Thomas Kostigen

There Is More to Green Than Global Warming

There is more to being green than the fight to stop global warming. All of our natural resources are in peril because of what we do and what that does to our planet. Yet, to hear the battle cry of environmentalists these days you'd think there's only one war to be fought -- over our energy supply and its consequences.

We are facing a fresh water crisis. We are facing a food crisis. We are facing a crisis over deforestation. And we are facing crises in our oceans. While carbon emissions from fossil fuels pollute the air, so does a lot of other stuff.

Now is the time to press for leadership in the protection of all our natural resources. We'll have let an opportunity for a better planet -- in this election of "change" -- to pass us by if we just focus on the cause celebre that global warming is today.

We must increase our freshwater supply by about 20 percent by the year 2025 to meet world demand, and 90 cities still dump sewage into the Great Lakes, which supply water to 10 percent of the US population. The Lakes' resource is so great, we are going to great lengths to protect it: Congress last week passed a law formally banning the export of water from the Great Lakes beyond its basin. The price of most food has doubled over the past year, forcing millions deeper into poverty and malnourishment. There is now six times as much plastic as zooplankton in parts of the Pacific Ocean, and 90 percent of the big fish on Earth have disappeared.

Meanwhile, we have an ever-increasing waste and electronic-waste burden on our hands. We each create twice as much trash per day as we did 40 years ago. The average size of our landfills has multiplied 25 times in that period as well. And our e-waste burden is so bad that we ship 80 percent of it overseas to countries with weak environmental standards. These countries in turn make products from our discards and ship them right back to us. (And we wonder how lead paint gets in toys.)

As well, up to 40 percent of global wood production is from illegal timber operations. Deforestation not only displaces people and endangers species, it is the second biggest cause of climate change. (It isn't only fossil fuels that cause global warming.)

To be sure, an alternative energy supply is needed and important. But let's not forget the importance of other environmental factors crucial to our health and well-being, not to mention the planet's.

All Politics is Local and Green Politics are No Exception

Recently, we have seen yet another example of major leaders talking about global warming. It was one of the cornerstone issues of the recent Group of 8 Nations' meeting in Europe.

Unfortunately, as has been the case throughout his administration, President Bush once again rejected proposals to adopt concrete greenhouse-gas emission targets.

The fundamental issue is that creating international policy about global warming would include carbon-emission reductions for businesses and would surely affect the world economy. Just how is anyone's guess -- and that is the problem with such international endeavors; they are vague and abstract notions.

President Bush has seized on this vagueness to stall any international agreement on climate-change actions and/or reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions. Rather, he is calling on a series of meetings of the world's largest polluting nations to set goals by the end of 2008.

To be sure, carbon-emission policies must change. But sadly, until the ramifications of climate change are felt on a global level, it will be difficult to argue the status quo and the immediacy of action that is needed.

Many scientists say if we don't act on curbing carbon emissions soon, it will be impossible to thwart the world's warming. Once, of course, those ramifications are felt on a global level it will be too late to change the status quo of policy -- and in turn the course of climate change.

That's why it's so important to enact local policy change. Policies, like hot air, rise. Enough local policy changes and soon national policymakers then international policymakers -- in this case President Bush -- will wake up and see the urgent need and cry for worldwide carbon-emission reductions.

Mayors from cities all over the world met last month in New York to discuss climate change. It was a rousing display of support for initiatives that affect those closest to the heat of global warming: state and local communities.

It's in our homes, garages and in our yards where climate change takes root. Recycling, landfills, pollution, water and energy issues take on new meaning when they are up made close and personal.

And we can effectively vote with our individual actions: Turning off the lights, adjusting the temperature, even changing the light bulbs to more energy-efficient types are votes of appeal.

One of the principals behind The Green Book, that I have just written with Elizabeth Rogers, is how the collective power of small individual actions can create huge positive change.

For example, if you run full loads in your dishwasher and don't pre-rinse your dishes, you'll save 20 gallons of water per load or over 7,300 gallons of water a year. When all your neighbors join you, the positive effects ripple. Turning even a small town green through a series of these small steps would have a major impact.

And who would feel the impact first and see the positive effects of the change? That's right, local, city and state officials.

The more we do and the more we are heard, the more likely it is that legislation will be enacted that can pave the way toward a cleaner and greener world.

Unless you live next door to your congressman, your actions will probably, at first, go unnoticed on a national level. But in your town, city and state, the differences are made apparent with less trash, and less energy drains on the grid. (Local representatives are probably even more likely to spot you bicycling instead of driving around on a summer's day.)

They'll see your shifts in habit for what they truly are: casts of opinions, and for them, votes. This year there are several gubernatorial races and hundreds of mayoral races taking place across the nation, never mind all the town selectmen elections.

Capitol Hill is too far away to see individual actions, but locally actions matter -- votes, too.

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