Green lite and the big picture

Green is the color du jour. Publications are featuring green covers, some a spunky lime and others a stark celadon. Even the cover of a recent July issue of the New Yorker was sno-cone green, the Statue of Liberty front and center, her torch a low energy bulb lighting freedom's way.

There are some environmentalists, however, who woefully shake their heads at all the discussion of shrinking individual energy footprints. Not because they view the efforts as futile; rather, they are looking at the big picture and concluding that global warming is a problem of such magnitude that unless there is a global response &

and time is of the essence &

changing light bulbs, putting out the glass and the newspapers in separate bins, going hybrid, installing solar panels, even riding a bike instead of driving a car, represent a distraction from a far more compelling environmental mission that continues to elude us. Individuals going green is beside the point and such efforts will matter not a wit unless broad global environmental policies are instituted. Or so say some greenies.

John Lancaster writes in the London Review of Books that the scope of what confronts us as a family of man is so vast that for many, denial is the only refuge. Or we assuage our concerns by going green lite, which, according to some, is the equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Green lite nationally and internationally will never address our worldwide dependence on oil and coal nor the growing distress of our planet.

To the chagrin of the oil companies and the White House, who played for time, the debate is over. There is scientific consensus. The planet is warming at an alarming rate and feedback is taking place (meaning change will bring about other change). The unintended consequences of the rise in CO2 levels are so vastly complex and unimaginable that it is easier to ignore them than to acknowledge thus far our failure of stewardship of the planet, home to our children and their children. According to Lancaster, cold days and nights will be fewer; there will be more and bigger droughts; sea levels will rise between 18 and 59 centimeters; a greater proportion of rain will come in downpours; and environmental refugees will be the displaced of tomorrow. "We are," Lancaster writes, "entering a period of climatic change outside the experience of recorded human history, without a confident sense of what those changes will entail."

How to respond to the fact that China and India are decidedly not going even remotely green, but intent on following in the footsteps of the industrialized nations, with the concomitant degradation of their environments and of the planet? We know that what happens environmentally in China or India or the U.S. does not stay in those respective countries (as the summer Olympics draws near, listen for discussion of air quality in Beijing). Remnants of dust and pollution from China have been detected on the west coast of America.

In effect, we need to convince developing countries, large and small, to skip from the Model T to the electric car. It's a clumsy metaphor but the stakes are so high it's striking that such questions are not being posed by world leaders at international forums and solutions not being mandated with an international urgency. Without leadership &

is the UN not the ideal venue?"" and a reordering of priorites, we will, like the oil companies, continue to play for time.

Compounding the problem is the fact that the global population is expected to hit 9.4 billion by 2050, close to a 40 percent increase. As a result, the resources of our planet will be under increasingly enormous pressure.

One other point which may be an apt metaphor: In a recent article in the New York Times Magazine, Jon Mooallem pointed out that "health-conscious Americans consume 30 billion single-serving containers of bottled water a year." Most are in plastic containers. We are in the grip of a "hyperhydration" trend, he writes. Oregonians, according to Mooallem, will throw out 170 million empty water bottles annually, nearly all made of polyethylene terephthalate, or PET (a petroleum product), despite the fact that taps producing perfectly acceptable potable water are ubiquitous (or we could buy one bottle and fill it before heading out). In fact, tap water is often mentioned when discussing the contents of some of the bottled water being sold for exorbitant prices. Michelle Barry of the market research firm the Hartman Group is quoted in the same article: "We believe bottle water has become less about the physical act of hydration and more about being a companion to people... It's like their 'bangie,'" meaning their blanket. But then oil-coal is the meta-bangie, and one which we can't let go of.

Of course, as individuals, we must do all we can environmentally. How can we not? There are species to protect, habitat to shield, clean air and water to fight for. But unless there are parallel global efforts being initiated (as if the life of our planet depended on it), individual pitched battles will be, essentially, for naught. That's the big picture.

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