Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Celebrity environmentalists - maybe they have a use afterall

As I type, I'm watching the fisheries collapse episode of National Geographic's Strange Days on Plant Earth. Hosted by Ed Norton, this new series is, perhaps, a good introduction to environmental issues for people used to the sound bite culture of modern media. I have to admit, I wouldn't think about Ed Norton as a spokesperson for well managed commercial fisheries which protect the environment. Yet it turns out, he's actually pretty well qualified. His father, to whom he was and still is pretty close, was a groundbreaking ecologist for the Nature Conservancy in Asia. He talked about that, and his eco learning in a recent Washington Post on-line chat. All of this is to say, some celebrities may well be able to transcend their celebrity, and actually contribute to the changes that we need to make to protect our environment.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

YoungFemaleScientist: Jealousy.

So here's a short post to start off the Spring, and in honor of Earthday. You should read YoungFemaleScientist: Jealousy. because it shows all too well why women aren't as well represented in the sciences, and why some of the best minds eventually go on to other things. then , while your eating your locally grown organic fruit, zipping to work on your local handy timely mass transit system, having parked your electric car in the park and ride, you can decide what you will do about this. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Looking ahead - by looking back

It's not often that I'll refer to the blog posts of other, or the articles they write. Chris Mooney's latest piece on how our transportation infrastrusture needs to prepare to deal with climate change is a notable exception.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Another father looses it - and we all loose

I don’t know Mark Castillo. Never met him. Couldn’t tell you what his favorite food is. And I probably couldn’t pick him out of a crowd. That said, after Mr. Castillo allegedly killed his children in a Baltimore hotel the weekend of 29 March 2008, I am sure I won’t forget him.

You see, Mr. Castillo, if he is guilty, is yet another in along line of fathers who, mentally broken and emotionally exhausted, takes the lives of his children, and often his own life, as a last gasp of control in a world where everything he knows is being ripped from him.

The story is becoming all too familiar – man and woman meet, marry, and have children. Somewhere along the way, the marriage goes sour, a divorce begins, and the man finds himself stripped of at least two roles that he holds most sacred – father and husband. The statistics show that these days, slightly more women than men end these marriages, and the reasons are wide and varied. The reasons why the marriage is ending are also not important. What is important is the relationship the man has (or doesn’t have) with his kids, and how their mother views him in that light.

You see men, for all our chest beating, macho competition, and rampant stoicism; we undergo a profound emotional change when we become fathers. We run hard into a wall of feeling that is unlike anything we have ever experienced. It surpasses our loyalty to our football teams. It runs far past our feelings of accomplishment in our jobs. The joy, the new daily discoveries, and the worry that we’ll never be able to help this new young life flourish in the best possible way consume us.

Some men react to this by growing a stronger relationship with both their wives and their children. Some men react by becoming work-aholics, withdrawing from the thing that creates the strong emotions in the first place. Some men actually experience depression, and loose the ability to function. Until it happens, no man can predict which he will be. Astonishingly, even our day and age, few men can articulate any of this, so overwhelming is it. Their inability to put it all in words makes it hard to tell their wives about this enormous impact, so their wives have to sort out their man’s changed behavior based on her assumptions, which almost never match his. And no woman, married to a man, can predict how she’ll react.

When, in the midst of all this emotion, change, and stress, a marriage ends, the man is often completely lost emotionally and psychologically. He already has this huge emotional load he’s carrying by being a father, and then that central role is torn from him. Then he’s thrust into a system where he gets “visitation” instead of fathering, child support payments instead of tucking in at bedtime. Then he has to live that life, crushing as it is, until his kids grow up, and they can decide for themselves what kind of relationship they want to have with him.

And here is where men generally go one of three ways. First, they slog through it somehow, fighting the system and their ex-wives to remain a significant part of their kids’ life. These men somehow find a reserve of emotion to sustain them through it all, and they end up looking at each and every day them have with their kids as a gift. Others withdraw emotionally and financially, becoming the deadbeat dads that fill the news. In this scenario the kids loose, the fathers loose, and society looses. The final group, small in number as they may be, are the Mark Castillo’s’ of the world, who snap and decide that they will reassert control over the world by taking their kids and themselves out of it.

Since I am in the first camp, I condemn the choices of groups two and three. I could no more walk away from my kids then I could stop breathing. My kids deserve their father, and they deserve to grow up full and strong, learning from the mistakes their mother and I made, so they can become contributing, empowered citizens. Happily, they are wonderful kids, and I couldn’t be prouder. At the same time though, having spent eight years in the emotional blender of divorce, I can understand what makes other men snap.

So what do we do? How do we keep other men from going down this road? How do we help men in these situations survive the trials so they can become better fathers and so their kids can have full and fulfilling lives?

First, we have to stop telling fathers in divorce that they are ”visitors” in their kids’ lives. We need to change our laws so that each parent gets to parent, not visit. You see, for men, language and labels matter, so calling us visitors insults the relationship we want to have with our kids. The law also needs to be amended to make it explicit that men have as much right to equal time with their kids as women. Saying that each parent “should enjoy the benefits of a parental relationship” doesn’t go far enough. “Should” as a legal word is not enforceable, so when it is used, fathers tend to loose. Far better that each parent “shall be fully involved in their children’s lives, with equal parenting time.”

We also need to seriously reconsider whether no fault divorce is truly in the best interest of children. One of my therapists said once that no fault divorce give an easy way out to folks just having a bad day. While I think there will always be conditions that auger for divorce, most of the time the participants in the divorce haven’t really earned the right to walk away. If, as is so often suggested by conservatives in the US, the dissolution of marriage is the greatest threat to America, then we need to do all we can ensure that marriages and families have a fighting chance. In our modern divorce culture that won’t be easy. I’m convinced it’s worth it though, if it ends the story of men like Mark Castillo.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

This Saturday I did something that many consider a rite of spring – I mowed my lawn. And just to ensure that it was done right, I edged too. While it was a bit early in the year for some, I have at least 3 kinds of grass, maybe four. That means that, if we get some warmer days and sun, the grass grows, and grows at different speeds no less. I also helped turn my compost pile, and helped the Red One transplant daffodils from under the compost pile to the flowerbed up front.

Nothing remarkable there, except that I didn’t add to my carbon footprint to do it. You see, unlike 54 million Americans, I don't fire up a lawn mower with an internal combustion engine. Nor do I start a gas and oil belching edger. And while my weed-whacker can run all day, no petroleum products were harmed in its operation. Actually, the last one may not be a completely true statement – the weed whacker is a rechargeable electric, so some fossil fuel somewhere was burned to make the electricity that charged its internal battery.

Instead of running gas into the engine of my mower, I was the engine. I have an old-fashioned push reel mower, and my edger is one of those that consist of a handle, two small rubber wheels and a couple of star shaped blades. Needless to say, I got a great workout from all that pushing, and I do every time. That’s actually part of the reason I got it this kind of mower. It’s now Tuesday, and I’m still a little sore.

The other reason is that it does reduce my carbon footprint. How much you ask? Well that figure is a bit hard to pin down, but in 2006 the New York Times published an article that said the operation of a then-new lawn mower for an hour emitted 93 times the emission of a 2006 new car run for the same time. Others approach it another way – operating a 3.5 horsepower lawnmower for an hour releases the same amount of Volatile Organic Carbon as driving a car 340 miles. Either way, it’s estimated that lawnmowers alone may contribute as much as 10% of the annual green house gas load to the U.S. atmosphere.

So, how many of those gas-guzzlers would we have to replace with push reels to get a real benefit? I have no idea. I do know that if we did, Americans would achieve three things. First, we’d be able to achieve a measurable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions without sacrificing our standard of living. After all, who doesn’t want a green, well mowed lawn? Second, we’d increase the amount of exercise Americans get, since pushing the reel or the edger is a definite workout. And third, we’d also create neighborhoods where we could still talk to each other while doing our yard work, thus increasing our sense of community. Not bad way to start a season of yard work, if you ask me.