Sustainability and the environment are not just for hippies anymore.
Although when you think about it, hippies were late to the game on wanting save the Earth. The greatest environmentalists in American history is most likely the 26th President of the United States and great New Yorker, Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt used the power of his Presidency to create national parks and other public lands. And when you think about it, accomplished hunters like Roosevelt are among the best environmentalists.
Ask yourself what would Theodore Roosevelt do? If he were still with us today, he would probably be bold enough to bicycle from Oyster Bay to the Flushing Quaker Meeting House (a trip of only 25 miles, an easy two hours for T.R.) and find common cause with the many diverse people working for the preservation of our natural world at the Flushing Eco-Fest on Saturday, March 23.
The festival is being organized by Flushing C.S.A. (Community Supported Agriculture), a local farm share group (full disclosure: our family is a member of the Flushing C.S.A. and my wife is a core member and Eco-Fest organizer) and being cohosted by the Flushing Chamber of Commerce.
The Eco-Fest is free and offers free workshops, eco-friendly kids’ crafts sponsored by Macaroni Kid, and a host of vendors with locally grown and organic goods. There will be well over a dozen vendors and groups there, each one is in some way working towards making things on the planet more sustainable.
There is guaranteed to be something to appeal to everyone. My personal favorites are some of the local food businesses such as Spice Tree Organics and Astor Apiaries. You will be doing something good for the environment when you attend, even if you just stick around to learn something about watersheds or how to compost or get a few cycling or energy-saving tips. There will also be environmentally-friendly soaps, home décor, seedlings, and baked goods for sale. And a raffle. Nothing is too small to do to make a difference.
You will also meet an interesting group of people there. Events like this can give you a great cross-section of this part of Queens. The Flushing Quaker Meeting House is the oldest, continually-used house of worship in New York City, and Flushing has several important landmarks in the cause of religious freedom in the U.S. Inside the Meeting House, you will be surrounded by history older than the United States. And whatever you think of the current trajectory of the U.S. or its politics, there is no disputing that this is an interesting time to be alive.
And it is a perfect time to increase your civic and conservationist involvement. Don’t let cultural stereotypes about environmentalists dissuade you from joining with those who want to keep our nation’s land strong. Everyone has a part to play.
Teddy Roosevelt promoted national greatness, and he understood that a nation that depleted its natural resources and did not invest time in strengthening its land and future could not sustain itself. In Flushing, people will gather and, consciously or not, help build on Roosevelt’s vision of a great America that treasures its natural resources and strives to be a unified community.
Queens Theatre in Flushing Meadows Corona Park is not one of the park’s better-known attractions. The iconic Unisphere gets much more attention, and the Queens Zoo probably sees a lot more foot traffic, but the Queens Theatre is a lesser-known gem in the large park.
This past weekend it was the sight of a recent performance by Doktor Kaboom, a comedic science performer who has a family-friendly show that targets impressionable young children and works to give them a love of science.
The good Doktor, with his spiky blond hair and thick faux-German accent, looks and sounds like the love child of Guy Fieri and Angela Merkel (who has a PhD in Physics), but he’s actually a native of North Carolina who lives in Seattle and found a way to combine his love of comedy and science.
The whole family went and we were lucky enough to have extra tickets for a friend and his daughter. The Queens Theatre mainstage theater seats 472 and the rows are on a gradient generous enough to provide decent viewing from all angles.
After a brief introduction, Doktor Kaboom took the stage and we were on our way. The entire show is geared towards children, working to spark an interest in science and there’s no better way to do that than to show them that science allows you to make a mess. Using a catapult to try to help a young volunteer from the audience catch a piece of banana in his mouth, the bit had the stage littered with banana pretty quickly and it was good fun. I vowed to never feed my children bananas the same way again, but I’m not sure I am going to be able to build a catapult fast enough to realize this dream.
One of the best parts of the show was when the good Doktor implored the kids there to have confidence and faith in themselves. He said that at a previous show a 10-year-old kid said that he was a failure, even though he was a bright young man who could speak three languages. That base level of self respect is sadly missing from a lot in our society.
Unfortunately, some basic theater manners are also lacking. The Doktor had to remind the audience to refrain from using mobile phones, which is Theater Manners 101. Lack of civility as well as a dropping aptitude in the sciences are general signs of societal rot and sad to see, but at least there’s one guy out there fighting the good fight. That guy wears old-fashioned goggles, a bright orange lab coat, and shoes with flames painted on them.
But that didn’t slow down the show. There is a lot of safety instruction in the Doktor Kaboom show, even though the worst you may be exposed to is high-velocity banana and some soapy residue. He manages to use some optical illusions to trick your mind in ways that even jaded adults will find fascinating, and he takes time to explain what is happening in terms that children can understand. There are also plenty of under-the-radar jokes for adults as well.
There were no loud explosions as the Doktor Kaboom name might imply, but fear not. The show is well worth the time and has a big impact.
This weekend our family attended an event called the Queens SOUP that was hosted by the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce. The event raises money for a worthwhile community group and participants vote for a winning group from among four that make presentations for projects. My wife was one of the presenters for the Flushing C.S.A.
The winning group was the Lewis H. Latimer House’s Summer Tinker Lab. Lewis Latimer was a prominent African-American scientist who contributed greatly to the invention of the light bulb and was instrumental in the spreading use of electricity. His former home is a preserved historic site in Flushing. The Latimer House’s presentation consisted of a music demonstration that allowed children to use a circuit and a laptop to make music with basic household items.
Our twins love music and it was great to watch them thrill at the discovery of the circuit concept and to have that associated with music. We want our girls to join the Tinker Lab program when they are old enough. The relatively small grant that the Latimer House received was nonetheless a victory for science.
Earlier that same day, thousands of people marched around the country in a “March for Science,” protesting the current White House’s policies that labels climate change theory as either a hoax or exaggerated. The march also looked to show disgust with the general anti-intellectual attitude that many conservative establishment politicians have tended to embrace in recent decades. Science is great and is certainly worth of the reverence, but let’s take a look at what adhering to science means.
“Science” to me means the skilled application of learning through the empirical method of observation, experimentation, and theorization. It usually results in a consensus view among those who practice the scientific method.
Science does not abide by any values other than those used by those conducting those experiments. Dr. Jonas Salk, who discovered the polio vaccine, was a scientist. So was Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who conducted cruel experiments on victims at Auschwitz. They each made discoveries that advanced the causes of medicine, but they are rightfully not held in the same esteem by our civilization.
Science cannot be claimed as a mantle by any partisan cause. The people who “Marched for Science” this past weekend were embracing those scientific findings that supported their ideas. We may agree with those ideas, but we can’t ignore that these are values-driven at their core.
Science will ultimately thwart attempts to make it the show horse of any political movement. If the mastery of science is by itself our only measure, then J. Robert Oppenheimer should be on as many t-shirts as Neil deGrasse Tyson. He’s not. And like our politics, scientific consensus is subject to change. What passes for common sense today might be considered foolhardy balderdash in a few years’ time.
So let us embrace science at every turn and let our children know it is fun. But let’s not pretend that science is always our friend. It’s going to prove us wrong at some point and leave us with very uncomfortable conclusions. But living life means facing those awkward moments and making sure your kids are prepared to face them too.
This past weekend saw a very large demonstration in New York in favor of addressing climate change. Support for helping the environment is widespread and spans a lot of political and cultural chasms. You don’t need to be a climatologist to know which way the wind blows.
Even if the case for climate change is oversold, and I’m not convinced it is, the kinds of policies that are most often advocated are policies that we already largely agree are good on their own merits. It is good to lower carbon emissions because pollutants are bad and oxygen is what humans and other animals breathe. Moving towards greater adoption of renewable energy sources is a good idea from a cost savings and energy conservation standpoint already.
Real policy solutions are always going to involve embracing policies you don’t like. No political ideology have a monopoly on the facts, and one of the things that make science so great is that it will never fall completely in line with the preconceived notions of any activist party line.
So it is with climate change. If we are going to improve the environment, it’s going to mean that friends on the left and the right are going to have to embrace or at least tolerate policies that would normally be anathema to them.
Here are five points that people should look at that will be sure to irritate the normal politics of right and left, but will be important to making environmental change.
Invest in public transportation. New York is able to be the size that it is population wise because we have a real public transportation system. It is often a nightmare of ineptitude and maddening lateness and overcrowding, but it exists and millions of people are able to use it each day. Take a look at cities that have had no planning and lack a suitable public transit system for their populations. Atlanta is a morass of strip malls and traffic jams. Los Angeles is a smoggy land of idle chrome and gas fumes. New York is more competitive than these cities because it can attract people and move them around even if they don’t have enough money for a car. That cuts pollutants and allows for more economic growth.
Limit immigration. Immigration, legal or otherwise, increases carbon emissions because it increases the population of the largest carbon emitting countries. Some environmentalists understand this but in the U.S. only the most marginalized political groups are calling for any meaningful immigration reform.
Agree to expand the use of natural gas and nuclear power. Wind and solar energy are great, but we don’t have the time or the money to increase its use enough to meet our current energy needs. Even in European countries where renewable energy is at its greatest use, it still accounts for a relatively small percentage of power use. Nuclear energy allows for maximum power generated with a small amount of fuel and carbon emissions. Also, natural gas deposits in the U.S. can now be tapped with hydro-fracking. Natural gas is cleaner and it holds the possibility of making the U.S. an energy exporter.
Start holding corporate polluters accountable. If I threw a dirty diaper over the fence and onto the White House lawn, I’m pretty sure I’d be held accountable and not only charged criminally but made to foot the bill for cleaning up my mess. Yet BP took a giant oily dump in the Gulf of Mexico and it is still in business. If the U.S. Coast Guard says you still have a mess to clean up, finish the job or go broke trying. There’s nothing socialistic about asking someone to clean up their own mess. If personal responsibility is good for me, it’s good for BP and like corporate polluters.
Keep money local. Embrace capitalism and consumerism in the best way possible and support local farmers. Buy American when you can, and that includes in the vegetable isle. I’d rather keep as many dollars as I can in the U.S.A. as long as they are still worth something. Also, it takes less energy and carbon emissions the shorter distance the food has to travel to you. It may sound like some real hippie shit, but in this case the hippies are right.
I am glad to say that baby feces has its own useless scientific name. Meconium is the waste produced after a baby ingests nothing but amniotic fluid for several weeks or months. I don’t know why it gets its own name. Early baby poop is still poop. Anyway, the good people at Street Carnage published my musings on the subject. You can read the article here.