Ecology vs. Economy

I have been thinking about this a lot lately. And unforunately, I'm not coming up with a satisfactory resolution. You hear on the news all the time that we need to buy, buy, buy! We are being told that it is our patriotic duty to go out and buy things to bolster our flagging economy.

Yet, in general this contradicts what we need to be doing to be practicing sound ecology. We, the United States, already use a vastly disproportionate percentage of the world's resources, energy, water, raw material and then turn around and produce more waste and refuse than any other country on our planet. In fact the old Earth-loving mantra states: "Reduce, Re-use, Recycle." Note, it starts with reduce.

So, you see the dilemma. We are told we must consume more to support our economy, but we know we must consume less to support our planet. I know that there are now all kinds of products that are more Earth-friendly that boast recycled content, fair-trade, sustainably harvested, hand-made, carbon offset and much, much more. And of course, when I can I prefer to buy these things. I prefer even more to buy things that are used; that not only keeps said thing out of the landfills, but requires no new resources to produce and is thus, the most ecologically friendly purchase I can make.

But still the question remains: is it really ecologically sound to purchase things you do not need? Does it not still increase the resource burden? Do we not still have to use dwindling resources to source, produce, ship, and store all these eco-friendly options? Does it not commit one more thing to eventual landfill space, that we don't really have?

I don't want to see our economy fail (or get worse) as that impacts hundreds of thousands of people's ability to feed their families, have jobs, and get adequate health care - among other things. I get that. However, this has really underscored in a very concrete way- a fact I've known for a long time - our way of life is unsustainable. It is not acceptable to have a whole economy predicated on more, more, more consumption all the time. What if we had a way of life focused on better instead of more?

Will we look back at this time in 10 years and see a turning point where we, as a nation, realize that in order to move forward we have to build a whole new economic model based on conservation, innovation, and efficiency? I hope so.


Two Perils of Sub-urban Life

There are a number of things about the way our suburban areas have developed here in the Midwest that irk me. Far too many to list in a blog. So I will simply mention two. 1. The world is not a trashcan! I took a walk today from my office to a nearby coffee shop for an espresso. The weather was unusually nice and so I thought I'd get out there. I should have counted, because I think it would have been astonishing to post how many pieces of trash I passed on the way there and back. I did take note during one portion and saw: a beer can, a soda cup, a cigarette lighter, two product manuals of some sort, a couple of straws, and about 20 cigarette butts. What is up with that? The way I was raised, it was bad to litter. Unless it was biodegradable (an apple core was ok) out my car window was not an option. When did it ever become ok to consider anywhere external (i.e., not my house or my car or my yard) an appropriate place for my junk? Was anyone really raised that way? "Sure, honey, we throw our trash in the parking lot. They have maids that will come get it; go ahead." Oh wait, no of course no one was ever told that because we all know better. Yet, I still see it all the time. I could launch into the problems with our throw-away society, but I'll save that for another blog. 2. Abruptly ending sidewalks. This drives me batty. It is just further evidence that most Midwestern areas are designed for cars, not people. I had to walk in the street or grass 3 times in one mile because the sidewalk would just suddenly end in grass. I could see where the sidewalk picked up again. Why do they do this?? Why would you omit several sections of the sidewalk only to pick it up again in 50 feet? Is this some kind of forced pedestrian off-roading? Was it poor planning in the amount of concrete mix? Or maybe they are now using some complex algorithm that shows that sidewalks last longer if you keep them non-contiguous. I do not feel like it is a particularly novel concept to have a sidewalk that goes from street to street, without stopping halfway there to force you into the scraggly new-sod grass. Or muddy puddle with three straws and a McDonalds wrapper in it. If that is the case, why have sidewalks at all? Why not just have folks walk in the street in the first place? I suppose this is why I've never been asked to be a City Planner. Clearly, I just don't get it. Ok, I feel better now.


The "meltdown" - is it really so bad?

You can't possibly listen to/watch/read/discuss the news without hearing about the ongoing economic meltdown we, and seemingly, the entire world is in. To hear tell, we are in a downward-spiral that is set to trump the Great Depression if we don't act quickly and cleverly.
I have really mixed emotions about this all.
I find it frightening that we have already pumped billions into the economy. This money being used to prop up banks, car manufacturers, and other institutions "too big to fail" as well as sending $300 checks to tax payers all over the country. Yet, we are now discussing another $150 Billion "infusion" into the economy. That on top of loan forgiveness, additional government insurance and backing, and interest rates so low that they are practically paying us. Oh wait, they are paying us. With our own money.
Now, I am not a "small government" type, exactly. I approve of social programs, government oversight, regulations, etc. And the upcoming Chief is the one I voted for, and with enthusiasm. But that said, I think that part of the problem is a lack of confidence in the government itself, not just a lack of confidence in the money.
The Government has become so diffuse, so nebulous, so largely opaque, that who really knows what "the government" is involved in? I mean, sure, we know about the FDA, and Congress, and the Supreme Court. We know a lot about the Secretary of the Treasury these days, and everyone knows about the CIA and FBI. But how many of us know about the Office of Health Informatics? Or about the Office of Telehealth Technology? What about the Bureau of Labor Statistics? There are hundreds, and I guess likely thousands of government entities, organizations, contractors, offices, bureaus and programs that are running all the time. Have you ever worked with a government employee? If you have, and they are not the Secret Service, you may have noticed their sense of urgency or even success is perhaps, well, different then ours.
There is certainly a lot of room for improvement in the way our government is run, but with an economic situation such as ours, somehow it seems simpler to infuse the economy with hundreds of billions (of borrowed and returned at high-interest-rates) money than to deal with the hundreds of millions of duplications, inefficiencies and leaking productivities (or even objectives?) that make up our government.
But even with all that, I think our own economic situation is perhaps being viewed just a little askew. Because the truth is this: even with all this, we still have it pretty good. Now let me just put the caveat in here RIGHT NOW that I know there are people in the US literally starving, homeless, and facing horrific times. I know that. I know that there are literally families that are being evicted with no where to go, and families that have to choose between food and shelter. That sucks and for those people, my heart goes out.
But for the rest of us: we have it pretty good. We have houses, many of us have our very own dwelling. Not an apartment, or a duplex, but a whole house. With plumbing that is reliable and provides us with clean water every time we turn it on. We have reliable electricity and likely reliable comforts, like air conditioning and heating, that we can count on. We have more clothes than we really need (literally - no one NEEDS a closet full of clothes. We just like it, and that is all there is to it), more food than we strictly need to survive, and more comforts. We have soft sheets and beds, TVs and computers, cell phones and MP3 players, lots of meat and milk and bread, and even often cookies and chips and beer, to boot.
Look at places around the world - and there are so many - where people literally live in shacks, eat only what they can grow or trade with what their neighbors can grow, wear the same clothes every single day, and walk several miles to get water to drink or bathe in. These places are still all over the world. It is not just a few villages here and there. Even in other countries of relative wealth, the average person could not dream of owning a home, or a car. Those are truly luxuries reserved for only the very wealthy.
Yes, it scares me to think that I could be out of a job, or lose all the money in my 401k. It scares me. But it scares me more to think that we have become so desensitized to the plight of our fellow humans that losing my 401k scares me more than the thousands of people who die every day from lack of clean drinking water. In 2009, that is a fate that should face no person. When you really think about it, doesn't that seem worse?