Saturday, January 28, 2017

Culture Clash with Our Consumer Teens.

As Dan was supervising snack time in the teen space at the library, he was approached by a teen with potato chip breath.

Teen: You get paid to work at the library? How is that possible? What do you sell at the library? You don't sell anything at the library.

This kid couldn’t wrap his mind around the idea that a service that didn’t make a profit had any value.

I’ve heard similar sentiments from my own jobless teen. He has openly expressed his contempt for Dan wasting time working at the library and volunteering for Code for Tucson or Watershed Management Group – when he could be out making real money as an engineer. That money, of course, could go towards a car to drive him to his weekly Magic tournaments so he won’t be forced to endure our sustainable form of transportation (gasp!) - the city bus.

I’m beginning to think that this is a thing - or so I gleaned from a conversation I had with a couple of teenage boys at the Women’s March in Tucson. These cavalier young men felt comfortable in this mass of mothers to boldly hold up signs that read, “Build the Wall” and “Gays for Trump.” The little dickens got what they asked for when they got schooled (or in teen speak, nagged) by somebody’s mother, namely me. I asked them if they cared about the environment at all. They shrugged, “No.” When I asked them why they supported Trump, their unequivocal answer was “more jobs to pay for new cellphones and Xboxes.” (Dan said that there was a group of teens following them laughing, so they may have just been trying to get a rise out of us. Well, they got it!)

Listening to teens with Trump signs at the Women's March in Tucson.

What’s with the youth today? Why doesn’t our son share our values about giving back to the community and living more sustainably? These teens have literally bought into their role as consumers in our capitalistic society. But haven’t we, as a country, been programmed to value the pursuit of profit above all else – even profit without accountability? While Dan and I have pledged to boycott Walmart because they exploit child labor abroad and don't pay their U.S. workers a living wage, our local Walmart just expanded.

What are we really getting out of our “profit first” consumerism? Are we even getting a good value?

Let’s look at some things our American teens consume...


Americans spend billions on the latest clothing fads. What do we get for our money? Disposable clothes designed to fall apart after a few washes, probably sewn in a foreign sweat shop, possibly by child slaves. Poisons from the dyes are dumped into our waterways. After a few months, these clothes are good for nothing but rags or to take up space in a landfill. I may be showing my age, but sometimes I get a yen for the good ol’ days when you could buy classic, quality clothes that would be worth repairing.

Bottled Drinks:

Look around at the store. We have shelves full of every kind of drink you can imagine. Yummy! But to get the plastic to make all those bottles, oil is pumped miles and miles through leaky pipelines. Oh, you drink water? How much do we really pay for that 89 cent bottle of water? Nestle is taking water that has been pumped 322 miles uphill (a whole coal-fired power plant was built to power the pumps that has already used up all the water in the Hopi and Navajo’s aquifer). All of those bottles then become a part of five massive plastic “islands” in the ocean. 


In America, we can get any food we want, when we want it! But really…how fresh and healthy is our food? To have a longer shelf life, our food is filled with chemicals and preservatives. To improve the flavor they add addictive sugar to everything. (But at least that has spawned the diet industry...) Even our produce is transported from neighboring states, Mexico, or shipped across the ocean putting CO2 and other toxins in the air. Rain-forests are cleared to raise beef cattle. We Americans just love our weekly specials. But what is the human cost of those bargains? The people who harvest our foods live in squalor and can’t even afford the foods they pick. (For just one cent more per pound, the pickers could double their income to a living wage.) Meanwhile, millions of tons of food is thrown into landfills because it is damaged, unattractive or there is just too much of it (lowering profit.) Luckily, there are some good people working on preventing food waste

Fast Food:

Every parent laments how much junk food their teen consumes. But fast food fits perfectly into our busy lives. At home it’s frozen convenience items (about as flavorful as the disposable boxes they come in.) It may be cheap, but you get very little actual nutrition for your money. Fast food restaurants do supply two or three low paying jobs for each of their underpaid workers. To maximize profit, companies fight a raise in the minimum wage. But fast food does contribute to heart disease and diabetes – creating higher paying healthcare jobs. Unfortunately, minimum wage workers can’t afford healthcare insurance. This means choosing between bringing their kid to the doctor or having dinner. If it's a real medical emergency, there will be no money left for their mortgage payments. We can step over them on the street - where they have no value in this society since they are no longer consumers.

So what do I say to our consumer teens?

We may not have all the latest gadgets, the biggest screen TV or even a car. But we are blessed to have a comfortable little house. Dan’s library job leaves him time for his passions: teaching robotics and computer programming, building community, and getting outside to enjoy our beautiful desert landscape while installing rainwater harvesting features. It actually makes us feel good (gasp!) to carry our own delicious drinks in our cool reusable water bottles - knowing we aren’t adding to the plastic island. We enjoy treasure hunting for quirky clothes at the thrift store. Tending our little garden and cycling to work gives us a chance to enjoy our beautiful Tucson weather. And nothing beats the excitement of seeing our little rainwater harvesting projects working!

Even my teens can appreciate the yummy home cooked meals and fresh baked bread that Dan has time to make - not to mention the time he has to spend with them.

And just look at these smiles... Aren't they worth it? 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Movies for a New Year's Revolution

I considered making a list of heartwarming, feel good movies to help us get through the pre-dystopian blues (and you can certainly find them here.) But after a month of that kind of distraction, I feel it’s time to move on. If you’re ready for a change too, this list might be just what you need – Movies for a Revolution. 

If you’re like me, the best remedy is doing something about it. These movies leave you with a feeling of hope. President Snow (of Hunger Games ) warned us about hope, “A little is good. A lot is dangerous” – because it can ignite a revolution. Right now our country could use a lot of hope. If you’re ready to see things blown up, these films provide the arsenal. But if you’re ready for a revolution - at least a revolution of the heart – allow these films to ignite the force in you and prepare you for the work ahead.

One way to get prepared is to arm yourself with the facts of what is going on in our world.

1) In The Hunger Games series, we observe how the government controls the people through the corporate owned media. They instill fear and divide the people of the 12 districts by having them fight each other in the hunger games. Meanwhile, the citizens of the Capital live in gluttony by exploiting the resources and labor of the 12 districts, while the working class struggles to get enough to eat.

America’s corporate-owned media planted fear in us that made us ripe for a populist demagogue. They did that by broadcasting a stream of violent images of terrorist acts, drug cartel wars, and every conceivable crime done by a Mexican or person of color. They used illegal immigrants as scapegoats, blaming them for our lack of jobs, while the CEOs got million dollar bonuses for sending our manufacturing jobs overseas to exploit cheap (sometimes slave) labor. We need to heed Peta’s advice and “Remember who the real enemy is,” so we are fighting the right battle. Katniss shows us that our strength lies in unity and love.

2) Like I wrote in my previous review, “Mad Max: Fury Road” is the ultimate action flick - a total adrenaline rush of continual action, one long explosive car chase. It is a practical effect picture. Everything you see on the screen is real. Real people driving those trucks, real trucks rolling over and crashing in the Libyan desert. The production had military advisers for the battles.

This prophetic action movie briefs us on the consequences of pursuing profit over the common good. The barren wasteland resembles the scarred land that mining companies leave behind. Our country is at the cusp of a dystopian system where greedy corporations will have complete control over the one thing we all need to survive – water. The first steps have already been taken. Nestle bottled up California’s water during a severe drought. They are now bottling what’s left of the clean water in Michigan to sell to the people of Flint whose water was poisoned by corporate meddling. Nestle is currently setting up operations in drought-ridden Phoenix to bottle Arizona’s CAP water (water that was transported 320 miles from Colorado at a great environmental cost) so they can sell our own water back to us. The chairman of Nestle, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, told his board that water isn’t a human right, that it should be privatized. As fossil fuel companies continue to deplete our water supply to extract coal and gas, they are creating a water shortage. Some countries are already in the midst of water wars like those in Mad Max. Imagine having to rely on greedy corporations to divvy out our drinking water.

Every-man Max and the young War Boy Nux learn from the mothers what is really worth fighting for: fair distribution of water and a future for their children where their sons aren’t raised as fodder for old men’s wars. The movie demonstrates how to get our warriors to fight for what is right – by showing empathy for their suffering and uniting with them over "righteous causes."

The movie inspires us to plant the seeds of change in our communities. The shot of the matriarch unwrapping the heritage seeds is a great visual metaphor for planting the seeds of a more sustainable way. Change is fostered by demonstrating successful practices - much like the water-harvesting systems initiated by Brad Lancaster. (Look him up. He didn’t win the local genius award for nothing.) Curb cuts (that irrigate street-side trees) used to be illegal in Tucson. Now water-harvesting features are required at new apartment complexes. As Nux says, "It looks like hope." 

3) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story casts a laser beam on how a small group of dedicated people can make a big difference when the Force (I’ll call it love) is with them. It shows how taking a risk to do the right thing can inspire others to follow suit. Revolutions are built on hope!

A real-life example is the Water Protectors at Standing Rock. The peaceful Water Protectors are putting their lives on the line to stand up to Energy Transfer Partners' (Sunoco) attempts to build an oil pipeline under the Missouri River that supplies water to 17 million Americans.  (Look it up. These pipelines explode and leak all the time...) A small group of matriarchs from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe started this prayerful, non-violent action out of love for their children and Mother Earth. Despite sparse media coverage, over 300 indigenous tribes joined them. After watching drone footage of police brutally attacking unarmed protesters, two thousand vets deployed to Standing Rock to defend them and our water. Thanks to the Water Protectors the permit to drill under the Missouri River has been denied. That is the hope I was writing about! But it's not too late to join the fight. Trump signed an executive order to restart the pipeline, so the fight continues.

Hopefully these Sci Fi flicks will inspire the peaceful warriors in us all to take up the good fight, even if that just means trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle: not buying bottled water, bringing reusable shopping bags to the store, being mindful of water use, driving less, buying local, keeping up with what is happening in our government, signing petitions, and pulling money out of banks that support the pipeline... To quote Yoda, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” (Sorry, that’s another movie.) 

I would greatly recommend The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games: Catching FireMad Max: Fury Road, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story for an inspiring New Year's marathon. Wishing you a Happy New Year full of hope and love. 

Movie Blessings! 
Jana Segal-Stormont

If you would like to read more about my adventures in transitioning to a more sustainable lifestyle, scroll down this blog: