Thursday, April 03, 2008

Not So Easy To Be Green

The media’s recent green frenzy, where even PC Magazine (The Green Issue) and Reader Digest (Going Green) have jumped on the bandwagon, seems ubiquitous. Green cars, books on living green, greening your houses in local magazines, several articles in the Messenger Post and the Democrat and Chronicle on going green, and you-name-it mainstream media and the advertizing industry are hot on going green. With so much attention now adverted (from whatever craze was hot before) to adopting a ‘green’ lifestyle, it seems as though the environmentalist’s dream has come true—we are moving towards a sustainable future. “It’s easy to be green” is being promoted everywhere. All you have to do is read the label. Or, is it?

Heretical though it may sound coming from an environmentalist, I believe it is not--regardless of the plethora of green tips in every magazine and newspaper imaginable recently--particularly easy to be green. It may seem easy for some to conserve, with a change of attitude, or buying just the right product, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are moving quickly enough towards making our way of life sustainable.

The conundrum about the present rage on living green is this: Will the kind of present advice on voluntary and market-driven changes in a relatively small proportion of the population’s actions really make a difference? Check out the immediacy and scale of the problem from one of first and most respected names in the Climate Change revolution: NASA’s James Hansen: The Threat to the Planet: How Can We Avoid Dangerous Human-Made Climate Change? Basically, unless wholesale changes are made in the way 6.5 billion people on this planet live their lives, much of what we do will be too little, too uncoordinated, and too late.

Living Green is not just a way to make a buck, making oneself feel good, or simply doing you own thing in an ad hoc way. Foremost is the problem of uniformity. There is little in the way of synchronized green activity going on. In other words, it is not easy to be green because there is no uniform decision on what living a green lifestyle is, nor any agreement on how effective each innovation is having towards a coherent, world-wide environmental policy, no reason to believe that enough people are adopting green practices to do any real good, and no level playing field where everyone, everywhere is playing by the same rules. It is as if there were a large meteor about to hit Earth and our species responds by having a few hundred thousand throwing whatever is lying in their backyard up at it.

What seems to escape most people and especially our media is that there is nothing new about environmental degradation from humanity. ‘Going Green’ isn’t a craze, a media phenomenon that is going to go away when the media gets bored with it. Mankind has been destroying the balance of Nature for a good ten thousand years, since the rise of agriculture. Long about the Industrial Revolution, where you can see dramatic changes in the increase of carbon dioxide in ice core samples, we really began changing things at a very quick rate.

As a matter of fact, I suggest that one of the most profound changes human insights (on the level of Darwin’s theory of Evolution by way of Natural Selection) is the realization that mankind has radically transformed the environment on this planet. Before 1945 (the dropping of the Atomic bomb) it did not even occur to humanity, or any of the great philosophers of the past, or scientists that humankind was even capable of affecting our environment on a planetary scale. Though, now most countries (with a relatively few holdouts) have got it on how man is altering this planet.

This realization that we need to change our way did not happen overnight, though it seems as though it has in the mind of the media. So, ‘going green’ becomes a craze. And, as crazes go, people soon tired of them. As soon as Ronald Reagan convinced Americans that Jimmy Carter had gone over the top on Carter’s fears about energy consumption, the gas crises of the seventies was over, and the present rise in SUV and other gas guzzlers ballooned into the state we’re in today—the American automobile industry in crisis because it cannot compete with foreign gas-saving cars.

Instead of a rush to a politically correct green lifestyle, what we need is a deep understanding of our environmental plight. We need to understand the latency problem in global warming (our large and complicated weather system takes a while to respond) and the other problems we are incurring on the planet by our way of life. Our economies must include environmental factors, not simply as an externality, but as a critical aspect of how we buy and produce goods.

My argument: Of course it’s important that we change our lives to make our environment sustainable. However, it’s not easy to be green because it’s not a simple problem with easy solutions. Our environmental problems need wholesale political, economic and social solutions working in concert around the world. In order for things to change that will do any real good so that we don’t experience more cascading collapses like Hurricane Katrina we need to make fundamental changes planet wide.

Like the Golden Rule, we, meaning all people in all countries, should behave on this planet as if everything we do towards our environment should be the pattern for everyone else. What you do for the planet must be coordinated with all other people’s actions towards actually making major changes in the direction we are going. If you and your network of friends are car-pooling while the rest of the world speeds away down the road on gas-guzzling land cruisers, what message will Earth hear?

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