Friday, December 15, 2006

In the disappearing mid-winter ...

from Jacqueline

I can’t stop thinking about the plight of polar bears. Even before I saw Al Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, with that animated segment showing a poor, exhausted polar bear desperately swimming, looking for a bit of ice to rest upon, I have been worried about polar bears, and how many have to die before we really wake up. And now, with the holidays upon us, it seems there’s a polar bear on every other greetings card – even Coke (or is it Pepsi) are in on the act. Pretty soon, cards, posters and advertisements will be the only places we’ll see a polar bear.

I know, I know, it’s everywhere at the moment, this global warming debate, but I wonder if we are really getting it? How can the great majority of people be persuaded give up on the need to have so much that sucks the life out of the environment, to the detriment of the rest of life on this planet? Bear with me on this, as I said, I know, you’ve heard it all before, but I am wondering, what do we do to get it into the heads of the mass of population that it really is OK to do the right thing even if the next person isn’t? That it doesn’t make you a lesser person if you choose a car that is smaller than a Hummer. With all the advertising and media coverage highlighting the plight of so many species that make life on this planet so very special, how do we get it into people’s thick heads that every little thing you can do to help the situation makes a difference? Thank God I’m not Al Gore – I would turned to vandalism of SUV’s long ago. Not the most efficient way to drive your point home.

Here are a few things that get under my skin:

Myth: You live in a place where there is “weather” so you need an SUV. Now, consider this: whenever you see pictures of the English countryside, it’s likely you’ll view the county set with their Hunter green wellies, their Barbour waxed jackets (been a run on those lately, due to Helen Mirren in The Queen), and a slew of Labrador dogs, all clambering into Range Rovers and hurtling off over hill and dale. Well, I was born and raised in that countryside – my first footwear was a pair of wellies – and I can categorically tell you that you rarely saw such vehicles (unless you count the tractors), as most farmers drove the Mini station wagon, a great little car that didn’t need 4WD to get through the mud and water, because if it got stuck you just lifted it out! Moral: You do not need an SUV to negotiate ‘weather.” Good driving skills and paying attention help though. And there are some nice station wagons that make it through the snow in Germany and Japan, and I am sure they could weather Cleveland or Boston and even Montana. In fact, whenever I have visited the places that get real weather in the USA, there seem to be fewer SUV’s. Funny, that.

There’s a guy who lives near us who has one of those mega Land Rovers, the sort that you take into the Serengeti, complete with roof rack for the big containers of gasoline and water. I have never seen it go beyond Safeway, where – as you know – there’s often a run on wildebeest.

One of my friends, several years ago, was in the market for a new car. She said that she wanted a Discovery, to negotiate “all these San Francisco hills.” I just could not contain myself. “This isn’t Mongolia, you know – you need a little hatchback to negotiate the parking, never mind a Discovery!”

This brings me to my next myth – surprisingly enough, you do not need a Land Cruiser to shop at Nordstom. Their sale is good, but not that good.

A thought: Explain “hubris” to a polar bear.

Myth: You have a big house, so you need all the lights on at once to see where you’re going. (Actually, I could have stopped right there at “You need a big house.”)

I usually take the back road to Santa Barbara from Ojai, and over the past couple of years I have watched an absolutely ginormous house being built just off Highway 192. It’s huge and, I must say, seriously ugly. Rooms everywhere, plus a big landscaped estate (sprinklers galore) and even a dressage arena with stables. I think it’s wonderful that these people have their dream home, but for crying out loud, whenever I’ve driven by the house at night, every single light is on and there are floodlights across the landscaping. Now, I am not worried about their utility bills – they are clearly not short of a dollar or two - but explain “greed” to a polar bear.

But according to a report in last week’s New York Times, the rate of new mac-mansion construction has now topped out, and people are beginning to see sense. I am a believer that history teaches you pretty much all you need to know – just look at all those Victorian monoliths now split into apartments, or being used as offices. They, too, were homes once. If you can call a museum a home.

One of my friends chooses a new mantra every year, a word to live by, to consider each day. Last year her word was “enough.” What does it mean to have enough? And if we were brutally honest about what enough really is, would it help others less fortunate to have “enough” and would we end up leaving a smaller footprint on the earth? And so what if the Chinese are belching out more greenhouse gases – just because we can’t change that right now, does it mean we have to consume more than enough without thinking?

I guess this post is really me reminding myself about the little things I can do, whether it’s judicious consumption, being mindful of my place in the world, and responsibility to the rest of it – human, plant and animal – or supporting those who have a louder and more eloquent voice than I.

Speaking of which, I have just received the following from the Natural Resources Defense Council, a timely reminder in the season of winter wonderlands:

“Warm and fuzzy holiday images of polar bears are everywhere you look right now. But the reality near the North Pole is much more grim. Polar bears are drowning off Alaska's coast - as they are forced to swim greater and greater distances to find the disappearing Arctic ice sheets they depend on for survival. They are the first major species to face extinction as a direct result of global warming, and their fate literally hangs in the balance this holiday season. Over the holidays, the Bush Administration will decide if polar bears deserve protection under the Endangered Species Act. They will either throw polar bears a lifeline - or condemn them to extinction.”

The fact is that that the polar bear is the canary in the coal mine. If we ignore their plight, then we won’t need those big houses and big cars and all that stuff in any case. We’ll all be like the desperate hunter-gatherers in Africa who are struggling against drought. Wanderers on a scorched earth, with aching hearts and growling bellies, wondering whatever happened, and where it all went wrong.

And before I close: First, if you are fed up with hearing yet another tirade about global warming, well, I can’t help it, I just had to vent again. Secondly – and I am sure Patty will agree with me here – whoever thought that those SUV’s were more attractive than a regular-sized car in any case? Where is the elegance? When you get down to it, driving around in a big square tin can and making an idiot of yourself trying to park the thing is about as graceless as you get, isn’t it? Can you imagine Audrey Hepburn in a Hummer? Well, maybe she would have happily clambered into a Land Rover to visit starving children in drought-ridden Africa.

Now, check this out, just for starters.

Oh, and remember to switch off the lights on the Christmas tree when you go out or turn in for the night. Every little bit helps, and I am sure Santa will still know your house if the lights are off - he knows who's been nice.


  1. Jacqueline,THANK YOU.
    You are consistently a voice of reason on this blog. This post genuinely qualifies as speaking of the "Naked Truth about.......LIFE."

    It is not only the conspicuous consumption but the root of the cause of conspicuous consumption, the quote "ME GENERATION." I want what I want and if I can afford it, then it's OK......notwithstanding all the people who are buying things they can't afford.

    The most enjoyable posts on this blog seem to be the ones that are a spoof filled with frivolous fun, or ones that actually address real issues----rather the ones which say, "Look at me, and what I AM DOING." I hope that all readers of your post will take your words to heart and actually do something, even a small something, to help address this mushrooming problem.

  2. from Jacqueline

    Thank you very much, Jon. I sometimes worry that I might sound as if I've just fallen off my soap-box in Hyde Park, however, I do think we can all make changes - and it doesn't mean giving up a cherished lifestyle. What it means, as you so succinctly put it, is being aware that our actions, choices and attitudes have an impact far beyond the boundaries of our own family, bank account, house, garden or workplace. We share responsibility for our world, and we must do so with integrity, consideration and grace.

  3. Hi Jacqueline. Great Rant! :-D

    Bob and I aren't part of the ME generation as such. We give where we can, and have scaled back our buying practices - because enough, really is enough. We aren't impressed with 'the JOneses', let alone want to keep up with them. Our little Saturn car zips us along very well, while dodging most SUVs who have inexperienced drivers behind the wheel - or else driver is on a cellphone. I've been to countries where recycling is a big thing that everyone can do, but since I've lived in the USA, I've known nothing but disgust for the 'gotta have it now, throw it away tomorrow' mentality". I mean, come on, when the Iraq war started - well, we started bombing the crap out of them - the public put in the biggest order for Humvees ever. Gas-guzzlers of the worst order. That still disgusts me.

    The Earth goes through periodic heat ups and cool downs that take millenia - we're just speeding it up a damn lot more for the next one. A few 'Christians' we know around here have blithely told us that they don't care about global warming at all because they won't be here - the Rapture will have taken them and they'll be safe, and who cares about the sinners left behind. That's just plain scary.

    Oh, and Jacqueline, if you are ever in our neck of the woods, I'll take you to see the Polar Bears in our local little zoo. Every three or four years or so, they have a baby one which is so cute to watch. I've seen the pictures and extrapolations regarding the Polar Bear population and their crisis and it makes me angry too. I wish the human race would wake up and see that they're not the only race on this planet. We're the caretakers of this particular eden of a world, and so far, we've screwed up big time - something about shitting in our own pond...

    Hope your holidays are going well.

  4. Our Jacqueline, thank you so much for saying all this. For far too long our scientists have been marginalized and/or silenced when they dare to speak about the catastrophic consequences of global warning. We all need to speak with one voice on this issue.

  5. Couldn't have said it better myself, Jacqueline.

  6. The problem with keep up with the Joneses is that you never get "there." Instead of keeping up with them isn't it better to try and actually be your own Jones? So Brava, to you Marianne [by the way are you in Denver--since you mention the zoo/polar bears]
    If you've ever been near a polar bear in their natural environment, like Gnome, AK or Churchill, Manitoba, you can't help but feel totally awed and inspired. But most people think in some "Disneyfied" way about Polar Bears, and other animals. Rest assured, I've never seen a polar bear drinking Coke-a-Cola.......and I've seen them up close and personal in both of those locations.
    The "lesser" species on this planet are more concerned about survival. We, being the center of the universe, can't be bother with trifle things like that------ we're more concerned with that chic new restaurant that all the well heeled posh people eat, or that 90 inch Plasma TV, or the brand new model Hummer or Land Rover.

    Unfortunately, we are missing the survival picture for not only the polar bear, but ourselves, too.NOTHING happens in a vacuum---although that's a tough sell to those blabbing on the cell as they drive a Humvee or to those Rapture Christians of whom Marianne spoke.

    My apologies to all for this rant; usually I am jocular. However, after Jacqueline mentioned Speakers Corner, I just had to go to my storage shed and get out the soap-box.
    PS:Right on to you too, Patty.

  7. from Jacqueline

    I remember the first time I ever went to one of those huge waste dumps, with acres and acres of unwanted "stuff" being cast out and plowed into the earth - the stench was unbelieveable, and the vision of human leftovers just too disgusting to bear. I thought at the time, that everyone should go to such a place, that every school should take its students to a waste disposal site, just to see what it's really all about, and to consider our part in such desecration.

    And has anyone ever thought about the link between rising cancer rates and the acquisition of "stuff" that is so prevalent in our time. It seems as if, collectively, we are trying to feed a hunger that can never be met with such mindless gorging, and in doing so, perhaps our bodies are mimicking our activity. Hmmm, food for thought, eh? And in the meantime, I would stick my neck out and say that the hunger is rooted in the want for true connection with each other - a connection that started vanishing when we began to misuse our resources. We all have value and worth, we do not need big cars and brand new "stuff" all the time to prove it. We simply need to respect each other and endeavor to earn respect in return - and it can start right now, and it doesn't cost a thing.

  8. Jacqueline for President ....voice of reason!

  9. The older I get the more my "stuff" seems like a burden to me. I often wonder what I'd take if I had five minutes to pack and get out.

  10. Hi Jon,
    I live in Rhode Island. Sometimes I think the "smallest state in the union, smallest state of mind" really is true. But we have nice zoo. :-D

    Five minutes to Pack: I know exactly where to get my hands on my purse, passports (Bob's too) and all of our transparencies and cds. Clothes are replaceable, artistic identity is not.


  11. from Jacqueline

    While I was on my book tour, the Day Fire was looming perilously close to Ojai. There was a point at which it seemed as if evacuation would become a reality, so my husband called me to ask what I wanted him to save, if it came to it. I replied, "You, the animals, my passport and my green card - and then get out of there."

  12. What about those old family photos? Me in my new Easter dress and those black patent leather Mary Janes. Gotta save those. And Marianne's fruitcake recipe.

  13. From Jacqueline

    You know, I thought about the photos, and the fact is that they aren't in one place - they are in different boxes in the garage. One of my to-do's is to sort the lot out into albums, not least so tht they are grabbable in such an emergency. Yes, photos are important, how could I have forgotten that we need our history to start afresh with a familiar foundation.

  14. I've thought of the fire/ 5 minute quandry, too.
    The most important "thing" to get out of your houses is YOU, Jacqueline, Patty, Marianne, I'm sure.
    The "stuff" can be replace, you've saved the most important part, your creativity.
    Jacqueline, in her last post, surgically went to at least one major artery at the heart of this:"...hunger is rooted in the want for true connection with each other ....We simply need to respect each other and endeavor to earn respect in return." To me that respect extends to all aspects of the world in which we live.
    PS: I really like this Truth about Life "stuff" !!

  15. Jon,
    Ta for the uplifting thoughts. Creativity comes in so many ways - and it's nice when you can connect with another 'creative' even if their creative activities are not your own type.

    If you want to check out some of my artwork, my fledgling blog is at:

    I've been kept busy this week dealing with making sure my husband knows how to work the posting bits on his new blog.

    More fruitcakes tomorrow!! :-) Followed by chocolate decadence cakes on Sunday. Come Tuesday, I'm sleeping in!! :-D Cooking is my other creative identity, as is writing.


  16. Jacqueline Thank you for saying so well what I have been thinking but could never put into words as well as you have. For the last few years as I get older I notice how much I just want to get back to the basics. And I have but I know so much more can be done.

  17. from Jacqueline

    Thank you, "Inksmudge." Just to add something to this dialogue, I made a pre-holiday visit to my friend who chose "enough" as her word for the year, and she gave me a copy of a card she'd received. I thought the words on that card would bear repeating here:

    "In my dream, the angel shrugged and said, 'If we fail this time, it will be a failure of the imagination.' And then she placed the world gently in the palm of my hand."

    It occurs to me that every single person on this earth has had the world placed gently in the palm of their hand. The question is, how will each of us cradle, protect and nurture that world?

  18. I don't mean to stay up on my Speakers Corner soap box, but somehow, I don't think that those MBZ/LEXUS/BMW SUV drivers and the other "know me by the exhaustive list of my exhaustive expensive possessions" people are doing anything to cradle, protect and nurture that world. This makes the people like yourself, and your "enough" friend all the more important and valuable to those of us who are trying to do so.

  19. When thinking about our collective dire situation, here's a suggestion:
    Everything has a cost. The dollar amount is only part. The New Yorker recently ran an article about the "acidification" of our oceans. The cause is carbon dioxide from air pollution ending up in the water and turning to carbolic acid there. Dire indeed.

    So what can we do, besides getting on our bicycles? Think cost, in terms of the amount of fuel it takes (and therefore polluting emissions) required to manufacture and/or ship any item you use or buy.

    For instance, bottled water from Fuji or New Zealand, which seems extra pure--those places being so far away--and comes in neat, squared-sided bottles, requires extra energy to ship.

    Once you start thinking this way, the "cost" of things begins to shift as you consider your buying choices.

    The rest: recycle, reuse, you already know.