May 4, 2012

Paul Revere's Solutions

In part one of this post I went on at length about catastrophic eco problems society is just. not. dealing. with. That blog begins with Walter Cronkite, who in many ways led the American eco awakening of the 1960's and 70's, and suggests things are getting worse, not better, on a global scale. Like most people I'd rather push all this under the rug. 

The following is one man's attempt at elucidating "what you can do" to help fix a legacy of eco/industrial conflict. In short, everything comes down to making smarter political and purchasing decisions. At best, everything comes down to being better educated and more active. But at length -- we all know the primary issue is human nature and how difficult it is to change a person's priorities. It's important to acknowledge that. 2012 is not a time of informed, united, willful, rapid change for the common good -- which is what we need. 

Sticker from my back windshield. One example of a good decision:
I drive a 2003 VW Jetta. No mods, it runs on B100. This method of
fueling (biodiesel) drives cleaner than any hybrid. I pay about 10%
more, but get 38 mpg.   

Nevertheless, if all of us knew exactly what to do about today's macro eco challenges (climate change, food depletion, natural resource and habitat depletion, toxicity, and excess waste), we might see people across the various social spectrums of wealth and influence making better investments. Talking with my friend Jim Holland who runs EcoWise yesterday, he said, "The are no green architects. There are no green contractors." What he means is ... to him, after 23 years of struggling to sell green building supplies in Austin, TX (a city that's home the world's first green building program and today has four competing green supply stores), it seems the people who hire architects and contractors (the building owners) are more concerned about price and trend than "sustainability." 

I agree. Obviously there's a market building, but not at mass scale. "Sustainable" -- normal people are just not that into you. 

Anyway -- a few years ago I collaborated on a project for Christians, "The Journey of Environmental Stewardship." Me and a friend divided solutions to the world's big environmental issues into five target categories: 1) Natural Resources, 2) Biodiversity, 3) Toxics, 4) Waste, and 5) Emissions. This project has proven super effective as a lecture to local audiences. Here is a synopsis of what you can do, regarding the most significant of those categories. 

Emissions Solutions: 

First, civilization must stop using fossil fuels at the macro level. Ouch. Not gonna be easy. Not only is peak oil "so 2007," as the Oil & Gas Industry ramps up megalithic production in Canada, Russia, the EUSouth America, West Africa, North Dakota, Texas, Australia, etc. -- but the oil is getting dirtier. And since Industry cares more about how profitable the oil is than how dirty the oil is, and since Industry has the money, power, smarts, and infrastructure to focus on increasing the next 50 years of oil profits 365 days a year -- we the inhabitants of Earth have to think big, first. 

Big. The best I can come up with is in line with Gernot Wagner's work. We need to change governmental economic policies and the global economy itself. Perhaps that begins with a shift in personal values. (Not gonna be easy.) I don't have a lot of faith here, but if we were to transition the world's 2nd wealthiest industry, Oil & Gas, and the world's "most powerful" industry, Electricity, away from creating and utilizing products that pollute rapidly (fossil fuels), we would stop making today's worst eco problems worse. 

Such transition would mean calling on private companies and governments to ditch dirty fuels, take the hit, and go 100% clean. It would mean calling on the world's megalithic fossil fuel companies to provide us with clean affordable replacement fuels -- today. Now listen, with $1 Trillion in American oil profits during the last ten years alone, couldn't the bright minds at Exxon, Shell, BP, Chevron, and Conoco could get us some clean auto fuels? 

Anyway, no doubt we'd all have to share the financial burden for transition. But consider Paul Revere's (Cronkite's) alternative - the end of human survival. Additionally, we wealthy Westerners would do well to open our pocketbooks and help finance clean fuel and electricity infrastructure in needy countries. Is it even possible that Westerners could unite to help the third world "go green"? Is it even possible for people to think and act globally? Holistically? We've certainly taken a lot. Can we be convinced it's time to give back?

Second, we must implement technologies (natural or industrial) that reduce the greenhouse gas overload already in our atmosphere. I have no idea what this means, but Newt Gingrich talks about it in his 2007 book, A Contract With the Earth. I know, God forbid, Newt, but good ideas come from all over. In his "green" book, Gingrich suggests that the only really serious way to stave off global warming is to invest heavily in technologies that eliminate excess greenhouse gasses already present in the troposphere. IMHO, this is an important idea. Come to think of it, maybe (safely) deploying this kind of technology should be our first priority. 

In addition to technological solutions that help restore balance, we must get serious about the natural ones. In short, our protection and restoration of high quality natural habitat has become a critical aspect of preserving overall biological well-being. Forests, grasslands, and healthy oceans are greenhouse gas sinks, air purifiers, heat mitigators, and more. Without natural, green sponges at scale, society will have more even uncontrolled heat and pollution to deal with . . . which is of course what the climate science projects: more heat, more pollution, more extreme weather, etc. 

So how do you fit in, today? 

Such macro projects, geez. Too big, too complicated, too depressing. 1) Be more politically active. Whether it's through armchair blogging (ahem) or weeks of Occupying (wow) or something in between - humanity needs your mild, informed, honest voice on today's environmental issues. 2) Talk. People hate to be smart at parties, among friends, or with their neighbors -- but man, we Americans are SO divided today. We must share more information. Common purpose is what enacting these solutions is all about. 3) Spend your money. You can change your transportation like I did (see above) -- and drive a 100% biodiesel fueled vehicle for marginally more money. You should: purchase "carbon offsets" when you fly. You should: eat local, this does enormously good things for eliminating emissions. You should: make sure you're using green electricity everywhere -- at home, work, school, church, accommodations, etc. Greening-up: politics, transportation, food, electricity, and your social life is the basis of a fair and inclusive, low emissions economy. 


The transformation required to save Cronkite's "Earth" (read: ourselves) is a trillions-dollars-large problem. According to the data we're way behind on starting a transition that should have begun decades ago. But be sure of one thing, the people and entities making wages -- honest or dishonorable wages, from dirty fossil fuels stand to lose and gain essentially the same as the rest of us. The Gain: a chance at building a global economy capable of supporting humanity for a long, long time. 


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