One of the debates within environmentalism is this question of whether to solve the planetary crisis we will have to use fewer resources or whether we will just have to use them more efficiently and cleanly.
There are those, in other words, who seem to believe that we will get to keep driving around in SUVs and to keep our AC turned on all day, but that the vehicles and air conditioners will just be part of a much more efficient and cleaner energy system. Technology, they believe, will solve all our problems.
Personally, I believe that technology will solve some of our problems. But to achieve the 80% to 95% reduction in carbon emissions we need to achieve, we will ultimately have to make lifestyle changes, too (unless, of course, you believe that our economy can operate as a perpetual motion machine).
I'm not talking about returning to caves, but I am talking about things like higher reliance on public transportation, eating less beef, and maybe even hanging clothes out on a line instead of throwing them in a dryer. And personally, I don't see the debate between the efficiency and the reduction models.
There is so much to reduce that wouldn't feel in the least like deprivation. Who, for example, would miss all the packaging that we have to hump to the garbage the minute we get a new purchase home? Which of us would really miss much if we turned the lights and the air conditioning off in empty houses and buildings?
Even Amory Lovins, one of the gurus of the energy efficiency, accepts that consumption reduction will ultimately have to be part of the equation. The extract below comes from "Mr. Green: Environmentalism's Most Optimistic Guru," an article in the January, 2007 New Yorker by Elizabeth Kolbert (emphasis is mine):
I asked Lovins how his plan to save the world through energy efficiency could accommodate the open-ended nature of human desire. If, as he claims, conservation is profitable, what was to stop the profits from going straight toward more consumption?
"It doesn't automatically prevent that," he said. But, he added, "you might plow the money back into more efficiency rather than more powerboats and helicopter skiing. After all, you don't rewash your clean clothes in the cheaper-to-run washing machine, because your clothes are already clean. At some point, I think you get jaded by continuous trips to Bali.
"Your neighbors might point out that what you're doing is increasingly antisocial," he continued. "On a moral or spiritual level, at some point you may discover you're not all that happy having more stuff or more travel. Trying to meet non-material needs by material means is stupid and futile. Every faith tradition that I know decries materialism.
"Markets are meant to be greedy, not fair. Efficient, not sufficient. They're very good at short-term allocation of scarce resources, but that's all they're good at. They were never meant to tell you how much is enough or how to fulfill the higher purpose of a human being."
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