The first “green revolution” was inspired by industrial agriculture. We have, remarkably, found ways of feeding a human population that has expanded exponentially for hundreds of years.
A second “green revolution,” is sprouting now. In my newspaper on the morning I write this, the CEO of GE and the CEO of Wal-Mart are both featured, in separate stories, talking about their companies’ environmental policies. Who would have imagined, just 10 years ago, that the most powerful business leaders in the world would ever publicly proclaim their environmental concern? “Green” has evolved from a color, to a metaphor for fecundity, to a symbol for environmental health. Now we talk about “green” technologies and “greening” our homes. The word is a color, a verb and a noun denoting a certain kind of person. Marketers and politicians pragmatically discuss how to appeal to “the greens” – that is, people who are very concerned about protection of the environment.
The word, as an adjective, is used mainly to denote the negative. A “green” car is not a car that creates something, literally, “green.” Nor is it usually painted green. It’s a car that consumes less fuel and produces less pollution. A “green” house is not a house with a fine garden. It’s a house that uses less energy. Our various green initiatives – political, civic, social and corporate – moderate the damage we are doing. They don’t, generally, eliminate it.
So let’s say we created a sort of worldwide, per capita damage index where a person’s lifestyle was assigned a number that coincided with the environmental cost of that lifestyle. The number 1,000 symbolizes the most egregiously excessive lifestyle of the California trust-fund billionaire with seven enormous homes, two personal jets, eight children, a bunch of big cars, horses, yachts, you name it. The number 10 symbolizes the ascetic Tibetan monk growing enough food for his own simple diet of lentils and greens in the plot below his mountainside temple.
Everybody gets a positive number. Every human life (and any other kind of life for that matter) contributes, in at least a small measure, to the consumption of the planet’s resources. The Tibetan monk’s lifestyle is as “green” as a human lifestyle gets, but the monk’s net contribution to the world’s environmental problems is still a net subtraction.
The good news is, the miraculous biological machine we call the Earth is making more natural resources with each passing minute. We are, by the laws of nature, entitled to be here and a lot of us can live here as long as the temperature remains relatively stable and the atmosphere remains intact. We can live here because the sun keeps on showering energy on the planet – energy we convert into life. As life utilizes the sun’s energy it is broken down, gradually, into less and less energetic forms. The sun represents the most powerful physical entity in our realm of experience. We can conceptualize bigger stars, supernovas and black holes, but every morning our brightest beacon rises over the eastern horizon.