The Green Revolution
The Beachside Resident - May 2009
With all the talk about "going green" lately, it’s tempting to think that we may finally be climbing out of the coal-caked chimneys of the Industrial Age to peek our heads into a brighter, cleaner future. But how realistic is the green movement? And if it succeeds, how much do we really gain?
In 500,000 years, it’s very likely our cities will have crumbled to dust, our reign as the dominant species ended, and, as with every life form before us, our remains buried under strata of insects, dirt, and plants. In this sense, a green Earth is inevitable. Even if humans were to cut down every last tree, completely annihilate the ozone layer, and plaster the globe beneath a five-foot layer of chemical waste, in time, the toxic shell would crack, the atmosphere would stabilize, weeds would creep through, and strange flowers would sprout up once more.
In the grand scheme of things, it wouldn’t have mattered that a bunch of monkeys ate all the bananas in the forest or burned up all the fossil fuels or killed each other off, along with 99% of the other life forms. The 1% should regenerate well enough.
Yes, despite our best efforts, despite our nuclear holocausts, our great gaseous spewings, and our complete mucking up of the planet, the armageddon will be 100% organic. No matter how we meet our doom, weeds will always creep up through our debris, flowers will always bloom. As it is written... the meek shall inherit, etc.
So why such an effort to go green?
Maybe we love to dream. It is a beautiful dream, isn’t it? A return to Eden, a utopia where people live in abundance and harmony with nature…
Maybe the turn of the millenium has brought on a collective desire for change, a lurking notion that an epoch of wastefulness and materialism is over, that it’s time to move on... to evolve?
Or perhaps our motivation is simpler. Might it be that the colossal wheels of modernity are growing old and rusting, and we're terrified that the grinding sound in the depths of the machine might be a sign that the wheels are about to seize up for good?
The 20th century brought with it some astounding advances in civilization: modern medicine extended life spans, transportation and communication methods connected all corners of the globe, and technology surpassed common sense with the efficiency of a draft car whipping past the lead car on the final turn of the race. The upshot was a swelling of the human population from a modest 1.6 billion people in 1900 to nearly four times that number — over 6 billion — in 2000. To grasp the scope of just how quickly the world population is growing, consider that it’s increased by nearly another billion in this decade alone.
Strangely enough, the main contributing factor to this viral spreading of humanity was a high-yield, chemically-enhanced approach to agriculture which took hold around the middle part of the century, and which is ironically referred to as “The Green Revolution.”
And now? If we’re to keep multiplying at epidemic rates (which, barring a plague or a rogue comet, is quite likely) we’ll need to be resourceful. The earth’s energy must be used to our advantage if we want to see 10, 12, or 15 billion people living here without eating each other. Oil and coal are useful (albeit controversial) commodities, but insufficient to sustain us. The bottom line: We must do away with luxuries like electricity, cars, and meat, or else find alternate energy and food sources.
When you consider the fact that one hundred years ago, the first mass-produced automobile –– the Model T –– could run on either ethanol or gasoline and had a fuel efficiency of nearly 20 miles per gallon, it’s evident that not much effort has been spent this past century on improving energy efficiency. For decades, corporations and their corresponding governmental agencies have suffocated innovation for the sake of the bottom line. One of capitalism's problematic flaws exposed: a less efficient product often proves to be the most profitable.
In March, a British man broke the landsailing speed record by driving his wind-powered vehicle 126 miles per hour on a dry lake in Nevada. The lightweight car, constructed mostly of fiberglass, looked like a combination between a maple seed and a sailboat. It was powered by air alone. It’s a fanciful thought, but imagine a fleet of these things cruising silently to Orlando on a revamped I-4 corridor, propelled onward by the seabreeze. True, we couldn’t always have the wind at our backs, but if the wind's there, why not ride it?
Another fanciful thought: Imagine New York City with a garden on every rooftop. From above, it would look like a 3-D grid of mottled farmland. If planted properly, the wider, taller buildings in midtown might produce enough tomatoes to feed, say, all of Little Italy. With such a canopy, the city’s temperature would likely cool 10 degrees in summertime and be 10 degrees warmer in winter, which would save a whole lot on central air and heating bills, and make the subways rides much more tolerable.
Speculative green scenarios are endless. Why not harvest underwater plots of farmland for edible seaweed, a nutritious alternative to soy beans, thus freeing up the dry land? What about the electric car? Sea turbines? Solar-powered water heaters?
In a sense, the new green revolution will be the anithesis of the assembly-line approach of the first. Technology will be forced to adapt to a variety of ecosystems… rain forests, deserts, and cities will have to be recognized as unique organisms, with idiosyncratic needs and resources. We’ll see a rise in permaculture, which strives to design permanent, self-sufficient human colonies, to retain food, materials, and waste products within a small, enclosed system, and which hinges on the principle that pollution is merely “energy in the wrong place.”
Maybe we’re chasing windmills. Dreaming the impossible dream. In one sense, most dreams are pointless, impossible. The car, the airplane, the cell phone, the computer — none of these things really made life any easier, or any better, for that matter. But they gave us something to work on, something new to keep our minds occupied and focussed, and for that they were good.
If nothing else, the new green revolution gives us reason to change our way of thinking, to grow, to hope, to be inspired. And isn’t that what life is all about?