Sunday, December 18, 2005

Wedges and Wedgies

Billy Parish of Energy Action posted a great post on a blog I helped get cranking called Its Getting Hot in Here (was the blog for the activist base during the Montreal climate talks last week but is now becoming the youth blog for students activists and the like).

Princeton released the study, that as Billy points out, was also sponsored by Ford Motor Company (you'll see a gratuitous photo of an Escape in the flash presentation) and BP. I, like Billy, don't agree with all the solutions they map out as many have side effects that would only add to the carbon problem in the atmosphere (and why the hell are people thinking nuclear is a good way to go?) Also, I, like Billy, agree that simply hoping to put a ceiling on emissions is aiming too low. As the study points out we do have the technology to make great leaps past global warming (as opposed to simply making the least possible effort) and create a new society not based on coal and oil. Too bad the study leaves some of those out.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Mo' Money Less Happy

The CS Monitor continues to cover more interesting topics than the NYT and their December 5th article on what constitute's happiness in this money-driven world struck a chord with my innner spendthrift. For instance, according to research done by a Warwick University economist and Dartmouth economist David Blanchflower, marriage equates to about $100,000 in happiness value...not that I think we should be putting a price on marriage (prenup would take on a whole new significance). However, it is interesting that we have to translate non-monetary value in our lives (family, marriage, health, friends) into monetary figures in order to fully understand the value of them.

Here are some additional "happpiness related" findings of Blanchflower's research:

• Nations (at least those in the West) do not grow happier as they grow richer.
• Women report higher levels of well-being than do men.
• Two of the biggest negatives in life are unemployment and divorce.
• Better-educated people report higher levels of happiness, even after taking income into account.

Here's another kicker: research shows overwhelmingly that married, monogamous couples are the happier than others.

That's because it finds, for instance, that those in a monogamous, faithful marriage are the happiest. In the dry language of the paper, "The happiness- maximizing number of sexual partners in the previous year is one."

Those who cheat on their spouses are less happy. Those who have ever paid for sex are much less happy than others. So are those who divorce.

Maybe this will change the way we look at our GDP in the future. Happiness isn't equated into GDP and judging by the first bullet point above it's time we start rethinking how we define what success is in life. Wealth is nice, but it's only a basic piece of a larger pie that includes such things as love, spirituality, health, longevity and a true understanding of our world. How can we start creating a culture of happiness?

A consumption tax that raises the income tax would help to deflate the purchase of items like yachts, vacation homes, 8,000 square foot homes and other un-needed extravagances. That money could then be used to increase public works, education, government programs to make more people happy. How about a 4 day work week so we can all spend more time with our families and more importantly, with ourselves. The best part of this idea is that this type of tax would actually stimulate savings in American families and promote investment.

Whats the definition of happiness anyways? Gosh, can you buy happiness?

Sunday, December 04, 2005

How Literate Are You?

A new report by the NEETF (National Environmental Education and Training Foundation) has some startling news to those of us claiming to be eco-literate: what we don't know is going to kick our ass (ass = planet).

Usually, once someone understands something they are able to better make informed decisions about it. This new report, Environmental Literacy in America, explains over a decade of studies and research backgrounding Americans' environmental literacy. Joe Makower over at WorldChanging has a fantastic analysis. What's disconcerting is that it's final conclusion is that we don't know the half of how degraded our home turf really is.

One clip that caught my eye (besides the jaw-dropping results) was the idea of "nature-deficit disorder" (oh please let's not have a new pill for this one--I'm hoping scientists figure out the cure for this disorder is a few years in the outback or Canadian wilderness). NDD, as I like to call it, basically explains the pattern shifts in how young people interact with their natural environment:

As kids become more "wired" than ever before, they are drawn away from healthful, often soul-soothing, outdoor play. The age-old pattern of children spending hours roaming about and playing outside is becoming close to extinct due to a combination of electronics, cyberspace, and parental efforts to keep their children indoors and, in their minds, safer.

This also explains why we are the only country in the world to have 12 year-olds that are routinely mistaken for dwarfish versions of Steelers linemen at the local TCBY. It fits with my experiences as a summer camp counselor. When asked where our food comes from, some of our campers (including the 16 year olds) simply said, "the grocery store." Ok, but how does the grocery store get it? "I don't know...they order it from other grocery stores, I guess," said one 11 year old. Yikes. Once more the dichotomy between the natural world and our children's everyday experience seems shockingly vast. All I can say is thank god I grew up in Vermont where I could see dairy farms, family farms and a piece of the process in how our food arrives at grocery stores. And thanks to summer camps where I was forced to spend 4 days a month out in the Appalachian wilderness (ok...not really wilderness but pretty close) with nothing but oatmeal and a tent (ok...we had more than that - but not much).