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.