The Next Revolution Starts Now
Revolution is sometimes necessary, if never comfortable. Thomas Jefferson knew this when he and his revolutionary colleagues laid out their grievances before dissolving the bands that connected them with the King of England. We celebrate the success of that revolution every year, and for good reason.
This Fourth of July, a couple hundred years later, there's another revolution afoot, with the potential to shake up the way America does business, interacts with other nations and pursues happiness. "Green" is more than a buzzword. It's a path forward for a great nation seeking to produce its own energy, shore up its security and provide sustainable prosperity for its people.
Jefferson didn't spend a lot of ink on energy policy in the Declaration of Independence, but a selective reading of his "indictments" against the King almost sound like a treatise on sustainability. (At least, the whole argument for untangling ourselves from that rotten King of England is framed as aligning human behavior with natural law and the "powers of the earth.")
So, this Fourth of July, start participating in the next revolution, one that embraces good-old American ingenuity and hard work on the path toward a brighter future for our great nation.
Indictment Against Oil
A Prince, whose character is marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
And yet, oil rules us.
With gas hovering above $3.50 a gallon this summer, even after President Obama released fuel from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, an indictment against oil slips out of the lips of nearly every driver at the pump. With skyrocketing demand for oil in China, no real abatement in demand here in the U.S., and a finite supply, prices are going nowhere but up.
The U.S. imports 9.7 million barrels of petroleum a day, and that only amounts to about half of what we use. About 70% of the oil we burn goes out our tailpipes on the highways of America, in the process contributing to about one-third of our nation's contribution to global warming.
So we buy oil for too much money from people who aren't always kind to us, and in burning it we fuel an angry climate.
That's the definition of a tyrant.
Declare Independence from Oil
The quickest way to happiness at the gasoline pump? How about passing it by on a bicycle.
Public transportation saves about 100 million barrels of gasoline. A simple car pool with one other coworker can cut your gas consumption and cost in half. Walking and bicycling costs nothing and burns nothing (but calories).
Beyond your personal independence from oil, you can encourage your community to plan for sustainable development, and vote for lawmakers who will work to cut carbon emissions, increase energy efficiency and invest in alternative fuels. Right now, the Obama Administration is debating how high to raise fuel economy standards on American vehicles; officials are rumored to be considering 56 mpg by 2025, while environmentalists are fighting for 60 mpg or more, and some businesses and politicians are arguing for less.
Indictment Against Waste
(It) has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
Not to be overdramatic about it, but garbage is such a colossal waste.
The average American produces 4.3 pounds of waste every day, only about one-third of which is recycled. The other two-thirds is sent to landfills or incinerators even though in most cases, the waste is recyclable or compostable. More than two-thirds of recyclable plastics and glass is trashed, nearly half of recyclable beverage containers is trashed, and 40% of compostable yard trimmings is trashed.
Landfills represent about the least imaginative uses of American soil. Incinerators, no matter how efficient, release toxic byproducts, carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming, and gases that contribute to smog, acid rain and other air pollution problems.
Then there's the trash that isn't collected. In addition to the litter on our streets, there's an island of plastic floating in the Pacific, and another in the Atlantic.
Before it tossed off as trash, it's a natural resource of one kind or another. (Cue dramatic patriotic music.)
That cardboard box was a tree (from the Redwood forests...). That plastic bag was once a few drops of oil (...to the Gulf Stream waters). That computer has mined metals (from purple mountains majesty...) and that stale bread started its life growing in a field (...to amber waves of grain).
Keep America beautiful.
Declare Independence from Waste
Does the pursuit of happiness have to involve so much junk?
A good rule of thumb for the spendthrift green patriot is to ask two questions before making a purchase. First, do I really need that? Second, what is it, exactly?
When you do buy, buy used. Buy in bulk. Buy items with little or no packaging. Buy items made with post-consumer recycled content. Buy items that can be reused or recycled.
In general, aspire to a cradle-to-cradle ethic, where every piece of everything you consume can be reused or recycled.
If there's nothing more precious than American soil, then be sure to do your patriotic duty and make the most of the natural resources it provides.
Indictment Against Factory Food
Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive ... it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.
The organization of the American food system in the 21st century is in serious need of revolution.
When alfalfa sprouts are Public Food Safety Enemy No. 1, something is rotten in the state of farming. Whether it's eggs or salsa with salmonella, ground beef with E. coli, lettuce with listeria ... or beef cattle stuffed with an unnatural diet on a feedlot, over-crowded chickens in a hanger-like coop, pesticide residue on foods, or an overly processed "food product" emblazoned with misleading health claims... well, there's a lot of "rotten" to go around.
In short, the system that is supposed to nourish us, instead sickens us. Sounds like it's high time to alter and abolish it.
Declare Independence from Factory Food
Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
That was the way author Michael Pollan declared his independence from a sick food system in In Defense of Food ($15 at amazon.com).
Food, in this case, means the stuff your grandparents would recognize as food. Buy food that looks and smells (and tastes) like something that was grown. Buy food that has no ingredient list, or at least is filled with minimally processed ingredients you can identify and pronounce. Buy foods in season (strawberries from down the road in spring, not from New Zealand in winter) to enjoy the most fresh, nutritious taste with the least environmental cost.
Buying more food that's grown on local farms puts you in position to control your diet. You can ask about the farmer's growing techniques, what pesticides she uses (or, hopefully, doesn't) and even how to prepare a tasty meal using some strange-looking vegetable you've never tried. Joining a CSA farm, shopping at farmers' markets and looking for "local" produce in grocery stores are good ways to start. Remember: Buying local produce preserves farmland near your home by keeping farmers in business, and there's nothing more patriotic than supporting America's farmers (just ask the presidential candidates in Iowa).
The pursuit of happiness certainly involves food. Make it food by Pollan's definition as often as possible.
Indictment Against Toxic Chemicals
All experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
By some counts there are more than 80,000 chemicals used in American commerce that have not been tested, and not been proved safe for use in consumer products. And yet, they are used in consumer products.
That's the law of the land, and has been for one score years and five (35 years, since 1976).
Too often, when chemicals finally are tested, they seem to be linked to subtle but profound health problems. A little damage to a cell's DNA can increase cancer risk. A small dose of the wrong chemical at the wrong time might interrupt the normal development of a child's brain, leading to lifelong problems. Some chemicals have been shown to mimic hormones, potentially messing up the body's chemical messenger system.
Human health isn't the only issue, either. Chemicals used around the home are often flushed down the drain, where they can contaminated water supplies and wildlife. One recent assessment deemed every stream in the United States polluted.
In Europe, chemicals must be proved safe before being used. In the United States, the bar is a little easier to clear. At least, for now. Congress is now considering bills that would change how chemicals are approved for use and which chemicals can be used in cosmetics. In other words, there's work afoot to right the law to which we've become accustomed.
Declare Independence from Suspect Chemicals
Natural nontoxic alternatives to harsh chemicals are easy to find, affordable and effective. Use them.
Start under your kitchen sink, and swap out any harsher cleaners for homemade green cleaners. (Oxygenated cleansers can replace bleach. Vinegar works great to clean windows. Baking soda is a powerful scrubber.)
Then move on to the bathroom, and take a look at cosmetics and personal care products. These are applied directly to the skin, and yet there are filled with ingredients that give watchdogs the willies. Look for natural makeup and natural sunscreens, and simple homemade natural beauty products.
Make a rule of looking at the ingredient list and questioning any substance that you can't pronounce or identify.