Saturday, May 31, 2008

On tilting at Windmills:

Every once in a while, sitting in traffic or looking out the window of a tall building, I have a moment where I involuntarily step back and look at the world and see it literally swarming with cars. It’s at these moments that I become pessimistic and I say to myself and whoever will listen, “we’re doomed.” And though I think we probably are, I believe we owe it to the Earth that has sustained us to at least try to change.

I know how hard it is. I try—I recycle my toothbrushes (Preserve brand) and use paper produce bags (or none) for just a couple of examples--but because of my situation I find I have to drive my car. It takes several buses to get to my son’s daycare and I have nowhere to store a bike.

But we need to try harder. We need to start making wholesale changes. We need to use tax breaks and subsidies and market forces to push people and corporations to change.

Cars are a major problem-- for me and for everyone. We’ve got the technology to make cars more efficient, but more efficient hybrid cars remain more expensive and hard to get. The government should be putting its research dollars and brains into this rather than into landing on Mars. Large scale production of biofuels is wreaking havoc on our food system. Maybe they’re not the answer (or maybe we need to change the focus of the food system—corn sweetners and soy are ruining our health anyway). I think we need to look not just at how to continue driving as we always have, but at ways to restructure our communities to make long distance travel an occasional indulgence, rather than a daily necessity.

Eating locally would also cut down on emissions generated by the transport of food. This would probably mean curtailing sprawl (maybe even taking back already developed land) to make room for farms. Finally, a justifiable use of eminent domain.

The silver lining in the ridiculously high gas prices we’ve been experiencing (we’re finally beginning to catch up to the rest of the world—it’s been $6+ in Turkey for years) is that people are starting to reduce their use. They’re buying smaller cars and taking the bus more. The gas tax holiday that’s been proposed will only help undo the positive work high prices have done and won’t help consumers much anyway. Let’s make sure policies make sense and don’t just pander to desperate consumers who often can’t see beyond their next paycheck. Government is supposed to help us take the long view not let us avoid facing reality.

The considerable power of the sun, water and wind remain largely untapped. Massachusetts has been tied up in the controversy over putting a windmill farm off Cape Cod for years. I don’t really understand the controversy. There are several large turbines in the marshes outside Atlantic City, where I grew up, and the birds don’t seem to mind at all. People like them too. Don Quixote was right: they are a bit like giants—though these are beneficent ones. Once again, I think the government needs to take a stand against wealthy interests on the Cape who don’t want their view “spoiled.”

Maybe we are tilting at windmills but, paradoxically, policies that let us build a few more windmills might give us a fighting chance.


jessica said...

i, too, have been frustrated by those circumstances where i have no choice but to drive. i'm finding myself less likely to take clients that are more than 5 miles away. last week, i was practically made fun of by one woman when i showed up at her house without my car. "you're so... green," she said with disdain. and then? to top it off? she put HER guilt on ME that she was not able to drive me home. hello captain obvious, you've MISSED THE ENTIRE POINT. (it will come as no surprise to you that she drives an SUV. heh.)

also, ditto on the corn fiasco. everyone's freaking out that their precious "resources" are being used for alternative fuels while they're dying of diseases that could largely be remedied by eliminating those foods that cause rampant inflammation and insulin problems. unfortunately, lots of folks simply cannot afford anything BUT those foods in the middle aisles at the grocery store; shopping the perimeter is more expensive. at least for now, when the trend toward (back to?) local needs more momentum.

finally, i can think of a kajillion other ways to ruin a "view" than by erecting windmills. we are hardly working toward the longevity of that view with our disgusting habits anyway. and am i just a really big dork? because i think windmills are kind of cool to look at. especially a whole lot of them. no, they're certainly no state park or national forest, but we can't ALWAYS have our cake and eat it too. i wonder when it was that americans stopped remembering that.

probably right around the same time that cake at super wal-mart became a staple in their diets.

as always, thanks so much for your posts!

jessica said...

pardon me, i guess i wasn't quite finished with my rant (!).

mars. oh my heavens, MARS. puh-leeze! this is about nothing more than competition. being "first." the "leader" of all that is holy and good, bla bla bla...

if our government could swallow its pride, if only for a second, perhaps we could get our priorities straight. i am certainly not opposed to the exploration of mars. or any other place in the galaxy that might lend itself to our learning. but WHEN and HOW that should happen is an entirely different issue. so long as washington continues to behave as if everything is fine, so will the country continue to neglect the imminent issues we are facing.

(wow. i guess i had some steam to blow off today... i appreciate you letting me do it here!)

filbert said...

Just as soon as somebody figures out how I can actually live my life without driving my car I'll be the first one to join in. You bet. As for windmills, the Dutch kind look better. Let's get some of them.