Sacrifice is not an option.

25 04 2008

The hipstigentsia of the left in America are, and have been, up in arms about the environment, but in the last few weeks the tenor seems to have taken a little pitch upward. This latest burst seems to come at the behest of a few things:

  • piles of articles like this one showing just how stupid an idea ethanol was (there was a more prominent one in Time, and another in Mother Jones for all the good liberals)
  • more articles like this one implying that we’ve been dragging our asses for far too long, even in the supposedly more “aware” EU.

Far be it from me to dispute that either above cited articles contains at least a generous strain of truth. But I think the core problem has nothing to do with either of these things.

Why have we created global warming?

Because we consume tons of resources, and consumption of those resources do some terrible things to our planet.

Why was ethanol a stupid idea?

Because we relied on agriculture to solve our resource-consumption problems by attacking the latter half of the above problem–the destruction part. Ethanol won’t bring as much environmental blowback, so… it’ll allow us to continue as normal with a clean substitute. Ethanol makes for great copy–Bob the Small-Time Farmer and his wife Betty Jo, farming us out of our problem. Unfortunately, your bottle of Ms. Butterworth’s Maple Syrup will start talking to you before Bob and Betty Jo and small farmers like them make up even one tenth of the agricultural machine that grows the cane and corn for ethanol. Factory farming means that vast amounts of resources have to be consumed at once (read: large bits of “environment” burned for farm land).

What should this teach us?

The problem is not WHAT we’re consuming. It’s THAT we’re consuming.

You can build 800 million solar collectors in the Mojave Desert to try and solve the problem. OK, sure. Where are they manufactured? With what energy? How are they transported? Maintained? Monitored? All these things will require energy from the coal-fired utilities industry. Eventually those processes may be able to replace (i.e. power) themselves, yes. But then we lose the Mojave Desert. Is it worth trading for the Black Hills and Appalachians, Glacier National Park and the Grand Canyon? Yeah, probably, now that I think about it. But we still lose part of what we’re (supposedly) trying to save. And we lose time burning coal while putting them in place.

If anything, these recent developments have lit a fire of more people demanding immediate action. But this is usually expressed in more “mainstream” media (especially television) as some sort of happy-go-lucky “keep supporting GE” or “your Congresspeople are hard at work on this”, because the reality is:

To adequately combat climate change, Westerners accustomed to luxury will have to sacrifice even more than the generation that clawed its way through World War II.

I’m not talking about “every other Wednesday we leave the TV off to help the environment”. I mean “all Americans using over (pick a number, put it here) KwH per month must reduce their homes’ power consumption by 10% by June 1st”. I mean “all American auto manufacturers must increase their consumer fleet’s average city mpg to greater than 50 mpg in 5 years.” I mean “all Americans who drive to work by themselves must carpool at least 2 days a week next week if they work at a company with more than 30 employees.”

Unless we start shooting for the moon with REQUIREMENTS, we will never wean ourselves off our cycle of rabid, vapid, endless consumption. To bring up yet another talking point swarming through this debacle of a debate: we will also never convince India or China to do the same in their process of developing their infrastructures of production unless we first lead the way. Anything else would be worse than disingenuous.

You will never hear this point of view mentioned in the mainstream media. No one wants to risk giving off the impression that Americans and American companies might have to cut back on their intravenous feed of wealth and commodity.

In my humble opinion, Gandhi’s policy of “set an example” will not work here. The insatiable desire for consumption will not be ousted by a guilt trip. Money has no conscience.

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