Sunday, February 17, 2008

Light in the Darkness: Earth Hour

1. All praise is due to Allah, Who created the heavens and the earth and made the darkness and the light; yet those who disbelieve set up equals with their Lord.

97. And He it is Who has made the stars for you that you might follow the right way thereby in the darkness of the land and the sea; truly We have made plain the communications for a people who know.

122. Is he who was dead then We raised him to life and made for him a light by which he walks among the people, like him whose likeness is that of one in utter darkness whence he cannot come forth? Thus what they did was made fair seeming to the unbelievers.

~Surah 6 Anam (The Cattle)

A couple years ago, there was a storm (small tornado?) in the Montgomery County area that made us all lose power for a couple of days. It was a hassle not to rely on electricity for light, not to have a way to preserve our food, and of course, have no INTERNET ACCESS. Good Lord, what would become of us? The TV wasn't a loss because we had already stopped watching mainstream TV, but we still relied on DVD's for entertainment and the internet for instant gratification. Still, those few hours during which we were 'disconnected' from the world were some of the most peaceful hours I've ever experienced. For the first time, the stars were distinct and visible from our porch. There was a general hush that replaced the usual pace of traffic, and time itself slowed down. With no other distractions, we all found ourselves reading by candlelight and dosing off to sleep much earlier than ever possible. It was the kind of beautiful experience that only happens when you slow your pace and simplify. Of course, it also reduces carbon emissions, doubling its beauty. Which is why I'm inviting everyone to join me in observing "Earth Hour" for one hour on March 23rd by turning off all your lights and anything else that you can that uses electricity between 8 and 9 PM.

It started with a question: How can we inspire people to take action on climate change? The answer: Ask the people of Sydney to turn off their lights for one hour. On 31 March 2007, 2.2 million people and 2100 Sydney businesses turned off their lights for one hour - Earth Hour. This massive collective effort reduced Sydney's energy consumption by 10.2% for one hour, which is the equivalent effect of taking 48,000 cars off the road for one hour.
With Sydney icons like the Harbour Bridge and Opera House turning their lights off, and unique events such as weddings by candlelight, the world took notice. Inspired by the collective effort of millions of Sydneysiders, many major global cities are joining Earth Hour in 2008, turning a symbolic event into a global movement.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Story of ....Stuff!

We've committed ourselves to reducing our consumption for different reasons: Ramadhan highlighted the search for increased spirituality and improved quality of life. More recently, we've discussed the environmental consequences of the production and destruction of the materials, many of which are toxic. Annie Leonard's video, The Story of Stuff, ties all of the globalization processes together and explores the unseen exploitation that makes all the mass consumption possible. Her main premise is that corporations have crated vast empires of cheap production and rapid consumption by externalizing the true and full costs of their production and services. Overall, the video is an excellent reflection on not only our consumer behavior, but also every single entity (corporation, policies, etc) that is putting all its might into encouraging us to buy, buy, BUY!

It’s not all bad, though. I think one of our fundamental jobs is to re-evaluate, re-define, and re-articulate our goals and lifestyles. After all, if we take a second look, there are several alternative markets that don’t exist to be “green”, they just exist because that’s how people get by. My own mother, for instance, grew up with a mother that sewed for the whole neighborhood (local, fair labor, anyone?) and relatives that owned farms. She spent summers shucking corn and pickling peppers and jamming fruit, and browsing through yard sales, flee markets and antique road shows. Now this was all in Tennessee (represent!), in a community of middle class (and conservative, mind you) families. Wherever we look, we’ll find networks of alternative goods and services, from the black market to Craig’s List.

Things were a little different for me and my brother. For one thing, we were living in the crowded and polluted (although beloved) city of Tehran. Growing up on a budget in the bustling capital of Iran, we had less, or almost no access to the local farms. And yard sales don’t exactly serve a necessary function in Iran. As far as I know, no one has an excess of material wealth that could be displayed on some lawn during a sunny Saturday morning. As a kid, I considered the fate of all the trash people were so comfortable to toss in the streets; the shiny candy wrappers and old plastic bags floating in the wind. I was totally unaware of the social and environmental costs of that “American” (and thus, I thought, HIGH QUALITY) T-shirt, which coincidentally was made in China anyway. The bazaars and street shops of Tehran are a different story than the malls, Target and Best Buy stores of the US, which brings me back to The Story of Stuff. As citizens, individuals, teachers, policy makers, company leaders, students, and families, we can do a lot to change our perception of what we need in our lives. But the video explores interactions on a global scale, and there’s a lot more to be done than only buy non-sweatshop clothing, and fair-trade chocolate (not that either of those methods aren't important and a good start). I’ll leave that discussion for another time though…

Thursday, February 7, 2008

What the world eats in a week

Italy: The Manzo family of Sicily
Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11

Germany: The Melander family of Bargteheide
Food expenditure for one week: 375.39 Euros or $500.07

United States: The Revis family of North Carolina
Food expenditure for one week $341.98

Mexico: The Casales family of Cuernavaca
Food expenditure for one week: 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189.09

Poland: The Sobczynscy family of Konstancin-Jeziorna
Food expenditure for one week: 582.48 Zlotys or $151.27

Egypt: The Ahmed family of Cairo
Food expenditure for one week: 387.85 Egyptian Pounds or $68.53

Ecuador: The Ayme family of Tingo
Food expenditure for one week: $31.55

Bhutan: The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village
Food expenditure for one week: 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03

Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp
Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23

(Thanks to Lena for the info. And to Sabira for this link)