Sustainability and Green Energy
This word keeps popping up and now that I have done some research I see why! This could be the single most important word to our entire planet earth. I had no idea how big this subject was going to be so I will do my best to summarize and emphasize the most important points. First of all we should start with a definition. Sustainability; to keep up or keep going, as an action or process: to sustain life on earth. It doesn’t have to be that big of a process, it can also be used as in to sustain a conversation. Lately this word is being used in all types of situations and systems. Mainly it is applied to social, economic and environmental systems. More specifically sustainability is referred to in human relationships to each other and the environment, economic sustainability on a local, regional, national and global level, plus environmental ecosystem survival at all levels. Wikipedia does a good job of explaining sustainability and it’s many facets.
The one subject I hear a lot about now days is green energy use. With the soaring energy costs that include all the fossil fuels our very survival is dependent on sustainable energy. We are speaking about renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal. I have seen great examples of people using each of these and just how great they work when we are committed to making them work. The most impressive example I have seen is Chena Hot Springs, AK! They are a small community of about 50-100 people that live totally off the grid. There are more and more of these sites as research is expanding the economic feasibility of geothermal. I have also seen a house in TN that had a geothermal heating and cooling system that required no electricity at all. One less expense for the family to worry about! Here in CO I see solar panels going on top of homes at a very encouraging rate. With the new tax incentives I understand that a person can put a $30K solar system up for about $10K and the system will have paid for itself in less than 10 years. Depending on where you live wind energy may also be a way to supplement your energy needs. I see the USA’s traditional energy systems slowly diversifying to the point that energy production is very diverse and local. No more are the days of a large central power plant burning coal or petroleum and spewing out smoke! Of course some regions will change faster than others, like the western USA seems to be much quicker to respond. There are pockets of change all over the USA however, and renewable energy use is an individual option that is rapidly becoming a practical reality for everyone!
We have all heard of the three R’s right? Reduce, reuse, and recycle are the three preferred methods of waste management in order of importance. We can now add prevention at the top and energy recovery and disposal at the bottom for a 6 point pyramid. I am sure everyone recycles, right? If not, why? Is it a convenience issue? Won’t it be more convenient for our children to have clean drinking water and room to recreate? Waste management is becoming more and more critical as we approach a 7 billion world population. If you don’t do it then who will? Probably your kids or mine! Finding ways to sustainably process the tons of trash that are produced each day is an issue that needs addressing right away. In fact there have been several unique answers to this issue and one is electric energy production from trash. Another way to recycle is to make gas from trash. I am so excited for our future and our kids as they grow up in a world that supports them.
Economic sustainability depends on a financial system that will keep going without failing as every other system has done. There is no magic formula to this and I believe it is simply a matter of evolution. As we evolve as a human race our ability to have commerce in a mature, mutually supportive fashion is only a matter of time. With each system that is developed we get better and better at it. In times of crises though we fall back on old methods so it becomes two steps forward, one step back. Most models depend on economic growth to fuel the system and this just has not and will not work in our present environment. For a system to be sustainable it must last a very long time and continued growth is just not practical over the long haul, so instead of basing our economic system on growth how about basing it on change since change is inevitable. Now this may seem to be a simple nomenclatural difference, but it is more than that. If our system could be flexible and change in ways that are not simply getting larger the whole system would be more viable. The system needs to allow for lateral and negative growth that is ultimately tied to the population. Issues of resource capacity must be considered in our models of economic sustainability. In reality the viability of our economic systems depend on resource availability, population and social factors. Each society in the world has social issues that both help and harm the economic system and getting 7 billion people to agree on one system seems impossible, however I believe we are already on the road to making this work, which is evident in our global economy.
Social sustainability is about keeping our social systems working together and away from conflict. Peace, security and social justice are key elements in a sustainable system. Once again I feel this comes back to evolution as a human race. As we grow in our ability to honor and appreciate each other for our ethnic, social, political and religious differences it will be easier to establish social sustainability. Basic human needs and rights are being considered in development of sustainable social structures. Such things as personal security, love, self esteem, personal fulfillment, cultural security, and participation, plus a right to life, liberty, freedom of thought, expression and identity, and equal treatment before the law, each contribute to society and are required for the system to be sustainable, which is already taking place in regions around the globe and are taking the form of eco-villages, transition towns and eco-municipalities.
Ecosystem survival is assured if we just get out of the way and allow nature to heal itself. It is demonstrated time and time again when we allow nature to respond naturally to our demands of resource removal plants and animals return and eventually flourish. Sustainable forest management is being utilized all over the world and is changing the way we do business. Forest certification is a large part of this process and is being done by such organizations as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and others. By holding each other accountable and supporting sustainable efforts through our economic practices the future of our ecosystems is bright indeed. Our oceans are another example of ecosystem survival that depends on respect, and careful management. Fish are a major source of food the world over and each country has their own program in place to manage the harvesting of ocean resources. Progress is being made in this area, and we will see how the oceans of the world respond to the demands of a growing population. Aquaculture holds great promise, but will require consumers to be more flexible in their choices of fish to eat. Raising carnivorous fish is an uphill battle and ultimately is not practical. Tuna and salmon are good examples of carnivorous fish that need to be left to nature to raise, while we stick to fish that will eat plants like catfish and tilapia. Nature is all about balance and as long as we allow our oceans time to recover they will. This goes for all our ecosystems be they rainforest, prairie or tundra.
Sustainability is the key to the survival of not only the human race, but also our planet earth in general. It is not just a question of survival either. Many people survive on earth but only barely. It really is about thriving as a Human Race and doing so in harmony with the rest of the world.
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