This is Mandy, future mayor of Blacksburg, Virginia.
Nothing to say. I'm just trying to move some photos of the to-post list.
Although I could take this opportunity to brag that I am now a photojournalst. Two of my photos have been published on the cover of the Blekinge Lans Tidning (the Blekinge Times Newspaper). Sure, it was the back cover, i.e. the last page, but still... I'm now famous here.
The story was about out class litter-picker-upper and commemorative tree planting.
And as it thickens, it gets more and more expensive, but also more fun sounding. So the big summer plan now is a far cry from the simple and free month-long paddle along the Swedish coast.
On the tenth, a group of us will be heading up to Tromso in the northern most part of Norway to see the 46664 Arctic AIDS awareness concert (raising awareness of AIDS in Africa, not the arctic... I mean, raising awareness in the arctic about AIDS in Africa...).
After that I come back here for about a week and a half, kayak, bike, whatever, then it's off to a week-long outdoor survival course in the Swedish wilderness. Now, usually such survival courses are not really that dangerous, because there are trained people around you with cell phones ready to call for help. In my case however, the danger factor is doubled because the course is taught in Swedish. This means if they hold up a plant and say "Whatever you do, don't eat this.", there is a good chance that I will think they are telling me how delicious it is.
After that, I head out to the west coast of Sweden to kayak the fjords. I have strategically scheduled this after the survival course so I wont have to be bothered carrying gear or food or anything. Once I am done with the course, all I will need is a paddle and a knife.
It's a little worrisome to think about how much more money I will be spending than I had planned, but as Tomoe told me, I won't have the chance again... Actually, I already knew that, but I just needed Tomoe to give the OK since she is the one with the job and money.
I'm having and incredibly difficult time concentrating on one thing today, hence two (possibly more) posts before the day is through, as I take numerous breaks from the tasks at hand. Part of the reason is due to the late sunset and clear skies, making it impossible to justify being inside to clean or format a thesis. Part of it is a feeling of urgency to get in all the last minute hang-out time with friends before it all dissolves, and part of it is that I am naturally lazy.
In the afternoon I figured the solution would be to take a little trip downtown to the coffee shop to which classmates tend to gravitate. At least there I can do some thesis edits outside and still have some random conversations with people as they come and go. Amazingly no one showed up -this is the first time that has ever happened, causing a panic attack... what if everyone is at a party someplace else that I didn't hear about?!?! But no, I soon discovered that everyone else was working on their paper as well. It's particularly frustrating that ours has very little work left, but other people are still writing. While I'm ready to get out there and party for the last two weeks of the program, others are worried if they will ever see daylight again.
Later in the evening I decided to stop waiting for something to happen and make it happen myself. I rarely initiate meeting other people, tending to wait for other people to invite me, or for events to develop out of random encounters. Becoming more out-going and proactive with my social life is actually something I have been working on these past few months, inviting various people to run, kayak, photo-shoot, or just hang-out. I find the results pleasing, but am still not totally comfortable with it. This time was no different. I ended up saving some people from wasting their day on thesis work, and a beach volleyball game emerged. My how beach volleyball is So much more satisfying than cleaning or formatting a paper.
Well, back to work... I'll probably post yet again before the night is through, which is a good thing because I have been extremely prolific with the camera lately, and there are a lot of photos to share. I may have to do three posts a day for the rest of the summer just to keep up.
Unbelievably beautiful weather these past few days. It was especially welcome weather as yesterday was for the first in a series of farewell parties (Jen from Write Again Soon is the first to leave), not to mention some litter-picker-upper / commemorative tree-planting parties throughout the day.
In the afternoon, Laura (pictured below) from propelling.ca joined me to document some Karlskrona Swedes in their native habitat. Thanks to her help, it was the first time I was able to get up the nerve to just ask lots of people if I could take their photo. People were unexpectedly accommodating. The photos aren't the best, as I was still a little too nervous to take my time and do it right, and I don't know how to put them at ease in front of the camera yet, but it's a great start. Hopefully I will soon be taking more photos of the front of strangers, instead of being to shy and only getting photos of people walking away.
I finally won at poker last night (well, I didn't win, but I got third place which takes a percentage of the pot, so I didn't loose). It's been a long hard road for me, knowing only the rules, but nothing about strategy. I became the laughing stock of the poker table, especially after going out in two hands last week. This week however things started to click. I suspect that if I continue to systematically improve at this same rate, I will be a formidable contender for the world championships of poker.
The guy in the photo below is not me, he's the classmate who introduced me to the poker club here... in sense, he's the pusher. He looks a little evil and pusherly doesn't he?
You can see the stats here. (As of the time of writing this post, it looks like it has not been updated yet with last night's info.)
The presentations are finished. Other people are still working hard on their final thesis paper. My group is all but finished, so I am spending the next few days thinking about what the future holds.... something I have neglected to do this year.
In some respects, I feel that perhaps I missed out on something this year, spending too much time being overly introspective (I know I wrote about it before, but I was thinking about it again these past few days). I didn't get much "practical" knowledge or experience as some others may have. I just keep coming back to the idea that unless I really spend time on the theoretical/philosophical side of "sustainability" I would be missing something when I try to put things into practice.
After listening to a classmate's presentation about sustainability and educational institutes in which she raised some ideas about the philosophy of sustainability, I have been wondering what the course we took this year would have looked like had they decoupled the philosophy and the science, talking to it in separate courses. One course could be all about the science, and one that about the concept of sustainability itself... one that asks the "big" questions.
As it was presented to us this year, the science was stressed, and the philosophy was there, but not explicitly discussed. It was implied, and felt a little hidden, but seemed as if they were afraid to speak openly about it. One could argue, I suppose, that being part of the engineering department, they should not be teaching philosophy, but I don't think that it can really be strictly about the science, since that science is based on a philosophical belief, deeply held by most of us, but maybe not questioned or understood as such. It is as if we are just to "accept" it.
But anyway, now my year of philosophizing and wasting time has come to an end. This next year is to be focused on getting practical experience. The main focus is no longer "what is sustainability?", or "is is possible?", but rather how can this framework for building strategies to move toward a more sustainable world be implemented?
I have a lot of ideas swimming around in my head. None of them appear particularly profitable (at least not in the short term). I calm my anxiety and justify it by telling myself that this next year will be the unofficial "year two" of my one-year masters program -only cheaper. I have the cash reserves that I don't have to worry about immediate income, so the goal is to focus on gaining experience and insight into how these ideas can be operationalized. Of course I will have to eventually find a way to make it pay, but that as well can be part of the learning process. Basically, I have one year to see what I can make happen.
Or am I just being lazy... finding excuses to avoid finding a "real" job?
The photos are some more of my "I think I have taken better people/portrait shots this past few weeks than ever before" collection.
Well... these below one may not be one of my "best" shots, but it captures Jess (the DJ) well. And, of course, I did not take that shot of me "spinnin". Betcha no one knew about that side of me huh?
A few days ago I lamented my apparent inability to "execute". I have been thinking about this more of course, and have actually chatted about it with an ex-co-worker. According to him, I was considered to be the executioner in the office. I don't know if that means I underestimate myself, or that they are really in trouble.
I have also been paying more attention to why I may feel a little inadequate in the area of get-up-and-get-go. One reason that has become apparent is that, for really the first time in my life, I am surrounded by highly motivated people. This of course makes me feel worse than I probably am. But another thing I have noticed, is that most people are incredibly active, doing this or that project, making me feel inferior... but when I really think about it, I see no need for most of the projects. I see people doing more work than doesn't need to be done. It's great if it's their personal hobby or passion (even I am good at executing that type of stuff) but I wonder what motivates people to do extra work that isn't needed? I don't want to give any examples here, because I don't want to imply that the work people is doing is not "good" work... or that their effort and intentions is not appreciated, it's just that I would never have thought of it or even seen or felt the need. So that is why I feel, on some level, less productive.
It makes me wonder if this is not a main driver of our unsustainable society as a whole; people do things because they want to show how motivated they are. They don't stop to ask if what they are doing is valuable or why. People feel that they constantly have to be "working" on something. They don't stop to ask what would happen if we didn't have all the crap being worked on. I think about people so focused on their careers, their goal is to make "results", yet they have no clue where those results are heading to.
I wonder what would happen if people slowed down and only did what was needed or enjoyable, if people weren't driven by a desire to look or feel industrious.
Sure, one could argue that there will always be someone who feels passionate about anyhting... perhaps someone is passionate about sugar water, hence there would still be a coca-cola. But would coca-cola still have so many people working so hard to... sell sugar water? Is everyone there really so passionate about it? Or was it only the founder? Does the accountant really feel deep down that helping people get fat is something he believes in... something that motivates him? Does the low-level worker in the marketing department really feel that making kids want more is bringing value to society, that kids need sugar water? Is that her passion? If so, keep up the good work. I kind of doubt it though. My sense is that the main motivator is simply an image we have that "good people work hard".
This also makes sense in terms of me being an executioner in the office. That was back when I was driven by some feeling or need to be recognized as a good worker, or expert in my field (at least in the office). As I slowly began to realize that there was really no value in my work there (at least nothing I value), my motivation and execution ability began to wain. That is when I decided to get out. Since then I have been trying to find what motivates me. Unfortunately, it's difficult since I already have more than I need, so there is no motivation to climb any ladder, or to "get more". If only I can figure out what motivates me... then I can be a productive executioner again.
Is it just me, or do I always say stupid stuff like "Only a few days left until I have all the time in the world to... write interesting blog posts, take good photos, work on this or that project, hike, bike, or kayak, plan my life, etc..."
When will I ever learn? Althought the thesis is almost complete and ready to submit, I find myself sitting here unable to write an interesting blog post, trying to sort out the mess that is my apartment. I have not cleaned it for the past month, rationalizing that I will have to do an entire sanitization and pack up my stuff this week anyway. No use cleaning it before that. Well, now is that time. Dang. I wish I had at least taken the rotten apples out of the sink last month.
I did get a chance to take some classmates out kayaking last night. It's one of those things that I had been "planning" since the Baltic was frozen. Somehow, everyone thinks that they are always too busy and now there is only a week left.
Wake up people! You can write a report any time. When is the next time you will be living in the middle of such a beautiful archipelago? Last night was beautiful, despite the wind (and two people tipping over). The ducks are getting bigger, the koots are hatching, the baby swans have almost arrived.
Both of these are my thesis partner. Same person, different sides. The peronality in the top photo is the reason I try so hard to get my homework done on time. The personality in the bottom photo is the reason my work is late sometimes.
I have a feeling that if she finds out I posted these photos I will soon be meeting the personality from the top photo.
It's 7pm going on 3. These long days are really screwing me up. Last night I didn't get to sleep till 5am. Sure, it gets dark somewhere past 10pm now, but that means there are only two hours of darkness before "bed time". That doesn't make any sense to my body which has grown up believing that there should be at least five or six hours between twilight and beddy-bye. It also has sever consequences on my motivation to work. I just can't make myself sit inside and study when the weather is so beautiful. I find myself going for "afternoon walks" and getting home at 9pm. When I was in Tokyo, I either had a job, whereby I was forced to sit inside during the daylight hours (who invented such a stupid system), or, when I was working on my own, I could enjoy an afternoon stroll and get home, situated, and working as it grew darker in the evening, leaving me with a good four or five hours without distraction or feeling guilty about wasting my life.
I can't wait to get to the north of Sweden, where the sun never sets. Imagine how far I will be able to bike, hike, or kayak when there is no need to set up camp.
Classmate Carmen (pictured above and below), has put a tribute to classmates on her blog. It's a collection of various photos I have taken over the year. I remember taking those and most of them I felt were pretty good shots, some better than others, some only good because I know the people in them. But something has come over me in the past few days. I have taken, what I believe to be, some of my best portrait/people photos ever... and not just one or two, but several in a period of two weeks. Maybe my judgement is just clouded by sentimental feelings of leaving everyone. Maybe it's related to hitting my head on a cupboard the other day. At any rate, they are coming soon to a bastishnet near you.
Today I went for a jog with a few classmates (Kerly, Mandy, and Laura). It was fun, as usual... well, it wasn't really just "a jog", it was a little invention Kerly and I came up with one day called aerunbics, or aerobarun. The point is to spice up a boring jog, while at the same time making it a better work out. The rules are simple, and I highly recommend it.
The two key characteristics of aerunbics is imagination and spontaneity. Aerunbics is based on a training exercise we used to do back in high-school for track and field, whereby we would run through the city, randomly choosing to "sprint to the end of the block", "run at 75% speed to the gas-station", or "walk to the lamp post". That is fun enough, but in aerunbics, we are not restricted to simply varying the speed of our run. Instead, anyone can declare a new style of aerunning at any time, and while the main goal is simply to make it more fun, we have discovered that it often makes for a better workout.
"Skip to the lamp post", "hop on one foot to the corner", "karate-kick to the red car". These are just a few of the examples. (it's amazing how tiring hopping on one foot can be). Other styles may be running backwards, speed-skating (where you run as if you were wearing ice-skates, with a side-to-side motion), ballet twirls, and jump-shop or lay-up (act as though your are making a jump-shot in basket ball... do this for 50 meters and see how you feel).
It's great fun. Give it a try, and pass it on.
But that's not what the topic of this post was supposed to be. Something else happened while we were running. We came to a dock protruding out into the baltic, and I took the initiative to strip down to my swimsuit/running shorts, fully intending to make the plunge into the icy waters. But I couldn't do it. I sat on the edge of the dock staring into the water, wanting to, but unable. Luckily, Laura stepped up and dove in first, paving the way for me. (it was cold, invigorating but cold)
It was just another example of something that I have been thinking a lot about recently regarding myself. I have good ideas, but a real problem with details and execution.
In fact, Laura and I had planned to go downtown this morning to approach the townsfolk at the market about taking some portrait photos of them. I had asked her to come along because it is something I have wanted to do for a long time, but knowing myself, was something I would probably never do on my own. It was a good idea, but I have a real problem with execution, and so I seek out others to help me, to force me to do what I want to do.
My thesis project is another great example. I wonder what would have happened if I did not have two executioners as partners. While I knew for a long time what I wanted to do for the thesis, left alone, I doubt whether I would have even been able to pull it off. It was Roya and Amity who forced me to get out and find people to interview. It was Roya and Amity who forced me to focus on the paper, or the presentation (which by the way we gave Friday and kicked-butt!).
In the same way, I was talking with Tomoe recently about what to do when I get back to Tokyo. I have lots of grand plans. They are good plans as well. Yet, as I was telling her, I fear that I can never really get started unless I find someone who can force me to do what I say I want to do. The single most important task I will face when I get back is to find an executioner who likes my ideas. Without someone to force me to work like that, I fear that I will simply spend my time sitting in front of the computer, or reading books.
I don't want to rely on other people to force me to execute. I want to be able to jump in the Baltic on my own. I want to be able to follow through with my projects and do what I know needs to be done. But how? Is it some missing gene? Is it the way I was raised? Or am I just lazy? How can I make myself do what I say I want to do?
I realize that my best strategy is simply to surround myself with others who are better at details than I am, but at what point does that just become free-loading? At what point do I become worthless? It's not like Roya and Amity didn't have any ideas of their own for the thesis. It makes me wonder if I even played a role in the thesis, or was I simply a tag-along on the adventure I suggested?
In the company I used to work for, they valued my contributions enough that I was not forced to think about he details. I knew what needed to be done, and that was enough... I did the parts I wanted to, and if it was something I was not interested in initiating, someone else was on hand to do it, in fact, the boss would get mad if I even spent time trying to do the detail work... telling me I have to delegate. Yet, I can't get all the way through life like that though can I? At some point I have to start doing the things for myself that I am not naturally inclined to do. Especially when my partners are not my subordinates. Amity and Roya are not my secretaries... they are my equals, so how can I get away with leaving all the boring details to them?
In a recent comment, Nils from Planetkyoto writes
When even the idealistic young ecologist is as cynical as the rest of us SOBs, what chance do any of us have?
Fear not readers! I am cynical, yes, but only because I have to know what I am buying in to.
What I have been "testing" with my cynicism is my own motivations. Sometimes I forget why I am here, and what is important. I feel insecure about my own reasons. I try to shield my real, subjective, "heart" reasons with logical arguments about why it is important to take care of the ecosystem. I go so far as to say that a main reason I am here is not for some sappy belief or heart-felt desire to "save the earth", but rather because I don't like to "feel stupid".
Thanks to my cynicism however, I think I have discovered that trying to cover all my bases with logical excuses may be safer for my ego and may help me to feel "accepted" by a few more people, it is probably not the most efficient way to bring about change. I have to admit to myself that much of the reason I am here is simply because I believe it is right and good, and there is nothing to back up that belief. There is no irrefutable logic or science that will prove my belief is not wrong. I just believe.
I believe that there are some really beautiful things out there, and that we should not destroy them -I believe this not for some scientific, logical reason relating to human survival, but simply because trees and birds, and soil and rocks are amazing and worthy of our respect. I believe that life is worth living because of the connections we make to each other and to the natural world we live in, not because of a camera or computer, car, CD, or mp3. I believe that everyone has a right to live a quality life -meaning they have the right to strive to meet their needs as they see fit. Yet, I believe that if we have one obligation to each other, and to the rest of the natural world, it is that we live within the simple rules which govern our entire system (something like thermodynamics). I don't believe that there will ever be a world without suffering and degradation, but I do believe that we should strive for it anyway, and I believe that in doing so more people (though not everyone) will be happier.
I don't have anything to prove that my beliefs are worth a crap in a pot (I just made that little phrase up!). It's just a feeling, but I also believe that until I stop being ashamed of feeling something I can't justify with logic, I will never be able to move forward with that belief, never be able to make something come of it.
Ahhhhhhhhh. Having said that, as vulnerable as that makes me feel, knowing that I can't prove my stance is right, and that my values are the "right" values, I also feel quite liberated. Now I can stop wasting so much time trying to validate my values (although I also know I must never stop questioning my belief) and I can start working toward fulfilling my goals. I can start working toward realizing my vision, my unscientific, unproven vision. I don't need everyone to agree, I don't even need many people to agree. I believe that I have something that can help those who want to be helped, and I believe that as time goes on, more and more people will realize that yes, we do need help. We do need to change our ways. I believe I can be ready for that, and then I will be able to help more people. I believe that people will eventually come to realize this. I guess I believe I am ahead of the curve.
Damn that feels good.
Tomorrow is our presentation, then I am almost free from any and all responsibility! In my whole life! after we turn in the paper, which only requires minimal work, it will be the first time in I don't know how many years when I will have no deadlines other than those which I place on myself. I will be able to wake up in the morning, do nothing all day, and never feel like I should be doing something else. I will be retired at 30! Interesting that I should retire only a few weeks after my dad. And once that responsibility-free month is over, I guess I have to start looking for a job or something...
But during that month, I will be enjoying sunsets like these every night. These photos were taken last Sunday night just as we were setting up camp. I was out looking for some firewood, when the setting sun peeked out from the clouds for just a few minutes. I suddenly saw something like you see in the first photo, but was without my camera. I thought to make a mad dash for the tent, but somehow I was not able to move so fast. There's something about that sunset that made me too calm to care. eventually though, I did make it back to the tent and got the camera to catch the very end of the show.
An interesting Diane Rehm program about birds and birds singing and such.
David Rothenberg: "Why Birds Sing" (Basic Books)
Birds make some of the most beautiful sounds in nature. But scientists don't really know why birds sing. Diane and author/musician David Rothenberg talk about the mystery of bird song. We'll also hear about the reappearance of the ivory-billed woodpecker.
It is especially timely as it is nesting season here in Karlskrona. As we were out paddling Sunday night and monday morning, we saw hundreds of ducklings and loonlings, and swans nesting (I can't wait until they hatch as I have never seen a baby swan before). In the morning, countless huge flocks of geese passed by overhead on their way north, and seagulls attacked me (well, they just buzzed me really close) because I was unwittingly standing too close to their eggs. We saw a bald eagle from afar, and kites a-plenty. Too bad I never have my camera out when I am on the water anymore since I broke my old Panasonic Lumix by getting it wet one too many times (weep with me Nils). I'm not about to ruin the D70 the same way.
I am incredibly happy and confident about our thesis now. More than I have been in the past few weeks. Although I was never dis-satisfied, after the presentation of several other thesis defenses today, I found it encouraging that not once, not twice, but three (more I think, but I was not counting) times, either the advisory team or the other students made comments referring to how our project would inform theirs. It is only natural I suppose, considering that no matter whether they are doing a project about companies, communities, or even the entire world, everything boils down to individual people and the choices we make every day.
I have to admit that there have been times that I have thought perhaps looking at individuals is a little pointless, since we are all just living in an unsustainable system... what can we really do on our own? What impact can one person have? The presentations, however, confirmed my original thinking when deciding on a topic, that is that even if the "direct" impact of a single person does not even appear on the radar of world-changing actions when compared with, say, a large corporation making a purchasing decision based on sustainability, thus influencing the entire supply chain, that action must always start with a person taking the initiative to build up to and promote it within the company.
Sorry for so many swan photos today. I just couldn't decide which ones I liked best, so I posted them all. (And yes, I do realize that I was a little to over eager with the photoshop for some of them)
It's time to start getting ready for the big change. In three weeks school will be over. In two weeks I have to be out of my apartment. In two and a half months I leave Sweden.
So what do I do for two months between the time that school ends and all my classmates go their own ways, and I leave for Tokyo (via Malaysia)?
The plan had originally been to kayak north from where I live, seeing how far I can get in one month. Of course there were other places I would like to see, but this original was based on one principle. Simplicity is nice. It required me to simply place my boat in the water and go. No real planning, no scheduling, nothing to tax my little mind.
Recently, however, I have been convinced that there might be better ways to spend my time. For one thing, the west-coast of Sweden is supposed to be amazing, and quite different from the eastern Baltic coast (where I live and paddle now). For that reason, I have decided to take a week or so to paddle in the fjords north of Gothenburg (I just bought a map of Orust island today). Still, the archipelago near Stockholm looks inviting, despite the fact that it will be swarming with sailboats and the like.
I was told, or at least I think I was told (I did have some wine that night), that one can paddle across Sweden, from Stockholm to Gothenburg (near Orust), via lakes,rivers, and a system of locks. This got me excited as it would mean that I can also see some of the Sweden inland areas, which I have have yet to really take in.
Alas, I looked at a map today and it appears a little dubious. If it is possible, it will take the whole month. At first, this sounded fine, but once you make one exception for diversity at the expense of simplicity, it's hard to keep the original goal in mind. Just today all kinds of other crazy ideas have snuck in, complicating the planning. Wouldn't it be great to spent a week biking around the south of Sweden, seeing the area I have lived in for almost a year but only seen through train windows? Or, how about hitchhiking to Kiruna, at the very north of Sweden, taking me (for the first time) above the arctic circle?
Is there time to do everything?
A tentative plan:
In the first week of June I will find myself homeless, perhaps a nomad wandering among the islands nearby where I live now. I suppose I can still use the shower in the school locker-room. Perhaps that is enough to quench my thirst to explore this coast line. as it is, I paddle frequently, but rarely get far. Sunday night was the farthest I have gotten for an overnighter. (it was amazing, as usual, even though it was cloudy the whole time, and rained all night)
In week two of June I will be completely free of all obligations. I will have mailed home most of my crap. I will have little web work to do. I will have no school or thesis. The plan is to spend the time helping out at the nearby nature reserve I have written about and posted so many photos of. This will also be accompanied by another longer kayak trip around the region. I am thinking four days.
In week three of June I may find it tempting to ride my bike around Blekinge (the region I live in) for a week.
In week four, perhaps I am back at the nature reserve.
Week one of July will be perfect to try to hitchhike (take a train if I can't catch a lift) to the northern most area of Sweden. It would be great to have at least three days to hike around there, and then hitchhike (or train) back.
Week two of July I should be heading up to the Stockholm archipelago. I have estimated that it would take at least two weeks to really paddle through all the islands, but I don't have that much time, so maybe just five days and then take the train over to Orust on the west coast for a week to ten days.
Finally, I suppose I should return to Karlskrona, mail the Kayak home, say goodbye to all my Swedish friends (I actually have only one), and catch the flight to Malaysia.... then all the planning starts again. Luckily, one of my classmates is from Malaysia. I guess I just let her plan my trip.
With my planning and organizational skills, if I can even realize half of this I will be amazed.
A Great (i mean GREAT) NPR Connection program. I just wish they would have found an answer to the question: Why is the United States the only developed nation that is still debating climate change. (although, as Elizabeth Kolbert points out, the debate is among people on the street, but there really is no devbate among scientists anymore.)
Some scientists have coined a new word to describe the age we are living in. They call it the anthropocene -- or age of man -- because of the dramatic way that humans are changing the planet.
Look at the evidence for global warming: nearly every major glacier in the world is shrinking, the permafrost is melting, sea levels are rising and the earth's surface is getting hotter. But what is frightening many scientists is the speed of these changes -- and the fear that it will be impossible to reverse them.
The writer Elizabeth Kolbert traveled around the world, talking to the people and places most affected by melting ice, warmer oceans, and raging forest fires. She says that Americans are among the only people in the world not to make the links between their own actions and the changing climate.
Unfortunatly, the New Yorker article seems to be moved or taken off-line.
Following up on yesterday's post (I have to write this fast as I am heading out in about an hour to kayak for the night... os fi thre era any mispeling, thats why). Again, this is just a thought in progress, don't expect it to be coherent.
So I was thinking next about using "sustainability" as a goal, and what this does and does not imply. It seems a bit dishonest for me, and actually most people I hear speaking of sustainability, to speak of it as if sustainability was the goal. In reality, the goal that most of us are looking toward is "an attractive sustainable world" based on our own concept of what is attractive. What if scientists learned that we can actually pave over two thirds of Alaska and still it would not be over the threshold of "sustainability", or that we could actually clear cut the entire amazon, yet still be sustainable? I realize that this is not something that anyone could ever know, hence the precautionary principle, but just this once pretend that we knew, without a doubt, that it was possible. How many of the "sustainability" advocates would jump ship? I know I would... I am not talking about simply making the world "sustainable" I am talking about making the world something that is attractive to me, and hopefully sustainable too. I'm also talking about making sure that I, and my kids, can kayak in areas that look like these photos.
What this whole program I am studying is based on are a set of principles that would be true of a sustainable world. There are three that are scientific, listing some conditions that would without a doubt break the ecosystem we depend on (we just don't know how far we can push them). Then there is this fourth one that says that "people's ability to meet their needs is not systematically undermined". As much as I love that, and agree it is a good principle to live by, I have trouble calling it a principle of "sustainability". Instead, it might be called a principle of "attractive sustainability". Even if we live without destroying the natural systems we depend on, there is no guarantee that that is attractive. So, we add the fourth principle, which, if followed as well, would result in a more attractive world.
What does all this mean? It means that I am asking myself if I have a responsibility to be open and transparent when I speak of sustainability, if I should be clear when I argue for not doing stupid things, that it is not only because it will break the system, but I am also interested in having a world I would like to live in. Or, when I am in "sustainability advocate" mode, should I refrain from arguing against causes that may be totally sustainable, but I just don't like? If we are arguing for principles of sustainability as sound science, are we responsible to decouple it from our own subjective, non-scientific values? Does leaving our values in there weaken the argument? And is it even worth advocating for if our values are not included?
The photos are from last weekends camping trip to the island in the middle of the city.
I have really felt lost recently, as I think about my future plans, what I can, should, and want to do. Everything seemed so clear until this past two months, when I started to realize that I may not really be on-board with "sustainability". I wrote before that I have serious doubts that such a thing is even possible, and that I was disturbed by the prevailing idea that a sustainable world is some kind of utopia, where all the damage we have done until now is somehow undone.
Not "believing" seemed like a barrier if I were to try to find some work related to sustainable development when I graduate, but I still rationed that I don't have to believe it is possible in order to work toward it.
My latest barrier, however, might be a little harder to overcome... Recently, I have gotten around to asking myself the obvious question, the one we should all have been required to answer in our application essay: Is "sustainability" an attractive goal? Is it even necessarily a "good" thing?
In recent weeks I have found myself realizing that I don't know if it is good. For the most part, when I think of what would be needed to sustain human society*, I don't see it as totally fitting with my values or image of a desirable way of life. For example, "Sustainability" can be achieved by radically reducing human population, and then either enforcing a strict birth-control policy, or infanticide (it worked in the old days).
Now, you will be comforted to know that I do agree with and see value and logic in living within the physical limits of our system. The only difference is that I value "not screwing up the world for ourselves and future generations" and "making the world better, not worse", rather than "sustaining the world forever". While living according to basic rules of thermodynamics may lead to sustaining human society, it is not my reason for doing so. So how can I work in "sustainable development" when sustainability is not even my goal?
This is what I have been thinking recently, until tonight. I was walking home from a birthday party, reflecting on the evenings table talk which touched on this topic. I may have found a little comfort in that my own values and goals, which I thought were different from, but may lead to sustaining human society, are perhaps just another way of saying "sustainability". Allow me to think this through out loud... this is just a rough draft of my thoughts. Let me know if it makes any sense.
Somehow, in my mind, the term "sustainability" when expressed as a goal, has gradually evolved into meaning "sustain human society". I realized tonight that these are two very different goals, that "sustainability" is just a prerequisite for sustaining human society, but it is not a guarantee. It merely means that the earth is "able" to sustain humans. In that sense, sustainability is very close to my goal of "don't screw it up or make it worse for future generations".
In effect, sustainability means that I should not detract from their ability to choose to screw it up for themselves. It means that I do not dictate how they live. I do not dictate what they must value. I do not dictate their morals or ethics. If they don't feel any moral obligation to preserve the ability for their future generations to exist, that is their prerogative. I don't agree with it, but in the end, my own morals and ethics are my own. I can try to convince them that they should value something more than satisfying their own desire to consume, but I have not right to "force" them to do so.
This of course is the main problem I have today, in that I do feel that it is unethical to leave a shit-hole for my kids, grandkids, and great grandkids, but there is no empirical case to be made for this. There is no case for "sustainability". As clear as the laws of thermodynamics are, and that our ecosystem has basic limits, and that we can not continue to push toward those limits, this means nothing unless the people living today see more value in preserving the "ability" to sustain future generations than they do in getting cheap crap and cheap airfare, and tomatoes in the winter, and the freedom to live an hour's drive from work, and whatever else we value that flies in the face of the scientific laws and principles that govern our world.
This led to a short time of grappling with the idea that it is almost as if society has now collectively decided "Ok, this is the end. There is no reason to continue. It's no longer worth it." If this is the collective will, who am I to argue, and to say that my values are more important than anyone else's? Of course, it's obvious that it is not the collective will of humanity that has decided to call it quits. It is only a small portion. Unfortunately, it's the small portion of which I live amongst.
So, let me see if I can recap what I just rambled on about:
Bahhh! it is still an incomplete thought, full of holes. I will still be thinking about this... maybe I will revisit it on the blog. Does any of it make any sense as is? Of course it doesn't even touch on the fact that it seems to make most sense to see "sustainability" of future generations as secondary to stopping the suffering of people today, but that when tackling poverty today, we should do it in a way that does not compromise the future generations ability to live poverty free as well (I am speaking of more than just economic poverty... the poverty that exists when any of our needs are not satisfied).
*when I talk about sustainability I mean human society, since I do not believe it is possible for us to completely destroy all life on earth
I went to the gym today.
For all you struggling would-be bloggers out there (I know a few are reading this): The Infinite Mind discusses writers block
They talk about the science behind writers block, and why some people may be blocked when it comes to writing their thesis, but they can blog eight hours each day. (obviously that is not my problem... if I was blogging eight hours each day you would surely see a little more than this).
It was interesting in that a lot of the ways they talk about writers block apply to me in terms of work, be it thesis work, programming work, planning a vacation work... anything that is on my "to-do" list causes a block for me. That's why I take so many photos. "Take more pictures" is not on my list... it's what I do to avoid doing the things on my list.
As far as the actually writers-block aspect (as opposed to workers-block) I should have listened to this a few weeks ago when trying to write the essay (which I find out now may not be actually published anyway... despite the project leader clearly telling me that she had a commitment from some sympathetic publisher who specializes in publishing things that probably wont sell)
Just got back from kayaking and camping. I didn't get to go into full survival mode because survival is illeagal in the city. No fire (even at the campground), no chopping down trees, no hunting with a spear and slingshot. I was even afraid to try to navigate my way to the bathroom using the stars... the last thing I want is to be thrown in a Swedish prsion.
It was still great. I woke up this morning to a beautiful fog, then later a forest filled with hunddreds of spiderwebs glistening in the sun. The sea birds are nesting now. Various ducks, seaguls, some still sitting on the nest, some out training their young.
The photos are not from the kayak / camp trip.
I'm not sure how much time I have left. This morning I turned on the stove (electric) to boil some water for tea. Within about six minutes the room had filled with thick smoke, and I had not even noticed -neither did the smoke alarm until about thirty seconds later. Instead of the back burner, with the tea kettle, I had turned on the front burner by accident. On that front burner had fallen my plastic pasta strainer. (no more spaghetti for me this year)
This makes me wonder about two points.
1. How many POPs have I inhaled today? How many more can I take in before there are visible effects?
2. Even if there are no visible effects right now, is it because there is no effect, or because I have been slowly getting used to the negative effects of the persistent toxins in my body for my entire life.
3. (did I say two points?) It is amazing that I did not even notice all the smoke for SIX WHOLE MINUTES. By the time I smelled it, I looked up and the room was filled. If I had walked in the room at that moment from outside, I would have been overwhelmed. Luckily, some may say, humans are able to adapt to such changes if they happen gradually enough. But what is the difference between "adaptation" and "getting used to"? Why is all adaptation seen as a good thing even when it actually threatens our lives and health?
I wonder what it would feel like, or if I would notice a difference, if I suddenly moved from a body clean from persistent chemicals and heavy metals and their "minute" or "negligible" effects on my health and brain, into my current body -one that has been slowly collecting these toxins for thirty years. Although I don't "feel" or notice any of the effects now, does that mean there are none there? I wonder how smart I would be without a lifetime of brain-damaging pollutants having slowly built up.
Of course, next I could draw the old analogy between this and the greater environment, and how despite what science tells us, we somehow don't notice what is happening to the earth. I could talk about the frog who will sit calmly in the water as it is gradually raised to boiling, allowing himself to be cooked. I could show graphs and charts and numbers and figures and maps clearly showing the tremendous changes taking place in just the last half-century. But other people have all shown them, and they are consistently ignored because although it is happening so incredibly fast relative to history, it is happening too slowly relative to our own daily life for us to even notice... perhaps we feel as though we are "adapting".
Everyone has been busy on their thesis lately, so there have been fewer potlatch dinners. Even still, I have been to more potlatches this year than my entire life combined. For those of you who don't know, a potlatch is a style of get-together we do in the US and Canada whereby each guest brings a dish to share. I hadn't realized that this was a uniquely American custom. I know the word "potlatch" is a native american word, but I just assumed that other countries would have the same tradition, just call it something else. As a matter of fact, they do have potlatch dinners here in Sweden, but I am told it is called "American dinner".
Interesting note: A buffet (also called smorgasbord in the US -smorgasbord is form a swedish word meaning sandwich table) is called "A Viking" in Japan. So, for example, you will go into a restaurant in Tokyo and order the "salad viking" meaning the all you can eat salad buffet.
Anyway, a while back I read an interesting story about the origins of the potlatch in the book Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches (really fascinating book). I have copied an excerpt here to share with my classmates.
The Kwakiutl (native american tribe from west coast of Canada) chief was never content with the amount of respect he was getting from his own followers and from neighboring chiefs. He was always insecure about his status.... Every chief therefore felt the obligation to justify and validate his chiefly pretensions. The prescribed manner for doing this was to hold potlatches. Each potlatch was given by a host chief and is followers, to a guest chief and his followers. The object of the potlatch was to show that the host chief was truly entitled to his chiefly status, and that he was more exulted than the guest chief. To prove this point, the host chief gave the rival chief and his followers quantities of valuable gifts.
Preparations for potlatch required the accumulation of fresh and dried fish, fish oil, berries, animal skins, blankets, and other valuables. On the appointed day, the guests paddled up to the host village and went into the chiefs house. There they gorged themselves on salmon and wild berries while dancers masked as beaver gods and thunderbirds entertained them.
The host chief and his followers arranges in neat piles the wealth that was to be given away. The visitors stared at their host sullenly as he pranced up and down, boasting about how much he was about to give them. As he counted out the boxes of fish oil, baskets full of berries, and piles of blankets, he commented derisively on the poverty of his rivals. Laden with gifts, the guests finally were free to paddle back to their own village. Stung to the quick, the guest chief and his followers vowed to get even. This could only be achieved by inviting their friends to a return potlatch and obliging them to accept even greater amounts of valuables than they had given away. Considering all the Kwakiutl villages as a single unit, potlatch stimulated a ceaseless flow of prestige and valuables moving in opposite directions.
And ambitious chief and his followers had potlatch rivals in several different villages at once. Specialists in counting property kept track of what had to be done in each village in order to even the score. If a chief managed to get the better of his rivals in one place, he still had to confront his adversaries in another.
At the potlatch, the host chief would say things like, "I am the only great tree. Bring your counter of property that he may try in vain to count the property that is to be given away." The the chief's followers demanded silence form the guests with the warning. "Do make any noise, tribes. Be quiet or we shall cause a landslide of wealth from our chief, the overhanging mountain." At some potlatches blankets and other valuables were not given away, but were destroyed. Sometimes successful potlatch chiefs decided to hold "grease feasts" at which boxes of oil obtained from the candle-fish were poured on the fire in the center of the house. As the flames roared up, dark grease smoke filled the room. The guests sat impassively or even complained about the chill in the air while the wealth destroyer ranted, "I am the only one on earth-the only one in the whole world who makes this smoke rise from the beginning of the year to the end for invited tribes." At some grease feasts the flames ignited the planks in the roof and the entire house would become a potlatch offering, causing the greatest shame to the guests and much rejoicing among the hosts.
UPDATE: So it appears this was all wrong... the story is real, but that is not where the potluck as we know it comes from. According to the all-knowing web:
The potlatch was a big celebration--often the host would give all his possessions away. The modern notion of bringing dishes to share (in essence, giving away what you have) seems like a natural extension of this idea.
It may be natural, but it's wrong. The term potluck comes from the traditional practice (not that it's entirely unknown among us moderns) of never throwing anything away. Meal leftovers would be put into a pot and kept warm, and could be used to feed people on short notice. This practice was especially prevalent in taverns and inns in medieval times, so that when you showed up for a meal, you took the "luck of the pot." A related term found its way into French usage, as an impromptu meal at home is often referred to as pot au feu, literally "pot on the fire."
Please notice the bolded portion. it sounds a lot like sustainability soup, which I will be writting about soon....
A while back I was looking into going for an outdoor survival course in in Sweden. I haven't been able to find anyone to join me as it takes place in July and I seem to be one of the only people from my group staying until August. I can't believe how irresponsible I am... I should be going back to Tokyo and looking for a job instead of playing around here in the eternal summer.
Anyway, I am not sure if I will take the survival course, but as a contingency plan, I have my copy of Camping and Wilderness Survival ready for a do-it-yourself outdoor survival course. The plan is to take only the book, a pocket knife, and a kayak. Let's see how long I can survive!
Of course, I will have to practice first. Now that we have handed in a draft of our thesis, I hope to have some time this week for camping... and some unsuspecting friends who have agreed to go camping with me. Little do they know, we will be living off the land, trying as many of the little tricks from the book as possible. Everything from building shelter and a jacuzzi with hot stones, to cooking breakfast on a rock or in a MacGyver style solar oven.
I spent all my blog-writing time today replying to a comment from a previous post.
These photos are from last weekend in Copenhagen.
It was a dangerous night. I played poker. It's always dangerous to play poker because I start to feel like I used to when we would have poker nights back in the day... back in high school. Of course then a $100 pot was the ultimate rush. Not that would not get my heart pumpin' now too, or make me cry if I lost it, but I wonder if it would feel the same considering that $100 dollars come so much easier today compared to ten years ago.
Tonight I only lost $10, and it was well worth it... a lot more fun than just going to the bar and spending almost $10 on a pint, or going to the movies and seeing some flickering lights moving in front of me. So long as I can control myself, and keep it at $10 once a week, I will be fine... right?
It has been a while since I have been listening to NPR. Despite the fact that my workload (paid web work that is) has decreased this month, and the interviews for our thesis are all complete, and my essay about leadership is turned in, somehow I am still busy as a hamster.
I did get a chance to listen the other day though, and I wanted to draw your attention to this program about ethical investing. Although it is probably pretty basic to someone like Jennifer, who worked for the arch enemy of the guest on the program, for me it was really interesting.
I have to admit that I have really been torn for the past few years. I hate having money invested in places that, while they may give me some short-term return (or long-term, if I am luckier than the earth), stand for everything I see as wrong.
What I would really like, but have been too lazy to find, are some smaller, yet safe (less return is fine) community investment / micro-loan type funds. Something I can feel good about supporting, and still make more return than I do lining my sleeping bag with cash.
I have to find one more thing to write about tonight... give me a second while i think...
I suppose I could write about how, when I came home last night, I almost died from the stench of cauliflower rotting in my sink. I have been out of my apartment so long (and when I am here, I am either sleeping, writing on the blog, or watching Alias) that I just let the place go. Part of it might be that I am moving out this month and I have to do a thorough cleaning at the end of the month anyway, so no use cleaning now too...
I forgot how great it can be to work with people you really like and can have fun with. These past few days have been extremely full with thesis work (our first draft is due Sunday and we are quite far from being finished).
As I rode home tonight from another marathon work session (today was twelve hours) I was reflecting on how it flew by and didn't seem like work at all. The last time I really felt this comfortable with my coworkers, as I do with my thesis partners, was back in my last semester of university. I was working as a waiter at a brew pub in Ann Arbor and really loved going to work. The co-workers were great, and every night (or day) was a blast, regardless if it was slow or busy. When I graduated, I debated if I should move on with my life, or stay there and just keep being a waiter. Of course, there was some part of my conditioning that told me, "being a waiter is not a proper career... you must begin building a career" Since then, I have had four jobs, and none of them were as fun to go to as that was.
It had gotten to the point were, two years ago, after quitting my office job, working alone, from my apartment was really appealing to me, and I really enjoyed it. Now, having worked with people I enjoy again, going back to working alone is not so appealing. I really hope I can find something in Tokyo when I get back that will put me with people I really "click" with.
The photos above and below are my thesis partners. Below we see Roya giving her best supermodel pose in Copenhagen Tuesday, and Amity cheering us on from the Baltic states where she is vacationing now... as we spend twelve hour days working on the thesis draft! But it's OK... we'll find some way to have her make it up to us...
The trip to Copenhagen was a success despite the fact that, due to technicalities, I was not able to get the student discount on my train tickets, and ended up paying about double what I expected. When I found out at the ticket booth, I almost changed my mind about the whole thing, but rationalized it as "worth it to see my sister". It was pretty annoying then to find out that they had been planning to come by here next weekend anyway.
Now I have a few other rationalizations:
What's that you say? you want me to elaborate more on each of these points? Well.... if you say so.
The train ride finally gave me enough time to finish a book I had been pecking away at for too long.
I have been reading Critical Mass, a book about applying what we know about physics to what we want to know about the workings of society. It has taken me a while partly because I have been too busy to finish it recently, but also because his writing style is a little less "catchy" than some of the other recent easy-to-read books about similar topics, such as The Tipping Point, and Wisdom of Crowds. It is however, much more informative.
He touches on a number of subjects: Self-organization, phase transitions (tipping points), emergence, chaos theory, the power-law, game theory, and more. These are all things I have just been hearing and reading about bit by bit in the past few years, but this book was really great in helping me to connect the dots.
My main takeaway though was that yes, there are certain characteristics that we can see in nature and society, such as self organizing and theoretical "best strategies" in game theory, but ultimately, it is up to us to create the context of the game. These theories are perhaps natural tendencies, and it is imperative that we understand them, but it does not mean that it is the "way it should be".
I got to see Copenhagen before leaving Scandinavia.
Until Tuesday, I had only ventured about a half hour from the station.
In Copenhagen, I had a chance to hear about their pretty amazing bicycle commuter infrastructure.
Copenhagen was nicer than I expected, thought that may simply be due to the fact that it was the first day this year nice enough to ride bikes in a t-shirt. What was really great though was hearing the bike commuter story from a local planner involved in it (many thanks to Jess for organizing it!)
It was truly amazing to see so many people biking, and the way the bike lanes were so integrated with the road system. And, like last time I met with city planners, I tingled with excitement when I heard how they made small changes the built environment to encourage favorable behavior. I repeat, they must feel like gods.
Just some key figures out of their biannual Bicycle Account progress report.
So what's wrong with the US and Japan? Why can't this be done there as well? Unfortunately, the planner admitted that most of the success of the Copenhagen bicycle system has to do with the fact that Copenhagen's have been exceptionally fond of their bicycles for over one-hundred years. This is not just a "movement" they started recently, rather, it is built on a solid foundation of bicycle riding-ness.
I got to see a very interesting portion of Copenhagen called Freetown, Christiana, which I had certainly never heard of, and is actually related somewhat to the book I finished on the train, in that it is a self-organizing community.
Really interesting. A little scary, and rude (they wouldn't let me take photos, but the photos on this post are all from Christiana) but really interesting.
History of Christiana
In 1971, when a swarm of hippies, squatters and political activists invaded an abandoned military base in the heart of Copenhagen, and dubbed it the Free Town of Christiania, few Danes believed the community would still exist today. Read more...
I'm getting ready to visit my sister in Malo tonight. (getting ready means going to the beer store), then tomorrow I will visit Copenhagen with some classmates to talk to the city planner there.
Just for the record, I am visiting my blood sister, not the other one, who just lives down the street from me now, and I didn't even know existed until she alerted me to the fact that Gary had alerted her to the fact that we are related.
I thought I would feel better after sending off my essay a few minutes ago, twenty minutes before the deadline. I don't. Although it is somewhat comforting to know that my essay is "the best" essay, because as Judith commented yesterday, "the best essay is a done essay".
Thank's Judith. I actually mentioned you in the essay as having played a small part in leading my to finish it ;)
In a somewhat related note, Tomoe got mad at me for "underestimating" myself, or at least acting like I do, making note of how I tend to downplay my abilities on the blog and in conversation.
Now that she mentions it, I guess I can see it. The thing is, I didn't really intend to. My last post, for example, when I wrote that I have discovered I am not a writer, I didn't really mean it as though I truly believe I am a poor writer. Not to say I can't benefit from a writing course, lots of practice, and a spell-checker, but I don't feel I am really that bad. I think what I was alluding to more yesterday, is that I am quite self-conscious about my writing, when facing the prospect of writing about a complex issue in a short space, I freeze up, especially if there is no opportunity to follow up. One of the major characteristics of the blog that allows me to keep it up, is that I can always change my mind and write something different tomorrow.
Another difference between writing on the blog and trying to write an essay or paper, is the concept of a "final draft". The fact that it is final, of course, means that I should make sure I get it right... that makes me think... that reveals how complex the issue is... that prevents me from making broad, blanket statements... than means I have to discuss *everything*... that makes it too big to handle. Writing for the blog is quick and dirty. I don't spend too much time thinking about the wording, and I don't proof-read. I have found that the surest way to keep an idea from surfacing on this blog is to start proof-reading it... it will never be good enough, and it will never see the light of day. This is also probably why my posts get into that rambling mode. (like now)
So I was talking about downplaying my abilities.... Tomoe has also mentioned this to me in regards to comments I make about my photos sometimes. Let's get one thing straight. If I sound like I am downplaying my photography, it is a misunderstanding. Although I go through periods where I don't have as many good photos, I am, for the most part, dang proud of my photos. Much more so than my writing. That is not to say, of course, that I consider myself an expert. I could stand to learn much more about my camera. I really should rely less on Photoshop, and I should learn how to use Photoshop more effectively for what I do do with it. But on the whole, I do feel that I somehow have some knack for noticing and capturing better than average, sometimes great, images.
So, what else can I brag about?
I have kept my figure quite well considering that I am almost thirty-one and drink a lot of beer.
I consider myself to be quite patient.
I make a mean bean soup.
I'm not mean myself.
I am flexible (I don't mind moldy cabbage in my fridge)
About the only thing I feel bad about myself now is that dang essay I just submited. It's CRAP! CRAP! CRAP! DUOH! CRAPPY ESSAY! CRAPPY ESSAY!