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Sustainability, But Not If It Hurts

Sustainability, But Not If It Hurts

I attended a “Sustainability Summit” at a local college yesterday including a session on “Saving Energy and Money at Home.” There were many useful tips about saving energy in your home through checking for air leaks along household edges, unplugging electronics when not in use, getting newer high efficiency refrigerators and other appliances, turning the thermostat up in summer and down in winter and many other useful adjustments each of us can make in household management. The Union of Concerned Scientists has a book, “Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living,” which the UCC’s magazine, The Catalyst, outlines in its Spring 2012 issues. The UCC’s research “found that the average American is responsible for emitting a whopping 21 tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually.” The UCC’s book, due out in May, “offers simple, straightforward steps to cut your emissions by 20%” in the coming year. Both the summit speakers and the UCC encourage us to act altruistically to combat global warming.

At lunch I spoke at length with a man about 30 years old who works for the EPA and has the title “Environmental Engineer.” We talked about evidence of global warming, and I was concerned that he did not know the work of top scientists James Hansen and James Lovelock and their dark climate change projections. Probing, I told him about my petition calling for Congress to pass a carbon tax designed (1) to reduce consumption of carbon and (2) to cut the federal deficits the country has run for the past decade. His total reaction: “That will hurt people in their pocketbooks.” I replied that toasting the planet with our greenhouse gasses will hurt much, much more within his lifetime, and that he should be looking down the road further than the next gas station. It’s a stone wall I’ve been running into for over 40 years; it’s hard to build support for government policies that will benefit the environment, but that hurt the man-on-the-street’s pocketbook or diminish his consumption.

Individual altruism, making small adjustments in lifestyle, and being aware of what is happening to climate and natural systems are all great. What’s critical and still missing are government actions that require everyone to act with proper respect for the environmental limits we face. Building that constituency is the heart of this blog’s purpose.

Image by Martin Kingsley from Melbourne, Australia (Cashmoney) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


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