Every now and then I like to pause and reflect about the state of the environment. For those of us who work in this field every day we tend to get caught up in the details and lose sight of the changes that take place around us.
For example the entire planet has been debating the solutions to the energy crisis since the 1970’s. What progress have we made? Have new technologies in renewable energy and energy efficiency kept up with a growing population that is using more electronic devices than at any time in history? The general public is still confused about climate change and its effects. The scientific community is at odds with this as a consensus does exist regarding the existence and threats of climate change.
It seems that economics drives our decisions regarding energy use. As long as fossil fuels remain cheaper and more abundant than other sources they will be widely used in spite of the environmental damage. It’s unfortunate that the costs of this damage, which are considerable, are not factored into the equation. The economic impact of climate change is already being felt through extensive coastal damage and higher insurance premiums. Yet most people don’t see the relationship between their energy consumption and these expenses. There has always been a disconnect between the costs of consumer goods and the financial impact of the resulting environmental damage.
The reverse is also true. For those who have switched to solar energy the initial costs of installation soon pay for themselves and the resulting use of solar power has a positive impact on other expenses. No longer do harmful fuels have to be transported across continents only to result in additional pollution and fallout once burned.
When we recycle there are immediate benefits. Fewer materials are extracted from the earth. An item is given a second life and the savings quickly add up. Not only does recycling save the consumer money, but it has a positive impact on the community as well. Less trash has to be hauled to an incinerator. Transportation costs are reduced. Air and water quality improve. And there is less unsightly trash clogging the roadsides.
I suppose I should continue to take the long view which makes me optimistic. Though these reforms are agonizingly slow at times, progress is being made. We are still the throwaway society, but many of us are taking another look at those items and finding other uses than simply discarding into a trash barrel.
Copyright Gil Newton 2009 Thanks to Chris Dumas for logo image.