Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day - The Environment

Today is "Blog Action Day," where 23,327 good little bloggers have pledged to unite and write about a single subject -- this inaugural year's topic being The Environment.

From the list of resources distributed by the BAD organizers, it's very clear that there is only one valid viewpoint regarding The Environment, even though we have been encouraged to write whatever we please. One of those resources is The Nature Conservancy's "Carbon Calculator" found HERE. I took this test and really, if I were at all conscientious, I'd just cut my wrists now and free the world of 19 annual tons of carbon dioxide (although, I'm not sure what the impact is of a decomposing body...) I tested that test and found it was my two airline flights this year that had the most deleterious effect. Hmmm...I wonder how all the "green" politicians will make up for their big, fat carbon footprints during the next year of campaigning. I wonder how all these "green" activists salve their collective conscience when they attend 937 conferences during the year. Maybe they all walk to their destinations... yeah, that's it.

Honestly, I'm not cynical about The Environment -- but I'm working up a little cynicism about environmental activists and the party line we are all expected to follow. For as many scientists who have jumped on the global warming bandwagon, there are nearly as many who have yet to commit to the premise that climate change is all due to human intervention. There have even been instances reported of discrimination and intimidation toward scientists who controvert the "inconvenient truths." See HERE, and HERE. Yet, in the interest of fairness, HERE is an article claiming intimidation by the government in the opposite direction.

I am a science documentary film junkie -- they account for approximately 87.2 % of my television viewing. What I've recently noticed, however, is how insidiously supposition, fantasy and fiction are woven into the "science" of many of these films. The phrases "may," "might," "it's possible," "if," "we think" and "theory" abound, quietly and carefully laced within the narratives behind the elegant animation and photos. You really have to listen carefully to determine actual fact from entertaining possibility. The weight of our scientific knowledge is surely great -- but it's barely measurable against what we do not know.

The complexities of our atmosphere and climate, with all their interdependent factors, are among the "unknowns" in science. We know a little bit of this, a little bit of that...but, Nobel Prize aside, the real inconvenient truth remains we simply do not have the complete picture on this (or any) subject. If you doubt that statement, see what undisputed facts (not theories) you can find about the sun and sun spots and their effects on our atmosphere...and that's just a starter.

One of the benefits of aging is the perspective that the accumulation of years and experience brings. I, too, rallied around The Environmental Movement in the 70's. I've been a member of a few then-radical, now respectable, groups and I've voted strongly for Environmental Causes. Although I refuse to wear Birkenstocks or tend a compost heap, I make the most responsible choices possible these days. It is slightly hilarious to me, however, watching the current crop of greenies march in manic lockstep toward a common goal even as the science behind that goal is suspect and undeveloped.

My Green Pitch For Blog Action Day
To a casual observer, life in Europe seems much more supportive of Green Goals than our American culture. Maybe it's due to their limited real estate, maybe it's been the lack of excessive individual wealth or the innovative, pioneering American spirit, but they seem to me to have chosen the better way in many arenas, which can also correlate to living more environmentally responsibly. Where our culture embraces the LARGE in everything from homes to vehicles to lifestyles to food portions and (regrettably) backsides, those cities I've seen in Europe and the UK, and their people, seem to be satisfied with more modest and reasonable choices. Of course, one of the reasons their greenhouse emissions are lower is their use of nuclear power to generate energy...which is another whole conversation.

One obvious positive difference, though, is mass transportation, which is a fact of daily life in Europe. While public transportation usage appears to be slightly on the rise in the U.S., Wikipedia tells me that 97% of all passenger trips are still made by individual automobile. That independence, that freedom is so much a part of our own culture, yet the price we pay is high, and questionable.

In my own metropolitan area of 3 million people and over 1000 square miles, we have light rail transit that runs, usually late, from nowhere to nowhere. It doesn't serve any of the colleges or the University and covers none of the choking commuter corridors. Would I personally use public transit if it were accessible, safe and easy? You betcha. Does it meet those criteria now? Nope. Are there plans for future improvements? Not in my lifetime.

I see this as one area that could be bravely tackled with the combination of bold vision and local, State and Federal funding -- along with the necessary change in culture that could be made once we became serious about this particular improvement. Would it solve every transportation dilemma? No, of course not -- particularly for families who are deep into activities and recreation. But would it help to solve our massive energy expenditures in commuting? Of course. If millions of people in Europe can live without a personal automobile (or two, three or four), we could adapt...if the infrastructure were in place.

I don't have any answers for alternative sources for energy, for global warming, for the decimation of rain forests. a growing water crisis or the other three hundred Environmental Causes to rally around. I acknowledge my guilt and participation in a decadent American culture that uses too many resources for a too luxurious life style, and I'm mildly pleased that my own carbon footprint (and what a weird-ass term that is) is relatively small.

I'm sure if you check the other 23,326 blogs, you'll find advice galore, so here's mine:
  • Recycle.
  • Buy goods with minimal packaging.
  • If you can afford it, buy organic foods.
  • Turn off the lights. Adjust the thermostat. Walk. Ride a bike.
  • Take a train... if you can find one.
  • Vote pro-environment when you have valid evidence to do so.
  • Donate to environmental charities if you feel inclined to do so (and today is a good day for that... HERE is a list of a few safe charities).
  • Do all the environmentally responsible things you know you should, and keep faith that they actually might make a difference.
The world in 100 years will not be the same as it is now, whether due to a natural cycle or through wanton human intervention. The one thing I'm certain of, however, is the indomitable human spirit's ability to adapt to inevitable change...but I also believe that the sky isn't falling. It really, really isn't.

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