Sunday, June 21, 2009

Hope for a Messy World

One would think that the days of a monolithic weltanschauung are over, where singular views of religion, culture, ideas, even prejudices, once ruled. Now, it’s not only unfashionable, but positively Neanderthal to be continually captivated by a single view of life. Makes you look stodgy.

Yet, I tenaciously hold (despite many discussions to the contrary) that Nature rules. Moreover, it will do so even in Rochester. This seems to be an unpopular single-mindedness because in this Recession the “World is Flat” view means keep changing or you’ll get run over by new ideas, new economic models, and especially the Internet. The prevailing thinking seems to be: in this modern world, you had better streamline your operation. Better just paint yourself green and not go the whole hog. And, quite frankly, harping on environmental issues bores and annoys a lot of people—though given the wholesale consequences of environmental collapse (Think Easter Island in that chapter in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared M. Diamond) not obsessing on our environment at this moment in history seems foolhardy.

Mainstream media seems convinced that pandering to a cornucopia of issues rather than zeroing our attention on environmental changes will sell better. Some news outlets ignore the environment altogether. As I read the news, it seems more profitable for the media to report on stories about impeding or cobbling legislation like the Climate Energy-Bill or the Bottle Bill. Seems to make more sense for the media to go with the flow, that is, tone down environmental stories and balance our environmental concerns with our other preoccupations: job loss, wars, or Eliot Spitzer’s comeback—which given his brainpower and good work on behalf of our environment, may not be a bad idea.

The world, I maintain, really is flat, not just because of the Internet and zippy broadband Wi-Fi’s. It’s flat because Nature rules China, Hong Kong, Timbuktu, Rochester and everything living on this planet. Global Warming will not only change this pale blue dot, it’s going to have some very peculiar changes—according to this week’s release of the US Global Change Research Program—on the Northeast—which is where, as we all know boys and girls, Rochester, NY resides. Too, that pandemic is wreaking havoc not only on the Third world with fewer economic resources; it’s straining our health system here in Monroe County.

This week alone we learned that the Emerald Ash Borer crossed into NYS, promising to kill or affect 7% of our state’s trees. This invasive species issue was somebody else’s problem. But due to a changing environment, it’s now in our backyard. Also, a recent environmental study (something we should be doing continually) points out that all those PCB’s we’ve been dumping and allowing to be dumped are changing us. But, not in a good way.

Ok, enough doom and gloom. This week had some bright spots in our movement here in the Rochester area towards sustainability: steps are being taken on curbing pharmaceutical pollution, a new group forming to fight for water quality, our very own U of R is finding ways to save the incandescent bulb by requiring less energy, more green energy, a forum on green jobs is coming up this week, boating courses by the DEC to teach boaters how not to pollute our waters, help to green up our auto shops, and articles describing how that high-speed rail project everyone is talking about might help our cities.

So, there is a lot of hope in this messy world that that has one ruling power: the laws of Nature—not man’s wishes or his economic models (which, are presently in a tailspin). However, hope does not hinge on deluding ourselves that we are getting greener when we are not. Hope depends on putting environmental issues squarely before us, not cherry-picking the hopeful stories, as our local media too often does. The hope is that our media will switch gears and get the environment so in our collected faces that we all feel compelled to make the changes that will make our way of life sustainable.

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