Is there any hope for us?

Posted on: May 7th, 2008 by Patrice Frey

In recent weeks I've done quite a bit of traveling to speak on the subject of preservation and sustainability -- and I’m always interested in hearing what people ask at the end of the session.

Inevitably, there are questions about windows and solar panels, tax incentives and the costs of going green. But there was one question I received recently -- this time in Knoxville, TN -- that really threw me for a loop: “Is there any hope for us?”

Now why would you ask that?

Maybe it was the first few slides of my presentation, which focus on this whole global warming mess. Perhaps it was the slide that says that if everyone in the world consumed as much as we do in the United States, we would need six planets to sustain that level of resource consumption.

Or maybe it was the slide with the map of per capita carbon emissions in the United States that helps us visualize the massive demographic shift that has taken place in recent decades, as folks flee the northeast and midwest for points west and southwest.

Notice all that red and orange on the map above? That’s the mark of particularly atrocious carbon emissions in areas of the country where sprawl has run particularly rampant. And keep in mind that this demographic shift leaves disinvestment and destruction in its wake, as urban centers in the rust belt empty out. Think of all those old cities -- many of which were built in a traditional, compact form -- and the infrastructure and buildings that are utterly wasted, now replaced with mind-numbing sprawl that ravages another part of the country.

So back to our question. Is there any hope for us? With cautious optimism, I vote yes and refer you to a piece written by Michael Pollan (of Omnivore’s Dilemma fame) in the New York Times. The global warming crisis, he points out, is “nothing more or less than the sum total of countless little everyday choices, most of them made by us (consumer spending represents 70 percent of our economy), and most of the rest of them made in the name of our needs and desires and preferences.”

Ah-hah. We have identified the cause of our problem, and that cause is us. I think that means we’ve also identified the solution. The solution has a name, has a face, has a wallet, and (in this country anyway) a vote. It’s you, and it’s me. The decisions we make every day matter – whether it’s bringing your commuter mug to Starbucks rather than taking a to-go cup, or deciding that perhaps you don’t need to demolish your 1200 square foot house to replace it with a McMansion. All those decisions can and will make a difference.

And that’s cause enough for hope. Pass it on.

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