Saturday, July 26, 2008

What's the Point? Part One

There's an important question that needs to be answered before we can get groovin' on the green: Why?

To what purpose do you want to get green, or at least a little greener?

I have boiled it down to two answers. No right, no wrong, just answers. There may be more, but these are what I have come up with: You want to go green because of environmental issues, or you want to go green because of practical reasons. Practical can be broken down into two sub-sections - money and resource availability.

Environmental issues are varied in scope and intensity. Two phrases come up over and over again - "carbon footprint" (sorry Mum)(Mum loathes that phrase - it really irks her)(mostly because people throw it around like a bludgeon, I think, and with terrific ignorance as to its usefulness)(she doesn't like ignorant bludgeoners) and "global warming". As far as I can understand it, "carbon footprint" is, loosely, the impact you have on the environment. More specifically, it's the amount of carbon dioxide you and your lifestyle put into the atmosphere on any given day/week/month/year, depending on who's doing the measuring and how they're doing it. There's a mind boggling variety in all that. There are some folks trying to offset their impact, their footprint, by going greener or buying...well...offsets.

What's an offset?

An offset is a tree planted, an investment made in green energy, a bit of dirty water or earth cleaned up, some air filtered - anything that undoes or lessens the impact of modern human living. I find offsets fascinating - I mean, unless you're doing them for yourself, how do you know, really, that people are really doing anything but pocketing your money? And people are paying themselves to offset their footprint, which makes my brain hurt. Al Gore is doing that. He uses more power in one month at home than the average American does in seventeen months. When this was made public last year, many people were outraged on both sides of the green debate - some that he uses so much, some that anyone would dare point out he was a deeply flawed man with deeply flawed behaviors...just like the rest of us.

What interests me about him is his purchasing of offsets...from himself! How do I get in on that? I know...send me a few bucks and I'll plant a tree in your name. Honestly, I'll plant the tree anyway, but if you, dear Internet, are willing to pay me to do it, why not?? For a few (thousand) bucks more, I'll install solar panels on my house, sell excess power back to the EMC and tell you all about it in a quarterly e-newsletter.

Or you can reduce or mitigate your footprint yourself. Drive a high efficiency vehicle, drive less, carpool, use alternative fuels, walk, bicycle, or telecommute. Buy organic, locally produced foods and goods. Turn off the shower between soaping and rinsing. Install greywater collection systems, rainwater collection systems, and low flow toilets. Use low VOC paints, recycled building materials, renewable resources, and insulate, insulate, insulate. Reuse, recycle, and compost. Grow or make your own. Think deeply about what went into producing everything you touch in your daily life, and alter what and how you choose to use.

Hell, just use two cloth bags every time you shop. It'll be a start.

So what's "global warming"?

Well, if our planet were a person, global warming could be seen as a perfectly natural part of the organism's cycle - we humans get warm and cool off on a regular basis - or maybe as a fever useful for getting rid of deleterious organisms in the system...which could just be us.

Our planet is a planet, though. It doesn't have a conscience, a mind, a thinking, reasoning process. It's a ball of dirt rolling along the cosmic lanes, unthinking, unfeeling, unaware. Ouch, that hurt. I love my planet, and I happen to believe that it is alive and does have spirit...but that's another story. For the purposes of global warming, I'm looking at our Earth as a system, not a being.

Stick with me...I know I'm flaky and a bit off-center and in no way scientific or educated in this, but I'm also good for a laugh with my weirdness!

For years beyond counting, our planet has warmed and cooled. I learned recently, despite the dire warnings of the green and crunchy communities, that we are actually in an ice age. It was on National Geographic, so it must be true.

An ice age? How can that be? Everyone's screaming about global warming!!

Well...perhaps we're on the back end of an ice age. I mean, if they're cyclic, we have to go in and then come out, right? And coming out...wait for it...would require...wait...warming, right??

So the two are not mutually exclusive.

What I wonder about is how we humans impact that natural process of warming and cooling. How do we measure that, when we've never been through this before? Should we even be concerned, really? I mean, if it's a recurring thing...why worry?

Except, I'm pretty sure that, warming or no, it's only since humans were around in such abundance that the air was chewable, the water flammable, and the very structure of the earth was altered because of foundations, levelling, landfills, drilling, mining, bombing, draining, watering, and every other thing we do to make the Earth what we want, as opposed to figuring out how to live with it as it is.

The answers to global warming, at least as humans impact it, are not as easy as those to carbon footprint, although some are the same. You see, to keep from influencing global warming, we'd have to give up on oil, coal, and all they produce for us. We'd have to stop burning things, go solar and nuclear, wind and wave powered, if we had power at all. We'd have t give up on plastic, on much of our modern medicine and technology, on food packaging and preservation, even food availability. We'd have to let people die of hunger, thirst, and disease.

To reverse warming? Paint the planet white and pray. White reflects light and heat, helping to cool the globe - that's one of the nifty things the ice caps do, and as they melt, it starts a vicious circle; melt, warm, melt more, warm more...

Ultimately, I haven't got an answer. We are biological beings answering a biological imperative (the biological imperative) by perpetuating and preserving the species. Everything we do is based in that.

So what's a body to do? A body muddling through life hoping not to do too much damage while maintaining a level of comfort?

I have no idea. That's the point of this blog, isn't it? Finding a way to make green mainstream...

We'll get to resource availability next time - I've aired enough of my silliness for one post.

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