Monday, April 30, 2007

In the balance

In the current hype about global warming. Many issues are getting rolled into one and some are getting overlooked. Global warming is one side-effect of non-sustainable resource use. Of course it is a huge issue and needs to be dealt with, but there are many issues that are all interconnected and I think it's important to keep in mind all of the challenges, not just the popular ones.

Environmental public health is another huge concern. This was bigger back in the 70's when Earth Day started, and is still important despite fading from the headlines. Biodiversity loss is another concern, but unlike the first two issues, is harder to make an economic case for. Although, I believe biodiversity is important, there is not a straight line from biodiversity to our continued survival. Resource usage and waste are issues that go well beyond global warming and energy use. Water is going to be a big issue in the future. The American dream includes a big lawn, even in places where the water has to travel hundreds of miles to get there. Food is also going to be a problem as more farmland gets turned residential (or even into energy crops).

These issues are all inter-related and good solutions will help alleviate many of these problems at once. However, we have to be mindful of solutions to one problem that make others worse. Currently, there is concern that diverting corn to auto fuel is a waste of good food. This is probably true since corn is a relatively poor source of ethanol. The reason it's popular is that the technology is ready to go. Cellulosic ethanol should be much more efficiently produced once we figure it out. But do we use corn in the meantime to get the infrastructure up and running or do we use the funds currently going to corn to fund research in to better technologies. And in either case, how do we make sure that food doesn't get diverted from those who can't pay as much? This will also lead to more monoculture agriculture, which impacts biodiversity.

There is a lot to think about when trying to save the planet, but in the end any action is good. We just need to make the extra effort to find good solutions.

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