Travel: an environmental dilemma

While boys my age huddled in their bedroom closets sneaking peeks at scantily-clothed women, I nurtured fantasies of another sort. “State Capitol Building,” (city, state), I’d write. “Dear Sir: Please send me information about your state for my school project. Sincerely yours, Nancy Werking.”

In return for my effort and three-cent stamps provided by my parents, I received brochures from nearly every state. I filed the materials alphabetically in a cardboard box, stored in my bedroom closet.

It was the second state, Arizona, that most captured my imagination. (Alaska hadn’t yet been admitted.) Arizona’s P.R. materials had glossy photographs of rugged mountain peaks, varieties of cacti, Native Americans engaging in rituals. Colors were the browns and oranges of the earth, and turquoise.

I’ve just returned from seventeen days in Arizona. While Facebook friends back home complained about frigid temperatures, I absorbed the warmth of the Arizona sun. My husband and I hiked in the desert and visited old Spanish missions. Every morning I ate breakfast out on the balcony of our little efficiency apartment.

It wasn’t my first trip to Arizona, but the first time I’ve considered how my travels impact the environment.

My husband and I flew round trip from Charlotte, NC, to Tucson, AZ. “According to the Department of Energy, an airplane emits 21 pounds of carbon dioxide per gallon of A-1 jet fuel it burns. If we need 6,900 gallons to fly a full plane round trip New York to Phoenix, that’s an emission of nearly 145,000 pounds of carbon dioxide” (http://gscleanenergy.blogspot.com/2013/04/how-much-gas-does-it-take-to-fly-you.html).

We rented a car. Budget upgraded us to a Chevrolet Impala, which gets about 22 miles per gallon in combined city/country driving. We drove an average of eighty miles a day, each day burning around four gallons of gasoline. Don’t ask me how, but a gallon of gasoline produces about 20 pounds of carbon dioxide.

Then there’s the issue of water. By definition a desert receives little rainfall. Yet, like the nearly million people living in the Tucson area, we regularly showered, flushed the toilet, washed our dishes, and did a few loads of laundry.

I’ve been fortunate to visit Europe, Africa, and Asia. I’ve been exposed to other cultures and have loved the people everywhere I’ve gone.

But for the sake of the planet, I may have to give up travel.

On the other hand, the U.S. is in a de-regulation mood. If so few care about Earth’s destruction, why should I?

(Nancy Werking Poling is author of a new book, “Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987),” available where books are sold.)

What is Congress doing to our wilderness areas?

(a guest blog by Jean Franklin)

On Congress’ first day in session, the House approved rules setting a zero-dollar value on federally protected lands that are transferred to states. By devaluing federal lands, including the Pisgah and Nantahala Forests, Congress is paving the way for such a transfer. States will likely raise funds by selling our lands to developers or to mining, fracking, and logging interests. All Western North Carolina (WNC) Representatives voted yes on this bill.

Our wilderness areas are priceless, not worthless. WNC benefits economically from the human longing to visit wild, pristine nature. Many citizens protect additional land by donating it to conservancies, thus benefiting living nature immeasurably.

Famed biologist E.O. Wilson, in Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, presents an elegant proposal to combat species extinction: “Only by committing half of the planet’s surface to nature can we hope to save the immensity of life-forms that compose it.” Nations have already set aside about 15 percent of Earth’s land area, but millions more square miles must be saved — not contiguous, but arranged to preserve flyways and habitats.

Tragically, Representatives McHenry, Meadows and Foxx, by voting for House Resolution 5, moved to dismantle generations of good stewardship. We must tell them they’ve made a gigantic mistake.

(This essay appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times, Feb. 24, 2017.)

If you don’t have time to…

I remember what it was like to have a full-time job and two kids, with no extra time to keep up with the news. I was then and continue to be cynical about government and the integrity of politicians. Yet over the years I’ve discovered that nearly every aspect of my life is decided by elected officials besides the President.

That’s why, even though this coming election doesn’t have the excitement of a presidential year, it’s as important. Here are issues I consider most important as we approach the 2014 election:

1) Clean air to breath and clear water to drink. Yet many legislators oppose efforts to prevent oil-fired power plants from emitting dangerous toxins into the air. Regulations, they say, cost jobs.

2) A safe food supply and access to basic medical care. Yet many legislators keep calling for the repeal of Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and try to weaken the power of the FDA and the Department of Agriculture.

3) A fair wage for the work people do, including equal pay for women. Many people work two or three jobs to provide their family with basics. Yet some candidates continue to oppose a higher minimum wage. (Beware of those who in the past week announced they are for a minimum wage increase—after learning much of the public favors it.)

4) A solid education that will allow children to become leaders in ingenuity and production. Yet pledges not to increase taxes are forcing teacher layoffs, denying schools the resources they need for effective teaching, and increasing class size.

I urge you to vote. If you haven’t had time to keep up, google to learn the endorsements of organizations who share your values. Examples include Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, local chapters of the American Bar Association

If political advertising can’t be trusted—what to do

You studied them in middle school. Probably took a multiple-choice test on which is which. I’m talking about propaganda, that is persuasion techniques that rely on manipulating information to suit the purposes of advertisers, politicians, etc.

While I advise voters not to listen to political advertising this time of year, we’re surrounded by it. So it’s especially important that we recognize techniques candidates are using.

Namecalling or demonizing the enemy: “Ultra-liberal,” “ socialist,” “friend of the rich.”

Repetition: “Obama’s approval rating, Obama’s approval rating, Obama’s approval rating.” “Helps big corporations, helps big corporations, helps big corporations.” The idea is to repeat a message so often that uninformed citizens will accept it as truth.

Showing part of the picture: Often pieces of legislation are bundled together. A senator or representative opposed to one part may have to vote against the whole thing. A vote against a transportation bill doesn’t mean a representative is opposed to filling potholes.

Testimonials: A celebrity endorses a candidate.

Plain folks: An ordinary person who has encountered an extraordinary situation tells what the candidate did or how the candidate’s position would benefit common people in similar situations.

There are too many kinds of techniques to mention them all. You get the idea.

So what do we do instead of paying attention to advertising? Most of us don’t have time to research each candidate’s positions. I can think of two alternatives: 1) Ask someone whose opinions on issues match your own. 2) Search the internet for endorsements by organizations you trust.

Since my politics are progressive, and I live in North Carolina, I google my county and “Democratic Party.” The site tells me what representatives and judges are likely to be progressive. (Don’t ignore the important role judges play.) Women’s organizations, police, educators, lawyers, environmental groups, unions—many have posted candidates they endorse. Most are state or county specific.

In most states early voting starts soon, which makes it easier for you to go at a convenient time. The environment, a woman’s right to make her own health decisions, rights for African-Americans and the LGBTQ community—these are all at risk.
This is one midterm election we dare not miss.

2014 voting made easy (well, at least easier)

The future of our environment, educational systems, gay marriage, and women’s health is decided by people we elect. The list of offices to be filled is long, overwhelming when it comes to deciding who to vote for.

The internet has made it easier to cast an informed ballot. Here are a few suggestions.

1)  First, be sure what district you live in and the voting location. This can usually be done by Googling “voter guide” for your state. Remember, it may be easier to cast an absentee ballot. The League of Women Voters also lists rules. For example, in North Carolina you do NOT need a photo ID this time, but you will the next.

2)  Find the website of an organization that shares your primary concerns. Many organizations, such as the Missouri NEA (National Educational Association) endorse candidates.

environment: http://content.sierraclub.org/voterguide/endorsements. Most endorsements are listed by states.

women’s reproductive rights endorsements: google that or “Planned Parenthood Endorsements” and locate your state or region.

education endorsements 2014: state teachers unions or organizations often keep track of who is education friendly.

workers’ rights , workplace safety, consumer protection: google “aflcio endorsements,” then find your state.

3)  I find it especially hard to decide what judges to vote for. They make a lot of      important decisions, though. State Bar associations, while not endorsing judges, do evaluate their professionalism. Again, some special interest groups, such as LGBT lawyers or Hispanic lawyers, make endorsements.

4)  The following sites are for North Carolina, but each state has similar resources that are easy to find.
If you are concerned about equal rights for gays and lesbians, go to:   http://equalitync.org/pac/voterguide2014/index.html

If you are concerned about jobs, workplace safety, workers’ rights: aflcionc.org

Voting isn’t just a privilege. It’s one of the few tools you have for deciding the country’s future.

For those thinking it’s better not to vote at all than to cast an ignorant ballot

In 1986 I was a young working mother too overwhelmed by responsibility to keep up with politics. But I felt an obligation to vote. In the Illinois primary election I entered the booth knowing nothing about the candidates. Afterward, I discovered that out of ignorance I had cast my ballot for a man running for lieutenant governor whose extremist views were abhorrent to me. Fortunately, though he won in the primary, he lost in the general election.

Since the 2014 election doesn’t include a candidate for President, a lot of people haven’t been paying much attention to politics. They’re thinking, like one young woman I recently spoke with, “It’s better not to vote at all than to cast an ignorant ballot.”

Instead of choosing between not voting or casting an ignorant ballot, consider a third possibility: Take some shortcuts to getting the information you need for making an informed vote.

  1. Check the website of an organization whose opinion you trust. During election time many special interest groups post endorsements. If the environment is the issue that most concerns you, seek out the guidance of an organization such as the Sierra Club (http://content.sierraclub.org/voterguide/endorsements) or a local environmental group. If you’re particularly concerned about equal pay for equal work, check the National Women’s Political Caucus (http://www.nwpc.org/2014endorsements) or see if your area has a Women’s Chamber of Commerce. State Bar associations often evaluate candidates for judicial positions.
  2. Get a sample ballot ahead of time and fill it out. One is usually available online, at a party precinct office, or at the poll. Have your choices recorded on that ballot, so that all you have to do is transfer them. And yes, it is better to leave some blanks than make an uninformed guess.
  3. When you get to the voting booth, take along the sample ballot.

Whoever wins the 2014 elections will make laws related to the environment, the workplace, reproductive rights (accessibility to contraception as well as abortion), education, college loans, and immigration.

It’s your life—your future, your children’s future—that’s being determined. Vote.

Why the November election is important for young women, part 2

You’ve just changed jobs, and this one’s really demanding. You recently moved. Maybe you struggle just to get by financially: work, sleep, work, maybe socialize on weekends. A romantic breakup has you tied up emotionally. In any of these scenarios you feel too stressed out to give much thought to voting in November. And you certainly don’t want to cast an uninformed ballot.

But the November, 2014, elections are especially important to women. While we won’t be electing a President, we will elect women and men whose decisions impact our daily life.

Here are suggestions on how you can quickly find out which candidates best represent you:

1) Choose one or two issues that are most important to you: the environment, education, reproductive rights, income inequality, the national debt, immigration, racial justice, gay rights, taxes, health. There may be another issue that personally affects you.

2) Find out who’s running for office. You’ll need to know what district you’re in. votesmart.org is a helpful site, or Google your state’s name and “voting districts.”

Yes, there are a lot of positions to be filled, but don’t let yourself be overwhelmed. I suggest you pay particular attention to just five office holders: at the federal level, U.S. Senator and U.S. Representative from your district; in your state government, governor, your state senator, and your state representative. Your U.S. Senator has a six-year term so may not be running this year. Your governor might not be running either. In this case you only need to learn about candidates for three or four positions.

3) Now begin matching the issues you’re concerned about to the person. Again, votesmart.org is a helpful site, though it does seem to give the person currently holding the office more prominence. Also, it can be a little confusing in that it identifies individuals who already lost in primary elections.

4) Go to candidates’ websites. Check them out in social media, Facebook in particular.

5) Ask someone whose opinion you value who they’re voting for and why. Then go to the candidates’ websites to make sure their stance on issues agrees with yours.

Only a hundred years ago women fought hard for the right to vote. Some went to jail, many were publicly humiliated. (My grandmother was among the first generation of women to cast a ballot.) When they did finally get the right, many relied on their husband to tell them who to vote for.

As a woman today, you have more education and experience “out in the world.” You can decide for yourself who supports your values, what candidates will work to ensure the best future for you, your children, our country, and our world.

Don’t let a few individuals determine the future for you.

Politics—who cares?

I’ve been trying not to care. It just makes me worry, deprives me of sleep, interferes with writing fiction. Reading the newspaper and watching the news on TV make things worse.

In my stop-caring campaign, I remind myself that retirement benefits, while not allowing luxury, do provide my shelter, food, and clothing. So it doesn’t matter to me when funds are cut to food stamps and programs that feed the indigent. My older neighbors who lack basic necessities should go live with their kids. If young enough to work let them get a job like I did. (Forget that my parents sacrificed for my college education so I could earn an adequate income.)

I no longer need a job, so why should I care if minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and a single mother would have to work 15 hours a day/7 days a week to earn $40,000? It’s probably her fault she’s single anyway.

I have health insurance that supplements Medicare. If my back aches I call for a doctor’s appointment. Others in the country have no health insurance at all. Not my problem.

I’m white, registered to vote, and have a drivers license. The older lady down the street—her friend regularly drives her to the library, which does not require a birth certificate for a card. In fact she long ago misplaced hers. What do I care? She’d probably vote for candidates I don’t like anyway.

The planet’s getting warmer, bringing draught to farmlands, flooding to shorelines. By the time things get really bad I’ll be long gone.

So what if a woman at age 45, who already has three young adult children, gets pregnant and isn’t allowed, even upon her doctor’s recommendation, to have an abortion? I’m past child-bearing years. Her crisis has nothing to do with me.

Yes, I’ve been trying not to care about these things.

But in my Bible I read, “Woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall hunger” (Luke 6:24-5).

And my grandchildren say “I love you” as they hug me. I want fresh air and water to be in their future. Adequate shelter, food, clothing. Freedom from debilitating illness and financial ruin. As I want for all children.

I dare not quit caring.

Politics and Clotheslines

Late 19th century advertisement for laundry st...

Late 19th century advertisement for laundry starch manufactured by Gilbert S. Graves in Buffalo, New York, showing two women hanging laundry on a clothesline. 1 print : lithograph, color. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Line-drying your clothes seems to have become a political issue. I’ve concluded this because 1) The Huffington Post, a liberal website, reposted a blog with instructions for using a clothesline; 2) I, a liberal Democrat, hang my laundry outside; and 3) Were she alive, my mother, who was a Republican, would probably refuse to do the same.

So why is The Huffington Post promoting clotheslines? Maybe male liberals are more likely to share household responsibilities, and, being untrained in traditional women’s work, need guidance in maneuvering clothespins. Or, if liberal women are spoiled elitists, as some conservatives claim, a reliance on dryers may have stymied the hand-eye coordination essential for hanging up clothes. I tend to believe liberals take climate change seriously and work toward reducing carbon emissions.

Yet I’ll bet that most conservative women—many of them older, with line-drying experience—would, like me, laugh at the idea of someone needing instruction. For we girls used to have no choice but to learn women’s work. I, for one, resented Mom waking me up early every Saturday to do laundry. It didn’t occur to me that, having a job, she too would have preferred sleeping later.

Out in the garage stood our wringer washer alongside two rinse tubs. A woman could easily get a finger caught in the wringer as she transferred clothes from wash to rinse to second rinse. Three lines stretched across our back yard. A fabric clothespin holder was designed to slide along them. I learned from my mother, as she had learned from hers, to shake clothes out, hang shirts by their tails, ration clothes pins by using one to join two items. On cold days further north, I hear, clothes would be frozen when they were taken off the line.

For good reason Mom came to consider washers and dryers real progress. She never complained about the community she lived in not allowing residents to have clotheslines, a not uncommon rule these days. But how, being opposed to government regulations, could she tolerate such restrictions? Me, I demand the freedom to hang up my clothes.

I don’t fault my mother for having been a Republican. But if she were alive, I’d remind her of how washing machines and fabric have improved and urge her to line-dry her laundry. For the sake of the planet. Nevertheless, for reasons unrelated to politics, she‘d probably say, “Been there, done that.”

 

Henrik Ibsen, fracking, and jobs

English: Portrait of Henrik Ibsen by Henrik Olrik

English: Portrait of Henrik Ibsen by Henrik Olrik (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I went to college before CliffsNotes came on the scene. All those classics young people find boring—I had to actually read them. (Okay, not always carefully.) In the intervening years I’ve never gone back to give any of the assignments a second look. That is, until a few weeks ago, when I downloaded Enemy of the People, a play by Henrik Ibsen, a Norwegian playwright of the nineteenth century.

Here’s the gist of the story: A Norwegian town has gone to a lot of expense to attract tourists to its baths. When Dr. Stockman discovers that run-off from a tannery upriver is contaminating the baths, making tourists sick, he assumes that telling the town’s citizens is in their best interest. But no. The baths promise prosperity, and rectifying the problem would be expensive. In a town meeting the mayor, Dr. Stockman’s brother, moves that the doctor not be allowed to give his report. The townspeople, considering the jobs provided by the baths, don’t want to hear the Truth either and proclaim Dr. Stockman “enemy of the people.” The baths will continue to operate, risking the health of unsuspecting tourists.

It seems that many of today’s moral decisions follow the same pattern. Scientists, don’t bother North Carolinians with facts. The sea level is NOT rising. To say otherwise might harm the economies of beach towns and developers.

If you Google fracking you’ll find that the first site to come up is http://www.energyfromshale.org/.  “Shale natural gas market expansion leads to American jobs,” the site claims. There’s no mention of potential water contamination, earthquakes, and workers’ exposure to dangerous chemicals. Whether we’re talking about the Keystone pipeline, logging in national parks, or mountaintop removal, the arguments in favor usually start with “It promises jobs for the community.”

I’m not saying that these projects should not be considered. I DO suggest, though, that our decisions, when they relate to people’s health and/or the environment, are in fact moral decisions. And doing what is morally right may not promise jobs or prosperity. Through Ibsen’s characters we see how easily the townspeople are manipulated by those in power, the ones who will most profit from the operation of the baths and the tannery. Readers can’t help but denounce the decision to choose economic wellbeing over the Truth.

We must take care not to make the same mistake.