Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Fewer Calories, More Memories

Here's more evidence to support moderating one's calories: a BBC article that describes a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that found that a calorie restricted diet in 50 elderly volunteers improved their memories significantly. These same volunteers also had "fewer signs of inflammation" and decreased levels of insulin.

Want to live longer, feel better, have a smaller ecological impact, and now remember more? Eat fewer calories--and make those calories as nutritious, local, ecological and low on the food chain as possible. See the earlier essay on Right Diet for more on how to do this.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Exercise and healthy diet keeps memory strong

A new study finds that elevated blood sugar levels can have a detrimental effect on the memory. Bottom line: eat healthy (particularly fewer refined high sugar foods) and exercise. Enough said.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Wanted: Moles at ExxonMobil

Here's a little more support for the idea of pursuing a just livelihood--regardless of where you work or what you do, even if that means whistleblowing or footdragging. The author, Auden Schendler, a sustainability officer at a ski resort, noted the following in Orion Magazine recently:

"To someone who asks, “I want to establish a relationship with the divine. Can I come to your monastery?” Keating might reply, “You can have that relationship anywhere, and should.” My conversation with Keating reminded me of the many phone calls I get from eager, young, well-educated college graduates who desperately want to get into the “sustainability field.” My response is that given the scale of the problems, every job must become a sustainability job. So one approach is to look for ways to turn your own position into one that addresses climate change. If every job doesn’t become a climate job, we’re not going to solve the problem. Even if you work for the worst of the worst—let’s say it’s ExxonMobil—we need people inside the beast. We need moles. And there isn’t a job in the world that doesn’t somehow influence the changing climate."

Now, he doesn't mention footdragging but he said we need moles. What does that mean? Ideally, in his context, the worker is pressuring his colleagues, superiors and subordinates to focus more on sustainability. But how overtly? In some companies--ExxonMobil is Auden's example--how openly can you be a mole (and by definition a mole is an animal that lives underground, quietly tearing things up)? When one can't overtly change a system without risk to oneself, then whistleblowing or footdragging become justifiable. Final question: shouldn't one just leave the job, assuming one can find another job? There are arguments on both side: If you do and find a job working for a company that is receptive to becoming more sustainable, then you might be doing a more useful service in the world, helping that company grow and grow greener. But that means someone that is probably less interested in sustainability would replace you at ExxonMobil. And thus the company continues on destroying the planet with a workforce even less concerned about the consequences. But really, the world isn't this straightforward. Jobs aren't infinite and neither are workers' skills. So sometimes one can't just easily switch jobs. The big point is that if you are concerned about the long-term state of the planet (which will determine the ability of humanity to thrive in the future), then you must use your job--wherever and whatever it is--to push for sustainable business practices: whether out front in a supportive business environment, or at worst, as a mole, a whistleblower, or a footdragger.

On the Ethics of Foot Dragging

I received a comment recently on the essay "Just Livelihood" from a reader (through World Watch magazine so I won't post the name here in case the author did not expect this to be available in electronic format):

"I am writing to object to a strategy recommended by Erik Assadourian under the banner "The Living Earth Ethical Principles" (pgs 30-31 of World Watch Magazine, Jan/Feb 2009).

Where is the ethics in Mr. Assadourian's recommendation to employees of "foot dragging, an effective tactic to imperceptibly slow down down, whether by moving just a bit more slowly, filing papers incorrectly, or entering data with a small error (just a few examples). If done right, managers won't detect it's intentional (or you!)"

If Mr. Assadourian and by association his employer the World Watch Institute advocate for subterfuge and deception, let it not be under the banner of "Ethical Principles."

I am truly dismayed by the lack of personal integrity and ethics put forth by this staff member of World Watch."

And so I respond:
In his book, Rules for Radicals, community organizer Saul Alinsky updated Machiavelli’s statement “The ends justify the means,” with a question “Does this particular end justify this particular means?” Of course, the ethics of any action depends not only on the action itself but the intention behind the action (i.e. the end one pursues).

With footdragging (slowing down one’s work), if the end in mind is to get back at a boss you don’t like or because you don’t enjoy your job anymore, as happens today with millions of Americans (according to the book, I Quit But I forgot To Tell You) then the action of footdragging is unambiguously unethical. But if the end in mind is to slow down the destruction of the planet, the poisoning of communities with toxic chemicals, or the reduction of profit of a corporation that benefits from the above (ethical ends), then footdragging in this case would be an ethical means.

I admit this description of ethics is not as black and white as most people would like but neither is the real world. So let me reiterate what I said in the essay: footdragging is not the first or best option. Of course one should try to change the behavior of the company (directly through discussion or if impossible through “whistleblowing”), or if that doesn’t work, find a new job. But if those are not options, then should one do her job as effectively as possible when that means more efficiently sickening the planet or killing innocent people (even if that’s just an unintended consequence of the business)? Or should one redefine one’s job to: doing it more de-lib-er-ate-ly, more me-thod-i-cal-ly, (ok, more slow-ly), hoping in a small way to save lives and slow down the system while others build new responsible businesses that eventually replace their unsustainable competitors? Particularly in oppressive economic climates, where job opportunities are limited and overt dissent could lead to imprisonment or worse, quiet footdragging may be the only means of resistance available (as anthropologist James Scott notes in his book Weapons of the Weak). To dismiss this tactic out of hand is unrealistic at best, unethical at worst.