consumption


From the Wall Street Journal, “A Consumer’s Guide to Growing Green,” Nov. 12, 2007.
The WSJ is only available with a subscription, but here is an excerpt I really liked:

We’ve become such a throw-away society. How do you fight it?

The EPA says solid waste, per person, has nearly doubled to 4.4 pounds a day from 2.7 pounds in the past 35 years — filling up landfill sites and wasting materials that could be reused to save natural resources and energy.

Although recycling is important, it isn’t as effective as reducing the use of materials from the get-go. One way to do this is to buy goods in concentrated, dry or bulk form to reduce transportation and packaging costs. Favor refillable or reusable items. Pick flexible packaging materials instead of rigid packaging, since flexible packaging typically takes less energy to make and transport. Pick goods with the highest ratio of product weight to packaging weight, when possible. Example: tuna in a foil pouch rather than in metal cans.


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Rachel Carson wrote a letter to the editor that was published by the Washington Post in 1953 that can eerily be compared to environmental sentiments today… 1953!!! The best excerpt:

“It is one of the ironies of our times that, while concentrating on the defense of our country, against enemies from without, we should be so heedless of those who would destroy it from within.”

That phrase is equally, if not more, relevant in our political climate today. May 27, 2007 is Rachel Carson Day. She is an environmental icon, and most well known for her publication of Silent Spring in 1962. The mass media reacted in a variety of ways to her landmark book about consumption and toxins in our environment. Some media outlets hailed Carson as a heroine, others as a villian of modern progress, chemical companies were outraged.  

There has been a great deal of talk about the promise of ethanol-based gasoline as an efficient renewable fuel; President Bush has pushed ethanol development in the U.S. recently, and Brazil is ready to cash in even more in this developing market. However, the production of ethanol consumes a great deal of energy, and releases its share of CO2 in the atmosphere (more about this to come).

Further, an article today in the San Francisco Chronicle highlighted a study released by atmospheric scientists at Stanford University concerning some other important risks associated with large scale ethanol production and consumption.

The study shows a significant projected rise in ozone-related deaths, as ethanol (specifically E85) is NOT a low carbon fuel and its byproducts when it is combusted pose serious threats, especially in urban areas. **ethanol releases ozone, as well as formaldehyde, ormaldehyde and acetaldehyde, plus benzene and butadiene** All of these are carcinogens (you may recognize the chemical formaldehyde as a preserving agent seen in many labs – one that you’re not encouraged to ingest for long amounts of time!).

A great deal of our greenhouse gas emitting behavior stems from transportation. It seems that ethanol is not the best choice for large scale public and private investment; we may do better to pursue fuel cells and other electric means of transportation that can ultimately be powered by renewable sources such as wind and solar – to reduce our dependence on nonrenewable, polluting resources as much as possible.

The full article.

The US Dept. of State on dealing with global climate change:

“In taking prudent environmental action at home and abroad, the United States is advancing a pro-growth, pro-development approach to addressing this important global challenge.”

Obviously and understandably vague – however… pro-growth, pro-development doesn’t really work if you are going to take prudent environmental action to reduce GHG…

One of the largest errors we have made as a society is to perpetuate the belief that the only acceptable approaches to greenhouse gas and climate change management are those that do not alter our lifestyles. Those two issues (our lifestyles, and climate change) are in direct conflict with one another and our planet is sending us a clear message to reconfigure the ways in which we live. I am not suggesting total, dramatic, change – but rather we need to be open to changing the ways in which we consume resources in our societies in order to succeed in our one world.

Another ecological economist quotation:

“I think the most basic thing to understand about our global economic system is that it’s a subsystem. The larger system is the biosphere, and the subsystem is the economy. The problem, of course, is that our subsystem, the economy, is geared for growth; it’s all set up to grow, to expand. Whereas the parent system doesn’t grow; it remains the same size.  So, as the economy grows, it displaces, it encroaches upon the biosphere, and this is the fundamental cost of economic growth. You give up what used to be there.”

– Herman Daly (ecological economist)

Vanity Fair Green Issue Cover

Vanity Fair’s May 2007 issue is its “Green Issue” – I picked it up in Alaska on the way out into the wilderness no less! It features interviews with ohh-ah stars like Leo DiCaprio, Robert Redford, and some actual real activists – including an article by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Some of it is fluffy (the page insert that tells you disposable paper towels are a good idea as you don’t have to wash them like regular towels or dishcloths… that is off the mark), some is fun to look at (the pictures of stars flaunting their hybrids and organic clothes).

And some of it is right on: there is an article on one of (if not THE) biggest environmental lawsuits in world history – concerning a region in the Ecuadorian Amazon that has been devastated by decades of Texaco’s (now Chevron) oil drilling – a region known as Lago Agrio. There is also an article about those terrible organizations that focus on fringe science and global warming skepticism… the article discusses how they are subsidized by the oil industry (mainly ExxonMobil). It is exciting to think about all of the people who will read these articles that were likely previously unaware of any of these issues.

The global-warming-ready ads by Diesel can still be found littered throughout – as well as a new one that states “clothing for a changing world.” hm.

Note: 3 of my former co-workers from the State PIRGS and/or Sierra Student Coalition were featured in one of the shoots – that is awesome you guys!

Peter Barnes (historian, journalist, co-founder of a worker-owned solar energy company in California and Working Assets) believes that we need to rework our economic system, and has written a new book about it: Capitalism 3.0: a guide to reclaiming the commons. He asserts that right now, under our current operating system (Capitalism 2.0), we are squandering the commons (obviously). Capitalism 2.0 is better for our society and environment than the first system we started with (Capitalism 1.0), as there are some regulations in place and we do place value on certain aspects of our environment. Now, however, we can and need to do better as we face the permanent loss of climate zones and important parts of our ecosystems.

He asserts that our current operating system places too much power on profit-maximizing corporations that are destroying the commons, and that the government has a hand (or two) in these corporations. Not breaking news here. As far as “Capitalism 3.0” he suggests creating a “commons trust” – an entity that would limit the use of scarce commons, charge rent and share the dividends with the rest of society.

I have not yet read this book, so I cannot say much more than that. It was recommended to me by my aunt – an avid conservationist, and Professor of Botany at UPenn. I do believe that in our current economic system it is nearly impossible to accurately assign value to parts of our environment – and those that we do assign value to have a value that reflects their human utility. Further, we do need to rework our economic model to accurately assign value to our environment and think in the medium to long-term. Such short term thinking is incredibly detrimental to the environment’s (and ultimately our) well being…

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