Going Green Shorted in the Ideas Market

The New York Times Business section has a review of the book Green Gone Wrong in which the reviewer finds the book partially on target. Much like Bill Maher’s If You Drive Alone, You Drive With Bin-Laden, the major complaint with Green Gone Wrong is that it does not level with the reading public on the major environmental issue – US consumption of 20-25% of the world’s resources given only 5% of the World’s population, cannot continue. This elephant-in-the-room echoes Bill Maher’s argument, the American public is not being told unpalatable, ‘you-must-sacrifice’ truths.

In Maher’s case, US dependence on Foreign Oil from unsavory sources was not matched by calls for sacrifice and retrenchment in how we consumed oil until prices reached $100++ per barrel. Now the economic downturn has given an artificial reprieve in oil consumption and therefore prices; but only slowly is the move to alternative energy sources being made and that is being “fuelled” by global warming as much as as the depleting domestic oil stocks. But the broader issues of reining in conspicuous, wasteful energy consumption by the public still gets soft-pedaled.

Likewise Heather Rogers complains that much of the Green Revolution has been been co-opted by increasingly vacuous symbolism as in the Worldwide Earth Hour when people gather for 60 Minutes of turning off the lights [ and then back on again for the 23 hours and 364 days of the year]. These events like Earth Day are mostly one-shot reminder salves rather than cumulative efforts at environmental improvements.

Yes, as reviewer Devin Leonard points out, Rogers is right these symbolic efforts and the move of large capital businesses towards Green are being dissipated by the economic downturn. But the more fundamental problem is Sustainability versus an American economy built on Consumption. Sustainability says that the US cannot afford Conspicuous Consumption, Planned Obsolesence, and even Disruptive Innovation without incurring unsustainable environmental injuries and basic attacks on human livability. That is Today’s Conundrum. There is a basic contradiction that will get only worse as China and India with 40% of the the World’s population adopt US style consumption patterns [China now has more new car sales than the US and they are growing by 20% per year contributing to ever more severe pollution problems in China]. The US has prospered by means of Conspicuous Consumption – now that the whole World is moving rapidly to that economic model , basic human Livability is in danger. It is this wrong or missing emphasis, only glancingly covered in Green Gone Wrong, that reviewer Leonard finds fault with author Rogers.

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