Note: I recognize that on paper, waltzing into San Antonio cold to deliver a convocation speech to 7,000 University of Texas students, professors and administrators that begins, “Excuse me if I’m a bit bloody and covered in milk” and continues to urge abandoning oil and “the hate shouters on cable,” was a bit risky, especially considering that the local basketball team is named after a spur.
But every one of my closest advisors (that is to say, my Sweetheart, my two-year-old son, and my hiking buddy KB) told me not to change a word. And, once again showing I have a better pro bono advisory team than the White House seems able to hire at any price (here’s a hint, guys: look away from Harvard), the fifteen minute speech in the packed university basketball arena went over so well that Dr. Ricardo Romo, the President of the University, who happens to be the first Texan to have run the mile in under four minutes (and the fellow in the mustache on stage right in the pomp-filled photo), asked for a copy.
So I thought, why not post it here as the latest Dispatch?
President Romo, Distinguished Educators, and Future Leaders of the World:
Hi. I’m Doug Fine, and you’ll have to excuse me if I’m a little bloody and covered in milk, but I stand before you today a Digital Age citizen who has spent the last three days midwifing and then affixing two profoundly cute newborn goat kids to their mamma’s teats. And — and here’s what I think is key — I learned how to do that via solar-powered Internet. And so, I posit, can you.
I mean, not that you necessarily have to be a goat herder â€“- although I do so enjoy putting that on my tax return alongside “writer, journalist, organic cowboy and neo-rugged individualist.” Haven’t been audited yet, I think largely due to the graphic goat birth photos on my Web site.
Note: With these little Pans, by the way, I continue the tradition here on the Funky Butte Ranch of naming goats after singers I like, but whose voices I think sound goat-like: the new kids are Bjork (the white one) and Bette (the one with gray markings).
But the point is, my goats’ milk means my family gets healthy, local protein no matter what happens to the economy, to the box store, and to the less sustainable sides of globalization.
That’s my message for you today: whatever you do, folks, incorporate sustainability into it. Now, what do I mean by sustainability? I mean a lifestyle which can keep going, generation after generation. I don’t mean suffering. I don’t mean eating steamed dirt in Birkenstocks. I’m talking about what I think is the route to keeping our society prosperous, and helping other societies become more prosperous.
In other words, I’m not living on a ranch in the middle of nowhere New Mexico because I love playing with cute baby animals. All right, I’m partly doing it because I love playing with cute baby animals. I’m doing it mostly because I’m trying to prove — to myself — that living a sustainable life is possible without giving up Digital Age comforts.
Along these lines, here’s another example of how easy it is to live in a way that continues to allow a human species on Planet Earth: I drove to the El Paso airport on my way here on vegetable oil power yesterday (well, mostly on vegetable oil: I actually ran out partway, but that was my fault for not checking the grease gauge). That’s right, many of you know I converted a Ridiculously Oversized American Truck -â€“ what I call the R.O.A.T. — from diesel to grease power. Before I left the Funky Butte Ranch to come speak to y’all, I ate my chickens’ eggs for breakfast while watching an old episode of the Simpsons on Hulu — again, solar-powered.
So here, once more, you see the message that I’m trying to convey to you as you begin your higher education. Don’t let anyone tell you something is impossible. The experts of nearly every era have been proven wrong — the naysayers are probably professional lobbyists paid by the old energy powers like petroleum and coal. Anyone who tells you solar and wind are too expensive is just wrong. What’s too expensive is to stay on coal and oil until it runs out. And, in a lovely win-win, by converting to a smart sustainable grid, we’ll employ millions — this an issue you guys are going to care a lot more about in four short years.
The most important decisions you can make, Roadrunner Freshmen and Women, are personal. I don’t care what your background it — urban, rural. I don’t care what your ethnicity is. We have one planet we all share. Think of it as a neighborhood. And we’ve got to take care of it top to bottom — water, air, transportation, everything. The good news is it’s easy.
And, if you think you’re unprepared to live sustainably, let me assure every one of you that you couldn’t have it any harder than I did when you set out to make a personal transition to sustainability — which I urge you to do. I grew up in the New York suburbs back when Madonna was less than seventy-years-old. I ate enough McNugget Val-u-Meals to qualify for scientific experiments. And as for the mechanical skills you might think necessary to install solar panels or drive on vegetable oil? Folks, when I started my sustainability effort and wrote Farewell, My Subaru, I couldn’t build a dog house. I still can’t but now I know the right friends to have.
While I hope you’re inspired by these words, and believe me that sustainability can and must be imbued in every part of society in order for our species to survive, the message isn’t just for journalists and writers and experimenters — this effort carries over into any field, any endeavor which interests you. Don’t let anyone tell you that what you imagine, that what you dream, can’t be done. It can. I’m doing it. If it’s in your head and in your heart, you can probably map it on to the real world.
Even as you begin your studies at this wonderful institution, also be your own educator — I know you can, because you’re at least eighteen-years-old, and just last Thursday, my two-year-old son watched those goat kids being born — I call that biology class. He totally got it — he thought it was so cool. Forget about learning everything you needed to know in Kindergarten — this kid’s got it before pre-school.
So here in Texas, find your own sources when you’re doing your research — please don’t listen to the hate shouters on cable. They’re paid to poison your brain. And once you have tracked down sources, find out who’s paying them. Connect the dots in your life: everything you eat, wear, play, speak into, listen to music on — it all came from somewhere on this very small planet.
Here’s an example of what I mean by connecting the dots: on the same day that I read of 40 billionaires accepting Warren Buffet’s challenge to donate 99% of their fortune to “charity,” I read that his Berkshire Hathaway investment group bought a stake in Exxon Mobil. Now, I like Warren Buffet, as much as you can like someone you’ve never met. He seems like he’s got a heart. But in my view, the number one thing a well-positioned human can do to be “charitable” to the planet and its inhabitants, is help the rest of the humans transition past petroleum.
I wore these old Carhartts to this solemn ceremony today (or maybe I should say they wore me) to remind me of this — these are what I call my Hypocrisy Reduction pants. A mere four days ago, as I said, I wore them while mucking out the corral in advance of the goat births — transferring the dirty straw to my admittedly weed-covered garden for organic and very effective fertilizer. Now I’m giving a convocation speech in them. Don’t worry, President Romo, they’ve been cleaned by solar-powered washer since then. And line-dried in the sun.
The point is I’d like to follow my own advice and connect all the dots in my life and have all of my decisions make internal sense. And the connecting thread is sustainability. I even think about how and where they’re made: these are Carhartts, made in the U.S. and not assembled, at least, by a 14-year-old making the heaven-knows-what the minimum wage is somewhere in Asia or Latin America. These are things we’ll do well to think about as we plan the sustainable economy and society of the future.
Now, I’m acting as though my conversion to near carbon-neutrality was a piece of cake. Let me not paint too rosy a picture: the truth is, there are two major downsides to living the sustainable life — one is, on vegetable oil power your truck exhaust will smell like Kung Pao chicken and thus give you a terrible case of the munchies. So whenever possible, don’t drive hungry. And second, living a healthy, happy, increasingly self-sufficient life might lead to…an intense fertility.
Within a year on the Funky Butte Ranch, both my goat and my girlfriend were pregnant. But I assure you, I am only responsible for the human pregnancy — that’s my story and I’m sticking with it. More on the goats and why I think everyone should have a couple of the little mischievous Pans at my talk here on campus later today.
The major thought I want to leave you with here, as you begin your college career in this historic town, is that you can have fun while doing all of this — spring break road trips? Frisbee on the grass? No problem — just make them sustainable. Work to get your grid power — all of America’s grid power — on to solar or wind and off of coal, gas and nuclear. Work to get your vehicles propelled by something other than petroleum — sure, I use waste vegetable oil, maybe you’ll invent a kick-butt battery.
I would suggest that all decisions in your lives be framed with the awareness that your backyard is planet-sized. And guess what? Here’s a fringe benefit: even if it sounds a little crystally and a little New Mexico whoo whoo, I am ready to declare that I think knowing my food, clothing and power sources has resulted in my happiest me. Yes, living Green will make you live longer and better. Or at least it is doing so for me.
I can assert that for me, the strength to overcome the easiest, meanest, low-primate or even canine way of behaving, and then to be brave enough to operate by a wizened kindness, feels like a work-out that can’t be beat. One day I’m sure there will be studies confirming its benefits in areas like “cardiac health” and “overall contentment.”
I always remember the words of Edward Abbey, who said, “It is not enough to fight for the land — it is even more important to enjoy it.”
I’ll leave you with the anecdote my vegetable oil mechanic told when he was converting my R.O.A.T. — the Ridiculously Oversized American Truck — from diesel to grease power. This guy is no crunchy Birkenstock-wearing, oatmeal-eating hippie. He’s a two-tour Iraq vet and still on active duty in the Air Force. He told me that he had an epiphany one time as he was landing his chopper in-country, and taking fire. He said time slowed, and, Matrix-like, he could see the tracer bullets skirting his bird. Then suddenly he saw a loop: the people shooting at him at that moment were getting their ammo from the countries his taxes were paying to buy oil, to put into his chopper, to fight the people who got their ammoâ€¦And it occurred to him. “Hmm. Wouldn’t America be stronger if we just took petroleum out of the equation?”
So remember, Green is not some liberal fuzzy plot invented by your uncle in Berkeley who smokes the funny cigarettes. Green, my friends, is patriotic. If we are smart enough to convert to a sustainable society and economy, it’s not only going to save the planet. The Sustainable Economy is going to save our country. Tap into it here in your studies, and in your private life — even in your meals. You won’t be sorry.
Incorporate sustainability into every decision you make. Think about the energy that goes into your electronic devices, your clothes, your everything. Not because it feels nice to hug a tree or save a gorilla — although it does — it probably even feels nice to hug a gorilla. But because you’ll be a hero saving the Earth even as you go about your everyday life — studying to be a doctor or an actuary, partying when you should be studying, whatever. Do that sustainably, too. You don’t have to give up a thing — just figure out how to make it Green. Have a great time here at beautiful UTSA, and thank you very much for having me.
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