I keep a copy of Walt Kelly’s famous Earth Day Pogo cartoon where I can easily see it. It’s the cartoon where Pogo and his pal Porkypine are walking over a floor of garbage amidst the “beauty of the forest primeval.” It concludes with one of the most famous lines ever printed — “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
The Aspen Skiing Co. has done an admirable job in reducing its carbon footprint and approaching sustainability in other areas, as outlined in their recent report. The report states, “If climate change doesn’t get fixed, businesses can’t be sustainable. That’s why corporations must become climate activists, pushing for big-scale solutions.” I couldn’t agree more.
But climate change isn’t the only thing that must be addressed if we are to attain true sustainability. It’s our consumptive lifestyle demanding more and more cheap energy, water and material resources that is utterly unsustainable. The United States constitutes about 5 percent of the world’s population; yet consumes 25 to 30 percent of the world’s natural resources, 20 percent of the worlds energy. That, obviously, is not sustainable by any measure.
Recently the city of Aspen invited people to step forward and submit ideas and alternatives to the defeated Castle Creek Hydro proposal in the city’s goal to attain 100 percent renewable energy sources. A great idea, but as Hal Harvey points out in his letter (“City renewables plea is a setup,” Aspen Daily News, Jan. 9) the invitation is fraught with caveats, limitations and strings attached. The “criteria” pretty well leads to only one possible conclusion: the Castle Creek hydro plant.
Respondents are asked to submit a detailed proposal, with supporting studies and materials, and all within just a few weeks — with Christmas in between. This is completely unfair, as Hal points out. Limiting the discussion to criteria that fits best a foregone conclusion is hardly an open discussion, or a real one. It’s a stacked deck, one that only creates an excuse for rejecting the election results from last November.
Hal noted that the city is avoiding what can be accomplished by conservation and energy efficiency. The city has a good program, but they and all of us need to do a lot more. Amory Lovins, at the public forum on hydro power in Aspen on June 16, 2011 at the Paepcke Auditorium at the Aspen Institute, said that he is “astonished at how wasteful our energy use is” in Aspen. He noted that the efficiency resource is enormously bigger and cheaper than the output of any new supply project will ever be, including the Castle Creek hydro plant.
To achieve the goal of 100 percent renewable energy in a way that protects and sustains both the environment and us will take big-scale solutions. Exploiting the efficiency resource on a big scale should be our primary focus. Lovins said “An even more comprehensive approach to making Aspen the most energy efficient community in the nation would richly serve our communities economy and environment.” Now that would be leadership Aspen could be proud of.
Dick Chaney once said that the American way of life is not negotiable. Yet sooner or later something will have to give. History is littered with the ruins of societies that failed the test of sustainability. True sustainability will never be achieved until we reduce our energy and resource demands to a real, sustainable level. That doesn’t mean finding new, renewable sources to supply a growing demand, it means reducing the demand and the need to further degrade the environment, the streams and the climate just to satisfy our way of life.
We continue to avoid the real issue — us, and the way we live on this planet. Climate change is only recently at the top of an expanding list of human-caused environmental disasters.
Replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy is absolutely necessary, but it only treats the symptoms of a larger planetary disease, not the cause. We cannot hope to effectively treat the cause without first honestly and fully addressing the reality of “us,” the real “enemy” of the planet and, ironically, our selves.
Pogo’s message is as true today, in this new age of green sustainability, as it was back in 1971.