Thoughts on Saving the Earth

Over the past year or so I’ve become a lot more interested in the environment. Maybe it’s my exposure to the wilderness around the world this year, maybe it’s the few documentaries about it that I’ve seen, or maybe it’s just the fact that it’s become a hot button issue and I’ve been forced to take notice.

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That’s not to say that I’m some tree hugging environmentalist who knows all the issues and is going to devote his life to saving the earth. My opinion on this isn’t an expert opinion, it’s just what I’ve cobbled together from the information I’ve been exposed to as well as my personal experience.

And I’m nowhere near being 100% green, whatever that means. Although I am completely solar dependent, use very little gas, eat vegan food that’s mostly local and organic, I also spend a lot of time on planes and boats that are not particularly good for the environment.

Like most things, I put myself first. If I can do something that’s good for the environment, that’s great. If it’s going to prevent me from seeing the world, I’m not going to do it.

One big issue, though, is that no one knows what actually constitutes being green. Should you buy a 5 year old car that gets 20mpg or a Prius that gets double that?

The older car requires no new materials, but the Prius will use half the fuel. Then again, the Prius has a massive battery bank that’s full of toxic chemicals.

How about local produce that used pesticides that have leeched into the ground versus organic produce that was trucked across the country?

I don’t know. These, and other similar quandaries, are complicated questions without clear answers.

The one solution I see that can always help is to reduce consumption. One of the most shocking things I experienced when returning to the US after seven months of traveling is the bizarre obsession we have with buying stuff.

The commercials were crazy. To paraphrase most of them, “You aren’t happy? Neither is anyone else… EXCEPT for people who buy our useless contraption. Buy it and be happy.”

It was insane. Many of the countries I visited probably advertise like that too, but I couldn’t understand it because my grasp of their language isn’t strong enough.

Buying pretty much anything is terrible for the environment. It was made in a factory, probably aided by weird chemicals that were then pumped into the air or water, and was then transported across the globe to you. You threw away all of the packaging and junk that came with it, which then went into a landfill.

Later you got bored of it or sold it to someone who then got bored of it, and it became part of a landfill. Then you bought a new better one and the cycle continued.

This is something I think about all the time now. Anything I buy will eventually end up in a landfill.

I’m not totally sure that the US is the most consumer driven country in the world, but I’d bet a lot of money on it. We’re #39 on the list of greenest nations, which is halfway respectable, except that Mexico, China, and other countries whose economies basically exist to feed our appetite are WAY down on the list.

It’s not just material products, either. Our use of gas is a little bit crazy, and our use of electricity is totally insane. Air conditioning, in particular, is habitually overused. In Panama you have a little window unit in every room and you throw it on when you’re there. In America we have giant houses with whole house systems that are on 24/7.

I live in my RV with lights, a high power fan, a laptop with internet, etc., and I use about 20-30kWh per month of electricity, all generated by a 200w solar panel. By comparison, my parents use 2000kWh of electricity per month, and they have a reasonably small energy efficient house with new appliances and AC. I probably used more like 4000kWh in my old house.

Yes, we’re getting more efficient. And thankfully being eco-friendly is slowly becoming cooler and more accepted, mainly because of gas prices. But these gradual changes will take a long time to actually make a real dent in the problem.

What we really need is radical change.

We need to change our mentalities to value preservation of the earth. We need to be happier with less consumption.

We probably also need legislation to get there. I’m pretty libertarian across the board, but I saw something in Japan that made me realize that there are occasions where government regulations are the only way to solve problems.

Todd and I went to go take our host’s trash out. In his complex’s trash area were at least 6 different bins you have to sort your trash into. Burnable, non burnable, metal, paper, different plastics. There were penalties for not doing trash properly, so everyone does it right. Compare that to our participation in recycling programs.

At the same time, I never really become an alarmist about these things because I have great faith in our scientists. When something is ACTUALLY a problem that affects people’s lives, we take care of it. That’s the free market. I’d like to see things taken care of now, but I believe that before the earth becomes a barren wasteland, the scientists will fix it.

This is what happened with with gas. It got so expensive that people started whining about it, and then all of a sudden we come up with fuel efficient cars.

Anyway, two things I do that maybe you can do as well:

1. Go out and enjoy nature. If we appreciate it we’ll naturally take better care of it.

2. Buy less stuff.

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