Todd Walton: He Is Us


Photo by Marcia Sloane

From TODD WALTON
UnderTheTableBooks.com
Mendocino

“When men are most sure and arrogant they are commonly most mistaken, giving views to passion without the proper deliberation which alone can secure them from the grossest absurdities.” David Hume

I may be wrong. I thought I’d begin with that disclaimer to defuse the notion I think I’m right. What troubles me most about zealots is that anyone who doesn’t agree with them is not only deemed wrong, but bad. Oh, get to the point, Todd. Well, but this is a big part of the point, this trouble I have with people who think they have the one and only true answer, true faith, true way to grow strawberries. There’s no way to have a meaningful discussion with them.

When I had my oh-no-we’re destroying-the-earth-we’d-better-change-our-ways epiphany in 1965 at the tender age of fifteen, even most of my fellow Sierra Club members thought I was either crazy or a dangerous radical. Forty-six years later, my assertion that radically reducing our individual resource consumption can help save the earth is scoffed at and ridiculed by a growing cadre of environmentalist celebrities who insist that personal lifestyle changes no longer matter. The only thing that can possibly save us now, they proclaim with absolute certainty, is violent or semi-violent opposition to oil drilling, coal mining, forest cutting, and other forms of large-scale resource extraction and resource combustion.

A recent email to me from a follower of one such environmentalist celebrity said, “You’re the problem. Your copout attitude that we can humanely reduce human population and make a difference by using less water and energy is the problem. Quit giving people excuses for not fighting the earth killers.”

Another email said, “We’ve tried to get people to consume less. It doesn’t work. We have to directly attack the corporations to keep them from raping the earth.”

These emails and the environmentalist celebrities they echo make me despair for humanity almost as much as the Fukushima nuclear disaster and people opposed to family planning.

Honestly, how hard have we tried, collectively, to consume less? I would say hardly at all. Have we done anything approaching the scale of tens of millions of people planting victory gardens during World War II? Have we had a serious several-years boycott of Chevron, the flagship oil company of the American and Saudi oligarchs? No. Have we, the people, embarked on a conscientious energy conservation program? Nope.

How is it that the connection between consumption and the rape of the earth is so difficult to comprehend for anti-corporate environmentalists? Why isn’t human overpopulation the centerpiece of every environmentalist celebrity’s stump speech?

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Sherlock Holmes

I recently happened upon an amazing, to me, video clip from German television (because such news was not available from American media) about the Japanese government’s plans for addressing their nation’s huge and potentially catastrophic energy shortage resulting from the ongoing Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdowns. Attractive male and female models paraded for cameras to show off the new “cool look” fashions the Japanese government hopes a large portion of the population will adopt to help immediately lower energy consumption fifteen (15) per cent.

For men: short-sleeved shirts or sleeves rolled up, open collars, no ties (a radical break with propriety in Japan) and lightweight pants. For women: loose blouses and short sleeves and modestly short skirts. These comfy outfits will, the Japanese government hopes, allow people to set their air conditioning thermostats at eighty-two (82) degrees and not suffer unduly. And if the people of Japan don’t reduce energy consumption by fifteen per cent, immediately, there will be unavoidable and massive power outages because, frankly, Japan doesn’t have enough energy to keep 130 million people cold in summer and hot in winter.

The Japanese government calculates that by setting home and factory and automobile air conditioner thermostats to eighty-two (82) degrees, there will be an immediate ten (10) percent energy savings for the entire nation. Add to this the fact that Japan is a nation of super-fast-food consumers with six million (6,000,000) big energy-guzzling refrigerated vending machines they could easily do with half of, and you can see the low lying fruit, so to speak, of energy conservation is abundant and in plain sight.

As for the eighty-two (82) degree thermostat setting: I lived in Sacramento for fifteen years. I was told when I moved to the capitol in 1980 that my days of treading lightly on the earth in terms of my personal energy consumption were over. I would definitely need a car to get around, and most definitely need air conditioning to survive the brutally hot summers there. When I asked how people had survived in Sacramento before the advent of air conditioning, no one knew, but everyone was certain the people must have suffered terribly because without air conditioning, life in that former swamp was unimaginable.

In keeping with my minimalist modus operandi, I decided to give life in Sacramento a try without air conditioning and without a car. Incredibly (not really) I did okay. The old house I lived in was built in 1910, long before the advent of air conditioning, and was possessed of a six-foot deep basement. If I opened my windows in the late afternoon on days when the outside temperature exceeded 95 degrees, and left those windows open all night, the house cooled down wonderfully. I would close the windows around nine in the morning, and the house stayed cool until the afternoon, at which point I would open the windows. Those very hot (over a hundred degrees) afternoons, I deduced, must have been the times when our ancestors suffered so terribly from lack of air conditioning, because those were the times I often resorted to bicycling to the river for a swim or standing in the garden holding the hose over my head while simultaneously watering the tomatoes.

Amazingly (not really) my body became accustomed to the heat, so those days when the temperatures rose to only 95 degrees seemed cool, and those days when the temperatures rose to 82 degrees (the temperature at which the thermostats of all the air conditioners in Japan are being set) called for a sweater until the zenith of the so-called heat.

You see where I’m going, don’t you? Upwards of two million people live in the Sacramento area, and another eight million live in the hot central valleys of our golden state. Nearly all of these people have their air conditioner thermostats set much lower than eighty-two (82) degrees. Another fifteen million people live in southern California, and most of those people use air conditioners, too. Indeed, the Enron scandal heist of our recent past that knocked Gray Davis out of office and ushered in the reign of Arnold Schwarzenegger was predicated on energy demand from… wait for it… air conditioners.

Shall we call it ironic or idiotic that a huge chunk of the energy being consumed today all over the world, energy contributing mightily to global warming, is energy being used to artificially cool down naturally warm air? As I said at the outset, I may be wrong, but I remain convinced that, in the famous words of Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

The worst part for me about living in Sacramento, environmentally speaking, was not the heat but the toxic quality of the air and water. For several of my years in Sacramento, I attended meetings of a group of concerned citizens hoping to do something to improve local air quality. Consequently I learned many distressing facts about Sacramento air pollution, one of which is that upwards of eighty per cent of all the air pollution in Sacramento does not originate there, but comes from the Bay Area borne on powerful easterly winds, and from agricultural field burning outside the metropolitan area.

So. Here is a scenario I’d like us to consider. As a matter of national and global security and to ensure a livable future of our children and grandchildren, the people of the United States, with or without the cooperation of our government, agree to set all the air conditioning thermostats in the country to eighty-eight (88) degrees, including automobile air conditioners because running a car’s air conditioner drastically reduces fuel efficiency. This unanimous effort of the people will immediately save billions of barrels of oil and billions of gallons of propane and natural gas, a sudden savings that will cause the prices of crude oil and gasoline to tumble, which will immediately cause food prices to fall, too.

But we won’t stop there. Turning down thermostats and wearing skimpy clothing is easy. We want to save the earth, so we’ll take on the hard stuff, too. We, the people, each and every one of us, will consciously and demonstrably eliminate not one but two automobile trips per week. This might mean one less trip to the store per week or making one commute per week to work or school by bus or bike or on foot. Or it might simply mean occasionally resisting the impulse to jump in the car and zip to the store for that six-pack. Hey, there’s always tomorrow, and this is the earth we’re saving.

Okay. Two less car trips per person in America a week along with not turning on the air conditioner unless absolutely necessary, and we’ll have an instant and gargantuan global oil glut. An emergency meeting of OPEC ministers to discuss the precipitous decline in demand will result in the price of oil being lowered to almost nothing. But demand will continue to fall because people around the world are waking up to their collective ability to create a new and regenerative environmental paradigm, thus fulfilling the mandate of the hit song from the musical Hair.

The demand for genetically modified corporate-grown corn to concoct environmentally disastrous bio-fuel disappears overnight, and farmers all over the world are encouraged to reclaim the land stolen from them by multinational corporations that no longer need that land to grow stuff no one needs. With hundreds of millions of people growing their own food again, food prices continue to plummet, which frees families in the so-called Third World to educate their daughters, which in a single generation will lead to a vast decline in birth rates. It has long been known that the fastest way to swiftly and humanely reduce population is to educate the population, especially the girls, about everything, not just birth control.

We’re on a roll now, aren’t we? Empowered by the success of turning down thermostats and driving less and consuming less and turning off lights we aren’t using, twenty million exuberant people descend on Washington D.C. and surround the capitol until Single Payer Healthcare becomes the law of the land, not just in Vermont. Euphoric about that great victory, bills (with teeth) are passed ending our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and everyone, including corporations, making more than a million dollars a year is asked to please pay at least a little income tax.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? So how do we begin? I could be wrong, but I think the first step would be to locate our thermostat(s), and the second step would be to meditate (for more than a minute) on the concept of less is more.

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser June 2011)

Todd’s new piano CD Ceremonies is available from iTunes and Amazon and UnderTheTableBooks.com
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2 Comments

Sorry, there’s just too much common sense on display here. I mean, even Nixon understood dropping the speed limit to 55 would be a simple way to conserve. Today, with the price of gas way in the stratosphere, if you’re not doing 75 you’ll get blown right off the road. Have we gotten a bit short-sighted?

Also interesting to contrast this piece to the “Home Power Plant Nation”, another study in the diminishing returns of over-complexity. Without going into the excruciating details, I’ll just say that anyone who has a serious off-grid system knows cheap & simple left the building some time ago. Between that and all the complicated, often glitchy or incompatible personal computers and electronics that have become apparently “necessary” to daily life, we’re almost required to become our own electrical engineers just to keep it all humming. It’s a way of living that probably has no future, and certainly no peace of mind.

As always, thought evoking.

You got two, entwined imperatives here. Or one social imperative and one existential choice. The latter is pretty easy, since it’s individual. Take your air-conditioning example. When I built my house I had it ducted for a/c, not knowing how the 110+ August afternoons would feel–I have huge windows . . . and a wrap-around deck. I quickly came to your window drill & never installed a/c. My relatively large roof also fills the cisterns I put under the deck–irrigates my trees. Etc.

As I say, easy–and such obvious adaptations make me feel as though I’m living somewhat properly. That’s the existential, and I hope not smug, part. “Somewhat” suggests great room for improvement.

The social IMPERATIVE is to fight the bastards. Petitions, boycotts, MoveOn, Credo, bumper stickers, GloboCorporate horror story-telling, off-brand gasoline (as little as possible), farmers markets, repairing, buying & hiring local . . . the list is much longer, but my excerpt is to suggest that gossiping about such matters builds a community of retrenchment & sustains most pleasures.

Keep the faith!

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