Maybe it’s time for environmentalists to prioritize do-it-yourself climate fixes instead of looking to politicians. There are all sorts of options, including, for those dedicated enough, switching to an insect-based diet, as Change.org reports.
But in the private sector, inventors, corporations, and small businesses — farmers in particular — are finding more palatable ways to scale down their environmental impact. In short, politicians aren’t the only ones with the power to make high-profile statements and strong choices on climate change.
No solar on the White House
Environmental crusader Bill McKibben had already given up on Congress; now the White House has disappointed, too. McKibben and other leaders in the climate change movement are eschewing lobbying on legislation in favor of pushing for more visible, direct action on climate issues. To that end, McKibben, along with three students, asked the White House last week to reinstall one of Jimmy Carter’s solar panels on the roof. The answer was no.
McKibben describes the Obama administration’s response to his request as “uncool…Asked to do something easy and symbolic to rekindle a little of the joy that had turned out so many of us as volunteers for Obama in 2008, they point blank said no,” according to Truthout.
The administration officials that they met with, though, wanted to make sure that the climate activists knew something was being done to improve the country’s environment. They touted the president’s initiative to green the federal government — federal buildings in particular. One official, McKibben says, spoke more than once about a Portland, Ore., building that would soon have a “green curtain,” likely a hanging garden.
It’s not that McKibben disapproved. “Actually, it’s kind of great,” he wrote. “Still, I doubt many people are going to build their own vegetated fins.”
The talking cure
That’s the ultimate question: What will people build on their own? Solar panels could be one answer, although they haven’t quite caught on yet. There are all sorts of technologies, though, that could help us minimize our carbon footprint. Grist’s Ashley Braun checks out one new idea: drawing energy from sound waves:
Using that standby found in sunscreen, zinc oxide, to turn sound waves into electricity, these scientists have heard the bells of success starting to ring in their ears. Similar to other technologies aimed at harvesting energy from walking or dancing, this concept could also turn the roar of traffic into the hum of low-carbon electrons. How sweet the sound of renewable energy.
Scientists are considering using this technology in cell phones, creating, ideally, a device that would never have to be plugged in, assuming, of course, that its owner used it frequently enough, and used it as a phone, rather than an e-mail/web-surfing/GPS device.
Another option for climate reformers could be focusing on the private sector. Corporations have gotten the message that consumers buy green products, and more are churning out sustainable, climate-friendly offerings.
Care2′s Emily Logan points to Nestle, eBay, and Sunny D as three companies that have heard the green gospel. Nestle is investing in sustainable coffee; eBay is pushing out reusable shipping boxes; and Sunny D, the beverage company, met its zero-waste goal three years ahead of schedule.
“Of course, like most large corporations who are making efforts toward sustainability, some of these companies have a long way to go,” Logan writes. “But giving credit where credit is due is increasingly important when it comes to the environment.”
You are what you eat
The farm sector is one private industry that deserves more scrutiny and pressure. Recall that agriculture interests ran one of the most successful campaigns to be exempted from the cap-and-trade bill, when it was working its way through the House. Even among liberals, the industry has its defenders: local, sustainable agriculture just won’t work to feed the masses, the argument goes.
The problem with that line of reasoning is that we still haven’t seen how large sustainable farms can grow. Take Joel Salatin, the crusading farmer made famous by Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Salatin has been running a successful operation, Polyface Farm, for years while relying on organic and sustainable methods. As David E. Gumport reports at Chelsea Green, Salatin’s farm has only grown:
Standing in front of a group of about 50 romping pigs, [Salatin] proudly revealed that Polyface has hit the the $2 million annual sales level, while sticking to Salatin’s policy of not shipping food outside a 100-mile radius. The effect, he says, has been to strengthen local businesses-everything from a local breakfast diner serving visitors to his farm to local feed and supply companies.
Salatin is convinced his methods can be used to feed the entire population. What’s certain is that there is room for more of this sort of growth in the agricultural system.
Here, too, would-be reformers run back into politicians: Salatin’s food safety practices are not exactly FDA-approved, and to reseed his methods elsewhere, the government would need to relax safety standards for smaller, alternatives operations.
But for now, this sort of effort, and others outside of Washington seem to be making the largest impact.
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