It’s tough trying to be an environmentally conscious consumer. Hybrid cars? They are still pretty pricey; get on the waiting list. Biodegradeable disposable diapers? Not at your local grocery store. Phosphate-free soaps? Only at expensive, hard-to-get-to health boutiques.
Promising solutions seem to drop out of sight. For years, I’ve heard of alternative fuel sources — everything from vegetable oil to hydrogen. These things seem to be in perpetual development; none of them ever make it to the market.
Blame Big Oil, you say? Well, maybe. Certainly there’s a lot of money to be made in oil, and the players aren’t going to leave the field without a fight. But it has to be said that sometimes, environmentalists aren’t doing us any favours either. Consider:
PRODUCT DEVELOPER: Right, so we want to talk about this amazing new technology that can convert discarded chicken parts – straight from the poultry-processing plant – into clean fuel.
ENVIRONMENTALIST: Did the chickens lead happy lives?
PD: Er, they were free-range, I think…
EN: But did they get a chance to self-actualize? Realize their full potential?
PD: Right, perhaps you’d like to see our proposal for these wind generators…
EN: Too noisy.
PD: Oh, but these are located along coastlines and more remote areas, and they’re practically silent-running.
EN: Underground, I mean. Vibration, etc. Disturbs the woodchucks.
PD: Disturbs… the… woodchucks. Okay, so, how about we talk about solar panels?
EN: Nope. Bad for bugs.
EN: They get hot. Bugs land on them, and …ffft!
PD: Ffft? Ffft?!!
EN: You okay? You seem to be getting a bit hot under the collar.
PD: Must be that global warming thing.
Of course, economists are no better. Many an enthusiastic proposal has been squashed by an economist with a calculator and too much time on his hands. Inevitably they forecast that the new energy system will cost billions, even trillions, and that its benefits are doubtful. One wonders what would have been said if our current situation had been put forward as a proposal, back in the late 1800s.
FUTURIST1: Gentlemen! We must do something to replace the horse. They eat too much. They leave horse… stuff all over the place. They kick. People fall off them and break their necks. Suggestions?
FUTURIST2: I know! First, let’s drill large holes in random places until we find pockets of the liquid, rotten remains of long-dead animals and plants. Then we’ll set up expensive, smelly refineries to convert this goo into a wide variety of toxic chemicals. Meanwhile, we’ll begin paving over millions of acres of green landscape with a hard, but nevertheless non-durable, substance that will be prone to crack, break up, or develop something called “potholes” on a weekly basis and require repair. Finally we will have to find a way to transport the refined goo to distribution stations; this will occasionally result in an accident — you know, dropping several million litres in the ocean, or having something blow up now and then. All this will be to fuel the horseless carriage.
FUTURIST1: Sounds good! Where do I invest?
The point is, of course, that things are in a bit of a mess, and so, yes, it’s going to cost money to fix or replace it. The solutions are not going to be perfect either — short of us leaving the planet, there is never going to be a time when we’re not disturbing something, consuming a resource, or both. So let’s just get on with whatever system will cause less damage than the one we’ve got, and we’ll figure it out from there.
I’m sure the woodchucks would agree — even the ones that are somewhat disturbed.*
* And to prove my commitment to the environment, let me just say this: No woodchucks were actually disturbed in the process of writing this column.
Photo credit: Alexander Blecher via Wikimedia Commons