Friday, May 9, 2008

An environmentalist, a conservationist, and an organic farmer walked into a bar...

... the realist ducked.

Yes, it's a bad joke. Sorry. I wrote the bulk of this last summer, but never posted it. I've added a couple things here and there and a conclusion. Enjoy.

Global warming is the buzzword of the year. Going green is all the rage. Cities and towns are drafting sustainability plans. Organics are already mainstream. Local food is so big, folks are on 100 mile diets. WholeFoods is just another grocery store with over-priced arugala. The assault on school food is making headway. Polar bears are the latest species to need saving. It seems like the wolves are OK for now. Condors are coming back and the pygmy rabbits are next. Environmental justice is picking up steam. We now know it's bad idea to build schools near freeways. People are beginning to realize that there are downsides to living in suburbs. We've learned some hard lessons about affordable housing projects.

For progressives, things are great. Except there is a small problem. We're starting to get in each others' ways. Conservationists are challenging wind farms because birds get killed. 100 mile diets often require driving from farm to store to market to collect a full menu and therefore rely too heavily on cars. Diesel engines are usually more fuel efficient, but produce ugly and hazardous soot. Should reclaimed land be returned to the wild, farmed, or developed? Cities are more sustainable, but whow do you learn to appreciate nature in a concrete jungle?

Fuel cell and electric vehicles just move energy use elsewhere. Biofuels use less energy, but require land. As we are seeing this year, food is becoming more expensive. New technologies reduce pollution and energy use, but populations still grow.

More problematic is that the goals are too simplistic. We need to reduce carbon emissions. Yes. Capturing CO2 may slow global warming, but it doesn't save energy. Alternative energies are great, but we still need to reduce usage because solar and wind sources are finite, nuclear has it's own issues, and the population keeps growing.

There is, of course, far more common ground than not, but choices are not as clear cut as we'd like them to be. It is still critically important at this point to just make the world as a whole aware that there problems. As we begin to focus on these problems, though, some hard choices loom. I believe a general philosophy of sustainability will guide us well. What choices can we make that will ensure we are still here in a century or two?

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