Escaping the Rut

We don’t like change.  We don’t like moving to new and strange places.  We don’t like getting on a plane for the first time.  We don’t like changing jobs.  We don’t like the end of our favorite season.

Even though we often fear change, we usually accept that  change is necessary.  We need to solve a problem.  We need to regroup.  We need to engage reform in society.  We need to make improvements.

Wikipedia Commons Image

Although many are aware of necessary changes, we still fear what we don’t know; we still fear the unfamiliar.  Unfortunately, sometimes we neglect action even when overwhelming evidence and premonition point imperatively to change..  In my book, that’s called ‘ruttism’– being stuck in a rut, fighting against any iota of change.  A ruttist may or may not be informed about a topic of reform.  They may know the advantages and disadvantages of a change.  Ruttists may even understand deep down that change is imminent.  But a ruttist denies any efforts at changing the status quo.

We’re stuck in a rut on many things.  We play down climate change, we consume ravenously and inefficiently, we pollute the land, the water, the air, and ourselves.  We seek secular materialism while holding that our Christian dominance over Creation merits our less-than-stewardly actions.  We seek the same material goods at the same prices ‘they’ve always been,’ while neglecting that price doesn’t always reflect the social effects of underpaid labor, the health risks of under-regulated pollution standards, or the environmental impact of shipping across vast oceans.

We need changes and improvements to reduce our environmental impact, to promote fairness and social equity, to increase efficiency, and to save and make money so that we can still make a living.  I believe that efficiency improvements are needed across the board.  We can argue over the next big renewable energy technology.  But in the meantime, we can reduce the amount of energy required to live the way we want.  We can debate the impacts of dams, reservoirs, and excessive groundwater extraction.  In the meantime, we can use low-flow plumbing, drip irrigation, rain barrels, cisterns, and greywater.  We can relentlessly debate climate change and global warming.  Meanwhile, we can be ready for the weather with improvements to infrastructure, relevant building codes, green stormwater management tools, living architecture for urban heat islands, and low impact development (LID).  We can worry about how to pay for all of these improvements.  Meanwhile, we can reap the long-term environmental, social, and economic benefits from the important, though costly, initial changes.

The point of the sustainability portion of this blog is to highlight efficiency improvements, calls to action, visions of a sustainable future, etc..   Think about giving them a read.  Think about some other improvements that could be made NOW.  What other improvements do you think will pay dividends??  How do you think we can escape the rut?

Threshold of Consequence

To some, it seems incomprehensible that 7 billion people can have lasting influence on our planet, inducing harmful changes to our environment.  Climate change cannot exist, say some folks.  

Humans have an impact on the environment.  I think most would agree.  But the argument that extends from this concept is the line, the threshold at which our species can impact parts or all of our world.  What is the threshold of our influence? How far does the impact of humankind extend?  At what level do we stop having an influence?  And what are the consequences of our evident influence?

One person can affect one tree by topping it, inviting disease and early death. The pathogen spreads to nearby trees, plaguing the neighborhood. One person generates 4.4 lb of trash per day, which goes into a landfill.  If one person dumps old batteries, old cleaners, plastics, construction material, it quickly fills and pollutes the landfill.  While the intent is to entomb the used goods for good, landfills inevitably leak concentrated, harmful, and radioactive materials into our air, soil, and waters.  One person has an influence.

A handful of people can harvest a forest through clear-cutting.  The immediate impact is on the forest, of course.  As decaying stumps now fill the landscape, the loosened soil, once held fast by living root systems, invites erosion.  The rains erode precious soil and decrease the chances of repopulation and natural succession.  The streams that now lie unshaded, devoid of forest canopy, become opaque and inhospitable for aquatic life.  Back in the stump-filled field, with the native plants in peril, invasive exotic weeds claim the upper hand.  Before natives get the chance to establish, they are crowded out and shaded out by invasive species (Honeysuckle, Tree of Heaven, Russian Olive, Autumn Olive, Kudzu, Wintercreeper, etc.).  Unless tree harvesters replant the forest, or more selectively and sustainably harvest it in the first place, it is doomed to inadequate or impossible ecological revival.  A handful of people have influence.

Thousands of people have the capacity to move mountains and burn a train-car of coal in minutes.  Thousands mine, transport, and burn coal.  They break apart entire mountains for bituminous bounty and toss the tailings into adjacent valleys.  If you fundamentally understand hydrology, or just gravity, it’s obvious that the valleys tend to carry surface waters.  Once geologically locked in the mountain, the inert, toxic, acidic, and contaminating materials now contaminate the valley and its waters.  Downstream is riddled with fish kills, dead zones, undrinkable waters, and unswimmable waters.  Then of course, there’s the impact of transporting coal, incinerating it, and ‘disposing’ of its byproducts. Thousands of people have influence.

A metropolitan area, facilitating millions of people, is wrought with real environmental problems.  Urban areas are warmer than their surrounding rural areas (UHIE) because of automobiles, industry, heating/cooling systems, and man-made impervious surfaces (asphalt, concrete, brick, etc.), which absorb and re-radiate large quantities of solar radiation instead of reflecting it.  Walking down a city street in mid-summer, pavement is everywhere and relatively few trees and plants are available to provide evapotranspirative cooling and shade.  Pavement also prevents stormwater from penetrating the soil and recharging groundwater.  We try to pipe away stormwater in sewers (sometimes combined wastewater/stormwater sewers).  Yet relentless, careless urbanization practices result in more runoff, flash flooding, the first flush phenomenon, combined sewer overflows, contaminated downstream waters, inedible fish, and a moisture deficit between rains.

Smoke, smog, city, landfill.

Cities thrive on progress, an economic measure of power and wealth.  Suburbanization widens the city’s grasp and creates the need for strip malls, highways, gas stations, leveled forests, channelized streams, and homeowners associations that find line-dried clothes ‘unsightly’ instead of ‘environmentally friendly.’  Indeed, oak-hickory forests become Oak-Hickory Estates, filled with boring bradford pears and boxwoods.  A river floodplain becomes waterview mall, a vast ocean of concrete that covers fertile land (and inevitably will be inundated during a 100-year-flood).  Millions of people have an influence.

Billions, with a B, certainly have an influence.

Why is it so difficult to widen the scope of environmental influence from individual (local) to millions (regional) to billions (worldwide)? 

Sure, the Earth is big.  Most of it is covered by water, and plants like CO2.  But what about our collective impacts, the synergism of diverse contamination and innumerable smoke stacks, the millions of automobiles on the road, the boats transporting our ‘cheap’ goods across OCEANS (circumnavigating state-sized garbage patches)?  Is it so unfathomable that, in the relentless pursuit of progress worldwide, we are causing worldwide problems?

See the increases in cancer, respiratory illness, and general unhappiness as we wipe entire forests for toilet paper, burn anything and everything we find, throwaway reusable and recyclable things that never fully decompose, and import bottled water when locally-sourced (usually) tap water is available?

Do we continue down ruts until they run so deep that we cannot steer away when we see a cliff?  Do we invest in heavily subsidized, outdated, continually short-sighted technologies or consider developing technologies that become increasingly efficient, sustainable, and cheap in the long-term?

Who are we kidding?  Let’s not kid our kids or our kids’ kids; let’s invest in our future and their future responsibly, sustainably, as stewards for God’s masterful work.