Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Guest post: "Green irony, in faux green Newburyport" by M. Cook

Shortly before I left Costa Rica, La Nacion, the country's daily paper of record, published an account of a study conducted by the office of the Costa Rican presidency and the University of Costa Rica, in concert with a team of British climatologists and biologists.

The study found that 90% of Costa Ricans not only believe climate change, global warming, and the rapid rate of bio-diversity loss, are real, but that human activities since the dawn of the Industrial Age are key factors in processes and changes in the global environment that, if left unaddressed, could make much of the world not only unsustainable, but uninhabitable in the not too distant future.

As I read the story, I thought, "Man, if only 90% of Americans believed the science, we might be able to stem this rising tide of environmental degradation, geographic destruction, and human suffering before it's too late."

But, alas, the number of Americans who believe we are facing a largely man made global environmental and ecological disaster of unprecedented proportions is much less than 90% - much, much, less.

But back to the 90% of Costa Ricans who've accepted reality, and the science behind it.

I believe Ticos are way ahead of Americans on this issue because many, if not most, still live in much closer contact with the land and the environment than the vast majority of Americans, whether those Americans believe climate change is real or not.

Ticos are living and seeing the changes first hand, as is everyone living in a sub-tropical climate, whether they want to admit it or not.

Many species of plants and animals are disappearing at an alarming rate, even in Costa Rica - a land perceived by many upscale, faux green Americans as some kind of environmental Mecca. I'll leave dispelling that delusion for another column.

All of Central America is in the midst of a devastating, prolonged drought that, as my 90 year old , Afro-Jamaican, friend George Hansel says, "Is not just 'bout weather man, it's 'bout climate. I live here almost one hundred years, in the last twenty half my land been taken by the sea. The sea is rising. Any man who say no, is a fool."

I told George about Plum Island.

He shook his head and said, "Them Americans are damned fools. More money than sense to build million dollar homes so close to the sea. From what you tell me Mr. Mike, soon much of that island be gone."

The prolonged drought and rising land surface temperatures in Central America destroyed more than 40% of Costa Rica's domestic rice crop this year, 80% of Guatemala's corn and bean crop, and the UN specialist for food security in Central America recently warned if the extended drought does not soon end, entire regions of Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras could be facing wide spread famine later in the year.

Such dramatic climate change trends are, by no means, limited to Central America.

But still, far too many Americans continue to drink the denial Kool-Aid the fossil fuel industry serves up because they don't see, or choose not to see, the changes happening all around them.

To them I say, "Think rising sea temps and levels at Plum Island, along with the increasing frequency of severe, beach eroding storms, and the early ice melt and rising water temperatures at Lake Winnipesaukee".

But even among those who claim to believe climate change is real and want to do something done about it, my first few days back in Newburyport left me convinced they, to paraphrase NY Times columnist Tom Friedman, aren't really serious about a "green revolution", they are more interested in a "green party".

Talking green, as Friedman points out in his compelling book, Hot,Flat, and Crowded, is all the rage in many hip and trendy, upscale, liberal, bourgeois bohemian circles in the US right now, but very few of those "greenies" are really waging a "green revolution", at the individual, communal, or national levels. A true "green revolution", as Friedman points out far more eloquently than I ever could, will demand a complete overhaul of how we've lived our lives and structured our society to date.

Anyone who doubts that assertion needs only to walk through the South End of this supposed "green" and environmentally conscious community and count the number of oversized, gas guzzling, Status Utility Vehicles on the streets, with more than a few of them sporting bumper stickers proclaiming their owners' concerns about the environment.

Um, can we call such vehicles what they really are - "Big time, rolling contradictions?

We are rapidly running out of time to, as Friedman puts its, "...manage the unavoidable and avoid the unmanageable", in relation to what awaits the human race as a result of climate change, global warming, and biodiversity loss.

What I saw on my morning walk that first day back in town, convinced me that well educated, perhaps even overly educated, upscale, politically liberal, SUV driving, faux green, bourgeois bohemians, really are more concerned with a "green party" than they are a "green revolution", and that it's people like my old friend George Hansel, a man who never graduated from high school and still lives very close to the earth, who really grasps the enormity of the challenges we are facing and the enormity of the changes we are going to have to make if we are to have any hope of, "managing the unavoidable, and avoiding the unmanageable".

How ironic is that?

Michael Cook
5 Horton Street
Nbpt & PV de Limon, Costa Rica


Gillian Swart said...

I still don't see why anyone living around here really needs an SUV. My ex-boss, who lived in Cambridge, while I was working for him bought a Land Rover. He was most upset to discover it was too high to fit in the parking garage in downtown Boston, where employees parked. Since he was not an "outdoors-man," nor ever ventured into rough terrain while driving from Cambridge to Boston, I think I laughed ... in fact, it still makes me chuckle.

Anonymous said...

Going through those darn puddles recently, I wish I had an SUV...and trying to get out of my driveway after being plowed back in by the DPW, I wish I had an SUV. I can see that with having children that play multiple sports like hockey, an SUV might come in handy. Certainly those trecks up to the mountains for those ski trips with the family, an SUV is quite suitable. If I had a boat, like alot of my neighbors, I sure would need an SUV. Just a trip to the beach with the whole family, I might like an SUV.

I DO like the Land Rover story...but isn't always kinda cool when the boss trip's up.

Anonymous said...

oh, if only global warming were true...

Anonymous said...

Wow, I thought I was reading a Keith Olberman rant. Nice drama

Anonymous said...

It isn't that I do not believe in global climate change....it is just that I believe that, to effect global climate change, you would need something of a extremely large order to effect this change..

Something on the order of the sun, for example....

anon -

Gillian Swart said...

Wow, last anon, do pls explain this further.

sds said...


Gillian, "last anon" can't explain this further since the statement is logically incorrect.

Just look up the Butterfly Effect. Weather is well known to be a chaotic system.

But I guess actual knowledge is not part of their discussion.


Gillian Swart said...

Well ... you'll notice they did not explain it further (not yet, anyway).

I used to work for a man who writes extensively about the chaos theory, in the business environment ...

But I think even before that, I believed that the big problem with man (as a species) is that we're always trying to impose order when really, it's mostly all chaos (or random, as I think of it).

There's so much we refuse to accept, or acknowledge, because it does not fit into a neat, orderly pattern ... (and trying to find the underlying order in chaos is, in my opinion, rather fruitless).

As it is said, the only things you can predict/depend on are that you're going to die at some point and before that, you'll have to pay (taxes) in order to live.

But then, I seem to thrive in chaotic situations; chaos is my comfort zone (although that makes no sense, on the face of it). That's why I am a lot of times on this blog literally all over the place - and why I'm sure global warming is happening, but I'm not that sure about the 'how come?' part.

That being said, I still don't think people living in cities who are just riding around in them need SUVs because I DO believe it's always better to do what disrupts one's natural environment the least. And the SUV thing makes no sense to me, outside of it being a very successful marketing campaign.

Anonymous from way back up there, how did people tow boats before SUVs became a mainstay in our society? I'll confess here that my dad bought a Ford Explorer - which he later sold to yours truly - for that very purpose ...

macsurf said...

Gillian, back in the day people kept their boats at a marina. People didn't buy a boat if they couldn't afford a slip or a mooring.

Todays weekend warriors hauling their oversized speed boats behind their oversized Status Utility Vehicles, who can really afford neither, who have to launch from a public landing every weekend ought to be banned from both the road and the water.

They are hazards in both environs.

My brother has been a commercial skipper and whalE watch operator for thirty five years and hE has nothing but horror storiEs to tell about, and contempt for, the vast majority of those "weekend warriors".

Finally, I think my late mom hit the nail on the head about SUVs ten years ago when she was eighty.

Even then I was well aware of the environmental damage such largely unnecessary vehicles do.

My mother chalked their popularity up to the same reasons Corevettes were so popular in the 1950's and early 1960's - they were both marketted, overall, to men insecure about the size of a certain body part to show their "potency" and "manhood" to the worls via the vehicles they drove.

Gillian Swart said...

Thanks; I was wondering since when I was growing up in Mich. everyone just had a row boat! My dad, since my parental units moved to Gloucester, winters the sail boat at a boat yard so he no longer needed the SUV. I guess I agree about the body part ... from experience ... yikes. I used to date this guy who had a Lotus Elan (in Flint you could be seriously hurt for that). The Corvette was a piece of fiberglass crap from the start. It would dent if you brushed against it ...