Sunday, May 15, 2011

Going Local

Yesterday was an environmentally friendly day for me. In the morning, my kids and I helped the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association plant trees; in the afternoon, I switched electricity generators to Viridian Energy, which will supply 100% of my electricity through wind power; and in the evening, I attended a lecture on sustainable agriculture by Anna Lappe, whose new book connects our eating choices to the climate crisis. And, having read recently that the majority of car trips we make are fewer than two miles, I decided to walk the mile and a half to the lecture and back. So there was lots of good stuff, environment-wise.

There was also one depressing moment, when I read the following passage in Michael Shuman's book Going Local:

"Governments will be increasingly inclined to put a tax on oil, as well as on other fossil fuels, to account for the environmental effects of burning them. There is a virtual consensus among scientists today . . . that human progress is warming the planet. . . . By the time the multi-trillion-dollar costs of global warming are clear enough to affect the market price of fossil fuels, it will be too late to prevent it. But political pressures will surely mount on governments to place taxes on these fuels, per unit of pollution (a carbon tax) or per unit of energy (a BTU tax), that will raise their prices and reduce releases of carbon into the atmosphere."

Shuman, writing in 1998, is certain that governments will come to their senses, tax carbon, and thereby level the playing field for the development of renewables. But here we are in 2011, and guess what? We haven't taxed carbon (partly because the scientific consensus Shuman applauds has been attacked relentlessly by climate change deniers); we're investing heavily (in both dollars and infrastructure) in the latest fossil fuel to come down the pike, natural gas; the market in renewables is stagnant; the price of oil is way up, but mostly because of unrest in the Middle East, not because of the environmental costs of burning it; global emissions continue to grow day by day; and the planet's climate is becoming increasingly unpredictable, chaotic, and punishing. At the national and international level, we've utterly failed as a species to take the necessary steps to protect our planet and ourselves.

Which is why, for the foreseeable future, I'm "going local," as the title of Shuman's book recommends. I'll plant trees in my own neighborhood, power my own house with wind energy, walk instead of drive, support local groups like the Nine Mile Run association, and otherwise focus on what I can do in my own community. I'll act locally, and think--or at least dream--of a time the global community will come around.

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