Thursday, November 19, 2009

I'm back! (where was I?)

Sorry to my many followers (that is, my family and a few old friends) for failing to post for so long. Lets face it, if there isn't money on the table it's hard to be reliable. So where was I for so long? Aside from the many illegitimate excuses for not blogging, there were a few good reasons (still trying to decide if being really sick was an excuse or a reason). Among them, I have been devouring the new LEED 2009 reference guide: "Green Building Design and Construction." I don't think I could explain it without boring the bejesus out of anyone who is not a LEED AP, but there are a lot of really good and important improvements in the new system.

That being said, I was very saddened today by a post on Boing Boing (the most read blog) about ClimateCounts, a dubiously motivated non-profit that rates fortune 500 companies on their 'greenness.' What saddened me was not the post, but the absolutely defeatist comments from the BB readers:
  • "The very idea of "green" capitalism is a logical fallacy, and most of these companies have historically atrocious records of polluting the globe and abusing human rights. Those scores are useless, completely and uncompromisingly so."
  • "The bottom line is that most of what we do to assuage our own environmental damage is pointless unless we are living off the grid in the woods growing our own food organically and wearing animal skins."
This pessimism about environmental issues is not serving anyone. It is probably true that these companies have a history of being environmental monsters, but does that mean change is impossible? Of course not. They may be reluctant, but many are making changes, and even incremental changes have a positive effect. And while I would agree that the fisrt marriage of capitalism and 'green' was nothing but pure marketing hogwash, I would not agree that green capitalism is a logical fallacy (and just to be a jerk, which logical fallacy would that be? post hoc? slipperty slope? hmmm...).

Capitalism is about economics, the green movement is about sustainability. Their goals might seem contradictory at times, but in reality they are two completely different fields which can be made to work together. The absurdity of the above argument is clear if you replace capitalism with other economic regimes: the statements 'green socialism is a fallacy,' and 'green mutualism is a fallacy' just don't make any sense. Economics and sustainability are not mutually exclusive in any way.

I am also a little tired of the concept that in order to be green you have to live in the wilderness, off the grid, and make clothes from the skin of dead animals (I wonder if that poster was imagining skins of domesticated food stock or hunting for those skins, either way not necessarily more sustainable than cotton fiber). Quite frankly, there isn't room in the wilderness for every person alive to have their own acre of farmable land, and there isn't enough natural groundwater to support that many farms indefinitely.

For better or worse, over half of the world's population are now city people, and that is why cities have become the focus of most green movements. We need a lot of infrastructure to support our current population, and spreading people out into the woods would mean more of that infrastructure, and all of it less efficient. That is why focusing on green development, renewable resources and sustainable energy is so important, and why this defeatist claptrap about it all being pointless is so damaging.

I admit that things look pretty bleak when you get down to it: CO2 has a long life in the atmosphere (exact numbers are difficult to come by) so even if we stopped burning anything right now, we would not reach stability for at least 50 years. Mercury has a much, much longer life in the oceans (it can cycle through the food chain many, many times before anything like safe deposition). But how could it possibly help to throw in the towel? So the solution isn't simple, isn't easy, and won't happen overnight. All the more reason to roll up our sleeves and get started.