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The Age of Stupid?

November 13, 2009 3 comments

The Age of StupidI don’t always consider myself the most prudent environmentalist. I sometimes throw things out and don’t recycle them – and I definitely still use anti-bacterial hand gel even though I know it is full of chemicals. Swine flu is serious, people!

The thing I do know is that every day I am conscious of our planet and the issues it faces. This has to do, yes, with the fact that I work at an environmental nonprofit. But it also has to do with the fact that I seek this information out. I want to know how bad things are, and how I can fix them.

In the spring, I took a course at NYU with my husband called The Global Natural Resource Crisis. An older man taught it – who had made a ton of money the bad way – the oil way. He reached retirement, and realize that he had been ignoring the perils of his work for a long time. He retrofitted his house in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey to be “green” and has taught this class for the last 5 years.

In it, he taught us a lot about peak oil, and statistics and where to find them, but mostly he allowed us to fight with each other. There were always those 2 people that took the class in order to just argue with us climate change believers and see where they got. Usually they got nowhere. This was a liberal class in Greenwich Village, New York.

Since then, many books have gotten more and more popular on this issue, and a variety of shows, movies, and even entire channels have been devoted to sustainability. As we approach the December climate talks in Copenhagen, I have been thinking if these people are talking – or if they are just reality show actors.

Last night we watched a movie called The Age of Stupid. The Times review has a lot of interesting things to say about the film, which shows an archivist going through video footage in 2055 of our current life, and the things happening to the planet – and essentially, how we ignored them. He has thus dubbed this time an “Age of Stupid” because we saw so many things happening, and it took 40 more years of turmoil before the planet finally acknowledged the inherent risk.

I actually really liked the film, but the review brings up some interesting points. Mainly, it brings up the idea that if we are bombarded with depressing information (no clean water in Africa where Shell pumps oil, glaciers melting in the Alps, a commercial airline in India primed to spread even more fossil fuel across an exploding population) we may not do anything. We may be paralyzed by this depression, and feel it is too late.

I definitely feel that way sometimes. The world’s problems are too big and I am too small. But instead I actually found the movie one of the most effective films I have seen thus far about the issue. This is mainly because it was documentary – with a little bit of flair that movies can give a problem.

We can all decide to freak out, or we can do something – we can act.

Categories: Environment, World Issues

By The People.

November 5, 2009 2 comments

GERMANY-US-VOTE-OBAMA-SPEECH Yesterday I wrote a post all about the obstacles that are pressed right up against Mr. Barack Obama. I proudly voted for Barack, and followed his campaign religiously. I had a pin, my cell phone background was his face, and I prayed that he would win.

On Election Day, I went in the early morning to my district to vote. I lived in one of the poorest census tracts in Manhattan. (Spanish Harlem, to be specific). The voting booths were in the local middle school, and I was surrounded by many different people voting. African-American, Latino, Chinese, it was the typical and inspiring New York melting pot.

It was an amazing feeling to vote for Barack, and ultimately, to be a part of the historic election process. As my husband and I watched the results, I couldn’t help but think how similar our kids would be to him. They would be born of a white mother, and an African father. Of course, the differences abound, but ultimately, our children will find something inspiring in him. They will see a narrative like theirs and feel good.

Why the sudden talk again about B.O.’s legacy? Last night, we watched the HBO documentary “By The People: The Election of Barack Obama.” It took a look at the young people, the old people, and the many people who pushed him forward. They were behind the scenes at the DNC, at Obama’s house in Chicago (We actually get to see how freaking cute the kids are — up close!), and on election night, their film crew stood with David Axelrod and others as they watched history be made.

Part of it is political – in the sense that you see what types of adjustments throughout a campaign need to be made. But most of it is emotional. You see Barack crying at a speech the day before Election Day (the day he lost his grandmother), you see him delivering the speech on Race, and his post-speech calm.

Mostly, you see young people in Generation Y, begging and pleading to see something good. You see a 24-year-old speech writer crafting some of the most emotional words ever spoken. And you see young college kids – raised by immigrants, and 100% American – doing dances on the side of the road to support Obama’s Iowa Caucus.

The historic campaign and the historic win seems like old news to those of us caught up in the media hustle. It was a reality check for me to watch the scenes unfold as if it were the first time. To hear those being contrarian say that America just “isn’t ready for a black president.”

I am happy, Mr. President that I voted for you – but moreover I am proud to be a part of the generation that helped you win. We organized online and in person, and we were not lazy. We believed.

Categories: Politics, World Issues

Making Us Notice

November 2, 2009 1 comment

Invisible Children Movie PosterLast night, as I sat in my typical Sunday funk about returning to work today, my husband had me watch some random documentary that he got online. In this case, it was the independently made and not well-known Invisible Children – made by three young typical American guys that went to Africa to discover the world.

At first, I was a bit repulsed by their attitude. One even commented that he wanted to “you know, get some meaningful change in my life.” The unspoken agreement there was that going to Africa and being exposed to extreme poverty would do this for them. Maybe they were right My husband being African, I automatically became defensive.

Until I got a little further into the film, and realized that its important to be this honest when making a film for an American audience – which this obviously was. You can’t pretend the things that go on in Southern Sudan and Uganda are normal to your everyday existence, because, ultimately, they are not a part of your donor’s everyday existence either.

The film takes them to Sudan where they are trying to “Discover” the origins of Darfur’s raging conflict. Really, all they find is the fact that security and travel is so restrictive, that there isn’t much to do. They meet a woman that suggests they visit Northern Uganda, where many Sudanese are fleeing.

Their path ultimately leads to the story of these Invisible Children – young kids that sleep in the bus depot and the hospital at night to escape murder, beatings, and abduction by the rebel army. They meet a kid named Jacob and his friends, who sleep where rain water pours in, but it gives them some sense of privacy away from the other kids.

Still camera shots capture the mass entry and exit of these children over a typical night, and the effect is monumental. Bodies upon Bodies are piled one on top of the other, sleeping, trying to dream away their nightmares.

The movie is another shock documentary, in the end instructing people to do something and raise awareness. I am hoping this blog post does a little bit of that.

But like most things, it got me thinking about my own desire to work in the field. Would I be okay with this type of reality? I would like to think that I have an open mind, and that I can try. I would also like to think that my honesty and ability to convey a message is also important and effective.

The movie inspired me not because it was particularly original in its’ take – and sadly, not even in its content. It was, however, a few young people’s attempt at capturing their truth and sharing it with the world.

This is, for me, always the most important thing.

Democracy and My Everyday Life

October 27, 2009 Leave a comment

mozambique map It stuck me as fairly surprising that the day after I write about my project in Mozambique, the New York Times does a story on the upcoming elections in the country – a country they almost never cover. The article is really thought provoking, and asks some tough questions of a country that has been a positive light in the sometimes bleak perspective that Westerners have of Africa.

It addresses the fact that this donor-friendly environment may have been solely created by the one-party system that is controlling it, and whether this is directly inhibiting democracy.

This is a story very close to my own heart, as my husband is Mozambican, and I have traveled to the country as well. There are many articles written like this every day about Africa. This is usually when something is going wrong.

Obviously, human interest stories are only so captivating, and eventually, hard news wins over. I was really impressed that in the 3 years I have been actively concerned with Mozambique, this is the first story that has been on the front page. Regardless of what we feel about activities or politics that go on in other countries, I find it interesting that we enjoy reading about the complications.

Does it make us feel smarter, better, richer? After the global financial collapse that was created by – mostly – our inability to stop our insatiable hunger for things we cannot afford, and to amass great wealth, I would have thought we would be a little bit more mindful in terms of what we cover, and why. Obviously this was not really realistic.

The article did address a really interesting point regarding donors from the West, and how this could affect their perception of safe investment. Is Mozambique a safe place to invest now? Should my money go there, instead of to another struggling African nation. There are so many to pick from it is hard to choose! (Sarcasm duly noted.)

I have spent most of my life on the receiving end of donations, and definitely on the asking end. I am that person that sends you mail asking you to give. I write grants so you will give, and ultimately, I call and talk to you – hoping that our personal relationship will result in a gift. But despite this, I was really enraged when I thought about the article from that perspective.

Obviously, foreign aid and investment in Africa is a huge problem – and a huge good, depending on how you look at it. The issue is multifaceted, but most of all, it is something that newspapers gravitate towards.

Ultimately this article should have been about the democracy of a people. It should be about being able to express your voice as a Mozambican, and knowing that you have been heard.

I hope that the donors make wise choices that ultimately benefit the public, and not the large NGO’s that dot the landscape. Think about each person receiving that money, and what democracy and choice can offer them. Above all, give with your heart and give knowing that your choice is important – but the choices of a people are more important.

Categories: Challenges, World Issues