In a previous post, I put forward a theory that the U.S. stopped — or simply forgot — to continue evolving the vision for its future and the vacuum left by this negligence is slowly being filled with theocratic thinking and values (I really would love some comments on that post). Since writing that post, I’ve been thinking about a concept that is steadily growing in its popularity and looks like a contender for the United States’ (and/or the world’s) vision for the future — Carbon Neutrality.
The growth in the number of agents (corporations, colleges, cities, states, organizations, spokespeople, etc.) promoting this concept gives me some hope that our humanity may avoid the tragic consequences of inaction in the face of drastic climate change. It also, however, leaves me suspicious about how these various agents — particularly the profit-driven ones — will use Carbon Neutrality to “green wash” their other actions that harm the environment.
Already, a number of profit-driven interests, the ones usually targeted by environmentalists for their eco-destructive practices, are claiming to be “green” under the mask of Carbon Neutrality. Chevy recently plastered the Twin Cities (and I assume other metro markets) with billboards and TV ads boasting of their advances in Hybrid, FlexFuel, Electric and Hydrogen vehicles. Never mind the fact that Chevy, along with all other U.S. car manufacturers have been gaming our country’s fuel efficiency standards for years, producing and selling some highly efficient vehicles with one hand while simultaneously producing, glamorizing and selling many (or should I say “tons”?) of SUVs and heavy trucks with the other. A forestry industry group is also running TV ads claiming using lumber for construction “traps carbon” and contributes to climate neutrality — never mind the fact that an old, living and large tree is much more able to “trap carbon” then the dead sticks that hold up the roof over your head.
We will most likely see more entities use “Carbon Neutrality” as a green washing gimmick as this concept gains greater and greater hold in our popular value structure. We will also most likely see some entities genuinely take steps to reduce their carbon footprint. These genuinely acting agents are (or will be) busy making assessments of the size of their current “carbon [dioxide] footprint”; plotting ways to reduce it; sharing their strategies; and publishing the results towards greater public accountability.
The genuine agents pursuing “Carbon Neutrality” should be applauded for their efforts to make progress on this one important environmental benchmark. And, even the less-than-genuine agents could be applauded for contributing their marketing dollars toward the needed addition Carbon Neutrality to society’s value structure. But, these efforts are not enough to propel humanity toward a greater vision for our future — Eco-Sustainability. Solely relying on one benchmark — the reduction in Carbon Dioxide output — provides too narrow a viewpoint in making environmental decisions.
For example, our friends at Westinghouse might promote nuclear power, and the reactors they sell, as “The Way Toward Carbon Neutrality.” Nuclear power has a number of environmental problems — like radioactive waste that will last for at least 100,000 years and “plumes” of radioactive gases released from all nuclear plants on a regular basis. While it is true that the U.S. could dramatically reduce its carbon dioxide output by replacing coal power plants with nuclear ones; doing so would simultaneously increase the number of environmental challenges we face in transporting and storing the resulting radioactive waste and the increases in background radiation in our communities.
Another example is that holy grail of transport — the Hydrogen-fueled car. If all vehicles in the U.S. used hydrogen for fuel, we would greatly decrease our carbon dioxide output. But, if these vehicles required an increased consumption and disposal of something like, say, Borax, then we would face new environmental challenges of how to extract the natural resources required for its production and how to dispose of the substance when we’re finished with it.
Hopefully, Carbon Neutrality will prove to be a gateway benchmark toward a wider variety of ways to measure our progress toward eco-sustainability. Ideally, this more comprehensive set of environmental benchmarks will become commonplace in our thinking about our collective and individual actions. One day, today’s obsession with reducing our carbon output could evolve into an even more useful obsession with reducing what could be dubbed our “Environmental Threat Index (ETI).”