GOOD NEWS PAGE
The environmental movement is seizing this country. Everywhere you look, people are realizing this planet is ours to protect, not exploit. This page offers up a little of the great environmental news sweeping the country today. Increasingly, green is the way to go.
Tis' the Time to be Cheap 12.21.12
The Spirit of Christmas Past?
The season of giving is upon us. Unfortunately, it’s also the season of buying, because we’ve been told for the past 75 years that nothing says I love you like giving gifts. While it leaves little time to spend time with loved ones, giving lots of gifts eases our guilt over not having time to spend with loved ones. It also provides plenty of jobs so we can buy more gifts. This may not be the manifestation of Christmas spirit Dickens had in mind, but it’s certainly been an indisputable manifestation of economic growth since Miracle on 34th Street and such formalized giving gifts as the American measure of holiday spirit. (Does anyone doubt that Macys and Gimbels were in on making that movie?) Today, in this world of 7 billion people, there are still those making strong arguments that greater goods do come from entirely materialistic measures. But those arguments increasingly turn a blind eye to the rapid depletion of our natural resources. How do we continue to fuel economic growth and still leave anything behind for the kids we’re giving all these gifts too?
We don’t ask that question these days because the answer sucks. Our dependency on chemically controlled agriculture provides bumper crops and landscape jobs, so who cares if our ground water needs to be purified and bottled before we can drink it? Climate change and road runoff may be killing our coastlines, but plentiful petroleum means more jobs for the auto, oil, and pretty much every other industry. What’s most telling of all, of the level of ignorance this generation is indulging in? The world’s greatest superpower just elected a leader without any mention of the most serious ecological problem since the ice age. It seems capitalism’s Faustian pact trading the future of the planet for immediate economic growth has never been firmer in this country.
Let us state for the record: NBN has nothing against economic growth. We just want sustainable economic growth. McMansions and jetskies are fine provided the price of ownership reflects the economic and the ecological costs incurred. That means gas goes up to $10 a gallon to cover the cost of reabsorbing into the earth the carbon being released by those jetskies. Building a McMansion costs millions instead of a few hundred thousand. That $5 supermarket rib-eye steak costs $50 to cover the cost of purifying the ground water contaminated by the fertilizer used to produce the 8,250 pounds of feed needed to raise the cow. A filet-o-fish sandwich costs $25 to cover the cost of restoring the ocean floor ecosystem that was ruined by the trawler that caught the fish. A 2-litre bottle of Coke costs $100,000 to pay for the lifetime of dialysis treatment for the diabetic kid on Medicaid drinking it. Ok, we exaggerate, a little there.
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Right about now youshould be thinking: what the heck? Without all the goodies above, how will we eat, sleep and get to work? And what will we do when we get to work? This is where the good news comes in. This vision of the future might sound like a return to a distant past with one important exception: technology. Our standard of living as it has been measured by the folks who make Coke, jet skies, Big Macs and Hummers is going to change no matter who is in the White House, the planet is making sure of that right now. It’s just a matter of when we change and how much it hurts. Global warming is going to cost us all so much that all the jetskies, Hummers, McMansions, and $5 supermarket ribeye steaks are going to disappear. As will the industries providing them. Unemployment in those industries will jump to levels not seen since the 1930s and people will have a whole lot of time on their hands to think about what went wrong. It’s the end of the world as we know it, right? Wrong!
Now, this is living.
This is not the 1930s. Even the poorest folks today have easy internet access with computers, tablets and phones that can be bought for roughly the cost of a really fancy restaurant dinner. Those devices can be used to make money from home as never before. At the same time scientific discovery and technology are increasing demand for such services and making it ever easier to provide them. Is it far-fetched to think an unemployed coal miner can contribute to Alzheimer’s research? No, it is not. To say otherwise is to say coal miners are somehow dumber than scientists, and they are not, they just don’t have the booklearning. That’s where the spare time and the internet come in. You want to go to MIT for free? Just click on this link.
Still, all the above means we will all have a lot less cash. It also means we will need a lot less cash. Health care costs will drop because our diets will improve dramatically from the reduction in fatty, sugary foods which will cost more to produce than grains, fruits and vegetables. Our concept of recreation will also change. No more spending two-months’ savings for a week’s vacation hyperstimulating our kids at Disney World. We’ll go hiking instead and be healthier for it. No more dollar-double cheeseburgers financed by leveling rain forests. No more 6,000 pound cars moving 400 pounds of family to after-school soccer games.
We’re running out of space for this column, and probably reader interest, but it doesn’t take great leaps of imagination to see that economic growth is not the only way to improve our standard of living. In the next few years it’s going to become increasingly obvious conservation is also a great way to get greater fulfillment from life. Technology is forcing on us much more free time than in the past and a truly capitalist country can not say no to technology. What we can do is leverage that technology so that we can that spend that free time without spending mountains of money. If this sounds like a bizarre notion, Ronald Reagan economist Paul Volker was saying this in 1979 shortly before this country’s worst president took office.
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Is Energy Waste Such a Bad Thing?
Not When it Stops 10.13.10
When NBN waded into the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s International Energy Outlook of 2011 we got that anxious feeling you get when you first start thinking you might be lost in a very large forest. There are all kinds of cool things to see but none of them reassuring. The Energy Outlook report produces the same unsettling lack of global direction on the single most important global measure, energy. It’s full of eye-popping numbers like: “Energy consumption grows by 53 percent from 2008 to 2035,” and “Energy use in [developing] nations increases by 85 percent…as compared with an increase of 18 percent for the [developed] economies.” As NBN pin-ball between such startling statistics, one prediction in the study lent us something of a compass point on which to draw some conclusion: “Much of the growth in energy consumption occurs in [undeveloped countries] where demand is driven by strong long-term economic growth.”
Wrong! There are already signs that the economies in China and India, the ones cited in the study as undeveloped, are slowing down. There are also signs of citizen unrest in those countries over the environmental cost of the economic advances they enjoyed so far. And—you heard it here first, folks—protests in those countries are going to grow dramatically as the cancer, and other autoimmune disease rates, skyrocket in those countries from those same environmental costs. Add on the growing demand for energy and natural resources from the massive populations these countries support and it’s hard to see where the “long term economic growth” the Energy Outlook predicts for these countries will come from. Quite the opposite: Take the environmental damage these countries have their done to their air, water, and land; add the dwindling world demand for cheap labor these countries used to fuel their economies; multiply that by their huge populations yearning for the standard of living “developed” counties enjoy, and you start to think that these countries are screwed.
There is only one resource left that these countries, and the rest of an economically depressed world, can continue to wring additional economic growth from: increasing efficiency in the exploitation of natural resources. Technologies like photovoltaics, fuel efficiency, low-impact development, organic farming, and water purification offer the only environmentally safe, sustainable opportunities for economic growth. But here’s the rub: These technologies can only succeed, at least at their present level of development, with dramatically reduced world consumption and both will eventually mean many fewer jobs available for a growing world population. Nowhere more so than in China and India. So, NBN dares to say that the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s International Energy Outlook of 2011 is dead wrong. Global energy consumption has to plummet or we’re all screwed.
Here’s the good news. The world, with the U.S. leading the way, has been so wasteful of natural resources, particularly energy, that we could well see an explosion of economic growth as we develop the technologies to curb our consumption of those natural resources. Just imagine the work required replacing our centralized power grid with solar panels on every roof in the world. Imagine the work involved and replacing all our cars with Chevy Volts. Imagine all the work involved in upgrading our wastewater treatment plants to tertiary systems. That economic growth will have to end, if these technologies work as designed. But if planned correctly, it could well be a very soft landing where we all find ourselves doing a lot less work to buy many fewer things. It really could be that simple.