Earth Day Reading

If you want some food for thought to celebrate Earth Day, check out Bill McKibben’s  “Green Room” archive on Slate. After Wendell Berry (list of his works here)  and my  mentor Joseph Wood Krutch (his works here), I think McKibben’s writings about the environment have had more impact on me than anyone else’s.

 I still recall the whack-upside-the-head of his book The End of Nature back in 1987. I wrote a couple of columns about him for a Dallas magazine and reviewed that book and some later ones for The Dallas Morning News. How startling and frightening (but almost science-fictionish at the time) was his central thesis that man could actually affect global climate–could, in effect, bring an end to the traditional idea of Nature as an immutable force standing forever outside human control. One of my columns was titled “Man Vs. Nature: If We Win, We Lose.”

In the years since, millions have come around to McKibben’s way of thinking. He answers questions from readers here. And here is a link to his nature books on Amazon.


Beef: “The Hummer of the Dinner Plate”

As I enter my seventh week without beef–that’s BEEF, with an F, not Beer, with an R–and  continue to reduce intake of other creatures (Final Frontier: Fried Chicken), here’s a brow-raising take on the connection between meat-eating and climate change from this week’s New York Times Magazine:

THE HIGH PRICE OF BEEF: Late in February, the governors of Maine, Rhode Island, Washington, Maryland and other states received letters from Lindsay Rajt of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, asking them to encourage the citizens of their states to become vegetarians. The governors of those states have been fighting for tighter vehicle-emissions standards as a way to combat climate change. That made them a target for the folks at PETA, who argue that the climate impact of the car pales in comparison to that of the cow.

A 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization found that livestock production accounts for 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions — more than all forms of transportation combined.

 Meat’s supersize impact comes from fuel- and fertilizer-intensive agricultural methods of growing feed, all the power needed to run slaughterhouses and meat-processing plants and the potent greenhouse gases produced by decomposing manure. Pork, lamb and poultry all have their impacts, but beef is undoubtedly the Hummer of the dinner plate. Sixty percent of the deforestation in the Amazon River basin between 2000 and 2005 can be attributed to cattle ranching; much of the remainder was cleared to raise corn and soy for feed. And cows, once fed, burp — a lot. Each day, a single cow can burp as much as 130 gallons of methane, a greenhouse gas that traps more than 20 times more heat per ton than carbon dioxide.

Trimming the amount of meat Americans eat would not only help the planet — a mere 20 percent reduction is the equivalent of switching from a Camry to a Prius — but would also be likely to reduce obesity, cancer and heart disease.

 Until recently, it was only animal rights groups like PETA that were willing to ask Americans to forgo the pleasures of the flesh. That changed in January, when Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (and a vegetarian), uttered four little words: “Please eat less meat.” He continued: “This is something that the I.P.C.C. was afraid to say earlier, but now we have said it.”

“The Last Lecture”

Three people have now sent me “The Last Lecture” by Carnegie-Mellon professor Randy Pausch, who is dying of inoperable pancreatic cancer. Pausch makes some good points, and does so with a grace and good humor I cannot imagine having in his circumstances. But–and I wish him the best, and do not mean to disparage him–I’m struck here, as I was with the enormous best-seller Tuesdays With Morrie, by how common-sensical are much of his comments, how unsurprising they are, or should be.

Of course we should spend more time with the people we love. Of course we should put family and friends and natural beauty above the pursuit of money and status. Of course, in the end, your friends and family care for you much more than the shareholders or law-firm partners or editors or union bosses you spent so much of your life trying to please.

What gives The Last Lecture, Morrie and similar works their power is the fact that their authors are dying–i.e., dying sooner than most of us hope we will. Though still alive, they’ve passed beyond the lunacy of the rat race and are here to tell us, once again, to get it straight while we can. What they want to tell us is not difficult to understand. It requires no degree in philosophy, no ability to fathom Kant or Heidegger.

And yet, no matter how many times we are reminded of what should be our correct priorities, we always need reminding again.  If you like, read more on Pausch or watch the lecture here .

Are the Democrats Doomed?

I noted a few days ago that if the Democrats don’t win the White House this year, with the debacle of Iraq, a staggering economy, and something like 80% of voters believing the country is on the wrong track, they may never win again.  Apparently, NY TImes Dem cheerleader-in-chief  Bob Herbert is starting to have those Never-Win-Again blues. Sing along here if you like.

Did Obama Worship Vampire Bats? Check

One of the most useful and most needed sites on the vast Interwebenblogentube is, the ultimate knock-’em down site for urban legends. There’s not one sucker but a thousand born every minute, and that will keep Snopes in business at least until that giant comet hits on July 4.

 So you’ve heard that Barry Obama used to belong to a renegade  Ceylonese cult that worshiped giant vampire bats? Oh, you haven’t heard? Well, to check the veracity of said rumor and thousands of others, get thee to Snopes. Why, they’ve even opened a whole section on the Obama Man here.

Bruuuuce n’ Barry: The Boss Backs Obama

With my ears still ringing from Sunday night’s Springsteen bash here in Dallas, now comes word that The Boss has endorsed Obama….hmm: Small surprise, I think, that he didn’t go for Hillary. Obamaphiles will hope Bruce is  better at picking the pres than he was in ’04 when he saddled up with Kerry.

Key Boss Quote:

“He speaks to the America I’ve envisioned in my music for the past 35 years, a generous nation with a citizenry willing to tackle nuanced and complex problems, a country that’s interested in its collective destiny and in the potential of its gathered spirit.”

Springsteen’s been on the road for weeks, so maybe he just didn’t hear about the Obama “Bittergate” remarks about those angry, gun-totin’ denizens of small Rust Belt towns.

Get the story plus a classic “Born to Run” video here.

UPDATE: Further Webbing shows that Springsteen was in fact aware of the “elitism” charges against Obama, and addresses them in a letter on his website here. Now we can speculate as to whether Bruce timed the endorsement to mollify blue-collar Pennsylvanians who might be uneasy with Obama.


Poetry Break: “April Inventory”

 Years ago while teaching college English, I came across a poem called “April Inventory” by W. D. Snodgrass. Besides the merits of the poem, which you’ll see below, I’ve found its main idea useful in my life, and I’ve often done an “April Inventory” of my own in the spring, just running a  check of my life to see what I’m satisfied with and what still eludes me for one reason or another. What’s working, and what’s not? What do I really lack, if anything, and what am I grateful to have?  I may publish my own inventory this month, but meanwhile, here’s the poet’s:



April Inventory  
The green catalpa tree has turned
All white; the cherry blooms once more.
In one whole year I haven't learned
A blessed thing they pay you for.
The blossoms snow down in my hair;
The trees and I will soon be bare.

The trees have more than I to spare.
The sleek, expensive girls I teach,
Younger and pinker every year,
Bloom gradually out of reach.
The pear tree lets its petals drop
Like dandruff on a tabletop.

The girls have grown so young by now
I have to nudge myself to stare.
This year they smile and mind me how
My teeth are falling with my hair.
In thirty years I may not get
Younger, shrewder, or out of debt.

The tenth time, just a year ago,
I made myself a little list
Of all the things I'd ought to know,
Then told my parents, analyst,
And everyone who's trusted me
I'd be substantial, presently.

I haven't read one book about
A book or memorized one plot.
Or found a mind I did not doubt.
I learned one date.  And then forgot.
And one by one the solid scholars
Get the degrees, the jobs, the dollars.

And smile above their starchy collars.
I taught my classes Whitehead's notions;
One lovely girl, a song of Mahler's.
Lacking a source-book or promotions,
I showed one child the colors of
A luna moth and how to love.

I taught myself to name my name,
To bark back, loosen love and crying;
To ease my woman so she came,
To ease an old man who was dying.
I have not learned how often I
Can win, can love, but choose to die.

I have not learned there is a lie
Love shall be blonder, slimmer, younger;
That my equivocating eye
Loves only by my body's hunger;
That I have forces true to feel,
Or that the lovely world is real.

While scholars speak authority
And wear their ulcers on their sleeves,
My eyes in spectacles shall see
These trees procure and spend their leaves.
There is a value underneath
The gold and silver in my teeth.

Though trees turn bare and girls turn wives,
We shall afford our costly seasons;
There is a gentleness survives
That will outspeak and has its reasons.
There is a loveliness exists,
Preserves us, not for specialists.