I recently attended a meeting that was meant to be an open forum for the business community and environmental community to better understand one another. There was some clearing up of misconceptions, like just because someone owns a business doesn’t mean she wants to cover all the parks in concrete. Other misconceptions and stereotypes were annoyingly reinforced.
I considered it highly likely that someone in the audience would pull out his or her soapbox and get overly sentimental. Sure enough, some lady started talking about global warming and how she is kept up at night thinking about hundreds of thousands of Bangledeshis who will be forced out of their homes by rising waters and wanted to know what we all were going to do about it. I watched everyone, including myself, roll their eyes and shut down. To win back the crowd, I poked fun at the lady and said I planned to convert the world to renewable energy sources right after I freed Tibet and brought world peace. Though really, it wasn’t what she said, but the cliché way she said it.
This is not to say that developing countries won’t be damaged by climate change—we all will feel it, but I’m tired of environmentalists taking this holier-than-thou, purer-than-thou attitude. Also, I think that when environmentalists start talking on global scales it makes people feel pretty helpless. It’s the old belief and cop-out that a problem is so huge that individual actions make no difference. That may or may not be true, but it’s an apathetic attitude to take. The fact is that even if my efficiency and conservation actions don’t make too much of a global impact, there are tons of reasons to conserve energy and/or use renewable energy.
First of all, if you use less energy, you pay less on your utility bill. Doing things like turning off lights when you leave a room, using a drying rack rather than the clothes dryer, setting refrigerators, freezers, and water heaters to the right temperature (34-37∞ for fridge, 120∞for water heater) are worthwhile things to do, but your biggest savings will likely come from using more efficient light bulbs and appliances. One of the easiest and cheapest things to do is switch out your incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). They give off the same amount of light, but use 75% less energy and usually last for like 5-9 years. So if you rent, you’ll want to take these bulbs with you when you move. They cost a few bucks more than conventional bulbs, but since they save you money on your bill and keep you from buying a light bulb for close to ten years, they pay for themselves in a month or so. There are the spiral bulbs, vanity globes, outdoor lights, etc. Check out www.energystar.gov for all the cool shit.
Secondly, saving energy prevents pollution and saves water. Most power plants burn coal to produce electricity, which sends lots of NOx, SO2, CO2, and particulate matter into the air, among other things. These compounds, with the exception of CO2, are responsible for air pollution and acid rain, which brings nasty stuff into your lungs, dirties your skin, acidifies lakes and forests, and smells and looks bad. CO2, or carbon dioxide, is a greenhouse gas and therefore, a huge contributor to climate change. Climate change means different things for different places. Some places will get more precipitation; others will get less. Some areas will get hotter; others like Scandinavia, could get really, really, really cold. So, even if you don’t care much about the environment, if you care about more killer music coming out of Sweden and Finland, start saving energy!
Thirdly, using less energy or choosing renewable energy, like wind and solar, means less money and power for the utility companies. Energy companies are some of the nastiest corporations around, responsible for so much environmental damage, environmental injustice, and for passing these costs directly onto the consumers—us. Also, energy companies have the Bush administration in their back pocket. They are pushing (and succeeding) for a weaker Clean Air Act, outrageous federal subsidies, and immunity from environmental lawsuits. Using less energy is essentially a boycott; you buy less of their services and give them less money to fuel their ecocidal campaigns. The fossil fuel economy is based on bloodshed, greed, and war. Go see Michael Moore’s most recent flick if you need a refresher course.
To me, so much of environmentalism is about taking back my life from corporations that certainly do not have my best interests at heart. It’s about living in healthy homes, drinking clean water, and having acres upon acres to get lost in. It’s about loving animals, loving trees, loving autonomy. But it is also about making practical decisions and not forgetting about the impacts of all of our actions.