Saturday, September 28, 2019

What's Our Responsibility?

     I just read a book called The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan. It chronicles the history of the southern high plains -- how they were taken over from the Native Americans, plowed up by settlers, and then scraped dry by the drought of the 1930s.

     What struck me about the story is how the EuroAmerican farmers, encouraged by the government and supported by a good economy, tore up the native grasses, grew wheat and other grains and made lots of money in the process. But then came the Depression, and crop prices went down.

     To cover their debts and still make a profit, farmers plowed up yet more grasslands and planted more crops. Then a dry period arrived. The native grasses could survive the dry periods, but the grains could not. The crops withered and died. The dry dirt blew away in the wind. The farmers grew increasingly desperate. Many of them were foreclosed; many of them left. Some of those who stayed behind died of lung diseases or starvation.

     In other words, maybe through no fault of their own, but through their ignorance of the climate, their lack of foresight, their eagerness to make more money -- and urged on by the government -- they brought this crisis on themselves.

     Sound familiar?

     Most of us care about the environment, whether we believe global warming is an immediate  threat -- like Al Gore or this young climate activist from Sweden Greta Thunberg -- or simply regard it as a long-term concern. Or even if you think global warming is a hoax, you still probably want to breathe clean air, and don't want to be sucking exhaust out of the tailpipe of a ten-year-old pickup truck or live within spitting distance of a coal-fired electric plant.

     Of course we all want the government and the big corporations to do something about it. But what is our responsibility?

     Do we blame the oil companies for digging up the oil? Or do we blame the auto companies for producing gas-guzzling SUVs, or ourselves for buying and driving those gas-guzzling SUVs? (Trucks and SUVs now account for roughly 65% of new vehicle sales, and according to the EPA, the Jeep Wrangler averages 18 mpg, the Mercedes standard SUV gets 16 mpg and the Dodge RAM pickup limps in at 14 mpg.)

     Still, we have to live in our world, and we need to get around. And there are plenty of good reasons why we retirees like to drive father than to the corner store. We like to travel. We travel to meet up with family and to bring our friends closer together. We travel to broaden our horizons, to see how other people live, appreciate other cultures and better understand our world.

     And then there's the kind of travel that B calls "expensive entertainment." That's when you go to Disneyworld or a resort in the Caribbean or pretty much anything you do in Las Vegas.

     But when we travel there is a cost to the environment. That four-hour drive down the interstate in your SUV, at 70 mph, burns up about 12 gallons of gasoline, spewing those hydrocarbons into the air. The coast-to-coast airline flight burns about 15,000 gallons of fuel (or roughly 40 gallons per passenger). When you consider that every day there are about 100,000 commercial flights in our skies, plus another 30,000 non-commercial flights -- that's a lot of hydrocarbons!

     So what do we do? Just continue to blame big government and big business? Or can we modify our behavior enough to make a difference?

     Personally, I try to stay off airplanes anyway, because I don't like to fly. But maybe we should be more intentional about hopping on a plane just because the airline is advertising a cheap rate to some entertaining destination.

     Maybe we should try to go by train, if possible. (Kudos to the 200 - 300 retirees, per day, who make their trip to Florida on the Autotrain.) Or perhaps we can carpool.

     My golf group of mostly retired teachers travels around to different golf courses, often bypassing perfectly good courses to travel 30 miles to a place with slightly cheaper rates. But the guys do make an effort to carpool. Sometimes it's a pain in the neck, turning a 30-minute drive into a 45-minute drive by the time you go out of your way to get to a meeting point, then wait for other people to arrive, and then all pile in and get going again. Does it make any difference?

      But as far as our own travel goes, maybe we can focus our trips closer to home. How many New Yorkers jet off to France to see the Eiffel tower, but never bother to take the ferry out to the Statue of Liberty? There often are plenty of interesting places close to home that are just as enriching, just as entertaining as the place a thousand miles away.

     I remember when I was a kid, my mother urged us to batch our car trips. Why make three car trips when you can get everything done in one trip, and save a little on gas, she'd challenge us. And this was before the energy crisis, when gas cost 35 cents a gallon!

     I don't have all the answers. Honestly, as far as global warming goes, I think if anything saves us from ourselves, it will be technology. But it can't be electric cars. Where do you think we get the electricity to power electric cars? From burning coal and oil and natural gas.

     But I'm guessing they'll come up with some new form of energy that will be cleaner than petroleum and more powerful than wind or solar (but that will probably pose some other problem to challenge our grandchildren). In the meantime, maybe we should help out, at least where we can . . . before everything turns to dust and blows away in the wind.

23 comments:

tahoegirl.blog said...

Great post Tom!!!
I hope we can learn from history but it seems unless the administration steps in and helps( not what is going on now) I think we are headed for some serious climate issues. It's interesting you brought up travel, my husband and I were just talking about what we want to do next year for our 50th anniversary.( yes, I know we can hardly believe it).... But we talked about Paris. And you know, I'd rather just do something in this part of the world. California is big. We haven't seen Yellowstone so lots to consider.
But the most important thing is people/government need to wake up before it's too late and as you say, it blows away in the wind. There is no Planet B ( yet).

Tabor said...

WE all are to blame, some more than others. But greater blame falls when we can do better and do not. I make as few car trips as possible, but I can now travel to other countries and do go by plane for many obvious reasons. I recycle, I keep an organic yard, I avoid waste. BUT I burn fires in my fireplace in the winter and not sure that this is environmental, even though I end up turning down the thermostat for the rest of the house. It is all complicated. I am of the group that it is dangerous and just around the corner. Millions and millions of refugees will be lost.

gigi-hawaii said...

My solution to the deteriorating conditions on Earth is to plan for life on Mars, the Moon, or some other planet. I love to read stories about what NASA is doing, and also what astronomers are seeing in the distant sky.

DJan said...

Another way to help the environment is to eat less meat, or even none at all. I applaud the advent of the Impossible Burger, which apparently tastes just like meat. I have been a vegetarian for many decades and if I had not started back then, I sure would now! I take the bus as often as possible, too. :-)

Linda Myers said...

Really good post, Tom. That section about how the well-adapted grasses were replaced, to the detriment of the area and the population, is just one example of how we sometimes we pursue what we think is good, and find out it isn't so good after all.

I'm of the mind that we will find our way out of the current climate situation. But I think the solution/solutions are likely to be something that hasn't been thought of yet. Very possibly something related to technology, but not entirely technological.

Tom said...

DJan ... I rarely eat meat, altho' I do consume fish and chicken. I tried an Impossible Burger about two weeks ago. I thought it was terrible, but that's because I really don't like red meat (which to me begs the question, if you're a vegetarian, why would you be interested in a burger that tastes like meat?)! Anyway, I get your drift. Raising meat apparently is a lot more taxing on the environment than raising vegetables, so if we want to help we should eat less meat -- and it's better for your health too. Now, life on another planet ... I'm in, as long as there's a beach somewhere.

Unknown said...

Interesting topic and very complicated indeed. We all are time travelers, we come to this world for a while and then one day we say good bye to it, leaving everything behind us. I suppose that the obvious answer about the personal responsibility towards the environment is to leave it better than we found it. In reality though, that is not the case .
Exactly like in the book you've mentioned, the desire to own more, to make more money, to go further faster, coupled with governments that encourage consumption to keep the economies going and ever growing has lead all of us to where we are today.So unless we change our mentality about consumption and waste, we may have the same fate of farmers in the book who ended up dying of disease and hunger.
There is a trend going on about using less, but like any other trend, it will not last. Real changes are hard and cultural changes in particular are the hardest. It takes more than a trend to change a culture of consumerism, especially when we live in a country where 2/3 of the economy is based on consumer consumption. However, if every person starts to make small changes everyday, we should see an impact. After all, we the consumers drive the economy. I'm talking about reducing waste ( food waste in particular),stop buying unnecessary stuff, opt for smaller vehicles, opt for smaller living spaces and such. It doesn't have to be extreme, just small changes that everyone can make : reusing and recycling, carpooling when possible, consolidated shopping trips. I believe in the power of many, so I think this is the best way to go.

Diane Dahli said...

One aspect of waste consumption is the fashion industry. I know people (women, mostly) who want a new outfit every time they go out. Manufacturing fabric uses copious amounts of resources, something which receives no air time at all. I agree that meat consumption must be reduced. And travel, most definitely. Great article, Tom!

Kay said...

This is a very excellent, thought provoking post, Tom. My husband worked for the EPA and is aghast at what the Trump administration is doing. And yes we do like to travel and have to take an airplane because let's face it, we're stuck in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. However, we're trying to limit how much plastic we use. We have a hybrid car. We have solar panels. We watch our energy consumption. We try to limit how much meat we eat, particularly beef since cattle farming does harm the environment. I guess if we can all really put our minds to doing something, it can help. But it's not enough... We need government to set standards and right now, government is trying to undo all the gains that were put in place before.

Wisewebwoman said...

We are all to blame. Corporations have shareholders and glancing at a portfolio can produce interesting investments in finite resources.

I urge everyone to watch the Bill Gates doc as he believes(and is pouring money at) nuclear power for everything. Not the old nuclear power but recycled and so much safer with newer technology.

We are doomed unless drastic changes are instantly put in place and it will hurt.

XO
WWW

Rian said...

"In the meantime, maybe we should help out, at least where we can . . . before everything turns to dust and blows away in the wind." I agree with this, although the little things we do (recycle, eat less meat, etc.) seem so trivial and the effects come so slowly that we wonder how beneficial they actually are. And IMO, "blame" never works... actively finding better solutions is the answer. Hopefully (even by taking small steps) we will be able to do this.

Arkansas Patti said...

Excellent post Tom. We are all to blame from voting booth to our actions and I just hope we are not too late. I try to consolidate multiple car trips into one but yesterday I blew it. I wanted to donate my old reading glasses and prescription glasses (it was a bag full) to the Lions Club to recycle. The closest was 40 miles one way and I made that trip. It was a one purpose trip which rather eliminated what good I wanted to do. Duh.

Barbara said...

From all the comments it is apparent that many of us are concerned about this. It is likely we will all be dead when a good solution is both discovered and put in place. I think that is why it is so important to put the younger people in place politically speaking. The 40-50 yo citizens need to be planning for their children and grandchildren and not let the Old White Men leave them a country crippled by debt and covered in unbreathable air and undrinkable water. I'm going to see if the library has this book. Sounds really interesting and a need to know

CynicDC said...

I'm a mixed bag. I gave up driving 25 years ago for public transit & walking (I'm 63) and haven't used my clothes dryer in 20 years. Yet, I eat meat and realistically won't give up airlines for Amtrak.

Anonymous said...

Recently, I am seeing disturbing reports saying that the items we recycle are dumped in landfills. I think our garbage problem needs a commitment towards the development of inexpensive and versatile biodegradable packaging.

As far as the plant-based meats, I wonder if they are a healthy replacement for actual meat. We (most of us) evolved eating animals. Meat is complex. Isn't it possible that it contains trace amounts of nutrients that, while not essential, promote optimal health.

I think the best hope for our planet is reducing the number of people using its resources.
Arlene

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

great post. I just don't get why people don't think this is real. I get the dumb guy in the white house not getting it, if his pockets were lined by the climate changers then he'd "see" it. I also just watched a documentary on Nostradamus and his quatrain on climate change gave me the chills. We are all our own worst enemy aren't we?

Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com said...

Hi Tom! I am very heartened to see this post and the one on Bob's (and hopefully many more) about Greta and her focus on the environment and our future. I think we ALL need to be speaking up on this and making it a necessity. It is NOT a political issue...it is our future and the future of humankind. I don't have kids but I have to admit I am astounded by any parent or grandparent pretends that we aren't in a climate crisis. And while there are LOTS of things we can do including eliminating plastic as much as possible, reducing travel, cutting out meat, etc...the biggest thing IMHO in doing our best to elect in the right people and to make sure the wrong people are not in political office. Their voting records, locally, regionally, nationally and internationally, effect huge numbers of us. That's why this year I am getting more politically involved with the coming elections. They MATTER. As Greta says, what we do or don't do in these times will dramatically influence the future. ~Kathy

Janette said...

Great, positive, post Tom! I was sick to have a huge swath of the US called dangerous somewhere else. We are in this together.

I agree with Wisewebwoman. We need to get past the fear of nuclear. There is great research (and use) going on. My son, a nuclear physicist, is very concerned that that energy is being looked past. Instead we kill thousands of migratory birds with "wind mills" and heat the sky with millions of Chinese mirrors (which "die" in 10 years and cannot be recycled). All giving very little real power. The Navy has had nuclear for years and years. My son was working on a reactor so small it could fit on the back of a truck- but could power a small city.
We should also really look at our food. Pea protein takes loads of energy to produce. Quinoa is being stripped from the Andes and those people are starving. Our avocado rage has taken the normal food of Mess America away from them. And you cannot eat a fish out of any of the rivers in Delaware. How safe is the fish you eat? People need to judge food source, take care of the earth and eat local--IMHO. We need to "see" our impact.

And Tom...those golf courses....they use sooooo much water..... spoken as a true Westerner.
Just another thing to think about.

Anonymous said...

With regards to meat, it depends what the meat is from and where. Buffalo Bill Cody spent alot of time killing off buffalo to starve Native Americans. Those buffalo were well suited to at least part of the prairie environment, far more then that environment was suited to growing wheat, corn and other crops grown by settlers in the 1880's--who, long before the "Dust Bowl" suffered greatly from damage down by locusts, drought & erosion, due in part to their farming practices. And it was not just the "government" that promoted settlement of land unsuited to standard farming practices, it was the railroads. The corporations that built the transcontinental RRs received alot of free land along their routes (courtesy of the federal gov't, the land was part of the incentive for building the transcontinental RRs), they wanted to sell that land, they wanted towns along their routes to ship on their RRs, and as well as receive shipments carried on the RRs.
In fact, Laura Wilder, her husband and two friends/relatives (author of the "Little House" books, decided to try settling & farming in Florida, and they heard about the wonderful climate for farming,etc, through more railroad advertising (RRs had also advertised re: great farmland in SD too). For them farming in FL didn't work out, they ended up in MO eventually.

Raising bison or cattle on land & a climate better suited to grazing livestock is a better use of that land then growing soybeans. In the US, unless it's organically grown, there's heavy use of pesticides in growing vegetables, beans, fruit is heavy, Now, two antibiotics are now being sprayed on orange & I think grapefruit trees to control some kind of blight. Tetracycline had been okayed for use on "organically grown" apples & pears to control fire blight. Are veg, beans etc still "better" for the environment when hazardous (to birds, amphibians, fish and humans) are heavily used?
Anyone who thinks that the baby boomers and those born during WWII didn't try, didn't make a difference, has never met the people who sued the Forest Service to stop the aerial spraying of Agent Orange in the Suislaw National Forest (and their watersheds. It was babyboomers who revived the practice of growing organically (some older farmers had continued to farm organically), who started new food cooperatives (some of which still exist today), boomers & younger people who brought the Japanese created CSA (Community Support Agriculture) movement to the US. Anyone who has a share in a CSA & gets veg, flowers, sometimes meat and eggs delivered to their home, or bought food at a farmers market (or sold food or crafts) has benefited from the boomer & younger people's efforts to reconnect farmers/market gardeners, with "consumers" or eaters.

Passenger rail and freight rail is the most efficient way of moving freight & people. Traveling by rail is a good idea, letting your legislators know that you want Amtrak to be better funded, and to bring HSR to more then short stretches of the US is even better. Riding light rail, buses, et al, where available, cycling & walking is good too, lobbying your local gov't to build a complete sidewalk or off road mulitiuse path system is a great idea too. There's a huge emphasis in much of the US in maintaining and expanding infrastructure for motor vehicles, while pedestrians and cyclists get almost no new infrastructure or good maintenance of what already exists. Who wants to walk on busy streets rather then a sidewalk or better yet a sidewalk or path that's set at least 6' from the street. Who wouldn't like to have safe ways to cross busy streets.

ain't for city gals said...

This book is one of my favorites...but honestly I never thought about it in current times...but so true. It reminds me of what is happening in Arizona for development of housing...mostly for snowbirds...which I understand you are thinking of doing somewhere. Everyone is ok with most everything as long it is not in "my backyard". I am as guilty as all. Just to be clear on eating meat....yes feedlot meat is terrible in more ways than twenty. I can't imagine eating that. But grass fed from Teton Ranch (just to name one) and elk, deer etc. (not farm raised) are actually good for our planet. People need to read more about this subject.

Rebecca Olkowski said...

I believe we all have to do our part to preserve our environment because it's our children and grandchildren's future. To deny there is a problem is irresponsible and reprehensible, to be honest. We can use reusable grocery bags (we do that in California) reusable drinking bottles, pick up litter, keep our cars in good repair and low emission, support National Parks and monuments, clean ocean, etc. We don't all have to become vegans but maybe for health reasons eat less meat. Deregulation when it causes bad air, dirty water, and other problems is not wise. Instead of blaming take steps to do what you can and realize it's a problem.

Barbara said...

Tom, I had to start a new blog after Google archived my web page. Please jump over and visit me if you get the chance. welcometosimple.blogspot.com

And you are not old -- yet --!

oldwahoo said...

All the efforts that individuals make (not eating meat, not taking airplanes, reusing grocery bags) add up to nothing in the face of India and China putting new coal plants on line every week to provide their residents with the basics of electric power. (Indonesia too). Chinese coal is by far the biggest single source of pollution on earth (look it up). Yet we obsess over soy burgers.

I don't have an answer. But I know we are looking in the wrong places to solve the problem. We are straining at gnats and swallowing camels, or something like that.