Two of the more interesting Guardian articles this week talk about polarization. The first, Rio+20 must ‘unenvironmentalise’ green issues, focuses on the polarizing effect that phrases like “environmentalism” can have in conversations where more is at stake than simple political rhetoric. The idea is that world leaders ought to be stressing the economic, rather than the environmental, reasons to “Go Green,” at the upcoming Rio+20 United Nations summit. Here is the nexus of the problem, represented at its most simple:
Supporters say the world needs a new, more inclusive approach to sustainability that emphasises the benefits to humanity because current efforts to protect nature are failing. Critics warn the increased emphasis on technology and markets will simply greenwash destructive levels of consumption and development.
What stands out to me about both of these articles is this: polarization. The first, recognizing that words lose their value once they’ve become politically “overcharged,” seeks to re-value those discussion topics by changing the terms with which they’re discussed. In general, I love this. It always seems logical to me, when a term has lost its ability to convey meaning–due to political double-speak, or whatever other factors there might be–to simply find another term with which to continue the discussion. That said, the argument made by the critics makes a lot of sense to me too. Corporatizing “Green” will certainly have unintended consequences.
The second article, though, when paired with the first, makes the stronger case. The polarization of environmentalism will make little difference in 30 years when we’ve lost the polar ice cap. If you think I’m sounding alarmist, think again:
Floating Arctic sea ice naturally melts and re-freezes annually, but the speed of change in a generation has shocked scientists – it is now twice as great as it was in 1972, according to the NSIDC, with a decline of about 10% per decade.
Arctic temperatures have risen more than twice as fast as the global average over the past half century.
If the implications of this research are true, we are already in over our heads, so to speak. Just ask this super-tanker, the “STI Heritage” which broke the speed record for sailing the Northeast Passage this August. Not a good record to be breaking if we value relatively constant sea-levels. (Though maybe it’s good for business–the STI Heritage did avoid those backbreaking tolls at the Suez Canal.)
This is not good:
The maximum extent of Arctic sea ice before the melting season started this year was at the lowest ever measured. In July, the Arctic sea ice hit the lowest recorded level for this month in more than three decades of record-keeping.
So, all that having been said, I have to think that polarizing or not, we need to keep the bigger picture in mind at the Rio+20 and every other summit, or might might find ourselves living in the Rockies and taking vacation cruises to the sunny and ice-free Arctic.
Which are the moments we hold onto?
The important ones, right? The ones that stand out along our journeys–that make us feel as though we could take hold of moments in time, bury pieces of ourselves there, and use the gravestones we leave as markers of our progress. Marriages, graduations, anniversaries, births.
I remember a few of my milestones, but it isn’t those moments I hope to preserve. I don’t want to store my soul in official moments–I want to remember the times that love was truly present in my life; tangible, subtle, overpowering.
That’s why I wanted to bury a little of my soul in the moment when Babar followed us into the kitchen this morning.
And because a “snuggle-up party” is always a party I’m up for. But you never know what’s really happening until these moments are past.
“Why is she covering up her face, Dada? I don’t like it.”
“Why don’t you like it, honey?”
“Because then you can’t see her face.”
How much can I tell you, girl? You’re so smart, but it can’t be time for me to explain the history of patriarchy you’re up against, can it? Isn’t it too early? I just want to tell you that this little piggie had roast beef and leave it at that.
It didn’t matter. When you’re having a snuggle-up party there’s no time for in-depth asides,only for tickle-time.
And so I didn’t get a chance to tell you, Maggie, Ariel, that you two are the gifts I cherish–so much so that I store pieces of my soul in the moments we spend together. To try and own such a gift is blasphemy. It would diminish the value of your both having presented yourselves to me, as people to love, as my family. I would never seek to wrap you and present you (or unwrap and accept you), because you’re being given and received each moment, freely, by you, and that is the price of our love. All I can do for these moments in time is thank you.
And that is what I will always do.
I know I’ve been absent a lot lately, and I’m sorry. I’ve been trying to focus more on my creative work, because doing it satisfies me and makes me feel proud, but I’ve also been donating some of my time and writing to PCUN, a group of which I’ve spoken here several times before. They are made up of, and are working on behalf of Oregon’s large community of Latino farm, nursery and reforestation workers.
I first encountered PCUN at an event given by Slow Food Portland at the Portland State University campus, which I commented on at the time. There, I heard Javier Lara speak movingly about food justice, an idea of food equality that simply cannot come to fruition while those laborers, largely Latino, who produce and harvest our food crops cannot afford to provide them for their own families.
Lately, I’ve begun learning about and telling the story of the CAPACES Leadership Institute, an amazing new building being constructed by PCUN and its sister organizations. The building, to be built entirely from recycled or donated material, will be the first U.S. office building built to the Passive House (Passivhaus) standard–which is one of the fastest growing building methods here in Portland. Passive House buildings, as I mentioned in my previous post, are so efficient that can actually achieve a net zero energy consumption. Pretty amazing, right?
Last night, Maggie, Ariel and I had the pleasure of attending an event, held at Bamboo Revolution here in Portland, promoting the CAPACES Leadership Institute. With refreshments provided by Andina–the purple potatoes with shaved chicken breast looked amazing–Widmer Brothers Brewing and Bethel Heights Winery, and emceeing by Oregon’s First Lady, Cylvia Hayes, the event was a huge success. (Also in attendance were Governor John Kitzhaber and the Mexican Consulate of Portland.)
Despite the traffic, which put many of the event’s attendees–including yours truly–almost an hour behind schedule, the event went off without a hitch. The music was lovely, the people were friendly and accommodating, and the presentations were enlightening. One of the really special moments was when Laura Isiordia, the very first director of the CAPACES Leadership Institute, had her chance to speak. The 16 year veteran of the labor rights movement roused the crowd when she called for women’s empowerment, and noted that one of her goals for the CLI is to create a space where women can achieve positions like her’s within their communities without waiting 16 years for them to be created.
I can tell you one empowered woman who was thrilled to be able to put her hands up and shout with the rest when called upon:
Among the many other standout speakers and presenters were Stephen Aiguier, president and founder of Green Hammer, Ramón Ramírez, president of PCUN, and Cylvia Hayes, Oregon’s First Lady and a 20 year advocate of the “Green” movement. Ms. Hayes did a wonderful job as emcee of the event, and her dedication to green building and to labor rights was evident throughout the evening. There could not have been a more qualified liaison to connect the Green-interested families in the audience–drawn perhaps moreso by the amazing building being talked about than by the presence of PCUN behind it–with the Latino labor movement. Many times throughout the evening she spoke of her gratitude to PCUN and its personnel for acquainting her with this exciting project.
The CLI is an opportunity, in the words of Gene Wixson, chief construction consultant on the project, to bring together Green and Brown. I, for one, am excited to be playing even a small part.
Imagine a built environment which has the power to inspire its surrounding community, as well as its builders and inhabitants. Imagine that the construction of a single office building could teach some of the country’s most disenfranchised laborers the skills necessary to join the “Green Building” workforce. Meet Gene Wixson.
Gene builds ultra high performance buildings. Sounds cool, right? It is cool. Ultra high performance, or Passive House, buildings are so efficient that they can actually produce as much energy as they consume. In a Passive House building, because the insulation and roofing are so progressive, the main energy cost is actually hot water and electrical plugs, rather than heating and cooling the building itself–which uses more than 50% of the energy in traditionally built buildings.. As of August 2010, there were only 13 such buildings in the US. Add one more.
Gene is a Construction Manager for Green Hammer, a Portland based design firm specializing in ultra high performance building, and he is currently working with PCUN (Oregon’s farm workers and tree planter’s union) on the CAPACES Leadership Institute (CLI), which, aside from providing the CAPACES sister organizations with a headquarters from which to train tomorrow’s Latino leadership, will be the nation’s first office building built to the Passive House standard. Gene’s role on the CLI project is multi-faceted; he does everything from coordinating the needs of the architects with those of the structural engineers to arranging with suppliers and manufacturers for supplies. According to Gene, finding manufacturers who design products significantly better than code is one of the most difficult challenges the CLI campaign faces, but it is also a challenge he feels will improve the position of PCUN and the Latino workforce they represent by helping them to build connections in an area of the “Green” industry that is seeing steady growth.
Gene specialized in Environmental Studies at Lewis and Clark College, where he succeeded in writing LEED into the campus building standards in 1996, but he has been a builder much longer than that. From working on “Heritage” buildings in the Antarctic to working with PCUN today, Gene has always been interested in the cutting edge of design. His experience on contracting jobs has also brought him into contact with the large Latino contracting workforce, and this has given him a deeper understanding of how his work with the CLI will strengthen our community. Working on the CLI project is a teaching opportunity for Gene and his Green Hammer associates, a chance to increase the job skills of the Latino framing crews that have had virtually no exposure to ultra high performance design, but will ultimately build the CLI structure from the ground up. This is a chance that Gene relishes. Gene says, of his work on the CLI project, “I love that this is a group of people who may not have work next month, who may not even be in this part of the country next month, but are still willing to donate their time and skills toward putting together what will be the coolest building in the country. That inspires me.”
Days spent by the pool, eating Fun-Dips. Evenings nursing sunburns that permanently changed the complexion of my shoulders. Taking second in the Beaver Park Bicycle races–year after year after year.
I remember fat, dusky sunsets over the neighbors’s trees, and us, in the back yard, turning and turning the crank of the ice cream bucket. Cold and sweet: summer tastes. I remember the smell of mesquite that hung in the air long after Dad had shut the barbecue for the night. And fireflies.
Maggie will probably never know about fireflies–not the way I know them anyhow. They’re sadly absent from Northwest evenings. At home, we had boxes made from wood and window screen and we spent the evening chasing around the yard after points of light and shadow. I can almost smell the scent of firefly on my fingers.
We feasted always, when my dad was cooking, but we feasted best in the summer, when the grill came out of the garage and sat smoking in the driveway, filled with food and love.
There’s a connection–I never could have placed it then–between the food we provide our families and the lives we hope they’ll lead. Those dinners filled our bellies, it’s true, but only for an evening; so would a can of Progresso soup, at the cost of much less effort. When we sat down to dinner we weren’t only eating, we were loving, and laughing, and learning how to live the kind of lives where families eat together.
Today, when I cook for my family it’s so that they will be full, sated, both now and in the future. But I’m cooking more than food when we eat together. I’m cooking hope. That Ariel and I will sit down to dinners at our little table long after our home is ours alone, and that Maggie, wherever she goes, will learn what fireflies smell like, and how it feels to turn and turn the ice cream crank, and the special kind of pride it takes to love your family until you can eat it.