Saturday, January 7, 2017

Sustainability Criticism (or Rant?)

sustainability [suh-stey-nuh-bil-i-tee] noun: the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance

crit·i·cism [kridəˌsizəm] noun: the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.

rant [rant] speak or shout at length in a wild, impassioned way

Lately I have not had much hope (perhaps that is a good thing) that attending talks with the word “sustainability” in the title will teach me much about how to achieve a “long-term ecological balance” in my life.  Instead, I usually assume that the talk will be much more about promoting a new technology or “renewable” energy source to sustain our current way of life (when I say “our”, I am referring to life as a middle to upper class American).  So when I first heard about the “Sustainability Forum: Threats and Opportunities” that was held today (January 7, 2017) at the Columbia Heights MN Public Library, I was skeptical about attending.  But then I found more information about the event (see this link for an example ) which proclaimed

“At this crucial time in world (and U.S.) history, when the future of civilization and life on this planet hangs in the balance, and political leadership is swinging increasingly to the authoritative right, it’s time for well-intentioned people to step up to the plate. Hoping that “others” will take care of our collective problems will not get the job done.”

I regained some hope (a mistake I believe now) that this forum might be different. The talks being promoted in the flyer I saw indicated that R. Michael Conley (the founder of Weathering the Storm) would tell us about “The Perfect Storm: Our Sustainability Challenges, Alan Ware (a research fellow at World Population Balance) would share his thoughts on “Making the Connection: Overpopulation and Sustainability, and Matt Holland (editor of “Best Practices” and apparently some sort of sustainability expert with the University of Wisconsin System) would close out the forum with a foray into going “Beyond Boom & Bust”. 

Mr. Conley began his talk with some simple basics on what are the sustainability related challenges we face and explained how he liked to compare the diagnosis of climate change to high blood pressure.  Both diagnosis are at first easy to ignore, but if the symptoms are denied for too long, then eventually bad things can happen. 

I was disappointed that he did not step back and look at this comparison from the big picture view promised in the forum promotional material.  Instead I came to believe by the end of the forum, that like high blood pressure (by this time mine had gone up), he and the other speakers were apparently toting that all we need to do is follow the doctor’s (or folks like the speakers) prescription and swallow some pills that allow us to keep living the good life (or at least believing in it). 

The pills seemed to be the likes of the twin clean-green-renewable energy technological miracles of solar and wind energy and their all American beneficiary of these new and improved fuels, the electric car or lawn mower; and condoms to be shoved down the throats of those overpopulation sources of our disease in the “developing” world like India and China who simply need to take a pledge of using birth control and educating their women folk.  For think about the impact on the planet if all those hordes were to obtain the simple pleasure of a “Bic Pen” as Mr. Ware reminded us, and then if we get rid of them, then we could avoid a future where we (American middle to upper middle class white-folk) had to give up our electric cars powered by windmills and solar panels with the resources to build the infrastructure now easily plundered from the depopulated developing countries and avoid living in poverty ourselves (my take on his talk anyway).      

So here’s to us, those who – have taken the big steps of stopping our progeny at 1 or 2 or better yet opted for no offspring at all; and have had the vision (and wealth) to be able to promote, purchase, and install wind turbines and solar panels on our roof tops and in our backyards, and purchase all that shiny new electric powered equipment and entertainment devices that can keep our reinvented economy growing.  And as an afterthought – perhaps we owe at least a token thanks to the over populated developing countries who we will help to become depopulated for the opportunity for us to continue to plunder the planet to find the resources to produce the new infrastructure that will allow these “renewable energy sources” to be as the day’s closing song reminded us – “reduced, reused, and recycled” into infinity so we can keep “our” economy growing and glowing – right (or am I wrong)?????

I am sure the good folks involved in planning and presenting this forum had no intention of leaving the audience as disgusted as I was, but rather hoped to inspire more hope for our fossil fuel free future, but I for one have become more resolved to hold strong to my renewed commitment to avoid talks by perhaps well-intentioned “leaders” who fail to really step back, open their eyes, and see the big picture.  For if they did, I think they would begin to see that to really convert our current fossil fuel powered economy to so called “renewable” energies, is at best a pipe dream designed to keep the American Dream alive for a little longer.  But just like their fossil fuel brethren, “renewables” designed to power an economic global super power like America, depend on an extremely non-renewable infrastructure of a very limited lifespan. 

Solar panels don’t magically grow from the ground, no matter how much “bio-mimicry” we use in the design process.  In the real world you need to mine silicon for the solar collectors, aluminum ores for the frames, sand for the glass encasements, copper for the wiring and new grids, iron for the new grid support poles.  The process of converting silicon to solar panels uses large amounts of energy (typically of the fossil based sort), uses hazardous chemicals to process the panels, and releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  Wind turbine infrastructure is also not “clean and green”, nor renewable.  There is the need for steel to build the support towers, metals to build the generators, petroleum to create the resin used to make the fiberglass blades, huge concrete foundations buried in the ground to support the graceful monstrosities, and more copper to create the transmission cables to carry all this “renewable” energy to our homes and factories where we make it all happen (or at least used to until we found out it is cheaper to build all this stuff in third world countries where we don’t have to worry about the costs of clean air or sustainable wages). 

So until our renewable energy gurus or salesmen can start to provide some data, slides and graphs detailing what the impacts from all these and other processes will be on the people and the planet and how all this worn out infrastructure will be disposed of – I will not be buying into the renewable unlimited energy fantasy future.  And if somehow we could achieve it (based on previous experiences with such forays) I have a feeling that the side effects would kill us off faster than any dose of high blood pressure or climate change every could. 

I suppose that makes me a doubter, a denier, a skeptic, a cynic, rambling idiot, or a hopeless doom and gloomer.  But I think it is time to embrace these labels boldly and let go of a hope for this nightmare of ours to go on.  So called overpopulated third world populations are not the source of our problems, but rather a convenient source to blame, provide cheap labor to build our stuff, and find many mouths to feed our excess industrialized grain to, so we can take their prime lands to mine our minerals, grow our luxury foods like coffee or fruit, sugar, or other recreational mind numbing drugs on.   

Perhaps I should not blame the speakers at this particular event who are likely just telling the same tale that we all seem to proclaim in one way or another in order to justify our own privilege, rewards, and existence that depends on promoting the company line – that economic growth (although perhaps it may needs some tweaking or “greening”) is the root of all that is good (at least to those of us who get the goods).  It also helps us to continue to deny the much more likely reality that this economic growth designed to provide profits for a few (and mind-numbing rewards to a few more) is actually the root cause of all our symptoms of the dis-ease we are all inflicted by (and by all here I mean everyone, the 1%, the 2%, the 10%, and even the overpopulated folks we like to blame for our problems – the 90%). 

Despite how much we would like it to be true, “renewable” energy sources or population reduction is not the answer to our problems.  Rather the reality is the only prescription that will heal the ails we have begins by acknowledging the limits of the finite planet we live on and then to thank our lucky stars that we live on a planet that has provided us with an opportunity to even exist.  We need to stop listening to fools who make up the 1% and their message regurgitated by us 10%-ers (whether we are right or left leaning) that consumption, a growing economy, and competition are what it is about (even if we “green” it up or make it more “sustainable”).  We need to power down big time (and here we refers to us white middle and upper middle class folks) and stop consuming a bunch of crap that we don’t need.  And we Americans need to give up our dream world and start living like those “poor” overpopulated folk we think we are better off than, and perhaps if they are willing to teach us, learn from them how to survive on a lot, lot, less than we do now. 

Note that I am pretty sure that that means giving up on the biggest part of the American dream – the personal automobile – no matter what you use to fuel it or what color you paint it. We need to find solutions not based on shoving into other people’s back yards things we would not have in our own back yards, nor take from other people’s back yards what our own backyards lack.  Instead we need to begin to live within the means available to us in our own yards and realize that if we destroy our yard, we destroy ourselves, along with everything else that lives there.  And that is the big fat pill we need to swallow whole (even if it gags us), if we are to have any hope of finding some sort of long term ecological balance in these miserable lives we have allowed to be created.  

And that is the end of this rant, for now.    


  1. Whew! I know it feels good to rant. I usually get blank looks when I mention the possibility that we can just stop doing stuff. Just stopping isn't sexy, profitable, or high tech and doesn't garner much attention from the motivational speaker crowd. Of course "just stopping" may mean doing something different, say walking to Cub to buy that loaf of bread rather than moving your 3,000 + pound hybrid techno marvel a mile and back with said 16 oz purchase. Whatever ;-)

    1. Oh sure, hold this fool accountable. Now I suppose I shall be obligated to not only not drive my 3000+ regulular internal combustion engine vehicle to the local Cub (fortunately there is one in everydirection within walking distance), but to pull out my old "bread maker" and bake my own bread. Maybe this means I also have to pull out the recipe for making my own sour dough yeast starter, and avoid buying that as well. I need to stop ranting!