Back in the l990’s, which seem more than ever like the good ol’ days, the great environmental writer Michael Pollan said we should Abolish the White House Lawn.
Now he faces the most vexing aspect of greenhouse gas emissions — what’s in it for me? — head on.
In The New York Times green issue, he writes:
Cheap energy, which gives us climate change, fosters precisely the
mentality that makes dealing with climate change in our own lives seem
impossibly difficult. Specialists ourselves, we can no longer imagine
anyone but an expert, or anything but a new technology or law, solving
our problems. Al Gore asks us to change the light bulbs because he
probably can’t imagine us doing anything much more challenging, like,
say, growing some portion of our own food. We can’t imagine it, either,
which is probably why we prefer to cross our fingers and talk about the
promise of ethanol and nuclear power — new liquids and electrons to
power the same old cars and houses and lives.
The “cheap-energy mind,” as Wendell Berry called it, is the mind that
asks, “Why bother?” because it is helpless to imagine — much less
attempt — a different sort of life, one less divided, less reliant.
Since the cheap-energy mind translates everything into money, its
proxy, it prefers to put its faith in market-based solutions — carbon
taxes and pollution-trading schemes. If we could just get the
incentives right, it believes, the economy will properly value
everything that matters and nudge our self-interest down the proper
channels. The best we can hope for is a greener version of the old
invisible hand. Visible hands it has no use for.
But a solution is — literally — at hand. Plant a garden. Grow your own tomatoes. Live in this wonderful world we’ve been given.
You begin to see that growing even a little of your own food is, as
Wendell Berry pointed out 30 years ago, one of those solutions that,
instead of begetting a new set of problems — the way “solutions” like
ethanol or nuclear power inevitably do — actually beget other
solutions, and not only of the kind that save carbon. Still more
valuable are the habits of mind that growing a little of your own food
can yield. You quickly learn that you need not be dependent on
specialists to provide for yourself — that your body is still good for
something and may actually be enlisted in its own support. If the
experts are right, if both oil and time are running out, these are
skills and habits of mind we’re all very soon going to need. We may
also need the food. Could gardens provide it? Well, during World War
II, victory gardens supplied as much as 40 percent of the produce