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Aug 142009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Could all of our efforts to become green — our rehabbing of buildings, spurning of plastic bags and buying  of new hybrids — turn out to be mere tinkerings in the tool shed as the whole grand project collapses around us?

That seems to be the point up for consideration these days. That this whole Save-the-Earth thing might be bigger than a green fashion trend or an overhaul of the auto industry. It might require more drastic action than turning down our newly installed programmable thermostats.

Recently, the New York Times ran a blog item about a  study showing that having babies is one of the non-greenest things you can do, especially if you’re a Westerner and your baby is destined to be a giant among world consumers. This is sort of a “duh”. But the University of Oregon scientists quantified the impact, concluding that an American child would have seven times the impact of a Chinese-born kiddo.

We are hearing more and more discussions about the population explosion, something that’s still pretty un-PC. Except for a few voices — like World Watch Institute analysts who regularly report on population stresses — thought-leaders have been tiptoeing around the issue much like they do Al Gore’s meat-eating habits.

No one wants to point fingers at people’s personal choices, their ability to procreate and their right to fill their plate. These are sacred matters. Or are they? Perhaps we all have a weak flank — a gas guzzler in the driveway, an overly large house, a guilt love of over-air conditioned spaces — and we’re just not sure how personal we want to get in this discussion.

We certainly don’t want to talk about air travel, dining out, overbuilding, eating copious amounts of meat — and a panoply of other matters that could stand review. Who is raising their hand to trade in their well-earned trip to Acapulco for a stay-cation next year? In America, the paradigm is still, if you can afford it, then so be it.

These are slippery slopes, and we’re understandably reluctant to get off the bunny hill. (And I’m not getting off my soap box either, at least for today.)

Take consumerism. We’re fine with making products more eco-friendly. But buying less, that’s scary.

We have a story this week about shoes. They play a role in the depletion of the Amazon rainforest. That’s a discussion we must have. The rainforest is just too vital. Some companies (Nike and others) are willing. They’re getting stricter in how they obtain their leather, to try to disentangle their business from any cattle ranches that have destroyed forests in South America. Might we next want to look at our own collection and consider a vegan shoe? It sounds radical; some will think it sounds ridiculous. They will laugh.

The New Scientist took look at our voracious appetite for stuff in a recent article Consumerism is Eating the Future. Author Andy Coghlan reports on an address to the Ecological Society of America, meeting in Albuquerque this month. The premise of the speaker: Our destruction of the earth is a natural outgrowth of human (or animal) nature. We are driven to fill up the available space and conquer territory, eventually we will overrun the Petri dish, spill out and die.

It’s not a new idea. Remember Darwin? However, one New Scientist reader, pointed out a key difference between humans and other territorial animals (or bacteria): We know what we’re doing.

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