Change Is Dead; Long Live Change
Monday 22 March 2010
by: Alyce Santoro, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed
The debate on climate change needs to end immediately and we need to begin focusing on ways to build a healthier society instead. How can anyone be expected to believe that their actions cause damage to the planet when they have difficulty accepting that their actions have immediate effects on their own personal health and that of their children? No additional scientific evidence is necessary to prove that lack of exercise, poor eating habits and exposure to polluted environments cause obesity, cancer, depression and a host of other diseases, or that general lack of good education contributes systemically to the problem. Even when we do know better, we sometimes continue to repeat unhealthy behaviors because, as it happens, unhealthy options are often most convenient, habitual, and because our entire culture is bent towards perpetuating them. If we are unwilling to make the connection between our actions and our physical health, it is firstly because we have other seemingly more pressing concerns, and secondly because it wouldn't do us any good if we don't believe we can afford to make the necessary changes anyway.
This is the crux of the climate debate - many people do not believe that we as a society can afford to change. Right now far too much time is being wasted discussing the validity of scientific evidence that an abstract process called "global warming" is caused by human activity. Wouldn't it be more straightforward to argue instead that pollution is caused by human activity, and that with an ever-increasing global population there is an urgent need to adopt better stewardship skills in order to successfully coexist? This is a tangible concept that requires no data or leap of faith - only gut instinct and observation.
Al Gore spent the entire first page of his recent three-page op-ed in The New York Times clumsily addressing those who deny that global warming is real. He spent the remaining two pages defending cap-and-trade and explaining how politicians have managed to get themselves into yet another stalemate. In his article, Gore displayed a stunning lack of insight into the underlying cultural and social issues that make his argument so hard for so many to digest. His discourse made it difficult even for those who are convinced that humanity is manufacturing its own destruction to feel allied with his reasoning. While it seems inevitable that some form of the cap-and-trade system - charging the largest polluters for the right to pollute - will be the inevitable next step, why on planet Earth would Al Gore of all people openly excuse any degree of polluting? If he is not going to stand up to the corporations who are contributing the most to the problem and demand sweeping, immediate cuts to all carbon emissions, who will? Making compromises before the debate even begins is how the Democratic Party lost its grip on its platform and the needs of its constituents in the first place.
Al Gore ends his article with a quote from Winston Churchill: "Sometimes doing your best is not good enough. Sometimes, you must do what is required." He states that, "Public officials must rise to this challenge by doing what is required; and the public must demand that they do so." Is Al Gore really doing what is required by endorsing a system that gives the wealthiest, biggest polluters an out? How, then, can the rest of us be expected to rally behind his cause? Many of those who believe we can't afford not to change find it difficult to muster up much enthusiasm for cap-and-trade. Wouldn't it be far more constructive to focus on campaigns aimed at giving incentives for using fewer and more efficient resources, ending as much pollution and waste as possible immediately (which includes simply raising awareness of ways to eliminate needless excess, serving to help businesses save money by operating at maximum efficiency, as opposed to regulating them out of business as some fear), setting a course towards a future of reducing reliance on non-renewable resources, rather than assuming a future of endless, ever-increasing demand, and debunking common misconceptions that prevent individuals from feeling like they can make a difference?
The recent "60 Minutes" piece on the "Bloom Box" energy cell technology (with the intriguing, if slightly misleading, tag line: First Customers Say Energy Machine Works and Saves Money) is a prime example of the kind of problematic reporting that makes people feel less compelled to take immediate action. In the beginning of the report, K.R. Sridhar, Bloom Box inventor, tells "60 Minutes" correspondent Lesley Stahl that it will require two Bloom Boxes (which cost $700,000 each in their current stage of development ... how could its first customers - FedEx and Google - possibly be saving money?) to power a single American household, while it will require only one box for European households, and one box for every four homes in Asia. Never is it suggested in the article that perhaps Americans could seek ways to become comfortable with using less - instead, it is assumed that we will simply need more expensive technology to support our current style of living. The viewer is A) not invited to examine his or her own consumption, and B) may conclude that some green magic-bullet technology is off in the future somewhere - someday it will become affordable and accessible enough, but for the present moment there's nothing that can be done.
The same sort of mythology persists with regard to photovoltaics. Many people have written off the prospect of using solar energy due to the cost - $30,000 per system is a figure often bantered about. Indeed, until solar technology improves dramatically, the system that would be required to supply enough energy to power the average American household would be extremely costly. But instead of writing it off completely, why not try first to cut one's needs down to a minimum and purchase a smaller system instead? For example, a solar system costing less than $500 (three 15W panels with a charge controller, two deep cycle batteries, and a DC to AC inverter) is very sufficient to run many basic household components, such as a computer and related equipment, stereo, sewing machine and lights. The inexpensive system would be very easy to add onto as necessary, and as it becomes financially feasible. It is little known that certain appliances can be adapted to run remarkably efficiently. A refrigerator that uses 1/10 the energy of a standard "Energy Star" unit can be retrofitted from an old chest freezer simply by changing the thermostat. Air-drying clothes on sunny days, or, if space is limited or weather inclement, simply hanging up heavier items such as towels and jeans can save a bundle (according to the Jan/Feb 2009 issue of the Sierra Club magazine, the average American household - if hooked up to a coal-fired power plant - burns 78 pounds of coal to dry a month's worth of laundry).
What if we could reduce carbon emissions, reliance on fossil fuels and energy bills by 50 percent immediately? What if a few simple actions could help to create healthier environments for ourselves and our families? This is a nonpartisan goal. We have all the technology we need to achieve it available to us right now in the form of our ability to conserve and eliminate needless excess without cutting into the bottom line or sacrificing much in the way of comfort.
If each of us were to embrace the power contained in our own simple actions, perhaps we would all feel compelled to take even the few rudimentary but urgent steps necessary to change our collective mindset and habits, and begin to influence the system from the bottom up. Perhaps the most effective way to save the planet is by saving ourselves.
 "Bloom Box: an Energy Breakthrough? First Customers Say Energy Machine Works and saves Money"www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/02/.../60minutes/main6221135.shtml.
 USE HALF NOW campaign: http://www.facebook.com/pages/USE-HALF-NOW-CAMPAIGN/316473176497?ref=mf.
 "Household actions can provide a behavioral wedge to rapidly reduce US carbon emissions." Proceedings of the National Foundation of the Sciences of the United States of America http://www.pnas.org/content/106/44/18452.
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