alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
[personal profile] alexandra_thorn
Recently I spent an evening flipping back through my past few years of public blog posts. I'd known that I write a fair amount about civil liberties, but I was nevertheless startled by the degree to which they dominate the other themes I talk about here.

Paging back, what I mostly find are posts about democracy (, civil disobedience (, patriotism ( And it's not just blogging. Letters I've written to newspaper editors: one (and only one), imploring President G. W. Bush to nominate a Supreme Court Justice who would place a high value on the Bill of Rights. Times I've been out with a clipboard collecting signatures: twice, once to petition against the Patriot Act and once on behalf of Public Citizen's "Democracy is for People" campaign against the Citizen's United decision.

Of course these are all important issues to me, but the trend nevertheless feels incongruous. Why? Because my most defining alignment is environmental combined with a spiritual attraction to living intimately with the land.

It's who I am in face-to-face interactions. I bicycle everywhere, and prefer to use train and bus when bicycling won't work. I used to drive my college classmates crazy by turning off the lights of unoccupied (or what I imagined to be unoccupied) rooms, or suggesting that people turn the water off while they're brushing their teeth. My Bachelors, Masters, and Doctorate are in Biology, Horticulture and Agronomy, and Biology, respectively. For my current job I build computer models of ecosystem processes, and I'm looking forward to working on more applied projects forecasting how alternative development trajectories might affect the future of ecosystem services in New England.

I split my time between living in a group house in the Boston Area, and living in another group house on a big piece of land in New Hampshire. Tonight for dinner I ate a bison meat patty and a pile of greens I'd picked from my New Hampshire garden combined with some yard weeds I know to be edible. One of the things I love most about my husband is that he truly appreciates small creatures in the landscape, and he induces me to slow down my pace, making time to really look at my surroundings.

Back when Barack Obama was running for president the first time, and those Shepard Fairey "Hope" posters were everywhere, my mother came upon a website that would posterize photographs in a similar style. She sent me one of me with, instead of "hope", the words "think green" below my face.

Yet somehow, despite a smattering of posts on topics like global warming (e.g., this very large aspect of who I am doesn't seem to quite come through here. I confess I'm not entirely certain why this is so.

Sometimes when I introduce myself at a discussion group I'll say "I'm interested in environmental issues and sustainability, but lately I've been thinking a lot about civil liberties because if we don't have freedom of speech, we can't talk about the issues that matter." That's part of it, I'm sure, but I don't think it's the whole story.

On some level I suspect that the bigger issue might be that, for me, environmental issues are messy where civil liberties issues are clear cut. I've gotten into environmental arguments that have put friendships on the line. In practical terms, I know that my yearning for wide open spaces is in tension, sometimes even conflict, with my desire to live a low-impact lifestyle. I have a lot of friends who rely on automobiles for their a rural lifestyles. And that doesn't even begin to open up the complications that arise when conservation agendas collide with sustainable food production or indigenous land use.

If I talk too much about environmentally conscious lifestyles, there's always the risk of offending someone. There's a lot of status attached to various forms of consumption, even the vaguely hippie-ish communities I frequently inhabit. A very large number of people see consumption as good because it creates jobs and fuels the economy. And we all have creature comforts that we'd be reluctant to give up. I myself take a hot shower every morning.

So the social side is a mess, and in some cases I think the that the science is arguably even worse. There's a great deal that we don't understand about the natural world and our fellow organisms (a fact that, in itself, is one of the big reasons I believe it's so important to minimize our impact on global life support systems - we don't know what we're doing), and it's easy to make an intuitive leaps onto shaky scientific footing, and sometimes even widely held scientific consensuses on best practices can be overturned.

Civil liberties feels safer. There, I'm more confident in my own positions, and the terrain is less fraught with contradictions.


alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)

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