Friday, July 11, 2008

Thorn and GW

Back in the 80's when Thorn was being born page by page, I decided to give him a passionate Thoreauvian quality. I was living in Key Largo at the time and watching the local environmental battles, and was shocked at how willingly the locals were being bribed and bullied into surrendering that beautiful island.

Thorn was never a strident environmentalist, but a man trying as best he can to live a simple life in harmony with nature. This was a time before carbon footprint and melting polar caps were common phrases in our vocabulary. It was a time when I (wrongly) believed that issues concerning the protection of the enviornment, particularly the Florida environment, would stir the same kind of passion I felt.

Not one to stand on a soapbox and give speeches about development and other Florida issues, Thorn is more of a poet, trying to lyrically describe the place he loves in language that would do it justice and perhaps inspire others to appreciate its subtle beauties and vulnerabilities. As much as I loved John D. MacDonald, I always found his anti-growth messages a bit dry and moralizing. I wanted to do that differently. Create the beauty and fragility and exoticness of the Florida landscape without getting all preachy about it.

I suppose I was naive. In the twenty years since Thorn first appeared,I've come to see how passionate the debate on both sides of these issues are. Though it is hard for me to fully understand how anyone could mock the seriousness of the global issues facing us today, both in Florida and around the world, I'm beginning to see that a segment of the population (especially in America) is so heavily invested in preserving "our lifestyle" that any criticism about the way Americans and American business and American government operates environmentally is often taken as an attack on the American culture as a whole.

But the overwhelming body of evidence is disturbing.

There have been world wars and great depressions and upheavals of various kinds before, but it seems clear to me, from seeing the dying coral reefs and observing the dramatically falling fish stocks around the world, and seeing in person the retreating glaciers in Alaska, and the destructions of millions of acres of forests due to infestation of insects that can now tolerate the slightly warmer temperatures, that Thorn's simple, withdrawn, non-soapbox approach is not sufficient anymore, and that the growing dangers facing all of us are so serious, so extreme, that inaction on a personal level and a governmental level is morally indefensible.

While this kind of inaction doesn't surprise me anymore, I am convinced that from the vantage point of a few years in the future most Americans will see this as something akin to criminal negligence.

If you want to read about two plans to combat what increasingly seems to be inevitable this article is fascinating. Well-written as all her pieces are.

The challenges of this new era are being taken on by some unlikely characters. What's exciting to me is that we're living through a revolutionary period in global terms. New technologies, new energy sources, and new visions of the future are emerging, and I'm hopeful that they may begin to save at least part of the planet. Only a few more months of this guy will certainly help.

In the meantime, Thorn's simple, low wattage choices fit right in. And there's an interesting movement underway that Thorn would approve.


Anonymous said...

How do you save "at least part of the planet?"
With China and India pumping untold tons of trash into the global air mass, your attempts at conservation here are akin to 'pissing into the wind.'
Seems it will take a global initiative to reduce or stop the damage.
Wouldn't we be better off developing a national fire fighting organization and an ever ready fleet of flying water tankers to defeat the massive fires which burn throughout the western U.S. every year?

James W. Hall said...

Act locally, that's how. Do what you can, recycle, drive less, turn off unused appliances and lights, buy local food, choose fuel-efficient alternatives. The global issues are mostly out of our control, but you can speak out, or vote based on environmental issues, which to my mind trump most others on the agenda.

China and India and the developing world are not in the same league with the US for pollution. We're number 1 and will be for a very very long time. Read that New Yorker piece and get the figures. We're using many many more times the energy that China is, and creating far more of the mess. And for the last eight years we've also witnessed a dismantling and politicizing of the EPA whose job it is to enforce clean water and clean air laws. We've taken huge steps backwards in many of these areas.

Inform yourself. Do what you can on your own scale. And vote for candidates whose allegiance is to the long-term success of our country and the planet, not the short term profit of a few.

I'm hopeful that technological improvements including clean coal plants and a combination of renewable energy sources is going to mitigate some of the global warming issues. But as one of the scientists in the New Yorker piece said, we don't have any slack anymore. We're fast approaching the tipping point. These last 8 years have been all about oil and all about suppressing alternatives.

James W. Hall said...

Here's one relevant quote from the article I mentioned which describes a group called the 2000 watt society, a Swiss organization that seeks to set some global goals on energy consumption.

"One way to think about the 2,000-Watt Society is in terms of light bulbs. Let’s say you turn on twenty lamps, each with a hundred-watt bulb. Together, the lamps will draw two thousand watts of power. Left on for a day, they will consume forty-eight kilowatt-hours of energy; left on for a year, they will consume seventeen thousand five hundred and twenty kilowatt-hours. A person living a two-thousand-watt life would consume in all his activities—working, eating, travelling—the same amount of energy as those twenty bulbs, or seventeen thousand five hundred and twenty kilowatt-hours annually.

Most of the people in the world today consume far less than this. The average Bangladeshi, for example, uses only about twenty-six hundred kilowatt-hours a year—this figure includes all forms of energy, from electricity to transportation fuel—which is the equivalent of using roughly three hundred watts continuously. The average Indian uses about eighty-seven hundred kilowatt-hours a year, making India a one-thousand-watt society, while the average Chinese uses about thirteen thousand kilowatt-hours a year, making China a fifteen-hundred-watt society.

Those of us who live in the industrialized world, by contrast, consume far more than two thousand watts. Switzerland, for instance, is a five-thousand-watt society. Most other Western European countries are six-thousand-watt societies; the United States and Canada run at twelve thousand watts. One of the founding principles of the 2,000-Watt Society is that this disparity is in itself unsustainable. “It’s a basic matter of fairness” is how Stulz put it to me. But increasing energy use in developing countries to match that of industrialized nations would be unacceptable on ecological grounds.

Were per-capita demand in the developing world to reach current European levels, global energy consumption would more than double, and were it to rise to the American level, global energy consumption would more than triple. The 2,000-Watt Society gives industrialized countries a target for cutting energy use at the same time that it sets a limit for growth in developing nations."

Big Al (St. Pete, FL) said...

A great, inspirational statement and call to action! Thanks.
Just read this in a NY Times piece about Larry McMurtry. In 1950, Fourth Avenue was known as 'bookstore row' and Manhattan had 175 bookstores. Wonder what the tally is today?