21 April 2009


April 22, 2009

Another Earth Day comes and goes with what change? One could argue that the principal environmental good in the last five years comes from the decimation of our economy and resulting fall-off in consumption. Bush is the environmental president. But of course, in spite of the grain of truth there, this is the pessimist’s view. In fact the economic issue has forced environmental concerns from present-day consciousness, and that is not good. In my view, the two are inextricably linked, and any attempt to fix one without addressing the other will lead to failure. We are in this mess because of our desire to have it now and pay later, hoping the piper would never actually come to collect. Cheap money stimulated construction of houses that weren’t needed, on land that should have been left wild (structures are the leading producer of global warming gases). And, then there is our insatiable desire for things: ever more, ever cheaper. To have them, we have shipped our jobs and economic well-being offshore and left our children with a very uncertain future. A key component for producing those cheap toys is making them in a location with low wages and lax environmental laws; this is actually an insidious transfer of cost from the consumer to the taxpayer. Because even those carbons and toxics produced by our offshore contractors are our problems as much as if they had been produced here, only worse because we don’t know what and where they are.

So the recession has actually given us a moment to reflect, a break from our pell-mell race to environmental collapse. Ironically, it seems that the only “bootstrap” that will pull us out of the mess is resumed consumer spending. But, I believe there is a different way. If we invested in our own real growth, instead of more toys, we could turn this crisis into opportunity. We are on the cusp of so many things: technologies that can provide the energy we need without the impact of hydro-carbons; creative financing techniques that can put expensive infrastructure into the hands of the average consumer.

The time is now to imbue these nascent opportunities with prospects. If we taxed consumption and pollution and invested that money in sustainable industries and infrastructures to support them, we could lay the groundwork for our children’s future. It’s easy to listen to the experts and be discouraged. The facts are discouraging. As one who speaks from the “inside” of the environmental world, and spends his time looking at the worst that we are doing, I still have hope. Miracles do happen, but they only happen to those who enable them. If we drastically stop our dirty, selfish ways, and work toward a global solution, the answers will arise. It will probably be a variety of answers: technological solutions to specific issues, nature-based solutions to others, maybe even a little help from God.

I leave you with a reminder of why we are fighting this fight to save our planet: image of African cheetah mother and cub. It doesn't get more real or more beautiful than this!

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