Posts Tagged With: What’s the difference?

Almond Milk (and Banana Pancakes)

Turns out that finding enough time for blogging during the schoolyear is a lot harder than during the summer. Who knew, right?

Anyway. The past month has been filled with a lot of personal achievements for me, but one of the most surprisingly easy was almond milk. Wait, you must be saying, what? Almond milk isn’t a personal achievement! No, but it is. For years now, I have been looking to entirely eliminate dairy from my diet, and I think, finally, I have.

A little backstory. I have been vegetarian since before I was born. Everyone in my family is vegetarian. I was raised without the option of eating meat, and I have never had the desire to take it up. People ask me if I feel angry at my parents for “depriving” me of the “choice” by raising me veggie. I’m not quite sure they understand. Growing up veggie, I tell them, didn’t deprive me of anything, except perhaps the air of self-satisfaction that comes with rebellion against the norms of one’s childhood. I think of eating meat as like getting tattooed: If an independent and informed adult decides to do it, well, that’s one thing, but parents have no business tattooing their children, or feeding them meat, before the child can decide for him- or herself.

But, of course, there is one respect in which eating meat is not like getting a tattoo: it is not a purely self-regarding action. If you’re eating meat, then there is an individual person—not a human person, perhaps, but a person nonetheless, with a conscious mind—who had to die to provide you with that meat. For me, it isn’t the eating, per se, that’s the problem: it’s the killing, and the infliction of pain that precedes it. This applies to both humans and nonhumans. If, upon my death, you were to eat my body, I would have no moral problem with that (though you might have a digestive problem with it). However, if you were to walk into my room and torture me to death, I would have a moral objection to that regardless of what happened to my body afterwards. I don’t care how hungry you might be, that would not be acceptable behavior.

The problem, though, for a vegetarian like myself, is that a whole slew of “animal product” foods, though they don’t intrinsically require cruelty and murder, are only available (to those of us living in cities, at any rate) through systems which do intrinsically require these moral atrocities. I have personally milked a cow on a small farm in the middle of nowhere, and while I doubt that I would enjoy the experience if I were a cow, I’m not sure the milking itself qualifies as cruelty. But  the milk available to me here in New York City is going to be, for the most part, coming from factory farms, from the kind of places Isaac Bashevis Singer was talking about when he wrote that “in relation to animals, all people are Nazis; for the animals, it is an eternal Treblinka.” And I can’t stand the thought of supporting those places, however indirectly.

Eliminating dairy has been easier for me than for most, I think. I never drank milk or ate cheese in the first place; I’ve always hated them. Ice cream…well, I needed to eliminate that from my diet anyway, dairy or no. So that basically left me with yogurt (which I ate a lot when I was younger, and since then have only really eaten as a way of weaning myself off ice cream) and foods with dairy ingredients. Since I live in a residence hall without a kitchen, eating my food from the communal dining hall, this hasn’t really been an issue, but once I am living elsewhere, and cooking my own food, it could be. In particular, I was worried about the breakfast foods: cereal (a staple of mine growing up) and pancakes (which I would have eaten every single day of my childhood, had it been up to me).

At the beginning of this month, I discovered banana pancakes. Caroliena, from Polyprotic Amory, was the one who taught me how to make them. They are virtually identical to “normal” pancakes, but the butter is replaced with bananas, which holds the batter together in much the same way. It’s also healthier, tastier, and, most importantly, dairy-free.

I was surprised by how easy it was to just strike the offending ingredients from the recipe. Banana pancakes have quickly become one of my favorite foods. But even after this, it came as a shock to me when I tried eating a bowl of cereal with almond milk.

At first, I thought it didn’t taste any different. After a couple of bowls, though, I started to realize that I preferred the taste of almond milk to dairy milk. If only I had known about it a decade and a half ago! I could have been eating much tastier cereal all these years! In fact, if I had been given this milk growing up, maybe I would actually have liked drinking milk, rather than finding it repulsive. It gets better, too: whereas something like soy milk requires quite a bit of processing apparatus to create, making almond milk takes nothing more complex than a bowl of water and some form of strainer. This is the kind of thing you could make without using anything more technologically advanced than pottery! Almond milk is amazing. I am never ever ever going back. And that means, finally, I am entirely dairy-free!

Once you start looking for alternatives to what you’ve been doing all your life, it’s amazing how quickly you can find something better.

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Looking Forward to Visiting Home

In about a week, I will be heading back home to Berkeley, California, to visit my family and friends back home. I can’t wait. I’ve been thinking about the trip a lot lately. Planning what I want to do while I’m home, figuring out what I want to bring with me, that sort of thing, yes, but also thinking about all the things I miss about Berkeley. I’ve loved the time I’ve spent living in New York, but there are some things that I find myself wistfully reminiscing about when I think about going back home. Here are some of the top contenders for “things I miss the most about Berkeley.”

1) Being able to see the sky…. After my first year in New York, I flew home to the San Francisco airport, fortunately avoiding Asiana airlines. When I first came out of the airport, and was on my way home, I found myself marveling at how much of the sky I could see just by looking out the window of the BART. (BART is short for Bay Area Rapid Transit, for folks who aren’t familiar with it. It’s the subway system for the whole Bay Area, and it costs about ten times as much as the NYC subway; I don’t miss that part.) I felt like I had flown to Montana by accident. Here in Manhattan, in the course of a normal day, you only really see little patches of sky, never the whole sweep from horizon to horizon. You never get the “inverted bowl” effect here. Instead, you’re always just catching glimpses of these fragmented slivers of sky between the skyscrapers. I miss being able to look up and see nothing but sky.

2) …Especially the stars. During the day, since work and classes often keep me indoors a lot of the time, the absence of the sky isn’t quite so bad. But at night, when the city is all lit up, blazing and blaring and bright, you can barely even see a single star. It’s not as though there isn’t light pollution in Berkeley, too, but on a clear night, you can clearly and distinctly see whole constellations, even walking down a brightly lit street. From the hills up above the city, you can look out and see the whole sweep of stars across the sky, It’s not as clear and pure and bright as the view of the Milky Way from Deep Springs (a tiny little self-sufficient college/farm in the middle of nowhere along the California-Nevada border), which is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my entire life, but compared to the featureless blackness above New York, it might as well be.

3) The smell of the sea. Even though Manhattan is technically a lot closer to the sea proper (as opposed to the Bay) than Berkeley is, you’d never know that from the air. In Berkeley, there is pretty much always a sea breeze, and it actually smells like a sea breeze. It’s cool on your face and salty on your tongue. In New York, it’s often windy, but the wind just doesn’t smell like anything. (If you’re lucky.) Of course, the fact that the summers here are so much hotter and wetter doesn’t help; right when you need a refreshing sea breeze, you instead get a blast of garbage-scented wind, as hot and humid as can be.

4) Radical philosophy and politics. New York is way too staid and conservative for me. Yeah, I said it.

5) Random piles of free stuff everywhere. Yes, really. See, people in Berkeley have this thing about leaving stuff at the curb. I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else. I mean, yes, I’ve seen (and occasionally even claimed) things left on the curbs in New York, and in other places, but Berkeley folks are just on a whole different plane of existence when it comes to free curbside scrounging. You can literally find anything on the curb in Berkeley. Each year, NYU organizes this “Green Apple Move-Out” program where students leave their stuff in big bins to be donated. Anything in the bins is fair game until the bins are taken away for donation, however, so anyone who stays for the summer (e.g. me) can just go down to the basement of their residence hall and find basically anything they could possibly want. In Berkeley, that’s just what walking down the street is like. Every day. Anything and everything that people don’t need or want, they just give away, for free, to random anonymous strangers. Now that’s what you’d call “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,” right?

You can find furniture, clothes, shoes, bags, appliances, lamps, antiques, bicycles, sports equipment, vast collections of books and films…even expensive electronics, from cameras to computers, if the weather is good. (Watch out for anything with a piece of paper taped to it that just says “WORKS,” though. It probably doesn’t.) And, on the flipside, anything of yours that you want to get rid of can simply be left on the curb, no disposal necessary. No matter how useless, broken, gross, or otherwise defective an item might be, it will be gone within an hour. You may not be able to imagine how there could actually be a single person on Earth who would find your item useful, but trust me, that person exists, and they live in Berkeley. One of my father’s colleagues, a longtime Berkeley resident, once joked that in Berkeley, you could leave a dead body by the curb in front of your house…and it would be gone before you got back to your porch. I’ve personally never tried that one, but I wouldn’t bet against it.

So, there you have it. That’s a little tribute to the spirit of Berkeley. There is so much more, of course, but these are some of the most significant things I miss about Berkeley itself. Naturally, I’m looking forward to seeing friends and family, but it isn’t just the individual people I miss, but the place itself. The feel of it. If I could get a full refund on my plane ticket now, and magically have all my family and friends come visit me here in New York instead, I wouldn’t do it. I miss Berkeley itself, and I can’t wait to be headed back there, even if it’s just for a couple weeks before the schoolyear starts up again. Goin’ ‘ome!

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Getting Up Early. Really Early.

I should get up early more often. Maybe not as early as I did today, though.

See, for me, this morning was one of those mornings when you wake up long, long before you planned to, but can’t fall back asleep. To be precise, I woke up at 2:35 in the morning. To put that in context, as though it wasn’t absurd enough already, it is not a rare occurrence for me to stay up past 2:35 AM before going to sleep in the first place. (What can I say; I’m in college.) I had gone to sleep very early last night, but by “very early,” I mean 11:30 PM or so. Now, I don’t care how many folks tell me that the Ubermann sleep cycle is actually a thing; three hours of sleep is significantly less than you need to get in a night. So that wasn’t the best thing that could have happened.

But here’s the thing: despite the fact that I hadn’t planned to wake up that early, despite the fact that I didn’t get nearly enough sleep, I’m really grateful that it worked out that way. Because I’m the kind of person who stays up late, reading or writing or working or thinking, I forget how precious those silent early morning hours can be. Something about the stillness of the sleeping city creates this sense of freedom, as though time has somehow been paused, and you’ve been given this extra little bubble of space and time in which to work on whatever it is you need to do. It’s both a relaxing feeling and a motivating one. This time-out-of-time doesn’t feel as though it really “counts” against your day, so even if you get nothing done, you aren’t losing valuable “actual” time. You’re free to be unproductive. But by the same token, because it feels like you’ve been given this secret extra time that isn’t supposed to be there, you feel inspired to make the most of it.

I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call myself a “morning person,” since it did take quite a lot of tea to propel me from “can’t sleep” to “actually awake,” but I feel as though I’ve rediscovered something special that was there all along. Back when I was in high school (I can’t believe I just said that), I would have to get up by 6:00 AM every morning from sophomore year on, because my school district thought it would be a genius idea to make sure that anyone who took Advanced Placement science courses either A) couldn’t participate in any kind of extracurricular activities after school or B) had to start class at 7:25 AM. These AP courses all required an additional lab period, which was only available in the hour before school started or the hour after it ended. Anyway, because I had to get up so early regardless, I found myself getting up earlier and earlier, using the time before school each morning to work on my schoolwork, or get some writing done, or just sit and read. Some of those predawn hours were among the most productive times in my life.

Since starting college, however, I’ve been spoiled by remarkably lucky class timetables, with next to nothing scheduled for any earlier than 9:00 AM. Between that and the natural temptation to stay up late, either alone or with friends, I’ve ended up going to bed later (and waking up a lot later) than I did a few years ago. I bet I probably get a healthier amount of sleep now, on the whole, but sometimes I think I might actually be more productive in the mornings than at night.

So, I’m going to test it out. For the next few weeks, I’m going to make myself go to sleep before 1:00 in the morning, and wake up before 7:00 AM. It will certainly be easier than usual to fall asleep (and stay asleep, hopefully) tonight; I’m exhausted. The waking up is the tricky part, or, at least, it will be tomorrow morning. We’ll see how it goes. Maybe I’ll even start blogging in the mornings, rather than at night. Who knows?

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Just Jealous? Why I’m Angry about Wealth Inequality (and you should be, too)

I’m going to be upfront about this: wealth inequality, both within the USA specifically and on a global scale, is a hot-button issue for me. It’s one of the political problems I care about the most. That’s why, since I live in New York City, I actively participated in the Occupy Wall Street protests at Liberty Square right from the start, or close to it. As a full-time student, I didn’t camp out there, and I would have felt a little guilty doing so anyway, since I couldn’t commit all day every day to the protests, but I was down there quite a bit. When discussing those protests, many of the things I would hear from fellow students were variations on the theme of: “You’re just jealous.”

As they saw it, the only reason anyone would protest against the vast wealth disparities between the top 1% (and, especially, the top .01%) and the rest of us was materialistic envy. According to this theory, I was protesting because I felt entitled to the same level of wealth and power that these über-elite banking executives enjoy, and I was demanding that they simply hand this kind of economic “success” (so-called) to me. After explaining to me what my motivations were, and why that meant that protest was misguided, these generous souls would then kindly offer me some advice on “more constructive” ways to deal with my jealousy of the banksters. The recommendations typically fell into one of two categories: 1) Sit down, shut up, get back in line, find a job at a bank, work hard, save up, and get rich myself (this advice typically came from the business school students), or 2) Remind myself that I don’t really even want to be rich in the first place, and just calm down already, because what was there to be so jealous and upset about?

Now, I’m not blaming the folks who offered this advice, or saying that they were being intentionally or willfully unhelpful. Both these ideas would have been great solutions, if my classmates had been diagnosing the problem correctly. If my anger at wealth inequality really did stem from jealousy, then either one of these solutions would have worked excellently, if I had taken it to heart and lived by it. They were, in a sense, right answers. They were just answering the wrong question.

My problem with wealth inequality isn’t that super-rich folks have nicer shit than I do. Indeed, by my own aesthetic standards, their lives are mostly a lot worse than mine. For example, my actual living quarters are a lot closer to my dream home than a giant empty mansion would be. I don’t like a high level of technology in my living space (or, really, on my planet). If someone handed me a billion dollars and made me spend it all on myself, I certainly wouldn’t waste it on luxury yachts and big-screen televisions, even if I were acting out of pure selfishness. Those things just simply don’t appeal to me in the first place.

In fact, my problem with wealth inequality isn’t, strictly speaking, even with the inequality itself. That doesn’t bother me. Some people are taller than others, some people are stronger, etcetera, etcetera. My sister, for example, is taller than I am. No big deal. But here’s the crucial difference: She didn’t cut off my legs to achieve her height. She didn’t get taller by making other people shorter. In the case of wealth inequality, however, that’s precisely how it works: the elites gain surplus by depriving the masses of what we need to survive.

I’m not against wealth inequality because the rich have more than they could ever possibly want, but because the poor have less than they actually need. I’m against it because while billionaires zip around in private jets and decide the future of the world, at least one billion of their fellow human beings have never tasted clean water. I’m against it because while executives take home six-figure annual bonuses in addition to their salaries to pat themselves on the back, one in four children in America is on food stamps because their families can’t afford both food and rent. There is enough of everything to go around in this world, but because the distribution is so massively imbalanced, almost all the world’s wealth is in the hands of only a few hundred individuals. And while they feast, the world starves. It is monstrously unethical to ask the “have nots” to simply ignore the lives of the “haves,” and enjoy what they’ve got rather than feeling entitled to something more. Most of the humans living on this planet, and even millions upon millions of people in the richest countries in the world, haven’t got enough to get by. It’s not about trying to get ahead, it’s just about wanting, for once, to be allowed to break even.

Assuming that people who are angry about wealth inequality just wish they were rich is like assuming that feminists just wish they were misogynistic. It completely misses the point. I’m angry that there are rich peoplenot that I’m not one of them.

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Support Elizabeth Warren’s Banking Bill

After the catastrophic banking crash that led to the Great Depression, the United States passed some laws to make sure the same thing never happened again. Chief among them was the Glass-Steagall Act, or the Banking Act of 1933. This law required that investment and commercial banks be kept separate. What’s the difference between the two? Well, pretty much everything. Investment banks gamble (legally, mostly) with investor money, playing the odds on Wall Street and trying to generate return on investment for their investors. Commercial banking, however, is what most of us think of when we think of banks. A commercial bank accepts deposits from average everyday people, who store their money with the bank because they have faith that keeping it in the bank is safer than keeping it under their mattresses. The commercial bank then turns around and makes loans to other everyday people, so that we can buy houses, cars, education, or anything else too expensive to afford out of pocket. That’s pretty much the primary way a commercial bank generates revenue: collecting interest on those loans. In turn, this allows everyday people to put their money in savings accounts, and collect interest of their own. The bank has confidence that you won’t withdraw all your money all at once (because it’s all your savings!), so they can lend that money out and collect back an even bigger sum in little monthly intervals.

But here’s the problem: these two kinds of bank had merged in the “roaring twenties,” because it was more profitable that way. A combined investment/commercial bank would use depositor money as collateral to back up its massive, risky bets on Wall Street. In other words, the banksters would gamble with depositor money—yours and mine. The balance of your bank account was just a pile of poker chips to be placed on a stock the bank was hopeful about, and if they were wrong, well, it wasn’t their money in the first place. Think about it: if you were gambling with someone else’s money, wouldn’t you take more risks than you would with your own life savings? These banks did. And their risky speculation crashed the entire world economy. (Sound familiar?) When the investment banks went under, they took the commercial banks with them, which meant that basically everyone lost their life savings overnight. The banks just didn’t have the money: they had bet it all and lost. When average citizens all went en masse to withdraw their money, they were met with locked doors.

Obviously, that’s a pretty awful outcome. In the aftermath, the Glass-Steagall Act (named for the legislators who co-sponsored it) was passed to prevent investment banks from gambling with depositor money ever again. Sure, if someone gave them money and specifically said “Here, invest this for me,” they could gamble with that; it wasn’t as though they made investment banks illegal. All this law did was prohibit those investment bankers from also setting up commercial banks, luring the common folk into depositing their money, and then gambling with our life savings on risky Wall Street financial bubbles. Nothing could be more reasonable.

And so, of course, it was repealed in 1999.

At the time, Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) warned that getting rid of Glass-Steagall would lead to massive destabilization of the world economy by the boom and bust cycles of the investment banking industry, but his protests were drowned out by the enthusiastic endorsements of the vast, corporate-owned majority in both the Senate and the House. And in a few short years, the world economy was pulverized by the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. We are still living through it now. But here’s the worst part: nothing has actually been done to fix the underlying problems that allowed that collapse in the first place. You think things are bad now? The entire world economy is just a ticking time bomb, waiting to explode at any moment and send us into a downward spiral that may end up being worse than the original Great Depression.

That’s why it’s so important that Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic Senator from Massachusetts, is finally reintroducing a revamped, reinvigorated version of the 1933 Banking Act, the Glass-Steagall Act, that gave us fifty straight years (1933-1983) without a single banking crisis, let alone a global economic collapse. Not only that, but she has co-sponsorship from across the aisle, even including former Republican Presidential candidate John McCain (R-Arizona). Resurrecting Glass-Steagall is possibly the single most important legislative step that can be taken to fix the catastrophically unstable financial system we have today. And it’s certainly far and away the best legislative step that’s actually being proposed by actual legislators.

So, what can you do about it? Well, you can start by heading over to Elizabeth Warren’s website and signing her petition to the rest of Congress. You can also find a similar petition on the Bold Progressives website, where over 157,000 people have already signed. And even more importantly, you can spread the word about Elizabeth Warren and her bold efforts to genuinely bring us common-sense, desperately needed financial reform. This is the kind of bill that shouldn’t even need to be debated; it should pass unanimously. Of course, because virtually every legislator in Washington is deeply and irredeemably corrupt, it stands very little chance right now. But that’s why we, the people, need to be scoring this vote. Anyone and everyone who votes against Elizabeth Warren’s new banking bill will officially be showing us their true colors. They don’t represent us, they represent the moneyed interests who bought their votes with campaign donations. And when our representatives no longer represent us, it’s time to find new representatives.

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Calling Shotgun on Spy Drones

Now here is the kind of hunting I can get behind.

A little town called Deer Trail, Colorado, is considering passing an ordinance that would offer a $100 bounty for shooting down a government spy drone. I love it. They even specify that the drone must be shot down with “a 12-gauge shotgun.” For pretty much the first time ever, I actually find myself appreciating the stereotypical American “shotguns solve everything” frame of mind. When reporters asked the town’s residents whether they had considered the legality of such a measure, one resident responded: “Is it illegal? Of course it is. But it’s also illegal to spy on American citizens.” That’s a damn good point.

The NSA, our most prolific spying agency, claims that their spying is legal, authorized by section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. However, according to the precedent set by FISA courts, that is actually not the case: section 215 can only be used to authorize spying on specific individuals under targeted investigation for specific crimes. Even according to the Republican representative who wrote the freakin’ PATRIOT Act in the first place, Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, the blanket spying is illegal. In fact, Sensenbrenner is so furious about the NSA’s interpretation of his law that he is threatening to repeal his own bill if the NSA continues its shady practices. “You have to change how you operate section 215,” he warned the NSA, “otherwise you’re not going to have it anymore.”

Seriously, though, is anyone out there comfortable with robot spyplanes buzzing around over our heads? I’m certainly not. And neither are the folks in Deer Trail. I love that resident’s response in the previous paragraph. It reminds me of Roald Dahl’s excellent little story The Magic Finger. The American government seems to think that they can get away with whatever they want, because they aren’t above the law; they are the law!  In other words, “we allow ourselves.” Well, the town of Deer Trail is saying, two can play that game.

There’s something else this story reminds me of: the 1984 film Red Dawn. This film, written to evoke support for the plight of the mujahideen fighting to liberate Afghanistan from Soviet occupation, uses a simple but highly persuasive rhetorical device: “Well, what would you do if the Soviets invaded your country? Wouldn’t you join in the guerrilla warfare against them? Wouldn’t any red-blooded ‘Murrican?” It was a good point. (Though the American government should probably be kicking themselves for giving those freedom fighters all those funds and weapons, since some of them went on to found a little group known as al-Qaeda.)

But here’s why I love what’s happening in Deer Trail. Imagine how that small, gun-loving, deeply conservative town would react if the drones flying over their heads were dropping bombs. On weddings. On funerals. On any males age 18 and up who own firearms, which I’m guessing, in a town like this, is all of them. And then on the ambulances and medics that respond to the crisis. Well, that’s exactly what the U.S. government is doing all over rural Pakistan. Seriously. And we wonder why there are more and more people willing to join up with anti-American terrorist movements? We wonder why there is such rage and hatred directed at the West? Well, how would you feel about a government that did this to you? This town is basically threatening armed retaliation against drones when 1) they haven’t actually ever seen any over their town, and 2) even if there are drones over their town, those drones aren’t even armed. So what do you think the reaction would be if government drones started bombing that town? Well, what would your reaction be? Given how outraged these folks already are over the unarmed domestic drones, perhaps some of the folks on the conservative side might want to rethink their approval of the American drone programs abroad, too.

Now, I’m going to make it clear: I doubt that this ordinance will pass, or have any effect even if it does. But the spirit behind it made me smile. We have to stop the US government’s drone programs, both at home and abroad. Whether the drones are murdering civilians or just spying on innocent citizens, they are never a force for good. They should be left on the scrap heap of history.

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“Removing Invasives”

I spent most of the day today doing volunteer work with Million Trees NYC.

The primary purpose of this group, as you might have guessed, is to plant one million trees in New York City. However, despite that, most of the work we did today was, in a sense, the opposite. The site I was volunteering at was a park area where new sapling trees had been planted several years ago, right when the project was starting. Our primary task today was, as the fellow from the parks department put it, “removing invasives.” Those saplings still aren’t full-grown trees yet. As such, they are still vulnerable to being strangled by vines and shaded out by other opportunistic non-native plants like burdock. So, to ensure that the trees survive to reach full growth, we had to prune back these invasive species.

It was good, hard work, and I understand why it had to be done. I’ll admit, though, it felt a little weird to me to be volunteering with an organization whose specific mission is to plant things…then spending most of the time actively killing plants. Yes, invasive species are a threat to native ones. But part of me couldn’t help feeling like we had something backwards here. There we were, killing the plants we didn’t like because they were outcompeting the ones we did. That seemed eerily like the kind of attitude that got us into the current environmental crisis in the first place, including the problems of non-native species invading and disrupting the balance of the ecosystem.

And it would have made sense to me if not for the fact that we were working right at the edge of a highway. Why is that relevant? Because, seriously, how can we pretend to care about the disruption to the ecosystem caused by invasive species when we don’t prune back the one invasive species that started these problems in the first place: ourselves? Instead of spending our effort fighting with these invasive plants about what the species composition of the green areas will be, isn’t it more important to fight for larger green areas, and reductions in the concrete deserts? Are we planting these trees because we actually care about trees, or just because we think trees are pretty? It seems a little weird to care about oak trees, but think that burdock is nothing but a nuisance to be chopped down.

Here’s the important question, as I see it: are we just planting these trees to beautify already green areas, or are we planting trees to expand the green areas and push back against the grey? Now, to be fair, I don’t know what that area looked like before Million Trees NYC got there a few years ago. But what worries me is that environmentally-minded people might be spending their efforts on things that marginally improve human quality of life within the city, through increasing the aesthetic appeal of our surroundings, instead of focusing on driving back the concrete and replacing it with ecologically viable land.

Again, I’m not saying that invasive species shouldn’t be fought. What I’m saying is that the most dangerous and high-profile invasive species is ourselves. If we win the fight against every other invasive species, but continue to allow our own sprawl of life-crushing concrete to go unchecked, then none of those other victories means anything, not in the long run. If we want the ecosystems to stabilize, then we need to stop fragmenting them into little bits and pieces, stop paving them over just to make our economy more convenient (in other words, to make our system designed for destroying the world more efficient, so that a tiny number of humans can get even more money at the expense of the long-term survival of the entire species). I felt that I was doing good work today, making sure that the invasive species introduced by globalization, and colonial imperialism before it, don’t gain a foothold in disrupting the new ecosystem that Million Trees NYC was creating here. But at the same time, I couldn’t help but think that even a giant morass of nothing but weeds and mugwort would be infinitely preferable to a paved concrete road. Yes, I’d rather have a healthy ecosystem with thriving local plants, obviously. But the difference between a stable ecosystem and one rich in invasive species seems less important than the difference between having an ecosystem at all and being a concrete wasteland.

It’s the concrete wastelands we should be pruning back first, not the invasive plants. Suppose all the invasive species take over. Yes, the ecosystem will never be the same; but in time, in will achieve a new equilibrium, if we leave it be. Even an invasive plant is still a plant, still a living thing, and where there is life, there is hope.  Where there is concrete, there is nothing but despair.

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