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Going Green

 

David Mackay’s free book was eye opening and informative. While reading I couldn’t help but think how revolutionary it would be if everyone in the world were to read it. It was written in the simplest, yet most informative way, while still being entertaining to read. It covered all the bases attending to carbon footprints, green energy, and climate change, assigning this reading to someone previously unaware of these issues would, I believe, give them a completely different outlook on the decisions they make.

One chapter that I found exceptionally interesting was “Putting Costs In Perspective”, in which MacKay covers how much we spend on things such as military, tobacco, and subsidies, all of these things have money into the billions spent on them whereas funding for alternative energy is surprisingly low. These numbers give hope to a more sustainable future because it shows that we actually have a chance to spend a lot of money on green energy if only we were to invest in it. The money is available, we just have it invested in other, and perhaps less necessary, things. After all, I cant think of many things more important than preserving the planet each and every one of us live on.

However, there was another chapter that I found a lot less hopeful, and that chapter was “Can we live on renewables”. I found this chapter a little depressing because it shows a massive gap between how much energy we consume and how much energy is thought to be available. In this chapter MacKay states that “for any renewable facility to make a contribution comparable to our current consumption, it has to be country-sized. To get a big contribution from wind, we used wind farms with the area of Wales. To get a big contribution from solar photovoltaics, we required half the area of Wales. To get a big contribution from waves, we imagined wave farms covering 500 km of coastline. To make energy crops with a big contribution, we took 75% of the whole country.” Now obviously, wind farms that cover entire countries are not an option for most places, and using other countries’ resources will bring up an entirely new set of problems, but we need to learn to cooperate and make sacrifices if we hope to make a dent in our energy consumption and fossil fuel addiction

Electric Cars?

In the reading for Thursday, May 24, David MacKay, author of “Sustainable Energy-Without the Hot Air” discusses the various options for environmentally friendly transportation. In the end he decides that electric public transportation is often one of the best options for green transportation (ruling our biking and walking, that is), but he also advocates strongly for electric cars, a less environmentally friendly, but more desired mode of transportation. I often find myself on the MAX, in too-close quarters with my fellow sniffling and sneezing citizens, so I understand why private transportation is more desired.

 

MacKay states that “electric vehicles can deliver transport at an energy cost of roughly 15 kWh per 100 km. That’s five times better than our baseline fossil-car, and significantly better than any hybrid cars. Hurray!”

Throughout the chapter, MacKay seems openly optimistic for the electric car’s future; he defends it against criticism and appears bent on its success in the “green future.” (Although this contradicts his words in the preface where he mentions not feeding the reader his opinion) This optimism seems well founded, as he provided pages of supporting evidence, and I don’t doubt that the electric car is one of the better advances in transportation. However, I still have a few worries for the electric car’s success, and while I am by no means an expert on these electric cars, a few concerning questions come to mind.

As MacKay states, electric car batteries wear down and are expensive to       replace, therefore, if a car is advertised as having a 100-mile range when fully charged, I would worry that the range dwindle down drastically as the battery  degrades. Just as a laptop battery life diminishes dramatically as it ages

Electric cars are also very expensive, and I’m not sure many citizens are ready to take that leap. They are expensive not only with the initial cost and charging, but with installing home chargers, replacing batteries, taxes, and paying to fix the kinks that may not have been worked out of these new vehicles.

Also, I am not sure what happens to these expired electric batteries, but a bulky 500-pound lithium-ion battery pack seems difficult to recycle, and improper disposal might undo the good accrued through years of zero-emissions motoring.

I want to emphasize again that I am not anti-electric car, I would just like to point out a few notes that common citizens might stress.

 

One Step, Two Step, Red Step, Blue Step

The reading for May 17th, -Michael F. Miniates, “Individualization: Plant a Tree, Buy a Bike, Save the World?” was strongly opinionated and negatively critical of the Lorax and ideas that promote “planting trees and recycling to save the planet”

I found this reading overly judgmental and I disagreed with a large percentage of what it was arguing. While I agree that it will take bigger steps than riding a bike to work rather than driving, I believe the author conveyed his message in the wrong way. I found that Miniates belittled the average American citizen, as if calling them stupid for recycling. I think his message could have been better conveyed if he wrote with more facts, facts that show the average American that the key to preserving the environment is more elaborate and wide spread than the type of tuna you purchase. I found his writing technique harsh and abrasive, more of a guilt trip than helpful information.

I believe that, while it will not ultimately save the planet, the small steps such as recycling and “eco-friendly” products have their place, and the people who follow these small steps should be commended rather than belittled. Without these small steps there wouldn’t be the opportunity or awareness to reach larger steps. These small steps light a spark and compassion for environmental preservation, they are a step everyone, even the uneducated and unwealthy, can take. These acts act as a starting place for the rising activist, and while some stop at the small steps, there is an opportunity for some to develop the incentive and knowledge to make changes with more impact on the environment.

People willing to take the time to recycle, bike to work, or generally care about what happens to the environment at all are not as prevalent as necessary, so the few we have should not be criticized for what they do, because often times they are unaware that there are more important steps to take, or are unable to pursue further action. These people need to be educated, they need to be provided with the necessary knowledge required to preserve the planet.

Books like “The Lorax” are the first steps for many activists, young and old alike, and while it may be the first step of many, or perhaps the only step, at least it is a step at all.

When I think back to most of the great social or environmental movements throughout history, most of them have a prominent leader attached to them. Names like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Junior stand out with the civil rights movement. Jane Goodall with chimpanzee preservation. David Brower, Wangari Maathai, and Ghandi. Even negative movements had their public faces, as Hitler is often synonymous with the horrors of the holocaust.

However, it is often times the mass of everyday people that make these leaders so prominent. These are the people facing the weather and government brutality to make a change. The abolition of the slave trade wouldn’t have gone anywhere without the massive numbers of citizens signing petitions. Boycotts and sit ins would be ineffective without the people who partake in them. While movement leaders often are iconic figures that lead a revolution, without the support of their “followers” they wouldn’t have become famous in the first place, and no change would have taken place.

As I write is I begin to think of all the movements without leaders, and there are many. These movements are often just as successful as the movements with a leader. I am not an expert on the subject, but I believe that while a leader can bring more attention and organization to a movement, a leader is not necessary. We should not wait around for a fearless leader to rise up from the ashes for us to initiate change, we should get started now, and perhaps a leader will come later. But by no means is it vital to the success of a movement. Us, we, the everyday citizens, when working together, are one of the most powerful forces when change is necessary.

A Pessimistic Point of View

     The European’s colonization of the Americas is often seen in a glorious light, leaders like Christopher Columbus are revered, he even has his own holiday. But as more and more people are educated on the issue we start to see the real horrors behind the “discovery” of the Americas.

“Columbus and his countrymen engaged in what we now call crimes against humanity: genocide, rape, murder, torture, and pillage not only because they despised the cultures they encountered, but because native people were irrelevant to European culture, except as slaves and as a means to the end of finding gold” (97).

     People like Las Casas attempted to bring light to the issue, but his attempts went largely unnoticed and ultimately forgotten by the history books. Perhaps because, although he promised honesty, his recounts were too horrible to believe. Or maybe because the European society didn’t want the negative image of the colonization to taint their reputation. For whatever reason this genocide went largely unnoticed, it brings to mind that other terrible things are happening in the world today that we are being shielded from. There are some things that much of the population is unaware of, such as water privatization and Monsanto’s monopolies, but what about the things that are completely undercover? I have learned so much in this past year of college, but it would be impossible to be aware of everything. I can only imagine what other horrible and inhumane crimes are taking place right under our noses.

     Many years ago I watched a Chinese video of a dog, stolen from his back yard, get skinned alive for his fur. He still had his collar on when he finally died. This was when I first experienced what cruelty man-kind had to offer, since then I have discovered more and more atrocities, the class of Sustainability has opened my eyes even further. The ability of a person to torture another has always been appalling to me, it makes me lose faith in humanity, while there are many people who aim to do good, such as Las Casas, I will always wonder if the good will ever outweigh the bad. I believe there will always be a new wrong being committed, as one is fixed another is born, and I’m not sure it is possible to redeem what we have already done.

A “Young” Revolution

The “Green Revolution” is a movement that is believed will ultimately benefit all of humanity, people of every age and class require Earth to be healthy in order for life to be sustained, so why are so many people turning a cold shoulder to the topic of sustainability? Why is it that many of the people engaged in this green revolution are young? In David Brower’s Fight For Wild America, David is a young man, full of life and love for the natural world when he makes it his mission to preserve the environment. The Sierra Club was made up of mostly other young men who appreciated the natural world, and many of the citizens working towards a greener planet are also from a younger generation.

I believe the green revolution is a young persons revolution because the older generations were born into the post-war industry boom, where they grew up with no knowledge of the limit of resources, and now that the world is facing a crisis, they either don’t believe it, or too set in their ways to change. While I’m sure this is not the case for all of the older generation, it may explain why the younger generation is taking the initiative towards planetary preservation. The young are often taught in school about the dangers of climate change, and they are born into a world that realizes that change must happen. These students and young activists are more malleable and susceptible to the change required by the green revolution than their older relatives, perhaps because they are living in a world that will face significant decline before the end of their lifetime if change is not made.

At the rate planet is being degraded, there wont be an inhabitable Earth left for many more generations, everyone needs to realize that we must make certain sacrifices to preserve it. You do not need to be a member of the government or economically powerful to make these changes, anyone can do it. As a young man, David Brower rose up from nothing and became a hero to the natural world, by following his lead, and the lead of others, we can all make significant change, regardless of our age or social status. We are defined by the choices we make and the stances we take, and it is our responsibility, as we inherit the earth from our ancestors, to preserve it for our children.

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