How green do we want to get? When we take a bicycle to a 60-story climate controlled office tower with the giant fountain outside the lobby, who are we kidding? The average carbon footprint of just one of these skyscrapers would sustain several entire Third World villages for a decade. But so what? That’s like arguing that if your child doesn’t finish their Cheerios, some kid across the world will drop dead. Well, guess what? 36,000 kids across the world dropped dead from starvation yesterday and the same amount will join them in early graves today and tomorrow and the day after that whether or not junior cleans his plate. And the countries where they live are very green indeed, with people mostly walking to work if there is any work to be found, and farming pretty much like humans did 1,000 years ago.

That’s pretty green. No pesky carbon monoxide-spewing engines polluting their lungs, no worrisome power lines blighting their view of the sky. Their land has not been churned up by the installation of water mains, irrigation systems and sewer pipes and their domestic animals are housed handily close by, sharing their drinking and bathing water in the nearby rivers and streams. No unsightly paved roads link their villages to the undesirable cities that blight God’s green earth. And like our eco-friendly ancestors, they die in droves from disease and starvation. And these people know no other way of life. So much for the saying that what you don’t know won’t hurt you. That’s hardly the case. Ignorance kills. So does making believe that modern technology is evil.

A lot of people worry about helping the starving in an ecologically responsible way, such as not giving them potentially dangerous pesticides. So instead the locusts get the lion’s share of their meager crops and their children die. And those 36,000 tiny graves? Yes, the children are returned to the earth, fertilizing the land for future generations of locusts and starving children. That’s as green as it gets; no chemicals, no engines, no sanitation and no hope of a better life. And that’s what the majority of human beings escaped when they started using machines and sanitation and scientific methods of agriculture.

So let’s lose those green visions of bucolic scenes of sheep grazing in Central Park and windmills on every rooftop. People are not going back to the unpaved squalor of the pre-industrial age with its 40-year life spans full of rickets, illiteracy and superstition. No, we want to keep our cell phones, our cars, our air conditioners, our computers and flat screen TVs and nobody’s going to talk us out of them, not even Al Gore. The trick is to power them with something other than burning the greasy remains of dinosaurs and ferns or the grit cloud-producing coal that is so plentiful on this earth.

The president, or premier, or whatever the hell the current dictator of China is calling himself these days, has called on Western nations to cease and desist living their “unsustainable lifestyles.” And he says this with a straight face as his nation strives mightily to join us, building more dirty coal burning plants in the past 15 years than have been built in Western nations in the past century. Who’s he kidding? His nation is also plagued with millions of backward, isolated and malnourished people, so ceasing and desisting our own starvation-free existence doesn’t seem like such an attractive option. 

And the fact of the matter is, unless and until the green power producing capacities can sustain our modern lifestyles, not much is going to change. Anybody reading this, for example, is using a computer, a decidedly nonessential commodity in the most literal definition of going green. Very essential to you and I, though, and to the boss of China too, in who’s country this one and countless others are manufactured. It is these power draining machines that link and unite the planet to a degree never seen before, and make it possible for the once-starving masses in India and China to earn a decent living. It is on computers where mathematical equations are being formulated in laboratories to possibly figure a way out of the energy and pollution mess. 

It was technology that lifted most of mankind out of disease-plagued drudgery and it will be technology that will solve the energy crisis. Of course recycling, conservation and regulation are essential parts of the solution, but those efforts alone won’t do the trick. The trick being, to somehow survive the pollution our initial industrial leap forward has left us and to maintain the increasingly sophisticated, healthy and high tech existence that leap forward had gotten us. Scaling back the only engine of progress that means anything, our minds, isn’t green and isn’t smart. And being smart is what humanity is supposed to be about. We’ll know we’re green enough when no child dies of starvation and no skies, lands and waterways are filled with dangerous acrid chemicals. 

It won’t come in a can and it won’t happen overnight, but the “unsustainable” societies are going to be the ones to come up with a way to keep the lives we have built without poisoning ourselves and our planet and will be the ones who spread that knowledge all over the world. The answers are certainly not in the backwards and starving portions of the world. The romance of going back to nature and a simple, bucolic lifestyle as a way of going green is a bunch of crap and everybody knows it. Nature has always been a harsh mistress, softened only by the human touch of progress and technology.

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