A small profile in courage: $4.50 gasoline, and McCain still stands for the wild places

I joined Republicans for Environmental Protection at the same time that I re-registered as a Republican last year. I was explicit about my goal: to do my part to move the GOP back towards the political center, and to help break the ideological stranglehold on the party held by Christian conservatives on the one hand and the Wall Street Journal editorial page on the other. Quixotic, yes, but not impossible.

Less than a year ago, the pundits had given up on the chances of John McCain winning the GOP nomination. Some progrnosticators started a “McCain deathwatch”, and trusted voices in the conservative world predicted he would drop out by Labor Day 2007. McCain, they said, was too unreliable on issues that mattered most to conservatives. And while right-wingers despised him for McCain-Feingold (the campaign finance reform act) and his opposition to water-boarding, their greatest ire often seemed directed at his environmental positions. For over a decade, McCain has been among a small band of Republicans opposed to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, opposed to increased drilling on the continental shelf (at least without the consent of the nearest state), and in favor of increased fuel economy standards for American vehicles. Most importantly and heretically, he has stated time and again that he is convinced that global warming is “anthropogenic”: caused in large part if not entirely by human activity.

REP endorsed McCain and worked hard for him when other GOP groups were looking elsewhere, flirting with the Romneys and Giulianis and Thompsons of the world. There aren’t many in the Republican party who see “green issues” as vital, but REP does, and they saw McCain as the first Republican in forty years with a commitment to at least some environmental protection. McCain is an imperfect environmentalist of course, but he has been a firm opponent of new drilling and a strong supporter of conservation and the development of alternative fuel sources. Time and again, he broke from the pack of pro-business candidates to articulate a message more in keeping with that espoused by Democrats. And thus I voted for McCain in the California primary, not out of tremendous enthusiasm for him, but out of the hope that he would represent a move away from the rigid pro-development position held by most in his party. Continue reading

$138 a barrel, and mixed feelings

I’ve got the business channel on; oil has risen more than 10 bucks today, and is at $138 a barrel. At the Chevron near campus, I filled up the Volvo (which likes premium gas) for $4.74; regular was 20 cents lower.

I have mixed feelings about the rise in oil prices. On the one hand, I like the fact that more people are using public transportation. I like disincentives to environmentally destructive behavior, and I like incentives for conservation. That sales of large trucks and SUVs are plummeting, and sales of hybrids and smaller cars are rising, strikes me as a very pleasant and helpful consequence of skyrocketing fuel prices. The real hope, of course, is that the high cost of gas will lead to more rapid development of alternative, renewable, environmentally sensitive fuel sources. (I have mixed feelings about biofuels, both because I’m worried about the conversion of more undeveloped land for agriculture and because of the impact on food prices for the poor.)

On the other hand, I have no interest in seeing oil company profits skyrocket, and certainly little enthusiasm about seeing the likes of the house of Saud and Vladimir Putin get richer and richer. I worry too that some folks will draw exactly the wrong lesson, and use the rising price of gasoline as an excuse to advocate for driiling in ANWAR or off the coast of California. Conservation and the development of sustainable alternatives, not increased petroleum production, is the only viable long-term answer. Fortunately, all of the major candidates for president, including the unreliable and mercurial John McCain, oppose drilling in the Arctic. With the likelihood that the Democrats will continue to control Congress after the fall election, the chances are good that we can restrain the desires of the oil companies to expand drilling.

I am also keenly aware that the rising cost of gas has a direct and deleterious impact on the lives of my students. Public transportation networks in the San Gabriel Valley are poor at best, and many of those in my classes have little choice but to drive to and from school and work. The cost of filling up hurts them. It’s deeply insensitive for me to wax eloquent about “price disincentives” when those who consume the least and live closest to the margins are the ones being most powerfully affected.

So as I see the prices rise — 50 cents a gallon in the past four weeks alone — I have mixed feelings. I’m excited and enthusiastic when I see the numbers go up, because I’m thrilled about the increased reliance on public transportation. I’m pleased that the American love affair with big cars is showing signs of fading, perhaps for good. And I’m delighted that the often-ignored voices that counsel conservation and alternative energy sources are at last being heard. But rising prices — and rising oil company profits — are blunt and ineffective instruments for lasting social change.

Oprah, veganism, and the real inconvenient truth

It’s been a happy birthday so far. I admit I really appreciate Facebook, which I didn’t have for my last birthday — all the kind notes showing up on my “wall” make me very happy.

The vegan world has been abuzz with the news that Oprah Winfrey is on a 21-day cleanse, using only plant-based foods. The queen of all media is blogging about her experience here. I love what she says in her first entry:

Wow, wow, wow! I never imagined meatless meals could be so satisfying. I had been focused on what I had to give up—sugar, gluten, alcohol, meat, chicken, fish, eggs, cheese. “What’s left?” I thought. Apparently a lot. I can honestly say every meal was a surprise and a delight, beginning with breakfast—strawberry rhubarb wheat-free crepes.

Now, most vegans don’t go as far as Oprah’s going. I eat wheat and sugar everyday, and my wife likes a nice glass of wine quite regularly. Those of us in the animal rights community respect Oprah’s enormous cultural power; we know what she can do for books and presidential candidates. We also know that she’s been very candid about her many years of struggle with body image issues; the world has watched her weight fluctuate for two decades. Though veganism is much more than a weight-loss regimen (and indeed, there are plenty of plump vegans), I’m confident Oprah will be amazed by how much energy and “bounce” she has over the next seventeen days or so. Continue reading

Against sociopathic vandalism

Chris Clarke writes about the threat to the Desert Cahuilla Prehistoric Area. He links to this piece posted by the Desert Protective Council.

Check out the links for more explanation, but bottom line, the threat comes from recreational off-road vehicle use. Chris says:

I regard off-road vehicle driving as a socially sanctioned form of sociopathic vandalism, especially in the fragile desert. In southern California especially, the ranks of OHV enthusiasts contain a disturbing proportion of actual thugs. Expanding their access to irreplaceable and fragile desert lands would be an atrocity.

Chris, as usual, is absolutely right, both about the connection between off-roading and vandalism and about the very real threat these folks and their awful machines pose to the wild. (The only people who infuriate me more than off-highway vehicle enthusiasts are those in the fur industry. A repeated willingness to waste fossil fuels while tearing up nature in your ATV is grounds for the termination of friendship in my book.)

In any event, go here and take action.

Against “Bambi environmentalism”: a long post on hunting, veganism, cruelty, and the commitment to pleasure

The latest issue of Sierra, the magazine for Sierra Club members, showed up in our mailbox on Saturday. One article in particular stood out: “Life Itself Is a Risky Process” , an interview with Mary Zeiss Stange, professor of religon and women’s studies at Skidmore College. Stange is a feminist, an environmentalist …and an avid hunter. When she’s not teaching at Skidmore, she and her husband run a bison ranch in Montana.

It’s an interesting interview. Take Stange’s views on women and hunting:

Sierra: How do you explain the differences between men’s and women’s approaches to hunting?

Stange: Even before I became a hunter, I was fascinated by the Greek goddess Artemis, whom the Romans called Diana. One thing that struck me was that the goddess of hunting is also the goddess of childbirth. What do taking life and giving birth have to do with each other? They put you immediately in touch with the fact that everything that lives does so because other things die. Life itself is a risky process. Certainly one of those moments is childbirth. Another is the decision to take the life of a big, beautiful, sentient animal so that you can feed yourself and your family.

Stange gets point for candor, and of course, that last sentence (bold emphasis mine) left me indignant. It’s true that death and life are woven together, and that the survival of many creatures is contingent on their ability to kill and consume other living beings. But the fact that death is inevitable and, in some instances in the animal world, crucial for the survival of species, doesn’t mean that those creatures who have free will and have the means to exercise it shouldn’t do all in their power to struggle to minimize death. Stange and her family don’t need to live off the flesh of another sentient creature. For a 21st century middle-class American, the killing of living beings isn’t a survival imperative — it’s a decision to which there are legitimate alternatives. To pretend otherwise is foolish and cruel. Continue reading

A no-doubt dull report on this morning’s run, and a note on why I hate fishing

If there’s one paved run I enjoy more than any other, it’s the run up to Cogswell Dam along the West Fork of the San Gabriel River.

This morning, the alarm went off at 4:40AM, and I was at the trailhead out on state route 39 above Azusa by 5:55. After putting on the sunscreen and the body glide and triple checking my gear, I headed up the road.

It’s about eight miles of paved road up to Cogswell, so a round trip is sixteen miles. I needed more miles today, so I ran about two miles up, turned around, came back to the car, and started over again.

Though it was very early on a Sunday morning, there were already a number of folks with fishing poles — some of whom had clearly camped over night — along the West Fork. The river is stocked with Rainbow trout, Speckled Dace, and something called the “Arroyo Chub.” I like the name, and when I’m in a self-deprecating mood, I apply the monicker to myself. (When you run with folks who are truly rail-thin most of the time, even a few extra pounds leaves one inclined to pick such a label.)

Even before I became vegan, I had no interest in fishing. I can’t imagine an outdoor activity I would like less, frankly. My second wife loved the outdoors, and was an avid fan of camping and fly-fishing. We honeymooned at a remote lodge on the Mackenzie River in Oregon, about thirty miles east of Eugene. We fly-fished every day. I found the waiting around tedious beyond words, and the actual catching of the fish (something I never succeeded in doing, but something she was really good at) to be ghastly. I wanted to be running, or at the least hiking through the woods, keeping my heart rate happy in the triple digits. My ex-wife wanted to stand in the water in waders like something out of “The River Runs Through It” (which, incidentally, was her favorite film). I ought to have known that marriage was doomed.

So today I made my way past the fisherfolk, and eventually hit Cogswell dam itself. Cogswell is a glorious example of 1930s WPA engineering. The last time I was at Cogswell was nearly two years ago, after our record rainfall of the previous year. I was heartsick to see how low the water level was today behind the dam, lower than I’d ever seen it before. It’s only June, and it’s six more months until we can begin to hope for some good rain. I’m so anxious about fires, and anxious about the impact of this drought on the ecosystem. (Of course, my first thought is for the small mammals who are my special loves, but I know the whole danged food chain is suffering right now.)

I was feeling good, so I decided to go over my scheduled miles, and I ran the trail behind the dam for a bit; the fire road continues for about a mile and a half past Cogswell until it comes to an abrupt end. It was only at that dead end that I turned around and headed back. My goal was to cover the distance home at “marathon pace”. I covered the nine miles back in an hour and fifteen minutes, which is right about the 8:20 per mile pace I want to try and run in San Francisco next month. It’s a far cry from what I used to be able to do, but it’s a reasonable goal to have for where I am these days.

Counting the four miles I did as a warmup, that gave me twenty-two miles of running for the day. I was done by 9:25AM, exhilarated and happy beyond words. I drove back down the 39 into Azusa, where I stopped to have Inge the Solara washed by the Azusa High girl’s volleyball team. They did an enthusiastic if spotty job, and while they were hosing and washing and rubbing the car, I ducked into a store and bought myself 24 ounces of coffee. Endorphins last longer, folks, if you add caffeine on top.

So now it’s off to the gym, and then home to some quiet time with the paper. Our son Dudley might get some extra afternoon out time today.

Serious blogging will return this coming week.

A long post about PCRM, veganism and gettin’ evangelical

My prayers this morning go out to all those affected by the Virginia Tech shooting tragedy. I have a few Hokie alumni in my family (though far more who went to UVA), and I know a couple of folks still closely associated with the Blacksburg campus. I know that several of my readers are Hokies, and my thoughts and prayers are especially directed towards them.

It’s spring break (Pasadena City College has what must be America’s latest spring break), and I’m in our little study at home. I was in Virginia yesterday, if driving from the District to Dulles in a downpour can be considered being “in Virginia”. (We did find some great vegan Ethiopian food in a little strip mall in Ballston.) My wife and I spent the weekend in Washington attending the Art of Compassion gala to raise money for and celebrate the accomplishments of one of our very favorite charities, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

What I love about PCRM is that more than any other animal rights outfit, they adopt a holistic approach to personal and global transformation. PCRM is one of the leading organizations advocating vegan diets for all. Backed by a growing network of hundreds of doctors and nutritionists across the USA and Canada, PCRM is reaching out to millions through increasingly savvy media campaigns. (My wife and I are particularly pleased with — and particularly interested in supporting — PCRM’s brand-spankin’ new Spanish-language campaign.) PCRM also campaigns against the use of animals in medical research, and has played a leading role in developing alternatives. (PCRM helped create “Digital Frog” to help end school dissections; they’ve helped popularize TraumaMan to replace the use of live animals in emergency medical education.)

Most animal rights organizations — and Lord knows, they all do fabulous work — want to save animals. The folks who run PCRM, led by the remarkably energetic and charismatic Dr. Neal Barnard, want to do the same. But saving animals is about more than stopping a seal hunt, or shutting down a few fur farms or puppy mills. (All very worthy causes, mind.) PCRM’s point is that what is good for animals is also good for us and for our planet. A balanced vegan regimen requires far fewer natural resources to produce than a meat-and-dairy laden one. And the health benefits of veganism (or even its softer form, lacto-ovo vegetarianism) are sufficiently well-demonstrated as to be nigh on undeniable.

The world says: “Children need milk to build strong bones”. The world says “Beef is the best source of iron and protein, especially for women.” The world says “Without animal research, we can’t make necessary medical breakthroughs.” The world says “A vegetarian or vegan diet is too boring, too miserable, and too time-consuming for the average modern person.” And carefully, with painstakingly documented research, PCRM works to disprove all of these deeply-held myths. (PCRM helped expose the roots of the Vioxx tragedy: what had proved safe in animals turned out deadly for humans. Animal testing too often makes animals suffer and tells us nothing about what works for people.)

Sigh. This post is turning into an infomercial. That’s not what this blog is supposed to be about, and I apologize. This is how I feel after retreat weekends with my youth group, or after a men- against-rape training. I feel inspired and invigorated, and more than usually evangelical!

Last month, Stentor at Debitage put up this post: Moral Relativist Anti-Vegetarianism. Stentor, a trained amateur philosopher, has pointed out more than once that I have an exasperating habit of making sweeping moral statements — and promptly disavowing the idea that I am actually proselytizing, claiming at times that “this is just me.” He’s right. The truth is that a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle almost always is about making a universal moral claim. Stentor writes:

So what makes vegetarianism especially threatening whereas diversity in other parts of life evokes less hostility? One inescapable part of the picture — which unfortunately vegetarians spend a lot of time disclaiming in a usually futile effort to avoid the proselytizing charge — is that vegetarianism is a moral position. Aside from the small number of people who are vegetarians purely for health or henotheistic religious reasons, to become a vegetarian is to implicitly endorse a non-relativistic moral code*. Second, vegetarianism is threatening — becoming a vegetarian involves a significant change in a fairly fundamental part of one’s lifestyle. Third, vegetarianism is realistic. For all the joking about how life wouldn’t be worth living without bacon, vegetarianism is within reach of the majority of developed world adults. (It’s not without hardships for some, and I’m not endorsing a purely personal-lifestyle-change-based policy, but the fact remains that most North Americans could drastically reduce their meat consumption if they really put their minds to it.) Adding to the realism is the surface plausibility of the vegetarian position — it’s comparatively easy for even a committed omnivore to understand what makes vegetarians think they’re right. Bold emphasis is mine.

Stentor is frequently right, and here, he’s dead on. I realize that on this blog, I write about many things: diet, feminism, faith, exercise. As a progressive evangelical writing for a general audience, I’ve deliberately disavowed Christian proselytizing in this space. Do I wish more people would pursue a personal, transforming relationship with Christ? Yes. Do I believe that no one can be saved without consciously forming that relationship? No, I don’t. Do I wish more people — especially men — would embrace feminist principles of egalitarianism in every aspect of their public and private lives? Yes. Do I want every man (and woman) to stop using porn, to stop objectifying women, to stop the economic, sexual, and physical exploitation of their sisters? Yes.

So the question I’m wrestling with is this: does my veganism correlate more closely with my feminism or my Christianity? If it’s like my Christian faith, it’s a “personal choice” — one among many. I do believe that my Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Wiccan, animist, and atheist friends will be saved (though how, exactly, is not something I can always articulate.) I do believe that I am called to follow Christ, but I also believe that others follow Him even as they call Him by other names. What would make the world a far better place isn’t necessarily everyone becoming Christian; what would make the world a far better place is if everyone actually lived out the principles of their faiths and creeds. But if every man and woman on this planet saw women as equally worthy of dignity and respect, as equally entitled to share in resources and in decision-making, as equally prepared to lead, as equally deserving of being seen as a whole person — then heck yes, the planet would be better off. Feminism is, in that sense, essential.

And I’m prepared to start arguing that vegetarianism (or better yet, veganism) has the power to bring about tremendous change. It will improve the health of the individual and of the planet, and it will exponentially reduce the unnecessary suffering of sentient, conscious creatures.
So yes, I’m going to risk alienating still more readers with a more explicit commitment to veganism here on this blog.

In the end, I’m trying to follow ever more closely Forster’s maxim: “only connect.” What I wear matters. What I eat matters. Everything we do connects us to other living creatures. Every darned thing I do every day matters. And my brothers and sisters, the same does go for you too. Every dollar you spend is a vote. The food you buy, the clothes you wear, the words you speak: these impact the world. And I’m asking you to consider making the best possible choices in your public, private, educational, familial, sexual, and economic lives.

My commitment to full veganism is relatively recent (I’ve been a vegetarian for longer.) It’s been a slow evolution rather than an instant decision. Like most lasting conversions, it has come gradually rather than in a flash of light. But you’re gonna be hearing more on this blog about animal rights, veganism, and how they connect to faith and feminism.

More about my PCRM weekend below the fold. Continue reading

A musing on ecology and transformation

Stentor writes of me yesterday:

In short, Hugo Schwyzer would make the most anti-environmental Deep Ecologist ever.

That caught my attention. Actually, it’s part of a really interesting post (as are most of Stentor’s) on the conflict inherent in the world view of folks like me. I’m at once a self-proclaimed environmentalist who claims to love nature, but at the same time am relentless about wanting to transform and overcome the darker aspects of my own nature. I want to preserve and protect wild animals and wild spaces, while all the while working to tame and discipline my own flesh, my own behavior, even my own thoughts.

I’m a fourth-generation Sierra Clubber. When asked on surveys what the most important political issue to me is, I invariably check the box for the “environment.” Nothing seems more vital to me than protecting our natural resources, and allowing “wildness” to flourish. That world view, closely linked to my reflexive insistence on the dignity and worth of animals, is born of experience and reflection. It was bequeathed to me by my family, and by growing up in beautiful spaces — the rolling hills around Mission Peak, in Carmel by-the-Sea, in Santa Barbara. My favorite poet, both as a child and now, remains the vaguely misanthropic, vaguely pagan, Robinson Jeffers. I grew up half a mile from his little tower on Carmel Point, and share more than a few of his views.

I suppose I reconcile this apparent contradiction (leave nature alone, work to endlessly better myself and others) with a belief about free will. Animals don’t appear to have free will, and neither do plants. Humans do. While this doesn’t make humans intrinsically more valuable than animals, it does bestow on us a special responsibility — and that, it seems to me, is the responsibility to love, to care, to share. It is also the requirement to change those aspects of ourselves that block us from connecting with nature, with our fellow creatures, and with God. Our dominion over the natural world, made clear at the beginning of Genesis, is a mandate for gentle, just stewardship. We are called to eradicate within ourselves those aspects of our character that conflict with that mandate, and because we have free will and grace we can succeed in accomplishing this great transformation.

Those who want to pave over the earth and exploit its natural resources, it seems, have misdirected wills. The desire to “develop” and transform is a good one — but it ought to be directed inward, not outward. A developer and I can look at the same landscape of rolling hills, and he can imagine working hard to put in a row of tract homes; I look across it and imagine conquering it on a long trail run. He wants to change nature, and I want to use nature to measure my own change. There’s a distinction there, and it’s one that matters.

California election endorsements, part two: the propositions: UPDATED

Last week, I blogged my endorsements for the statewide offices for the California general election on November 7.  Today, as promised, I’ll post my endorsements for the 13 propositions on the California ballot.  Props I feel strongly about are in CAPS.  For a list of all props, visit here.

Prop 1A: No.  (Would prevent the use of gasoline taxes for anything other than highway work; would bind the legislature.)

Props 1B-1E: Yes.   This is part of the governor’s package to rebuild infrastructure. It’s not a perfect plan, but it’s bold enough and it’s absolutely needed.

Prop 83: NO!  Would make it impossible for registered sex offenders to reintegrate into society — a cruel, expensive response to a media-manufactured hysteria.  It will pass by a 2-1 margin, but the majority will not be right.

Prop 84: Yes.  Improves water quality, backed by the major environmental groups to which I contribute and which I generally trust.

Prop 85:  NO!  For my reasons why, read my post about prop 73 from last year.   I’m strongly opposed to parental notification laws; having worked with scared and pregnant teens as a youth minister has only made me more passionate on the subject.

Prop 86: Yes.  I’ve never met a tax on consumption I didn’t like.  Yes, it will disproportionately hit poor smokers. It will also ask a powerful disincentive, as previous tax hikes already have.

Prop 87:  YES!  I am sure it won’t pass, but this bold initiative to tax oil company profits to fund alternative energy sources is a terrific idea.

Prop 88:  Yes.  I like property taxes that pay for education.    Basing taxes on value is reasonably progressive, too.

Prop 89: Yes.

Prop 90: No.

Bonus endorsement:

City of Pasadena Proposition A: NO!!!  (This is a referendum on the NFL putting an expansion team in the Rose Bowl.  Pro football is the last thing we need in this town.)

My predictions: voters in California will be surprisingly conservative.  I predict most of these won’t go my way. I’m especially worried about the passage of 85, and saddened about 83 (about which I will post more).  I have a small quixotic hope that 87 will get through, but suspect that the huge ad buys by Chevron will prove too powerful.

UPDATE: FlashReport, the far-right California political news website, just issued its ballot endorsements.  Without mutual coordination, we’ve managed to take diametrically opposed stances on all thirteen initiatives.  Perhaps in the future, I won’t read the ballot pamphlet, but simply read the lads at FR and know that the opposite of what they support is the correct way to go.