Apr 18, 2012

On Earth Day (2012)

In 2006 i produced Austin's largest Earth Day festival to date, The Sustainable Shopper's Ball. It was a grand event and an awesome team effort. The event was all dressed in pop-up tent tops, located outdoors with vendors, entertainers, speakers, food, music, activities, sculpture, lectures... Roughly 5,000 people: shopped local green businesses, learned from local green nonprofits, listened to the mayor and other speakers, watched jugglers and tap dancers and kid's entertainers, rocked to a solar-powered James McMurtry, walked their dogs, y mas. It was six hours of inclusive, green paradise. Those of us working on the event were celebrating the dawning of a new culture, one invented by our X & Y generations and the internet, one that looked forward to the end of the G.W. Bush era, embraced the idea that global warming was urgent and actionable, and believed that the necessity of building a better world would soon win the day. 

We thought light bulbs, local farmers and green architecture were most of what was needed to fix the world's enormous environmental problems. We just needed to increase enthusiasm so more people would start buying the right stuff and "preferring" a greener, sustainable world. I coined the term -- at least I thought I did because so few people seemed to understand it, "sustainable consumerism" based on the idea that consumers have more influence over business than any other force in society, and therefore, indirectly, consumers control the markets, politics, and media of our Western civilization. 

So now, six years later, i ask where do we stand? 

In 2006 we knew time was of the essence. We told ourselves we had just a few years before the battle to save humanity (and biology as we know it) from the impacts of a rapidly changing climate system would be lost. This kind of doomy-gloomy conversation was vindicated in a terrifying way when in November of 2007 the top professional in the world of climate science, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said, 
"If there's no action before 2012, that's too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment." 
In this regard every influential business and politician fell short. None of the world's local, state, or national leaders stepped up to the plate or heeded the repeated calls to "act now" issued by the international climate science community. Personal politics, profit, willful & unintended ignorance, and personal fear got in the way of making 2007 our collective turning point. Fairly said, neither the leadership nor the 'public will' were there for meaningful change and creative activists like me and my team of Sustain-a-Ballers were not well enough informed or endowed to change the game. It wasn't lightbulbs and higher values we needed, it was big-scale, rapid shifts in economic policy. "Sustainable Consumerism" and all the rest was on the right track but what our planet really needed on Earth Day 2006 was a smarter, wiser perspective from the grassroots. So please allow me to share a few 2012 ideas. And allow me to first substantiate the urgency of changing the way our economy is wired.


More Extreme Weather. 
There was more extreme weather last weekend. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration called 2011 "one for the record books." But, wait, that was before this year. A snapshot of terrible weather events over the last 3.5 months in the USA: "no winter, 2012," "worst week of tornadoes ever," "Dallas endures terrifying tornado outbreak," and last weekend four feet of hail in North Texas plus yet another deadly tornado outbreak

Oddly enough, heat waves, drought, tornadoes, cold snaps, heavy rains, and etc. -- these events match or exceed the worst case scenarios projected again and again by the world's "liberal" climate science modelers. Climate science 101 says extreme events will increase in frequency, scope, and intensity as the planet warms due to greenhouse gas pollution. Expect this and future decades to worsen to the point where seasonal patterns become completely disrupted unless we stop burning fossil fuels and start restoring forests, grasslands, oceans, and other heat managing ecosystems. 

Extreme Losses. 
Folks are now saying the Amazon Rain Forest, aka the earth's lungs, is primed for fire. (Texas lost over 100 Million trees in 2011.) NASA is concerned about the manner and rate at which the Polar Ice Cap is melting. (The same goes for polar glaciers, mountain glaciers, and ice in Antarctica.) Warmer oceans have killed 80% of the corals in the Caribbean, globally 1% of coral reefs are bleaching every year. Many believe half of all plants, animals, and birds will be extinct by 2100 if we don't eliminate our greenhouse gas emissions. James Cameron calls climate change today's Titanic. Effectively we are all endangered species, "if you believe the science." And if you don't... everything's fine. 

Big Oily World. 
I don't have anything personally against Big Oil, (Natural) Gas or the good people who work in the Oil & Gas industry, but just look at some of these 2012 soundbites:
And consider this -- In the Alberta Tar Sands alone, the Big Oil Industry is looking at 2 Trillion Barrels of marketable product. If sold at $100 a barrel the Alberta tar sands would create about $200 Trillion dollars revenue, that's roughly 13x larger than total US GDP last year. (The US is still the world's largest economy, producing more than twice the GDP of #2 China in 2011.) Meanwhile natural gas and domestic oil production are already booming in the USA. Times are good for oil and natural gas producers across the country; particularly in Texas and North Dakota. Unless drastic changes are made in the way we fuel our economy, we've a got big, oily, gassy future. How can we avoid it? These jobs pay great.

Things not changing... 

Even as our country's net emissions are increasing (pdf) and as other environmental concerns (too numerous to list) reach the critical point, such as fishery depletion, there are always things to be encouraged about. Impressively, Obama has been consistently calling for an end to Big Oil tax breaks since his January State of the Union address even going so far as to call Romney the "Candidate of Big Oil" earlier this month. But we the people need more big picture action. Any reasonably open-minded person who takes a look at today's climate science projections sees nothing but disaster in the near term. Let's try and avoid that shall we? 

Ethically speaking, some have said it's time to stop using the atmosphere as a waste dump for greenhouse gasses. I like that, nice and simple. Solutions? Gernot Wagner says it best when he says polluters must pay. And Frances Beinecke when she says regulations must be authentic.

Obama's government is working on this. The EPA's new pollution standards would reduce 95 percent of harmful emissions from Oil & Gas wells, even as the President calls for increased production, and reduce emissions from our nation's dirtiest power plants (coal plants). These proposed standards were largely driven by public outcry, by the way. Where do I sign up to show my support? How do I support  this and more?

More solutions. On a personal level, each of us needs to spend our money on the businesses and products that promote greenhouse gas-free transportation, electricity, packaging, farming, plastics, chemicals, and etc., as well as ecological restoration. Stop funding the problems through your daily life and invest in solutions to the issues you care about. (Hopefully that's saving the world.) This is a familiar refrain and it will always be true, vote with your dollars.

Finally, respond to the opposition: educate yourself on a little social psych, listen carefully to a person's worldview and share critical information. Be patient, courageous, respectful and social. This Earth Day - sure, there's progress but we're WAY behind. I'm glad to see more and more people of religious faith getting engaged. Glad to see "environmentally friendly" becoming more and more of a mainstream value. But we need to move much, much faster. I ask you to think about that this Earth Day and continue celebrating.

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