Sunday, September 18, 2005

Cow Dung My Boy!

What a remarkable collection of ideas ( good, bad, merely interesting ) and technologies one can discover meandering through the numerous environmental blogs and websites.

At Ohio State University researchers have been experimenting with farm waste, attempting to develop fuel cells that can generate electricity from a chemical reaction. One researcher suggested the "hope" that farmers some day might be able to use the manure to ultimately generate sufficient power to run their business.

A few days ago I learned of a company ( ) that makes chocolate products; ten percent of the company's profits is donated to support the protection of endangered species. Anyone interested in how to choose the "right" chocolate, by avoiding those firms that harm tropical ecosystems, might check out Rainforest Relief at

Yes, there are numerous individuals, companies, and organizations throughout the world doing innovative things, and conceiving of what has not been considered before--and they deserve our support. But bear in mind....

More than one-quarter of the world's population ( 1.6 billion ) do not have electricity in their homes or a continuing source of safe drinking water. At least another one or two billion people are in debilitating poverty and have virtually no options at the present time. This means that approximately one-half of the human population on planet Earth is living a life of quiet desperation. But quiet for how long?

Now consider the approximately one-half billion people ( conservatively ) right now that want exactly what the middle and upper classes have in Europe, Japan, and North America. Think of all those ambitious young Indians, in all those call centers, spreading throughout all of India, wanting all the "stuff." And what about all those hard-driving, growing middle class folks in China? They want stuff too. Who wants to go to a friend's house on a bicycle when you can afford to ride in your own automobile. Shall we in Japan, Europe, and the United States tell them that all the stuff is really not what they ought to be striving for? Because some of those bits and pieces--at least for a while--will be electricity, fresh water, decent health care, education ... and choice.

The World Bank recently proposed a "new" accounting method that takes in natural and human wealth. It seems to me I heard this idea expressed more than ten years ago by an economist specializing in environmental economics. But better late than never. The report stated that governments need to consider, along with GDP and other traditional factors, such things as resource depletion and population growth to develop a "more complete vision" of a country's wealth. In other words environmental costs need to be considered.

Wangari Maathai from Kenya and the 2004 Nobel peace laureate said, "It is a pity the most important ministries are the foreign ministry and the defense ministry, yet the new enemy is the destruction of our environment."

Peter Seligmann head of Conservation International said, "Why do we have to go through the intellectual exercise of explaining why we need to protect the only place we can live on?" Why indeed?

Yesterday morning I discovered a small possum curled up asleep in my recycle bin on the back porch. He was lying between a plastic water bottle and a tin can. I returned back inside the house, closing the door as quietly as possible. Giving up is not an option I can contemplate.

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