use it

I was home sick when someone knocked at my door a few months ago. Two men were sharing bible verses door-to-door. It was very hot. I gave them water. They gave me something to think about. Good trade.

I’ll leave the specific religious branch out of this post, as it is immaterial to the point. In discussion with these gentlemen, it became apparent to me that according to their understanding, one day, God was going to lift up those who subscribed to their religion and start over in a new, perfect world.

This left me unsettled: all I had to do to enter in to this perfect world was wait? All the problems in the world would be solved, Deus Ex Machina style, so I should passively wait for that to happen? They hemmed and hawed, but ultimately said, yes, that’s it.

Perhaps that works for them.

Whether we subscribe to the idea of a God or not, we still have beliefs about the world. Our beliefs dictate our actions because our beliefs dictate what we think is possible and what we believe is necessary. This is what I mean when I say a spiritual life.

Did God create us? Did evolution create us? Did God create evolution to create us? I find we as a society waste a lot of time arguing about these points. It’s all the same: We’re here.

God/Evolution also provided us with free will. The ability to choose how we will live our lives. Looking at history, we’ve come a long way in the evolution of our thinking about whether we can personally make a difference in our lives. Who should make decisions regarding how we choose how to live our lives. We have, culturally speaking, made some big changes in our beliefs about self-determination.

God, or fate, or random collisions of space debris, or whatever, caused there to be an Earth for us to live upon. A (as far as we can see, and we can see very far) singular, beautiful, life-bringing Earth. If there is no God, we should treat this rock as best we can, because there is no other for us. If there is a God, we should do exactly the same thing; plus, it’s on loan – you don’t check out a library book and use it to clean your toilet. (Do you? Stop that.)

I cannot pretend to understand how a God would think or act. I can understand people, though.

When I was a kid, my Dad taught me knife safety. I was taught for a long time how to hold, walk with, clean, sharpen, and behave with a pocket knife. I had to demonstrate through word and deed that I knew what to do and how to behave. Then I got my own pocket knife.

I could have gone out and misused the knife – stabbed someone or myself, carved obscenities into trees, etc. I could have gone out and done wonderful things with the knife – carved wooden figurines, made kindling, etc. I could have put the knife in a box and hidden it under my bed for the rest of my life. The knife is a tool.

I would think that misusing the knife is a crime. I also think that not using the knife would also be a crime: I would be out of practice – not of carving, but of practicing responsibility and right action.

Free will is a tool too. We must exercise our free will or it will atrophy. It will rust from disuse, like the knife. Whether I believe that free will was a gift from a Higher Power or an evolutionary tactic, it exists, and it can have positive or negative outcomes. It is not enough only to not do the wrong thing, we have to actively do the right thing, either because it’s right or because God would want it that way.

The world is not a mess. We humans have chosen, using our free will, to make a mess on the world, or many of us have stood aside and allowed others to make the mess. We put the knife in the box and forgot it. Not enough of us are choosing to clean the mess, not make more mess, and discourage those who are making the messes from continuing.

I do not believe that in a Godless world, we are all supposed to selfishly make a mess. Further, I do not believe that in a Godful world, we are all supposed to sit around watching others make a mess waiting for God to suddenly say, “okay! Time’s up! You few, with me to paradise; the rest, sucks to be you.”

Because free will exists, we must use it. Whether God exists or not, we should use that free will to make the world a better place.

Today I Will

There is always more to read, more to think about, more planning that can take place. I have finally realized that, for me, all of this makes for delay tactics. I am putting off action. I am consuming content (no matter how “righteous”) instead of creating. Twitter? Meh: I can tweet until I am blue in the face – maybe someone is listening, maybe it might make a difference – but knowing is different from doing, and if my last two weeks are any indication, I know a few more things, but I haven’t done a lot.

Granted, I was sick, then my wife got sick, then I smashed my finger with a hammer making a compost bin (so I tried doing something real). I can be easy on myself. But my plan was still “someday, I’ll…”

So – what can I do? I can get plugged in to the human community around me. I can start conversations in real life and online. I can build my own life to be as great as I can make it.

I can change my thinking from “someday I will…” to “today I will”.

In my Sustainable Society class, we have a project called “Walden 20XX”. Thoreau went to the woods to see how he could change his life and built his (tiny) home near Walden pond. He eliminated distraction to focus on making his life the life he wanted to live. I encourage my students to make a change in their lives for 30 days and write about it before, during, and after, then talk to the class about it.

And I model the process: I’ve switched my main transportation from Car to Bus; I’ve gone strict vegan; I’ve eliminated profanity from my lexicon; I’ve given up my cell phone; currently I’m growing out my hair to donate to kids in chemotherapy…

Today I start another Walden project: I call it “Today I Will”. Every day I’m going to do something. No matter how “small”. Once a week I’m going to write about it here or make a video, or whatnot. I’m going to begin creating content worth reading instead of just consuming content. I’m going to share.

But wait a minute, Welch: You started this thing by saying there’s already a lot to read and see – isn’t this contributing to the problem?

Yes and no:

Yes: I can put all of this reading to use: “separate the wheat from the chaff” as they say. Help others to read good stuff and summarizing the rest.

No: There is a lot missing from our glorious internet. I cannot for the life of me find pictures of Amaranth at any stage other than flowering or seeding. Build videos have a lot of assumptions to them that make them useless. I can (help) fix that.

I need your help. What do you think is missing? What do you, as a concerned citizen, want to know? What “programming” would best work for you?

Here are my initial thoughts:

  • Mr. Welch’s Book Club – I’ll “assign” a book worth reading, then we netizens can have some kind of virtual book discussion via webcast.
  • Interviews with various people who are doing something.
  • Build videos, tutorials, recipes, etc: all to help the world be better equipped to DO the things that might avert climate disaster.

…or something? I don’t know how webcasts, video editing, interviewing… ANY of this works – did I mention I need your help?.

You don’t know me; this is a brand new blog. I’ve got no real credibility. But maybe this is the best part. I give myself permission to fail. I give myself permission to mess up. I give myself permission to get better as I learn from experience. I give myself permission for all of this to be imperfect. Come along with me, give yourself all of these permissions, too.

Let’s see what kind of future we can build by deciding to start doing something and doing the best that we can today, and leaving the future to the future.

I’ve got email, youtube, and twitter if you’d like me to know that you’re out there.

I’ll see you by next week. Remember to #BeHuman.

What’s going on?

To make a real difference in the world, we could all bang our heads against the walls of “fixing everyone else”. Shouting. Signs. Heated debate. Beatings. I for one could do without the brain damage – I have only so many brain cells left to lose.

There is one person whose life I can change: mine. I can live my life in such a way that I make the world a better place. I can talk about it with those willing to hear and discuss, and they can do what feels right for them, and debate or ignore the things that do not.

I want to inspire instead of rant. I want to invite rather than proselytize. I want my serving of reality to come with a side of hope, because the fear and hate are too bitter-tasting and leave me wuggy and lethargic.

I have kept a physical journal outlining my thoughts on how to make the world a better place, and now I’m taking this show on the road. I’ll be wrestling with the semantics and entrenched cultural biases in my own mind in a public fashion. Maybe you can help me see my blind spots, as Ford Prefect asked Arthur to do when trying to see the S.E.P.…. Further, I hope to chronicle my actual attempts at doing something in addition to armchair philosophizing. These somethings already include the vegan diet, nonviolence, victimless humor, public transportation, no cell phone, landscaping with food, and many others.

Let’s see where we go.