Sunday, June 11, 2006

"Leave Us Alone; China Pollutes Too"

Jenna Orkin

When my son was twelve, he wanted to be a magician. As he underwent his sorcerer's apprenticeship, I picked up some tips. Rule number one was, when you're doing your sleight of hand, make sure the audience is looking somewhere else.

So it is with this morning's front page article in the New York Times about the pollution resulting from burning coal in China.

I'm not saying it's not a Godawful mess over there or that the mess won't spread around the globe. But when, as the article asserts about 9/10 of the way in, "the average American still consumes more energy and is responsible for the release of 10 times as much carbon dioxide as the average Chinese," isn't our focus on China a case of the pot calling the kettle black?

Not to sound like a fortune cookie, Chinese or otherwise, but in long articles, it pays to check out the last line:

"China is using subsidies to make its energy even cheaper, a strategy that is not unfamiliar to Americans, said Kenneth Lieberthal, a China specialist at the University of Michigan. 'They have done in many ways,' he said, 'what we have done.'"

Which brings to mind the last scene of Washington Square (or was it The Heiress?) in which the heiress sits unmoved upstairs while the suitor who once rejected her bangs on the door begging to be let in.

"How can you be so cruel?" her companion says.

She replies, "I have learned from masters."

China has learned from a master which is the United States. We showed the rest of the world the 'good life' and now we act affronted that they're going after it.

China's pollution is horrendous, as the many protests around the country attest. The point is, why are we focussing so much attention on that relative to what's in our own back yard?


Richard Tennant said...

I understand the United States has become somewhat of a repository for some Chinese customs, albeit ancient ones. Shaolin temples trained persons to carry their learning into the countryside. The martial arts was merely an aid for those being sent out. Their intent was to do much the same as the intent of this blog. In ancient China someone educated in advances in horticulture or medical proceedures etc. would travel with this information into feudal areas. Perhaps we can teach China something from their own past. Something more positive than our bloated corporations or violent government. This will be gained if we simply share survival knowledge. We are all on the planet Earth. We need to plant ideas and fertilize them with deep compassion for each human being. Re-learn to see everyone as vital to the process. After all, even our current corrupt regime calls our great need to take action. Which brings me to my final point. In Chinese art, much of a canvas is left empty. Indeed, the Chinese philosophical system never calls for complete activity but a balance of yang with yin. They have leaned yang from USA's need to fill the quiet with sound and the darkness with light.

BriaN said...

Here's a little story which seems appropriate to follow Mr. Tennant's comment.

I started a garden this summer, partly because my son wanted to and partly as a tiny, active step towards sustainability and bio-regionalism. It's a community garden operated by the city, and it seems as good to support it in princilpe as it is to take advantage of it in practice.

Anyway, I was talking to one of my new garden neighbors about "Indian Corn" and she started telling me about her friend who is crossbreeding varieties from up here (in Montana? in the US? she didn't say) with native varieties from South/Central America to produce high-protein varieties which don't deplete the soil.

As if this wasn't cool enough in it's own right, I then learned that he was taking his varieties to North Korea and helping farmers there establish it, and that they had been very well received there.

That is so exactly the right sort of thing to be doing it made me proud just to be gardening next to somebody who knew him.

Next time I see my garden neighbor I'll remember to write down her friend's name.

Wayne said...

I am worried that the Peak Oil crisis will come as a sudden catastrophic crash, planned in advance to create the most wide spread havoc across the country. Martial Law will be quickly established. Gasoline supplies will dwindle, trucks will stop running and supermarkets will be empty in about 1 week.
I have lived all my life in a small rural community. I have a backyard garden and am a volunteer and Committee member for a local CSA. We feed 175 families with a weekly garden share during the harvest season.
The majority of Americans do not have access to local food, or have not begun to plan for a future without fossil fuels. The have-nots will quickly locate those that have abundant supplies and demand an unearned share of the food. I fear for the safety of my family and friends. If this sudden crash were to happen, how far would you go to protect your family, your food, your land ? Not a happy thought but one that should receive some consideration.

murph said...


That is why it is so important to have community support and organization to get ready. We live in a small semi rural Oregon town. We are having problems convincing people that it is coming, so I learn to shut up. When it starts to hurt the residants, then maybe I can gain some traction. Meanwhile, buy more ammo. You may need it. If you are anywhere near big population areas, it is going to be tough.

Marianna said...

I have also been met with totally inane reactions when I try to explain the immediacy of this. (I just recently finished reading Crossing the Rubicon. A couple of weeks ago I pleaded with my younger, minister sister to read CTR, she responded with, "well, no, maybe you can get it for me for Christmas, I'm going to be reading George Elliot this summer." -- Luckily she's come around). I've copied Mike's "most important talk of his life " Peak Oil speech and have handed it around, but the people I know just can't seem to wrap their brains around it -- it's outside of the framework of their "business as usual" reality -- outside of the direction they think they are going with their lives. I can see that it's going to be difficult to try to connect with/attempt to create a sense of solidarity here, in a community that is simply not on the same page.

Food availability is also one of my big concerns. I took a biodynamic/biointensive gardening class at Ohio University about 15 years ago, but I haven't had a garden of any size almost since that time... I moved from the Chicago suburbs to Michigan 13 years ago ... This summer I pulled out my Ecology Action books, How to Grow More Vegetables, One Circle (excellent information on growing a balanced diet on minimal land), and The Backyard Homestead, and have been studying them, practicing improving my backyard soil, and planting as if my life depended on it. If things deteriorate slowly, and the need becomes apparent, I may be able to share my rusty skills, and my more recent learnings, and participate in structuring a neighborhood food support network in my community. But you're right, Wayne, right now I am also just one person, in a sea of fiddling grasshoppers, and I may have stock on hand enough for me, and be able to grow enough this summer to share a little, but that's not going to work in anybody's favor if there is a sudden crash... with masses of unprepared people in dire straits clamoring for food. I'm particularly worried about winter... what would we in the north do in the winter with rolling blackouts; rolling heat-outs -- without food in reserve and/or a way to prepare it?

By the way, Brian, I am interested, in this light, in finding out a source for that corn...

murph said...


We enlarged our garden by 4 times this year. We live on volcanic ash soil. Extremely friable, lots of minerals but little organic matter. We had been told since we moved here that gardens, mostly, were a waste of time because it could freeze any night during the summer. We made a garden anyway, because our experience is that too often, advise is not accurate. We had tremendous results. Plants that are very sensitive to temperature did get killed, tomatoes, squash etc. and in June no less. So we invested in a greenhouse, (non plastic cover please, depends on oil to replace the covering) and will grow the sensitive stuff in there. We have gotten 3 laying hen chicks and a cock to try and have a meat source and eggs. I just finished the chicken housing building so predators can't get to them. In Mich. you have a much longer growing season (I lived there for 30 years). but a much harsher winter, depending on location. Since weather patterns are altering, it's anyones guess on how that will shake out.

It is nearly impossible in this day and age to be completely self sufficient. So, you try to set up networks where you can trade, barter and obtain that which you have neither time or abilities to supply for yourself.

In the 80's, I took my then family and did a survival trip in the Ozark mountains. Believe me, that is a hard thing to do. The extreme variety of skills needed is simply beyond most of the population in this country.

In the event of our monetay collapse, social disentragration, police state, lack of oil and it's products, things are going to get really tough. High population density areas are going to be hit hard because people are not in the mind set for cooporation, but rather competition. That will not change easily. Also, you are going to have to contend with the depleted produce availability, and those that are going to go foraging for it. When the stores have been looted, the street people left standing are going to be pretty tough to deal with and they are going to be armed. I suspect it will be a good idea to spend some energy considering how you are going to defend your viability and personal safety. That is one reason we moved where we are; low population density and people pretty fierce about not being stepped on. Oregon has a history of opposing policies by the federal government.

Even if the decline is slow instead of fast and hard, it is going to get progressively harder and harder to maintain. As a society, we are ill prepared to deal with this. We have all the wrong value systems in place as individuals and as a society. If we do not change our values on a mass scale, the cycle will just repeat again down the road.

freeacre said...

I am freeacre, wife to Murph. We are trying to establish a sustainable lifestyle and set ourselves free of the doomsday scenario that seems to be in the plans for the working class. We, too, are growing a garden. We have a small greenhouse as well. We've got some chicks that we are learning to raise.

I find that the resistance to the Powerdown idea is very much like the denial that a co-dependant has learned to cope with an abusive relationship. Middle or working class people have a system of denial that they use to deal with their relationship with the government. We tend to figure that if we just educate the rulers, if we are patient enough, if we are loyal enough, if we play by the rules and work hard enough, etc. etc. the ruling class will see the light and be fair and do the right thing.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Our masters know what they are doing. They have a plan for us. The super NAFTA ten lane highway they plan to construct from Mexico to Canada is a road to servitude for the majority of us. That is one example - there are many more.

Preparing for the collapse involves more than getting free of debt, owning some land outright, planting gardens, et al. I'm learning that it will also entail re-defining ourselves and walking away from the greater culture which defines us as "consumers".

Next week, my satellite dish will be cancelled. I will probably suffer because even though I know that the programming and lies communicated on our televisions is propaganda, it has been a weird comfort to me for over 50 years. It's like a lullaby that helps us go to sleep. It tells us that all is well, even when we know that all is anything but "alright."

I think blogsites like this are valuable to create a sense of community and tribe. We need each other's ideas and support if we are to establish an alternative to the unrelenting tide of disinformation and despair that the corporatists have in store for the rest of us.

Most people are walking around in a trance, like The Matrix. To have it go away and see the scary things around us is, well, scary. That's what the resistance is about. It is daunting.