SUSTAINING OUR WORLD
an All-Purpose Guru blog
David M. Guion
You want to take care of the environment and live on a clean planet. But do you get tired of environmentalists’ rhetoric?
If so, according to a report by Ogilvie Earth, you’re part of a large majority of the American public. Or if you’re not American, you’re probably part of a large majority wherever you live.
Some environmentalists express open contempt for anyone who doesn’t share their views about issues like organic food, veganism, or climate change.
Some environmentalists seem more interested in bashing corporate interests than helping people understand how they can live more sustainably.
Yet for all their contempt for industry, they seem not to recognize that renewable energy, organic farming, and green consumer goods are also industries. So they regard all information coming from the one side as lies and uncritically accept whatever the other says.
Some environmentalists make wild claims and don’t reveal where they got their facts.
So long as you care about taking care of our planet at all, I respect your viewpoint, whatever it is. But especially if your politics tends toward the conservative. Too many conservatives have forgotten that “conservative” and “conservation” come from the same root.
I’ll provide both reliable information and practical tips. And not just the same old tired advice you’ve seen dozens of times before. Check out my occasional series “The Cost of Convenience.”
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But why should you? Read on.
I was a college student in Ohio on the first Earth Day, in 1970. Students all over the country were concerned about air and water pollution. So was I. I read about it. I could see it.
Thanks to a coal-fired energy plant on campus, soot landed everywhere. Wastewater treatment plants didn’t deal with what amounted to fertilizers in laundry detergents and other cleaning products.
Algae choked the streams where wastewater was discharged and killed all the fish. Much of Lake Erie was dead. The water had no dissolved oxygen. Neither plant nor fish could survive. The dead patch grew and grew.
Can you imagine how exciting Earth Day was? It meant people all over the country cared about these problems. It meant that something would happen. Some years later, I remember reading that the death of Lake Erie had been reversed!
Problem: we early environmentalists put all our faith in the brand new Environmental Protection Agency and other government actions.
Later in the 1970s, when I was in graduate school in Iowa, I participated in a petition drive to get the state legislature to pass a bottle bill. That seemed a great way to cut down on roadside litter, which itself is a kind of pollution. And it passed.
But there is a rub and it’s really ironic.
The most immediately obvious result of the bottle bill was that vending machines no longer offered drinks in glass bottles. They all switched to aluminum cans.
Why was that a problem? The bottling companies all washed and refilled empty glass bottles. When we bought them at the grocery store, we had to pay a deposit. We got it back when we returned the empties. When we got something from a vending machine, we drank it and then returned it to a nearby bottle tray.
The litterbugs who threw glass bottles out their car windows were throwing out money. Other people had incentive to pick up the bottles and redeem them for cash.
When all the vending machines switched to aluminum cans nobody collected and recycled the cans!!!
Municipal recycling programs didn’t exist yet. When the first ones started, they were all drop-off programs. Hardly anyone participated.
Meanwhile, the litterbugs kept littering. They just tossed cans that no one had any incentive to pick up!
My political activism had not resulted in a solution to the problem. It merely contributed to making another one. A law cannot force people to take personal responsibility. The bottle bill didn’t even give people an opportunity to exercise personal responsibility!
And the result? I slowly became soured on the kind of “environmentalism” that relies primarily on getting the government to pass laws and regulations.
But it doesn’t stop there. Much more recently, I served for three years on a university sustainability committee. That experience began to broaden my understanding of the many different aspects of being good to the environment.
- “Sustainable” practices are the ones humans can repeat indefinitely. Without either damaging the environment or running out of resources.
- Sustainability does not pit concern for the environment against human economic activity.
- Sustainability does not require new laws and regulations to make it work.
- Sustainability is not imposed from the top down.
- Sustainability empowers us all.
I started this blog to pass that understanding on to people like you. Being a professional librarian, I know how to find and evaluate information. I like information I can act on, so I look for advice on what we can do as individuals to make our corner of the world a greener place. You have surely noticed that the same tired tips show up over and over again. I look for fresh ideas.
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