Enough about climate change!

Coal-fired electric plant

Coal-fired electric plant. Are greenhouse gases the only thing wrong with this picture?

I just read yet another tiresome article by someone dismissing corporate efforts at sustainability. After all, they weren’t addressing climate change or global warming!

Some companies are redesigning their entire transportation system to save fuel. Some companies are working to achieve zero waste to the landfill. Hello. Doesn’t less fuel mean less emission of greenhouse gases? Doesn’t zero waste to landfill mean that the company is no longer contributing to the greenhouse gases that arise from there?

Oh, but I forgot. These corporations are engaging in sustainability to increase their profits. Oh, the evil, wicked corporations and their greed! They don’t act on noble motives. So their work on behalf of the environment doesn’t count because of their tainted motives.

What motivates green?

pollsI have seen some poll results lately about who makes up the environmentally conscious part of the American population. It seems that little more than 15% of the population is motivated by such issues as global warming or what’s good for wild animals.

That doesn’t mean only 15% care. It means that only that many make lifestyle decisions based on factors like that. Another 15% or so are green deniers, people who for whatever reason reject the entire notion of acting for the good of the environment.

The rest of the population occupies a vast middle ground. It stands to reason that a group that comprises about 70% of the population would not all be of a single mind. Some are more altruistic. Some are more interested in personal payoff. Some act in order to feel good, others out of a sense of obligation or duty.

Why should any of that come as a surprise?

Sustainable Green Homes is certainly not the only blog that shows people how to go green in order to save money. I might add that landfills are expensive to maintain. Some jurisdictions must haul trash out of the area because there are no nearby landfills. If enough people and companies take action to minimize their contributions to the landfill, we should eventually get a tax break! Now there’s motivation!

Unfortunately, a lot of people find guilt a powerful motivator. Polls indicate that the greenest Americans are also the most guilt-ridden about the environment. In other words, they suggest that the people who are most diligent about being friendly to the environment feel the most guilty about whatever it is they are not doing. That’s not emotionally healthy.

Green action beats ideological purity

There is a common stereotype of the “greenie” (a young woman, a Democrat with money) who looks down her nose at anyone who doesn’t drive a Prius. She works for environmental street cred by campaigning for political candidates who will vote for expensive and intrusive government programs.

A little reflection and common sense should say that it’s just a caricature that doesn’t describe any actual people. Be sure that the people who make themselves most visible and audible in their calls to action on climate change are making more sacrificial green lifestyle decisions than less dedicated people can ever imagine.

On the other hand, consider the climate change skeptics who perhaps use cloth bags and reusable water bottles instead of plastic.  Why? Because they hate litter, and besides, some stores give them a discount of a nickel for every cloth bag they use for their purchases.

Don’t laugh. They’re doing their part to reduce not only litter, but the demand for new plastic bags and bottles. Speaking of climate change skeptics,  did you know that the Tea Party has joined the chorus of people who want Georgia Power to increase its use of solar power?

I have yet to hear any action that some say is necessary to combat climate change that is not also necessary for some other environmental reason. Many of these actions have personal benefits that have nothing to do with the environment.

energy star saves money

Even global warming skeptics like to save money!

People who specifically care about the environment should be glad when anyone takes environmentally friendly activities for any reason whatsoever. And encourage more of the same.

I recently made a similar point in a discussion forum, and someone brought up I concept I hadn’t heard of: Jevons’ Paradox. It states that as technological efficiency increases in the use of a resource, total consumption of that resource may not decrease, as expected, but increase.

In other words, it does no lasting environmental good to use, say, gasoline more efficiently if that means driving the price down and encouraging consumption and therefore production of more of it.

But I have to wonder? What does that have to do with climate change? Enough already!

Photo credit. Coal-fired electric plant: Some rights reserved by lowjumpingfrog.
Sources of other illustrations unknown.


Comments

Enough about climate change! — 2 Comments

  1. David,

    I recently found your blog and I can certainly appreciate the balanced view you take (though I’m sure there are plenty of things we could debate about). I agree that every positive action should be seen as such, not just scolded for not being enough. It’s a balance though, because the truth is it’s not enough. Even after things like the Clean Air and Clean Water Act, the nature of our air and natural waterways are still in a great need of help–certainly better, but confusingly poor for a first world country. After a while, the “I’m doing my part” bit is either true or not and the truth of it is based on what those efforts (or lack thereof) leave us with.

    “I have yet to hear any action that some say is necessary to combat climate change that is not also necessary for some other environmental reason. Many of these actions have personal benefits that have nothing to do with the environment.”

    I couldn’t agree more. I think the environmental lobby made a mistake when it put all it’s eggs in the climate change basket. What we should be teaching and advocating for is sustainability. Like you said, there are a huge number of topics under the umbrella of sustainability with each being more important to different groups of people in different parts of the country, but in all cases progress on any of them probably have positive results for climate change as well.

    What I don’t subscribe to is the misconception of people that think sustainability is a technological fix to a wasteful lifestyle. The danger in this perception is that it lets people think that with enough gadgets and gizmos they can basically live the same way they’re living now and all problems will be fixed.

    On the contrary, sustainability is the lifestyle. It’s not a product, it’s a mentality that revolves around the idea of balance and stasis where in the inflows of energy equal the outflows (as you touch on a bit on your home page). I agree that everyone isn’t a die hard green-living missionary and that we don’t all have to be. On the other hand, change to our lifestyle is required in order to achieve any meaningful change for the biosphere (which is in our best interest).

    • Thank you. I agree entirely that sustainability is a lifestyle change and not a technological quick fix. I”m hoping that putting my eggs in different baskets from so many other environmentalists will give my readers the information and encouragement they need to start making those changes.

      Now that you’ve discovered me, don’t be a stranger. :)

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