Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Professor's Progress

I have nothing against professors. In fact, I'm married to a member of the WSU faculty. I know professors are very intelligent and well-educated people who have worked hard to get where they are. I have friends, political allies, and people whom I admire very much that are or were professors.

What I am against are very intellectual people who purposefully turn a blind eye to all reason, evidence, logic, and truth in the name of some political ideology and espouse patently nutty ideas like Chuck Pezeshki's economic desert, Queen Nancy's eco-communalist "sustainable Mexican fishing village" and PARD's latest "Buy Local" campaign. To believe that the Palouse can be some sort of self-sufficient hippie commune where all we need is love and that we're somehow not part of a global economy is to ignore all reality.

I have been tough on WSU professor Kathryn Meier in the past. She has written some really awful NIMBY drivel. But in her last Town Crier column in yesterday's Moscow-Pullman Daily News, I have to give her credit for opening up her mind and discovering some of the things we all already know, even if it doesn't follow the politically correct party line:
A couple of weekends ago, I had the pleasure of attending a local sustainability dinner sponsored by Rural Roots in Moscow and initiated by a group from New York

The setting was magnificent, the bluegrass music was great, the company was very enjoyable and the food was wonderful.

As you might expect, many of the participants were already committed to sustainability issues. I don't consider myself an apostle of sustainability, even though my husband and I raise and grow much of our own food. We do so primarily for personal enjoyment, exercise, and food quality - not on the basis of political principle. I am certainly not in league with the "freegans," who attempt to utilize exclusively local products, and to barter rather than using currency. This seems unnecessarily complicated to me, albeit in the guise of simplicity. However, the dinner and other publicity have made me think a bit more about what sustainability means.

In the broadest sense, it appears that the sustainability initiatives are designed to make us think about how we can live more harmoniously in our environment, using the minimal amount of resources. I think this is a goal everyone can appreciate, and one that can be approached at many levels. On the surface, it would seem that sustainability is more easily achieved on the Palouse than in a large urban center, since we are in a food-producing region.

However, international economics make this more complicated than it appears. Much of the food grown locally is exported, and there are relatively few produce farmers in the area. Moreover, much of the farming we do is dependent on petroleum energy obtained from distant sites. Thus, matters quickly become more complicated. Finally, I would note that our farm experienced freezes Aug. 11, and again Monday - emphasizing the difficulty of sustaining oneself in an area with a short and fickle growing season.

Monday, I drove down to Lewiston to pick up some supplies, including animal feed. Several thoughts crossed my mind on the way home. First, while in Clarkston at a big-box store, I succumbed to the impulse to purchase a new frozen pesto-based pizza that was imported from Italy. On the way back, I realized this was quite a silly thing to do. We can make good pizza at home, using some of our own produce and homemade pesto in the process. Does it make any sense to purchase pizza that has been flown across the globe from Italy? I was falling prey to the "convenience" aspect as well as to the opportunity to try something new. We all make decisions like this every day. The decisions may not be "wrong," but we might choose to do otherwise if we kept the bigger picture in mind.

I next began to consider the trip as a whole. We are accustomed to driving relatively long distances for supplies on the Palouse. While this is easy and pleasant, at least in summer, it consumes fuel. I may feel smug about my use of a hybrid vehicle, but it still uses petroleum. The only good excuse that I could come up with is that I made use of a single trip to shop at several stores, and even picked a flat of wild blackberries along the way.

In the end, I conclude that all of us can do better, but that the freegan ideal is impossible for most of us. In my particular case, the air travel required of an active academician uses excessive resources, no matter how well justified. Thus, we all make compromises in our daily lives. I have nothing against a global economy and can only hope that we can use it wisely to trade for goods that cannot be produced locally.

When at home, or trekking across the state or the world, we can all work to become aware of the wonderful products that are available along the way - fruit, vegetables, cheese, meat, and crafts - and support the local producers by buying from them directly. We can make more efficient use of our time, and of petroleum-based energy, by foraging as we go. And please don't forget to stop and pick the berries alongside the road.
Yes, choice is wonderful and something we utilize every day. That is what is so fantastic about free enterprise and free trade and why socialism was such a miserable failure. A centrally-planned economy that the liberals so desire takes those decisions and places them in the hands of a few. Humans naturally rebel against such an arrangement.

And the Palouse does benefit quite nicely from that global economy. The wheat, dry peas, lentils, garbanzo beans, and canola we grow are shipped all over the world, as are the cutting-edge electronics of Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories. Is it too much to ask that we have a few amenities to make life more enjoyable in return?

And as I have pointed out frequently, big box stores in Pullman mean less driving long distances, less fuel consumed and less carbon emissions. If we're going to buy the stuff anyway, why not buy it here? Isn't that what sustainability is all about?

1 comment:

Bruce Heimbigner said...

It all makes sense now. I've tried to figure what sustainable development is since I first heard the term 20 years ago. I'm glad to read the professors definition "sustainability initiatives are designed to make us think about how we can live more harmoniously in our environment, using the minimal amount of resources" huh? I figured it had something to do with SUSTAINABILITY. As in, can this activity be sustained into the future? I’m glad to be corrected.

I only bring this up because people seem to think that ‘organic’ food production is more ‘sustainable’ but as we’ve read in previous posts here ‘organic’ food requires as much or more fossil fuel energy as traditional food production. Now I can see that sustainability is just to make us feel good.