Saturday, April 25, 2009

Fade Earth Day

Well, it's too late this year, for the annual Earth Day idiocy is upon us, and all the “green” celebrities are consuming multi-year supplies of nonrenewable resources and spewing toxic fumes and greenhouse gases allover the planet in order to attend these events and urge action on their pet issue, global warming.

But maybe next year, we can rename the day. May I suggest Resource Conservation Day, or Human Civilization Day, or simply The Day of the Human? Because most people forget that that is really what it is all about, maintaining the planet so that it will always be able to feed us and house us and enable us to live lives that make being human worthwhile, and by the time all the attendees have gone back to their wasteful daily ways, the “green” movement will once more have failed to engage most of the population.

So it really doesn't matter what you call it. The environmental movement has done such a superb job of trivializing the issues of environmental degradation and resource depletion while alienating 90% of the population in the process, that nomenclature is beside the point. The fact is that not only does most of the population consider the Green movement trivial, but view its initiatives as elitist and fascistic attempts to control the behaviors and limit the pleasures, privileges, and economic opportunities of ordinary citizens while its promoters continue to live lavish, wasteful lifestyles that are distinctly not in keeping with either their own professed beliefs and dictates, or with the realities of our resource situation. Thus, the members of the population who always suffer first and the most from the consequences of resource depletion and environmental damage, specifically, the non-rich, are the very people most opposed to the actions and adjustments necessary to mitigate the waste of resources and environmental damage caused by our current arrangements.

Worse, the movement talks almost exclusively about Global Warming, as if there were no other or more immediate problems. Why do our environmentalists and “green” political leaders never name Peak Oil? They speak of “ending our dependence on foreign oil”, but they seem to deliberately skirt the real issue, which is that global oil reserves are depleting rapidly and that it is unlikely that we will ever again discover any “elephant” fields that will replace the dwindling middle eastern fields or collapsing Cantarell field in Mexico, on which this country has been dependent for nearly 20% of its supply.

This is tragic, because it isn't the Al Gores or Amory Lovins of the world who will suffer first or the most from escalating food prices and growing scarcity of fossil fuels or the things they supply, such as plentiful, cheap food, potable water, electricity, vaccines, heat, or basic sanitation and hygiene, as we head down the other side of the slope. Rocky Mountain Institute fellows will still be able to drive their hybrid cars to work at the Institutes headquarters located many miles from the city core, and Al Gore will still live in his Belle Meade mansion with its solar panels and other “carbon offsets” to the 12,000 Kw H electricity a year his family consumes- how does a small family use that much power, anyway? Our privileged classes most likely will never have to live near a toxic waste dump or open sewer, or in a town like Herculaneum, Missouri, where almost every home and yard is so contaminated with lead from the local smelter that the town's children routinely have lead levels in their blood twice the level considered safe, and residents are campaigning for a government buyout of their unsafe and unsaleable homes. And, of course, it will not be the sons (and, increasingly, the daughters) of the wealthy and sheltered who die fighting the upcoming resource wars that will probably define politics for the next century.

It is we, the non-rich and non-privileged, who will bear the heaviest losses as our fossil fuel supplies shrink. We are the people who will find ourselves stranded in distant suburbs rendered inaccessible and utterly valueless as 50-mile commutes, or for that matter, cars, become unaffordable to anyone who isn't in the top 1% of wage earners. We will be the people being cast out of the upper-middle and middle classes, losing our jobs and homes permanently,doubling up in overcrowded dwellings or living in shelters and Tent Cities, and scrambling for odd jobs to pay for increasingly expensive food, power, and water as businesses and industries dependent on reliable and copious supplies of fuel collapse and our best farmland is converted from food production to biofuel production, in the frantic race for dwindling fuel supplies.

It's a lot more fun to talk about “green” cars and architecture than it is to consider just where we're going to get the wherewithal to retrofit our existing buildings, let alone replace them, or how 80% of the population is going to get around without cars and how we will heat our houses when we lose our access to foreign oil and natural gas passes peak production. It's much easier to go out and pick up the trash the neighborhood slobs have spread around than it is to change our mentality regarding zoning and land use so that we can all live close to public transit and essential services, and provide at least part of our own food locally. That would mean more high-density, multi-use construction around transit hubs and fewer single-family homes; it would mean canceling new highway construction and road enlargements in favor of more commuter trains and buses, and it would mean allowing homeowners to keep a goat or a chicken or two, and allocating vacant land for community gardens and urban agricultural projects instead of building more condos to throw onto a glutted market.

But it's easier to spend one day turning out lights and wearing green t-shirts and then go back to life as usual, than it is to alter our daily habits and life arrangements to, say, cut our personal fuel consumption by 30% or more, so that we aren't completely blindsided by future oil price shocks and the dislocations they cause.

Therefore, the most urgent task for the Green Movement is to engage the general public and convince the population at large of the towering threat that unsustainable lifestyles present to their ability to live on any terms, let alone in comfort and with any level of technological amenity, as liquid fuels become scarce and expensive. People need to know that this is not an issue only of interest to the “elite”, that, in fact, many among our elite are doing everything possible to thwart positive changes and have managed to convince most people that conservation initiatives will harm them economically and deprive them of technological comforts and pleasures.

And just maybe we could just cancel Earth Day, because sustainable lifestyles and technologies need to be daily things, not just something that intrudes on the awareness of a hostile and complacent public once a year.


Anonymous said...

I quite agree that sustainability is the key. And to this end the big issue (that often gets overlooked) is OVERPOPULATION. Adding more people to our 6.7 billion is a recipe for disaster. We should be doing everything possible to humanely limit (and eventually reverse) population growth. BTW, the founder of Earth Day, Gaylord Nelson was fearless in his advocacy of addressing overpopulation. Both in the United States and worldwide.

The North Coast said...

I completely agree with you on every count.

There is no way our current population is sustainable, and there is no lifestyle change any of us could make, individually or collectively, that would avail against the sheer numbers of people. Just how far back can a person cut to accommodate the overshoot? I mean, I did the little nonsense calculation to figure how many "Earths" it would take to support my lifestyle if everyone on the planet lived at a similar level. Part of the calculation is derived by multiplying the resources your lifestyle consumes, on average, X the no. of people on the planet.

So I imput: no car, 800 sq ft apt, electric bill under $25, no kids, no air travel, buy recycled goods. Guess what, this relatively austere lifestyle would require 3.7 planets.

How many will it require if the population doubles?

You can see that even if I cut back to living in an unheated, unpowered 9'X9' shanty built of recyled cardboard, that eventually there would not be enough "planet" to support it, given the fecundity of the human species.

The best way to reduce the population is in front of us. It would not require government coercion. It requires the opposite, which is that governments and religions get the hell out of the reproductive lives of the population, specifically those of the WOMEN, and empower women instead of binding them.

Most women do not desire to have children they cannot feed. Most would rather have only one or two children. Many would rather not have any. But most women are at the mercy of governments that "privilege" motherhood and reproduction, ban contraceptives and abortion, and place women at the mercy of patriarchal religions.

Our own government subsidizes parenthood through tax breaks and other inducements, while making contraception, abortion, and voluntary sterilization extremely difficult to obtain. You can't find an abortion provider in most areas outside major metro areas. Many health plans don't pay for contraception, abortion, or tubal ligation, yet they are required to pay for exotic, costly reproductive technologies, such as in vitro,that enable women who can't reproduce to do so.

We need to advance women's rights in backward countries with the largest populations living in dire poverty and breeding out of control, and we need to remove the legal "privilege" from parenthood here and make it extremely easy to obtain contraceptives, first-trimester terminations, and tubal ligation or vasectomy here.