SANTA MONICA, Calif. (MarketWatch) — The answer both presidential candidates should have to the question of how to fix the environment is: More of the same — economic problems that is.
What's bad for the economy is good for the environment. Higher gas prices keep more people from driving and therefore decrease pollution. Higher food prices create less food waste because people budget. Fewer retail shoppers overall means fewer goods are produced and less manufacturing takes place. The energy to operate those manufacturing plants is then saved. And this energy comes mostly from coal plants that create vast amounts of carbon emissions that lead to global warming.
When employees get laid off, more trees are even saved. The average employee uses about 10,000 sheets of paper annually. That paper comes from trees.
You get the picture. The more we have to think about what we consume, the less we actually do consume. We even tend to reuse and save more during hard times. Retail stores are reporting lackluster sales. If people aren't buying new stuff they are reusing their old stuff.
It would be nice if we saved by choice rather than force. But that hasn't happened. We have been piggish with all of our natural resources, and have been positively gluttons with our financial resources. Is it any wonder that we are in the predicament we are in?
We cannot fully blame the government. We cannot fully blame the financial community. It's time we blamed ourselves. We have been living in a state of blissful ignorance and selfishness for so long we are shocked and dismayed at the prospect of sacrifice, or changing our habits. Earth to mankind: stop fooling yourselves.
We are going to need to change, big time, the ways in which we go through life. We are going to have to be conscious and conscientious about our actions and the ramifications of those actions, whether it's the wake up calls many are getting about the artificially high prices of their homes or the alarm that the climate is changing because of the increased amount of pollution we are putting into the air.
We need to open our eyes. For example, we have known for many years the world's supply of oil is dwindling and that it is going to cost more to extract it — where and when we can find it. Let's not get caught up in the smoke and mirrors of more drilling in more areas on the hope — hope! — that more oil will come. We need to get real and by extension realize that we need alternatives, fast.
We also need to face up to the $3 trillion proposition of fixing our water infrastructure and management systems in this country, a task most politicians turn their heads away from. We waste up to 40% of the municipal water supplies in many cities because of leaks and mismanagement. With 36 states facing emergency droughts over the next five years, according to the Bush administration, mind you, we must shore up our supplies of fresh water.
Updating the Clean Water Act would be a nice start. And getting the 90 cities that dump sewage into the Great Lakes, which supply 10% of the U.S. population with fresh water, to stop are strong beginnings. But such legislation never gets enough support. Water shortages ripple into agricultural problems and food shortages.
The time to get real and heal the planet — our natural capital — as well as our economy — our financial capital — is now. They go hand in hand you know. It's no coincidence that ecology and economy have the same prefix.
Eco comes from the Greek, oikos, which means house. We are being told in no uncertain terms to get our houses in order. Or we may lose them. The irony is that the financial crisis may help us to keep our common home, Planet Earth.
Thomas M. Kostigen is the author of "You Are Here: Exposing the Vital Link Between What We Do and What That Does to Our Planet" (HarperOne). www.readyouarehere.com
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