Saturday, March 29, 2008

Rice goes into the handbasket-

From the sublime (Peeps) to the ridiculous (global collapse...) - rice; the mainstay food for half of the Earth- has nearly doubled in price over the last year.  The New York Times has a nice, calm, even-handed report today.

They casually report that food riots have already been taking place, around the world- and the military in some countries are now hunting out "hoarders" (ie. powerless people with food they can take- not big corporations with mountains of grain waiting for the price to go up).

Etc. etc.  As Kurt Vonnegut was fond of repeating, "And so it goes."

The rather calm approach is typical, I think, of our current world.  Sharon, who is more outspoken about impending doom than I am, has a recent post enumerating a few of the current disasters and their interactions- #4 is "Failure to respond..." in this case to global warming.  

We are unable to act on many fronts, these days though- we are also failing to act on population growth- and...  well, add your own.  Paralysis.

As I put it on somebody else's blog a few weeks ago (DotEarth, I think); 

"So this is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends; 
not with a bang nor a whimper; but in statistical gridlock."

My apologies, of course, to T.S. Eliot, and yes, I realize it doesn't exactly scan.

It was Benjamin Disraeli; England's Prime Minister for some of Queen Victoria's reign, who said "There are three kinds of lies.  Lies; damned lies; and statistics."  Even then; all that was necessary to bring about paralysis was to hire some expert to produce "statistics" pointing in the opposite direction - from whatever needs doing.  Tons of that, these days.

To some extent, I also speculate that our ability to be calm spectators at our own catastrophes might derive from our total addiction these days to electronic media- the incessant TV, cable, iPod, and cellphone video- perhaps we see ourselves purely as consumers of entertainment.

So when the latest new Reality TV show comes on line- food riots in Mexico and Egypt and Thailand- all of us, including our "leadership" - tends to just turn up the volume on CNN, and wait to see what happens next.

Gosh.  Terrible.  Is there better coverage on ABC?  Click.  Click.  I mean; this isn't real- it's just on the screen, right?

(Those who DO act, like Crunchy- can pretty quickly find themselves overwhelmed by the needs.)

Man, these damn icebergs are stubborn.  And some days it's tempting to let it get depressing.

Ok.  I'm better now.  I'm off to push on a couple of my bergs.

I highly recommend you pick one or two and - push.  If we don't- nobody will.

One other little quirk- I just read Voltaire's "Candide" a couple nights ago.  For the first time; I'd somehow managed to avoid it in college.  It made darn interesting reading right now.  The basic lesson being- not much has changed.  All the injustices and horrors he writes so "humorously" about - are still with us.  All of them.  Including, alas, the ability of the mass of humanity to just be onlookers, as horrors unfold in front of them.  Hard to blame TV.

Two things- it's perhaps a little comforting to know that we, specifically, are not doing a worse job of running the world than our great grandparents did.  They did a horrible job.  And- maybe it's time to think about trying to do things differently.  Really differently.  Because this isn't working- and hasn't been- since before Voltaire.
April 4; update on rice: the Washington Post is not so calm; Developing World Panics...


JessTrev said...

love the image of pushing icebergs. we are headed off to the (national) Mall for a kite festival. thought i would hand you the image of 800 kites in the wind and people having simple fun.

Greenpa said...

mamabird- thank you. :-) Love kites; love the Mall. very nice.

Theresa said...

Greenpa - which in your view are the most important 'burgs on which to push? Because I find myself pushing a little on this one and on that one, and then the next. A shotgun approach like that is probably not as good as a focused one, but there are so many important things to be doing, when I do one I feel I'm neglecting the others. I've got to do some serious thinking about this.

ruchi said...

I think part of the problem is that global warming seems so bad, and so awful that people ARE paralyzed. They see icebergs breaking off, and think, well s**t. What can I do? And throw their hands up in the air.

The only reason I am able to do ... anything at all, whatever little things I do personally to help the environment, is because I believe absolutely fervently in human ingenuity. I have hope, no, faith, that things WILL get better. If I didn't, I'd probably throw my hands up in the air too.

I guess my question is this: how can we expect people to care, if we are telling them they are basically doomed? Many people who are told they are doomed, resort to hedonism. Look at the many stories of people infected with HIV who take to partying and doing illicit drugs. I just don't think we can afford to tell people they're doomed.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Candide is great. It's been a while since I read it, but the parallel analogy works.

And, while I may be overwhelmed, I am most certainly overjoyed at the same time.

What are the studies saying? People are much more happy when they spend time/money helping others rather than spending on themselves. In that regard I am a billionaire.

Greenpa said...

Teresa- and Arduous- there, in Crunchy's comment- is a big part of your answer.

Here is a lady who knows all this stuff- and is not feeling doomed. (I don't either, of course- but I also don't want to ignore the fact that the poo is getting deeper).

And in terms of "what to do" - I doubt that providing sensible menstrual supplies for Africa, so girls can stay in school would have been on the top of many Big NGO lists.

But- Crunchy ran into it. Found herself thinking- "look- I could DO this..." - and- did it. It would be hard to find a better example- and answer.

I do want to address your questions in more detail; they're good ones. Right now I've got a couple icebergs converging on me, though, and kinda need to concentrate on them...

jewishfarmer said...

Lovely post, Greenpa. Can I just say that I bet most people, if they think about it, know what their 'berg is. Its the thing you care about above everything else, the thing that shocks you and worries you, and that you can't not care about.

Crunchy's a great model, and there are others. But somewhere in your gut, I'm going to bet that most of us know what we care about. Maybe it is homeless veterans because you were one, or because your Dad was a Vietnam vet. Maybe it is poor world debt relief because you find the subject strangely fascinating, or clean water supplies, or teaching kids how forage or beer for democracy - it doesn't really matter what it is, as long as it is your piece of the project of the repair of the world. Not everyone will pick the same thing, not everyone will lead, some will work behind the scenes, or just do what others ask, and that work needs doing too. Just find your piece.

Good luck!


Theresa said...

Ack! Long post deleted since it was just a bunch of rambling and wondering without any point. I'm still pondering at length about this, even more so after the previous comments...

DC said...

Greenpa, Greenpa, Greenpa. There you go again. Don't you remember what Ronnie Reagan said? What do you mean, you've "done your best to repress all that." What he said was that we're a nation of optimists. Or was it optometrists? No, I'm sure it was optimists. Here are just a few examples of things that have gotten better:

1. slavery - we don't have slavery anymore. True, people are working two and three jobs just to have enough food to eat and enough money to pay their rent because they just lost their homes in the recent mortgage debacle. True, there are even people who have full time jobs who are homeless because minimum wage is so frigging low. But the important thing is that those people are free to lift themselves out of desperate poverty whenever they want.

2. the right to vote - We can all vote now. Yippee! We couldn't always do this. Now everyone over 18 has a chance to elect a person from one of two parties funded by and representing large corporate interests. There is even a chance that your vote will actually be counted correctly. The right to vote is called "suffer-age", right?

3. universal healthcare - no wait, that's in Cuba where they have that. But at least you can't be denied healthcare here. All you have to do if you're poor and uninsured is go to the right hospital and wait 8 hours to see a doctor. If you have kids, this can be an educational experience for them. They can wait with you and learn how hospital bureaucracy works. And if you're not poor and don't have insurance, the news is even better. If you have a major illness and have medical bills you can't pay, all you have to do is give all the savings you have to the hospital, declare bankruptcy, get a "fresh start" and hope you don't get sick again.

I could go on and on about all the progress we're making, but I think I have schooled you enough in this subject for now, Greenpa. So the next time you don't think we're doing better than our grandparents at running things, just remember that not only is this the best of all possible worlds, but things are getting better all the time.

Zabetha said...

I just saw a film called "Flow", about water. How it is affected by climate change and resource consumption, how powerful corporations are taking control of water availability and creating huge environmental damage and social injustice in the process. Also about "water riots" and demonstrations and legal action by community activists, and about the sheer beauty of water, the miracle of it.

One of the messages of this film is what ordinary people can do in the face of disaster, when they put their minds to it. And nothing like disaster in your own backyard to put your mind to it. Every time one of those food riots happen, or an icefield melts or a city is destroyed by hurricane and human complicity, somebody out there wakes up and puts his or her mind to it. Whole communities wake up.

The network news programs only show the riots, they don't show the successful community actions to fight injustice and environmental degradation. I don't know if it's too late, maybe it is, but don't go quietly into that final night. No one has to do it all, every little bit counts.