MagazineJuly 2008Beyond the Light Bulb

Beyond the Light Bulb

by Graham Averill

I am not ready for this whole global warming thing. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? It’s this environmental crisis where the temperature rises, ice caps melt, crops turn to dust, food becomes scarce, and we all have to start drinking our own urine because the rivers have run dry. It’s constantly in the news, and it is a complete downer.

The problem is, I have the attention span of a pubescent boy in a porn shop. It’s really hard for me to focus on any one subject for longer than your standard commercial break, and this global warming stuff is demanding a lot more of my attention than I originally anticipated.

I was sort of hoping global warming would just be a fad—you know, like all the other environmental crises this country has faced in recent decades. Remember the hole in the ozone back in the ‘80s? Big hole in the atmosphere = killer sunburns. So I stopped using hairspray. No problem. What about that trash barge in the ‘90s that couldn’t find a place to unload its garbage? I started to recycle my cans of New Coke immediately. The ‘70s oil crunch? My dad turned the thermostat down and handed everyone a cardigan sweater. One crisis after another, Americans have proven that we can perform the easy, symbolic gestures required of us by the public service announcements. In return, those crises have disappeared from the public eye. We stopped using hairspray and the ozone hole sealed back up. We recycled our soda cans and the trash problem fixed itself.

Okay, that’s not true. The ozone hole is twice as big as it was in the ‘80s and we still have a serious trash situation in this country, but we stopped having to live with the nagging guilt that each of these issues caused. The ozone layer stopped making headlines, allowing us all to forget about the damage we’re doing to this planet and get on with our carbon-producing lives.

But this global warming is a persistent little bastard. Several years into this crisis and the mercury is still rising, which pisses me off because I changed all my light bulbs to CFLs months ago, and I still have to listen to Leonardo DiCaprio talk about the polar bears.

That’s not how these environmental crises are supposed to go down. This is the protocol we’ve enjoyed in the past: celebrities get together and sing a song about recycling, we write a check to the Sierra Club, and everybody goes on with their lives. I expected the same series of events with global warming. We all donate seven cents a day to our favorite environmental charity, change our light bulbs to CFLs, and global warming has the decency to step out of the spotlight and make way for the next environmental nightmare—preferably something less sinister. Give us a really cute, fluffy animal in a remote Brazilian rain forest to save. Let us buy a stuffed replica of the animal where a portion of the proceeds go to habitat protection. Now that’s an environmental cause we can get behind!

That’s not how this particular situation is playing out, though. I mean, they’re rationing rice at Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart, for Gore’s sake! Sea levels are rising so fast it looks like my aunt is going to have beachfront property soon…and she lives in Ohio. What about all those CFLs I bought? You’re telling me it’s going to take more than changing my light bulbs in order to counteract decades of resource extraction, fossil fuel burning, deforestation, and over-consumption? I can’t just turn my thermostat down and say, “Mission Accomplished?” I’ve got to actually make some serious lifestyle changes? You want me to walk to work? To give up my double-bacon cheeseburger and eat locally grown vegetables?

I am not ready for this. America is not ready for this. Our political leaders certainly aren’t ready for this. They’ve been hemming and hawing over variations of a global warming bill for several years now, trying to figure out which version will look like it makes the biggest dent in our carbon footprint without actually doing anything drastic to piss off the oil and coal companies that paid for their campaigns. The silver bullet that the majority of politicians are rallying around? Biofuels, a solution that results in more carbon dioxide emissions than gasoline and exacerbates the food shortage.

Our elected officials spent the past decade debating fuel efficiency standards and finally agreed to raise them to a mere 35 mpg by the year 2020. Meanwhile, China, a country whose environmental record makes Dick Cheney look like Ralph Nader, already set their efficiency standards to 35 mpg. China—the communist government that cuts fins off of sharks, sucks the bile out of bears, and sends its baby girls down the river—has tougher environmental standards than we do.

While we spin our wheels trying to figure out the bare minimum we can do to curb our carbon emissions, the rest of the world is leaving us behind for a greener future. Where are some of the best eco-innovations coming from today? Not the United States. Japan just rolled out the first zero-emission fuel cell cars. Great Britain has passed some of the most progressive carbon cutting laws in the world. TESCO, Britain’s largest grocery store, is now putting carbon footprint labels on all their foods. The first commercial grade tidal wind turbine was just installed in Ireland.

What is the U.S. doing while all this innovation is going on around the world? Our politicians are figuring out a way to make coal look like a clean power source while the rest of us are content with changing our light bulbs.

Is that enough? Can I just buy a $1 Stop Global Warming wrist band and call it a day?

Apparently not. Global warming is a problem that requires more than just a check and the occasional celebrity documentary to fix. It’s a problem that’s going to take an entire lifestyle shift in this country. It’s going to take driving fewer miles and consuming less meat. It’s going to take solar power and wind turbines, bike paths and public transportation, local food co-ops and organic gardens. And it’s ultimately going to take real legislation that moves this country into the new global green economy that’s rapidly leaving us behind.

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