It ain’t easy being green: an environmental rant
This was, if memory serves, the national high school debate topic during the 1975-76 season: Resolved that the development and allocation of scarce world resources should be controlled by an international organization.
We have known what was coming.
Like my brother before me, I was a debate nerd. He was better at it than me, third in state two years running, and some kind of national title in college. I took home a few trophies and tried to make a living writing instead of talking.
We have known what was coming, and done precious little about it.
That next year, instead of debating, I worked at a couple of self-service gas stations on Bothell Way, during what I remember as the tail end of the first gas crisis. The 1964 Chevelle I drove to work, and to school, got about twelve miles to the gallon. Gas went from twenty-odd cents a gallon to sixty cents. Again, if memory serves. Minimum wage was, what? $2.30 an hour, or maybe that came after. No matter.
We have known what was coming, me more than most, and put off the doing because there were lives to be lived, and nobody wanted to listen, and, anyway, we’ve talked and invented and marketed ourselves out of all kinds of trouble these last decades, why not this?
I was a debate nerd with access to the university library system. As a professor, my father could check out any book I wanted for as long as we wished, which allowed us to legally embargo every book on the topic for the season. A slightly more ethical tactic than that of our friendly competitors, who simply dropped what they wished to hold back from a second floor window.
I read everything, beginning with Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomb. Picking up again with William Howard Kunstler’s The Long Emergency.
It is too late, but this is what we are doing:
A few years back, we began an orchard. Maybe this year it will bear its first fruit, maybe not. The berries are doing better, and if the rains ever stop we’ll put cloth over the blueberries to keep the birds from harvesting our first real crop.
A couple years ago we expanded my father-in-law’s garden to 10,000 square feet, and mostly convinced him to give up chemicals. We eat out of that garden all year ‘round, now, and eat well. And chickens, we’ve been doing that for a while, though it’s a little odd to see it all trendy and stuff. Just at the moment we’ve got 75 going, 50 of them fledglings, half layers, half meat chickens (though the roosters among the layers are destined for the soup pot, too).
So now we’re moving out there, because it’s prettier than living in our small town, and there’s more room for our daughter to run, room for my wife to dabble in goats and rabbits and any other fiber-bearing, milk-producing critter she decides might be fun. And bees. The little one gets a dog of her own. Probably a pony, some day, but you didn’t see me type that.
The house we’re causing to be built this summer is the most energy efficient structure we’ve been able to figure out to cause to be built. We think we’ll be able to afford to put in solar panels when we’re done, assuming our house in town sells in a timely fashion. (Yeah, good luck with that.)
The calculation all through this is simple, and, from my point of view, brutal: I’m getting older. The bad times, if I read the tea leaves right, will come when I’m a little too old to adapt. So we’re spending carbon now, while we can afford it, trying to create a world in which we can survive, in which our daughter can flourish.
Maybe I’m wrong about all this. Maybe we’ll just live in a pretty place and get lots of exercise and eat well. I can live with that.
The New Yorker is the last magazine left to which I subscribe, and they made it to cheap to quit, for which I’m grateful. I wish to quote from one paragraph in a piece called “The Inventor’s Dilemma,” written by David Owen and appearing in the May 17, 2010 edition:
“The human race, [Saul] Griffith has estimated, currently consumes energy at an average rate of approximately sixteen trillion wats, or sixteen terawatts — the equivalent of a hundred and sixty billion hundred-watt light bulbs buring all the time. Capping greenhouse gas at a level that climatologists hope may be consistent with a global temperature increase of only two degrees Celsius would necessitate replacing all but three of those sixteen terawatts with energy generated from a combination of the most promising renewabld and non-carbon-based sources: photovoltaics, solar thermal, wind, biofuels, geothermal, and nuclear fission. And doing that, Griffith said, would require building the equivalent of all the following: a hundred square metres of new solar cells, fifty square metres of new solar-thermal reflectors, and one Olympic swimming pool’s volume of genetically engineered algae (for biofuels) every second for the next twenty-five years; one three-hundred-foot-diameter wind turbine every five minutes; one hundred-megawatt geothermal-powered steam turbine every eight hours; and one three gigawatt nuclear power plant every week.”
My daughter is seven. Just seven. What world have I chosen to leave her?
I’ll cross-post this over at dailykos, where it probably belongs. No. It belongs here, too. At least I hope it still does.