Thursday, October 22, 2009

Don't spit into the wind

As a little boy, I grew up listening to AM radio, flopping around in the back compartment of my parents' station wagon--no seat belt, no air bags, just a single low-fi speaker--singing along to the hits of the 70s. Jim Croce was one of my favorites, and my parents laugh to this day, as they tell stories about me crooning away, knowing the words to all the songs.

Croce’s anthem to revenge and vindication—“You don’t mess around with Jim”—told the story of a bully that got his comeuppance. The refrain goes (sing along if you know it):

“Now they say you don’t tug on Superman’s cape
You don’t spit into the wind,
You don’t pull the mask off an ‘ole Lone Ranger,
And (in the last refrain) you don’t mess around with Slim”

These were the rules; law to a child. They were simple, concrete, understandable (“Hey, Superman’s busy with global concerns—lay off his cape”; “Bully Jim, did Slim wrong”—note to self, be good, stay away from pool halls). To this day, I never spit, and definitely not into the wind.

As an adult, the rules seem less simple, and decidedly more relativistic, especially when we talk about sustainability. If I own an SUV, but drive it many fewer miles than you drive your hybrid, can I lay claim to “green”? Who’s more sustainable: the family with two children that mows with an old manual reel mower, or the D.I.N.K.s who are less stringent about recycling their junk mail (assuming having kids imposes some significant costs to the environment)? Cloth diapers (incurred water resource utilization) v. disposables (landfill utilization)? [For more on this latter conundrum see this interesting link on the idealism and reality diaper debate:]

Perhaps, these comparisons don’t really matter, but the workbook the Citizens Academy group relies on encourages us to begin to apply metrics to our respective choices: a personal, ecological scorecard. Yet, the complexity of all the categories of self-assessment seems more complicated than a multi-million dollar LEED certification process. Where to start?

One outgrowth of said searching, the distillation or “Golden Rule” for the group grew to be the concept that …"we all live downstream.” Choices we make impact everyone in this scenario, including ourselves…a giant, Mobius band, where operationally our downstream returns as our upstream. A karmic, bio-ecological boomerang.

Or, as “Jim” came to see, what goes around, comes around.
-Thad Mantaro, SUNY Oswego

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