Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ruining the climate change party

How about that An Inconvenient Truth? I actually think that Al Gore changed the world like few people have in recent history. Don't ask me how he made such a tremendous splash with a PowerPoint presentation. I guess it was the straightforward, few-frills approach. It's quite unexplainable. Whatever the case, we've reached a tipping point, where a critical mass of people stands up to tell our leaders (and everyone else in the panopticon) that something needs to be done or shit is really going to hit the fan. Even non-chemists know what the hell CO2 means now. Every company that wants to continue making money has learned that they have to "go green" and proclaim their love for "the environment" publicly. For fuck's sake, even Rupert Murdoch, in what must be a sign that the Four Horsemen are on their way, has said that he is revamping News Corp. to be more, as the kids say, ecofriendly.

I'm all for it (ignore my cynical panopticon reference for a moment), as long as people back up their talk with action and we see the earth and its creatures (people too, for you anthropocentrists) begin to heal after a couple hundred years of industrial onslaught.

But, I'm a party pooper, too. See, there are two major problems with all the rage over climate change: 1) some people are faking their concern or using it to cover other misdeeds, and 2) the welcome but overly obsessive focus on this issue has taken almost all attention off other equally important ecological issues.

Regarding point 2, yeah, it sucks that so many people are pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at such high rates. But it also sucks that so many people are destroying (both legally and illegally) such large quantities of intricately evolved habitat that unique species are losing their only homes and niches, and localized ecosystems are quickly (in the blink of the earth's eye) collapsing. Biodiversity is on a rapid decline thanks to direct (as opposed to, for example, the secondary collapses associated with climate change) human destruction, which has got to be just as urgent a situation as greenhouse-gas emissions. Let's not take our eye off the larger ball.

I mean, people are obsessed with the topic of climate change. They say, "We're reducing our emissions." That's great and all, but I think reducing emissions and encouraging companies by buying into their emission-reduction advertisements is missing the whole point of making a change. Whether people are reducing their emissions is not really the central concern here: the key question we need to be asking each other is, are you adjusting so that you no longer needlessly wound the earth? In other words, are people reducing their emissions simply because reducing emissions seems like the righteous thing to do , or are they reducing their emissions because they understand it to be part of their wider obligation to protecting their home? If it's the former, we're screwed; if it's the latter, well, then we are automatically concerned with more than climate change and will make a real difference. Wholesale changes are needed, not fads or marketing campaigns.

What I really worry about in the short term with the whole banging of the environmental drum is that people are going to paint themselves green in order to take advantage of the wildly popular image they can create. The cases are popping up already because companies know they can make some serious money if they lead the way.

Here's one example--

Gulahiyi thoroughly informs us, in several well-written posts, of the very recent bursting of a dam that was part of the exclusive, highly touted Balsam Mountain Preserve (nice name, huh?) golf course in the mountains of North Carolina:
Balsam Mountain Preserve is an interesting case. Ever since they set up shop here, they’ve garnered plenty of press. But reportage has been almost entirely public relations, with hardly any NEWS. Chalk it up to a Balsam Mountain Preserve public relations team that understands media, understands the message it wants to convey, and understands how to use environmentally-friendly jargon designed to project a certain image.

The out-of-town investors behind the project claimed that the waters they managed in the "preserve" were uber-clean, their practices were so environmentally friendly, and their water was the last remaining haven of southern brook trout. In the meantime, rivers downstream from the golf course were slowly silting up and wildlife was dying. Oh, and it turns out that they were wrong about the trout. And then, the damn burst and people downstream were really up a creek. Luckily no one died. But the local media are apparently doing a shitty job of reporting on the situation.

Golf courses and rich folk retirement/vacation communities are going up all over the mountains (ah, to enjoy nature's beauty, right?), leading to landslides, water quality problems, erosion, and general habitat destruction.

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