Sometimes We’re Just Subjectively “Driven” Towards Progress?

I don’t know about you, but I am pretty thrilled with the idea of self-driving cars. As a SoCal native, who is unfortunately stuck on the oxymoronic “free”way more than I would like to be, the whole idea of them sounds exciting. If I had to pick between my Smart Phone and never having to d

I don’t know about you, but I am pretty thrilled with the idea of self-driving cars. As a SoCal native, who is unfortunately stuck on the oxymoronic “free”way more than I would like to be, the whole idea of them sounds exciting. If I had to pick between my Smart Phone and never having to drive again, dare I say, I might pick the latter.

I’m going to consider self-driving cars as perhaps one of the most promising technological developments of the next few years; they will revolutionize how we view cars. Uber and Lyft already poised to have entire fleets of self-driving cars zooming around cities, dropping off and picking up passengers, not to mention all of the individual owners who may put their cars to use during their “off” hours. First of all, this will eliminate a vast amount of land that we currently use for parking. Think about how inefficient your car is… Unless you drive it for a living, it’s sitting around unutilized most of the time. The tables will soon turn, and parking lots will no longer be as necessary ( if at all), as self-driving cars would instead be utilized probably closer to 90% of the time, and would only park for maintenance, refueling, etc.

But this isn’t the only parking lot that will change… Parking lots like the  *ahem* 405 Freeway will be freed up as self-driving cars will essentially eliminate the “human error” that causes traffic, whether it be a delayed reaction to the car moving in front of you or an accident that causes rubber-necking on the other side of the freeway. Your automated car doesn’t care to slow down to see what happened…

So what’s there not to be excited about, right? Overall this could be a great technology for the environment-less traffic means fewer air emissions, elimination of parking lots will reduce land covered with impervious surface area, and switching out our traditional cars for automated ones will provide an opportunity to further boost the electric vehicle market. If everyone is buying a self-driving car, why not make it an electric one?

I’m going to throw this out there… and play “conservative” advocate (you get the idea). With self-driving cars, we will fundamentally reimagine how we use vehicles. Additionally, just about every truck-driving job in the United States wouldn’t be necessary anymore. Hello self-driving semi! That’s a lot of jobs. Do you see anyone protesting self-driving cars with the same fervor as the science behind climate change? I find this interesting, because climate change is often the scapegoat for job losses. At the same time, technological advances, like self-driving cars, will have the same effect. Do we just want to live in the dark ages for fear of losing jobs, when really, jobs will just be transitioned?

With President-elect Trump threatening to stall renewable energy growth, I think it’s time we ask ourselves that question. Why are we open to some new technology, but not others? Sure, climate change regulations would force the coal industry to lose jobs, but self-driving cars will have a huge impact on car sales, truck driving, etc. Does that mean we’re all doomed to traffic for good? I sure hope not. We must be willing to accept change, and not just when it’s convenient for us. Are we too prideful to acknowledge that technology can be the answer, especially to issues like climate change, even if it might require some initial adjusting? rive again, dare I say, I might pick the latter.

I’m going to consider self-driving cars as perhaps one of the most promising technological developments of the next few years; they will revolutionize how we view cars. Uber and Lyft already poised to have entire fleets of self-driving cars zooming around cities, dropping off and picking up passengers, not to mention all of the individual owners who may put their cars to use during their “off” hours. First of all, this will eliminate a vast amount of land that we currently use for parking. Think about how inefficient your car is… Unless you drive it for a living, it’s sitting around unutilized most of the time. The tables will soon turn, and parking lots will no longer be as necessary ( if at all), as self-driving cars would instead be utilized probably closer to 90% of the time, and would only park for maintenance, refueling, etc.

But this isn’t the only parking lot that will change… Parking lots like the  *ahem* 405 Freeway will be freed up as self-driving cars will essentially eliminate the “human error” that causes traffic, whether it be a delayed reaction to the car moving in front of you or an accident that causes rubber-necking on the other side of the freeway. Your automated car doesn’t care to slow down to see what happened…

So what’s there not to be excited about, right? Overall this could be a great technology for the environment-less traffic means fewer air emissions, elimination of parking lots will reduce land covered with impervious surface area, and switching out our traditional cars for automated ones will provide an opportunity to further boost the electric vehicle market. If everyone is buying a self-driving car, why not make it an electric one?

I’m going to throw this out there… and play “conservative” advocate (you get the idea). With self-driving cars, we will fundamentally reimagine how we use vehicles. Additionally, just about every truck-driving job in the United States wouldn’t be necessary anymore. Hello self-driving semi! That’s a lot of jobs. Do you see anyone protesting self-driving cars with the same fervor as the science behind climate change? I find this interesting, because climate change is often the scapegoat for job losses. At the same time, technological advances, like self-driving cars, will have the same effect. Do we just want to live in the dark ages for fear of losing jobs, when really, jobs will just be transitioned?

With President-elect Trump threatening to stall renewable energy growth, I think it’s time we ask ourselves that question. Why are we open to some new technology, but not others? Sure, climate change regulations would force the coal industry to lose jobs, but self-driving cars will have a huge impact on car sales, truck driving, etc. Does that mean we’re all doomed to traffic for good? I sure hope not. We must be willing to accept change, and not just when it’s convenient for us. Are we too prideful to acknowledge that technology can be the answer, especially to issues like climate change, even if it might require some initial adjusting?

Is Black Friday a National Holiday?

Happy Thanksgiving, and as the title of this post suggests, Black Friday… This is just a quick post, but might make you stop and think for a moment about two of the 7 Sins of Sustainability. I did today.

Have you ever noticed that Black Friday is typically a paid holiday for many office workers across America? At the same time, many retail workers are forced back to work prematurely on their Thanksgiving holiday in a race to push Black Friday earlier and earlier.

My observation is that Black Friday is the only “day after the holiday” many companies observe. Do I get Christmas Eve off? No. Day after Christmas? No. Day after Easter? No. A three day weekend would sure be nice though…I realize Thanksgving is always on a Thursday, but New Years and Christmas also make three or four day weekends possible, too, when they fall on just about any day but Wednesday.  Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that Black Friday is usually a paid holiday, but it sure doesn’t  hurt to encourage a consumerist holiday season. Start off your holiday season right with a day for buying,  shopping, and spending!

So, whether you’re out “observing” Black Friday or not, remember to think about Greed and Envy as Sins of Sustainability today and their associated environmental impact. “Spend” the day doing what YOU value most. Happy holidays!

The Green Paradox: Does it Require Green to be Green?

Over the course of the last decade or so when I first became concerned about sustainability and the environment, I would say that the overwhelming majority of my experiences with this field have been synonymous with a high price tag… You want an electric car? It’ll cost you more for than a similar sized car that’s gas-powered. Trying to be healthy and buy organic food? Be ready to fork over the extra money to shop at Whole Foods (or as I’ve also heard it referred to as, “Whole Pay Check”). Sure, solar will save you money in the long run, but the upfront price tag, even with rebates and incentives, is still pretty steep for the average homeowner. Furthermore, solar assumes you own a home, and you would be allowed to make this type of decision for your dwelling unit, a liberty not afforded to those who rent.

These examples seem to beg the question, does being “Green” require lots of, well, green? At first glance, it seems as though the answer may be “yes.” I’ve seen articles and listened to lectures during college that went so far as to say that being sustainable was somewhat elitist, and is only accessible to those who can afford it. After thinking about whether this is truly the case, and coming up with the Seven Deadly Sins of Sustainability, I wondered why sustainability is seen in this light.

Fundamentally, being sustainable means being resourceful, conserving resources,and avoiding wastefulness. Generally, most would tend to associate these types of behaviors and practices with individuals who don’t exactly have a great deal of disposable income to frivolously spend away. If you’re tight on cash, you’re probably not out at the mall buying products you don’t necessarily “need,” driving a gas-guzzling SUV (you may even opt for walking or public transportation), or relying on disposable products that literally result in you continuing to throw money away. These all sound like pretty “green” practices to me.

This is why I believe there is a sort of “Green Paradox” when it comes to the price tag of being environmentally friendly. Voluntary environmental sustainability initiatives like an electric car or clothing made of recycled materials, are seen as a luxury, and not a necessity, and are therefore priced accordingly. On the other hand, most people would rather not take the bus and appreciate the convenience of disposable products, and therefore , these types of goods and services are seen as inferior. In this case, it’s more or less unsolicited sustainability.

In the example of the “Green Paradox,” one can see how basic principles of capitalism come into play with supply, demand, scarcity of goods, pricing, etc. and see understand how it is inextricably intertwined with sustainability outcomes. Being “green” can be seen as both a luxury and an unintended outcome. Either way, there are both pros and cons. Sustainability should be accessible to all, and shouldn’t be seen as either elitist or forced, but rather, a way of life we can all aspire to. Those with more income should look to those who can’t afford the pricier “green” initiatives for ways to be more resourceful and to waste less. If one conserves resources and is less wasteful out of necessity rather than by choice, it’s important for he or she to realize that doing so is commendable and environmentally responsible. By leveraging the “Green Paradox” we can all find ways to be more sustainable.

Surprise! I’m not a “Tree Hugger.” But, we all should be.

Earlier tonight, I went on a run with my best friend. Since high school, one of the main things we have bonded over is our shared motivation to be environmentally responsible human beings. Back in high school, we were the two kids that would spend the last few minutes after the lunch bell picking up other people’s trash or working in the school garden on the weekends. We reflected on how as a result of our “eco-friendly” tendencies, this has also caused our friends/family/classmates/coworkers/random strangers to call us “tree huggers,” “hippies,” “greenies,” and “environmental nerds.“ However, I must say, I don’t understand why.

Sure, I recycle, take short showers, limit my intake of meat and dairy, use reusable products, etc., but I’m by no means perfect. I commit the “Seven Deadly Sins of Sustainability” throughout my daily life, too. There are many ways I could reduce my footprint, but I strive to do so every day. I eventually want to drive an electric car (or not drive at all!), install solar on my house, and improve my composting abilities, to name a few of my personal sustainability goals, but I’m not some exemplary model of what it means to be “Green.” I don’t think I have yet earned the title to be called a “tree hugger” in all honesty. To me, my current environmental sustainability initiatives as an individual do not exceed is not so far should be expected of any citizen of the Earth.

But, why do we even need terms like “tree hugger” for someone who lives efficiently, doesn’t waste resources, and demonstrates a respectful responsibility towards the one common resource we all share- the planet Earth? Why aren’t we all “tree huggers?” I said this in an earlier post (“The Green Ivory Tower”), but being a steward of the Earth does not mean you have to completely go from watering your cement to watch it grow to taking one minute showers, or go from driving a stretch limousine just for fun to not driving at all. We are all guilty of the “Seven Deadly Sins of Sustainability,” myself included, and it’s about thinking of the small things we can do every day to improve ourselves and the world around us. Maybe today you walk a little further to throw you plastic bottle in the recycling bin, and next month, you decide to invest in a long-lasting reusable water bottle. These small steps do make a big impact, especially as more and more people do their part.

Finally, koalas are the best tree huggers. Not only are they good at it, they look pretty cute in the process, which is exactly why the photo for this blog post is a koala (in case you were wondering…)

Sustainability is Like “Whack a Mole”

No, this article is not about how to maintain the carrying capacity of mole populations despite continual poaching of these creatures for a game at an arcade or fair (which, thankfully, doesn’t happen). No moles were harmed in the making of this post.

This article is actually about a thought that crossed my mind on Bike to Work Day last week. Unfortunately, on the one day of the year when staff members would brave the bike lane and forgo the freeway, it rained in California.

Now, I found myself saying, “Dang it! Why must it rain when my colleagues might actually ride their bikes to work for once!” Only in this instance have I ever cursed rain in California. But, this frustration with the “unfortunate” turn of weather events led to this  post.

I came to the realization that sustainability is a lot like one of my personal least favorite games as a child… Whack a Mole. Those damn things kept poking their ugly heads out for you to whack one down, only for another to come rearing up a moment later. My lack of hand-eye coordination didn’t appreciate this game when I was 10, and my struggles with environmental issues today doesn’t appreciate this analogy when it comes to sustainability.

Returning to my epic face-off example of rain v. Bike to Work Day, you generally can’t solve one problem without creating another, unintentionally or not. Of course I want to be green and reduce my carbon footprint by riding my bike, but it’s raining, which is at least making some sort of positive impact on the drought. Yes, I could have rode my bike in the rain, but I have some pretty bad coordination issues as I mentioned above, and it would not have been pretty. I couldn’t reduce my carbon footprint, AND be happy about the rain.

About a week later, I encountered  a fellow who wanted to pass time at the DMV discussing the benefits of desalination plants… The drought is solved! Just take it from the ocean! Well, not really. Withdrawing mass quantities of water from the ocean is energy-intensive, and essentially obliterates any sea creatures in its path. You can’t have water AND unlimited amounts of energy and sea creature resources.

Then you have wind farms. Energy crisis? No problem! Not so fast.. Wind farms take up land, and can result in impacts to wildlife. You can’t have energy AND no impacts to wildlife.

Waste to energy plants… Make trash disappear AND generate energy! But, you end up releasing toxic dioxins into the air.. And you still have to dispose of all that toxic ash.

See what I’m saying? You can’t win! Unsustainable outcomes, or “moles” pop up over and over. To truly address the root of our sustainability issues, we need to dig deeper and reconsider how we live our lives, rather than trying to put band aids on environmental issues that are left untreated.

We all live on a finite planet with finite resources, and we must treat the Earth as such. This statement is why I believe in the basic concept of what capitalism achieves, efficiency in the face of scarce resources. Without interference from the Seven Deadly Sins of Sustainability, free markets could actually reach their desired end of allocating scarce resources to those who value them most. Only when Sins of Sustainability like Greed, Sloth, and Envy get in the way do environmental issues arise.

Sustainability is quite the conundrum. I never won a game of Whack a Mole, but maybe these blog posts will help us “win” at being more sustainable by reconsidering the way in which we view our finite planet and its finite resources.

Happy Earth Day from the Green Ivory Tower

April 22nd is the 45th annual Earth Day! In observance of what may be my favorite days of the year, I wanted to use this post as an opportunity to encourage you to take a moment today to not only recycle your water bottle, turn off your lights, or drive your Prius (good for you  if you already do all of these!), but to also, to dig a bit deeper, and hopefully change your perspective on how to make sustainable living a way of life, not a lifestyle choice.

My reason for creating this blog was to provide an alternative rationale for why we experience environmental sustainability issues today. Unsustainable outcomes aren’t necessarily the result of a fundamentally flawed economic system, but rather, the inherent vices we battle everyday as human beings, AKA, the Seven Deadly Sins of Sustainability.

For Earth Day, I encourage you to reflect on these “Seven Deadly Sins of Sustainability” (Greed, Sloth, Gluttony, Wrath, Lust, Pride, and Envy), and try to think of at least one way that you can improve upon one of them. Even if you are the bottle recycling, light switch remembering, Prius driver I mentioned earlier, we can all improve our efforts. How can you this Earth Day? If you’re already aware of environmental issues, and feel pretty good about your individual efforts to be sustainable, I urge you to consider the following.

Last weekend, I was out for lunch on Sunday afternoon, and I found myself becoming frustrated with all of the “other people” who were out and about enjoying their weekends. My stream of consciousness, which usually manifests itself as a blog post or sometimes one-sided conversation with whoever is lucky enough to be along for the ride with me, usually goes something like this…

Sometimes I turn into Extreme Makeover: Drought Edition… “Wouldn’t wood chips or gravel look nice in that person’s front yard? Why is grass allowed? Who needs grass?!”

or the SUV-Shamer… “You know, not very many people ACTUALLY need an SUV with that many seats.. It’s even worse when they’re in the carpool lane with only two people!”

The Pain in the Cigarette Butt…”That person just dropped a cigarette but out of their car! Don’t they realize that’s going to end up in the ocean?!”

or, the Recycling Police “Why did you throw that in the trash?! We could have recycled the water bottle at home!”

As you can tell, I’m a very fun person to take along on your next road trip.

From what I listed above, you can probably see a pattern. Lately, I find myself having this tendency to separate myself from “other” people who just don’t seem to be as big of an environmental zealot about as I am. I noticed that I’m often frustrated with “them,” and I tend to view their less environmentally conscious ways as being wrong, because to me, it’s easy being green!

After considering what I’m doing by putting myself in some sort of “Green Ivory Tower” of environmental supremacy, I realized doing so isn’t going to do any good. I can eat less meat, take shorter showers, and cringe at littering all I want, but doing so is not going to build momentum for the environmental sustainability movement which is truly a global issue.

So, my self-improvement take-away for Earth Day is to focus on “Pride” as my “Sin of Sustainability.” Although I may be exhibiting a different type of Pride than the individual who chooses to ignore the environmental implications of their habits because these issues do not concern them (i.e., as long as my E waste is out of my garage, it doesn’t matter what developing country becomes its final resting place), I am committing Pride as well. If I choose to disconnect from others who don’t share the same views on sustainability as me, seeing them as some sort of lost environmental cause, I’m committing a Sin of Sustainability as well.

But, I don’t feel completely alone. This elite environmentalist attitude seems to be somewhat of an issue with other sustainability advocates as well… Although somewhat inadvertently, we have placed ourselves in some sort of Green Ivory Tower made of 90% post-consumer content, where we breath clean air, and eat vegan meals. However, the Green Ivory Tower doesn’t  and can’t exist, and as responsible stewards of the Earth, we  need to come down from the Green Ivory Tower if we as sustainability aficionados hope to make sustainability accessible to all. How can we ask that others make sustainability a way of life rather than a lifestyle choice if we have made it seem so elite, unattainable, and inconvenient? With a higher than thou Green attitude,environmental sustainability seems off-putting to many, and may actually discourage them from being more environmentally conscious. We all share the global environment, and the natural resources that it provides us with. Therefore, as global citizens of this environment, we as environmentalists should not live our lives with an “Us (the Greenies) vs. Them (Everybody Else)” attitude. If we ever want to solve issues as far-reaching as climate change, we can’t persist with the notion that living a sustainable lifestyle is some sort of selfless achievement. Instead, it must be seen as an all-inclusive effort every person can somehow take part in, no matter how small of a contribution it might be. One more person recycling their trash rather than throwing it on the ground is better than no one recycling their trash at all.

So, for Earth Day, perhaps you can join me in encouraging a friend, a relative, a coworker, a person on the street, anyone really, to celebrate Earth Day with you. Rather than patting yourself on the back today for all of your already green lifestyle choices, show someone else how easy it is to incorporate one of these ways of life into their daily routines as well.

Ocean Plastic Pollution: What’s the Solution?

Markus Eriksen of the 5 Gyres Institute (an organization that aims to prevent plastic pollution in our oceans) recently served as the lead author on a ground-breaking study entitled “Plastic Pollution in the World’s Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing Over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea.”

To me, the title really does say it all. There are 5 trillion pieces of plastic that weigh 250,00 tons in our oceans. Plastic plagues the ocean as the ultimate destination of runoff from watersheds all over the world that carry polluted water from land to sea. Ocean dumping directly introduces waste into the ocean, and littering on the beach will eventually result in plastic being swept out to sea.

The study also found that the majority of these vast quantities of plastic floating at sea are less than 5mm in size, and are  known as “micro-plastics.”  These plastics are especially harmful to marine life, as these organisms mistakenly ingest these tiny pieces of plastic that contain toxic compounds such as dioxins and PCBs. The predominance of smaller fragments of plastic demonstrate the true persistence of plastic in our oceans: plastic never truly disappears. Plastics require hundreds of thousands of years to biodegrade. Instead, plastics photo degrade in the ocean where they break into increasingly smaller pieces due to radiation from sunlight.

However, somewhat promisingly, the study noted that only about 5% of the world’s  plastic is currently recycled. Although this is currently a somewhat sobering statistic, it does provide promise that if action is taken to recycle the 95% of plastic that currently thrown away, a substantial impact could be made in preventing ocean plastic pollution.

Sloth is the main Sin of Sustainability that has resulted in the oceans’ plastic pollution epidemic. Littering here and there, forgetting to recycle,and choosing disposable products overall reusable goods cumulatively contribute to the five garbage gyres of swirling trash mostly comprised of plastic, and throughout  the world’s oceans. With studies such as the one I have discussed here, perhaps more individuals will become aware of the impact of his or her daily actions in combating ocean plastic pollution,

People’s Climate March and Activism: Step Aside Sloth

I completely respect activism. The efforts that environmental activists put into their cause is admirable, challenging, and requires a great deal of courage. However, after having partly majored in economics, I also crave efficiency. Unfortunately, I sometimes fail to see how the tremendous amount of time and energy that activism necessitates is realized in tangible outcomes. I’m not saying that activism never works, but sometimes, it as seen as idealistic and can even agitate those opposed to the cause. I know this personally, because I would have considered myself an activist for much of the time that I have spent thus far working on sustainability and environmental issues. I have organized and participated in a number of environmental campaigns and activist demonstrations, from recycling how to’s on my alma mater’s lawn, to Fossil Fuel Divestment acts of solidarity. However, given the amount of work required to pull them off, I did not see the pay-off. Hence, I have recently taken a more cautious and scrutinizing approach to activism in general.

I honestly do not like that I am this pessimistic about activism, as it is the polar opposite of one of the Seven Deadly Sins of Sustainability: Sloth. When individuals take initiative and act on an environmental issue, they are rejecting the status quo for a conscious effort to be responsible stewards of the Earth, and hopefully influence others along the way. Today, with the People’s Climate March, I am more optimistic about the prospects for the efficacy and efficiency of activism as a means to addressing environmental sustainability, and especially climate change.

With the over 400,000 people who gathered today in New York City to bring attention to Climate Change, I am extremely moved by the sheer number of individuals who joined the effort. The March proceeded the United Nations Climate Summit, which will be held in New York as well on September 23, where leaders from nations around the world will convene to discuss climate change.

Perhaps the hundreds of thousands of individuals who attended the March will inspire and encourage the attendees of Tuesday’s Summit, to take action, especially given that more carbon emissions into the air last year (approximately 39.8 billion tons), a 2.3 percent increase from last year. With  “business as usual” if this pattern continues, we could be spelling out a much higher and more rapid increase in global temperature than any projections could have expected. Unfortunately, even if those who marched today leave an impression on those participating in the Summit, it is probably to late for India and China. These two nations (along with the United States), are primarily responsible for this year’s increase in carbon emissions. However, both India and Chinca have failed to send representatives to the conference, which speaks impeccably well to the prevailing international policy-making tendency towards sloth, in that nations have continuously said “We’ll do something about it eventually.” We must realize that eventually has become today, now, this moment. We cannot continue to push climate change off the agenda because it is a challenging, economically-sensitive issue. Much like those who marched today for the People’s Climate March, we must take action.

The People’s Climate March was both efficient and effective. It’s temporal and geographical placement in relation to the Untied Nations Climate Change Summit heightened the profile of this critical event for international climate change policy. In addition, as  a peaceful demonstration, the March served to not unduly create any resentment or harsh feelings towards the topic of climate change. As perhaps the largest climate change activism event thus far, it has taken media by storm, and garnered the attention climate change needs on both citizens and policymakers minds. Although I saw many signs from the march touting phrases against capitalism, I hope to highlight in this post that although capitalism can be inextricably linked to the severity of climate change risk we now face, it can also be tied to the efficiency and efficacy of this March in comparison to other previous climate change activism efforts. Failure to take action or responsibility, out of laziness or apprehension, for both individuals and nations alike, is the true underlying cause to climate change, not an economic system.  I am anxiously awaiting the outcome of the Summit’s deliberations, and now, my hopes are a bit higher, thanks to the People’s Climate March.