Uncle Sam behaved like a spoiled, whiny, gluttonous bully at the global
climate conference this week in Kyoto, Japan. It's really embarrassing.
We live in the richest and most powerful country on earth
* where less than five percent of the world's population emits about 25
of all the greenhouse gases,
* where gasoline costs about two thirds less than it costs in Europe and
* where each person uses twenty times as much energy as the average Chinese
We live in a world which adds enough humans each year to fill eight to 10
more New York cities and where about 20 percent of those already here don't
get enough food each day to provide the minimum energy needed for a human
being. This is the equivalent of the energy in just one cup of gasoline.
Yet American leaders will only agree to make a small cut in our greenhouse
emissions. And, they'll make this concession only if the world's poorer
countries agree to significant cuts. However, these Third-World nations
have done very little to get us into this predicament. Governments and
global corporations from the first world now push automobiles, processed
and imported foods, large factories, disposable packaging and other
elements of our high-emission lifestyle onto poor countries. Meanwhile,
much of their energy is used to make goods for us. How many tons of carbon
did China emit in order to manufacture the toys, tools, clothes and other
goods Americans are consuming so ravenously this season?
Back-to-back ads in <I>The New York Times' </I>"Special Section on Global
Warming" make the partisanship very clear. On one page, dozens of
organizations representing fossil fuel, automotive, trucking, chemical,
fertilizer and agribusiness companies encourage President Clinton not to
sign a treaty that could increase energy costs. On the next page, hundreds
of physicians from all over the globe implore world leaders to develop
plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions promptly and significantly. Their
ad lists many of the likely health effects of climate change including
increased air pollution, the spread of infectious diseases, as well as the
disruption of safe drinking-water supplies and of food-producing
This debate, like those over cigarettes, pesticides or nuclear power for
example, sets narrow, self-centered economic interests against widespread
As usual, those who make dangerous materials out of subsidized resources
end up with enough money to skew both public debate and the government,
thereby stifling any real positive changes.
The important issues, tragically, aren't even being discussed. The
underlying assumption for many people is that we'll proceed into the future
just as we've been going for the last few decades. Any progress made
toward a more efficient society will be small improvements in "business as
usual," rather than significant changes.
Here's a perfect example. Industry has convinced us that we need a
newly-made aluminum can, with a fresh coat of paint for every 12 ounces of
beverage we drink. </I>The Times<I> reports that a large Colorado brewer
found that it could dry the paint on a billion beer cans using ultraviolet
light instead of natural gas heat and thereby cut back US annual emissions
by a few millionths.
Big deal! Humans have made and consumed beer for thousands of years without
emitting any fossil carbon at all. Once coal, oil and gas were discovered,
however, industry found dozens of ways to consume them in making and
distributing beer. These uses range from making fertilizers for the grains
and hops to hauling empty cans to the recycling plant. This
energy-intensive approach made sense only because subsidized fossil fuels
seemed very cheap and because we believed that there would be no
consequences from dumping enormous quantities of fossil carbon into the
If this energy use is not benign, however. - and climate change is just one
of its negative effects - perhaps we should rethink the way we do things.
It's increasingly clear that the kinds of changes we need to turn the
situation around won't happen until disasters force them on us unless
individuals and groups lead the way.
We need to rediscover the pleasures of satisfying our needs close to home
using solar energy, green plants and human creativity.
Anything less is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C) 1997, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491.
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in southern Connecticut and producing "The Politics of
Food" and "Living on the Earth" radio programs). Their collection of essays
Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future
is available from Bill Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14
postpaid. These essays first appeared on WSHU, public radio from
Fairfield, CT. New essays are posted weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing
and those since November 1995 are available there.
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