It is interesting how some words have more than one meaning. Race is one of them. It can be a form of competition where the fastest one wins, but it can also be a group of people, such as the human race.
The irony of this juxtaposition is that the human race is in a race, against ourselves. Even though we are the only competitor, there is no guarantee we will win. In fact, one could say that in this sustainability race, the only way to win is to never quite finish, since as long as we can keep working to heal our world and live more responsibly, the human race is still around.
In that case, I think the best way to “win” the never-ending sustainability race is to move as rapidly as possible toward the finish line, but then keep moving the line forward so the task of living lighter on the planet is never quite complete.
The Human Race Continues… For Now
Only humans could create a scenario where we are actually competing against ourselves in a do-or-die scenario. On one hand, we are doing great harm to our world, endangering not only our survival, but that of millions of other species as well. We know the dangers of burning fossil fuels, using nuclear technology, and myriad other aspects of our culture that threaten our long-term future. On the other hand, at least some of us respond by changing our lives, our technology and our priorities to ameliorate these threats. Which side will prevail? No one knows for sure.
When one looks at the scientific facts regarding climate change, ocean acidification, chemical pollution and other major issues, including the precarious and horrific disaster at Fukushima, it is difficult to come to any positive conclusion. In fact, some become overwhelmed and feel like just giving up the race. Why bother? It’s hopeless, right?
Our culture thrives on a good game. We love competition! We love it when against tremendous odds, the underdog rises to the challenge with hard work, skill and solid determination. Isn’t that who we are?
In this challenge, each of us plays a role. In addition to our wits, we have our homes, our vehicles, our purchasing and eating habits, and our professions. These are the blocks we can use to build a better world and move us quickly toward the finish line of the sustainability race. Every single one of us makes a difference and we cannot afford to wait for anyone else to get the job done.
Consider these facts:
Fact #1: Clean Energy is Kicking Ass
There is now over 9,400 megawatts of solar energy production in the United States, with almost 1,000 megawatts built in the second quarter of 2013 alone. The cost of solar energy systems has plummeted while growth is skyrocketing. This year a new solar installation will be completed every four minutes.
Photovoltaic (PV) electricity contributes 96 percent to 98 percent less greenhouse gases than electricity generated from 100 percent coal and 92 percent to 96 percent less greenhouse gases than the European electricity mix.
Compared with electricity from coal, PV electricity over its lifetime uses:
- 86 to 89 percent less water
- Occupies or transforms over 80 percent less land
- Presents approximately 95 percent lower toxicity to humans
- Contributes 92 to 97 percent less to acid rain
- Contributes 97 to 98 percent less to marine eutrophication (the discharge of excess nutrients that causes algal blooms).
– Carol Olson, a researcher at the Energy Research Center of the Netherlands as quoted in the New York Times
Fact #2: Dirty Energy is Gasping for Life
The second largest electricity producer in Germany recently announced the decision to withdraw 3.1 gigawatts (that’s 3,100 megawatts) of fossil fuel generating capacity from the market. The growing amount of renewable energy is dropping wholesale prices to the point where fossil fuel plants are no longer competitive. Clean energy is gaining major momentum. In any honest market, it is the hands-down winner.
Due to the continuing boom in solar energy, many power stations throughout the sector and across Europe are no longer profitable to operate.
Fact #3: Net Zero Energy Buildings are Where It’s At
Energy efficient, net-zero energy homes that produce as much energy as they use over the course of a year are the new normal. Abundant case studies prove that the cost of ownership of net-zero energy homes saves money from day one. They are often more comfortable as well.
Twelve months after moving in, we had produced a surplus of about 1,400 kWh. Even though we sailed past net-zero with our current PV array, we could be producing even more power. We currently have twenty-eight 230-watt Solar World panels covering about two-thirds of the roof. We still have room for about sixteen more. This would allow us to produce more than enough power to charge an electric car.
– Eric Thomas, A Net-Zero Energy House for $125 a Square Foot
Fact #4: Getting Off Oil is No Pipe Dream
Electric car sales are booming and a good percentage of them are being charged with rooftop solar panels. Believe me, it works.
What’s really amazing is what happens to the cost of owning and operating an electric car when the electricity you use to fuel it is produced by a solar panel system installed at your home or business. When you add solar panels to the mix, the electric car becomes incredibly economical.
Looking at the long-term, full cost of ownership numbers, the cheapest option is to power an electric car with solar panels. Surprising? Yes, at first – but combining solar panels with an electric car makes perfect sense. And, not only is it a great financial decision, but it also delivers significant environmental and social benefits as well. The electric car produces less carbon emissions vs. the traditional gas fueled car and the hybrid, whether it’s powered by solar or not. If it is powered by solar, it has the added benefit of also eliminating the carbon emissions associated with your utility’s electricity production. Finally, producing your own fuel will benefit your fellow citizens, too, as it will contribute to our nation’s energy independence.
– from EnergySage
Fact #5: People are Eating More Consciously
Las Vegas has been named one of the top cities for vegan dining options. Eating lower on the food chain by choosing a plant-based diet immediately lowers our carbon footprint and saves money at the grocery store. Many physicians consider it essential to better long-term health. Eating Vegan in Vegas, an ebook by Paul Graham, helps locals and visitors from around the world find the food options they prefer.
I recommend it highly, not only for the wonderful descriptions of many amazing meals, but also for the insights and inspirations Paul artfully weaves in between courses. There’s more to vegan food and lifestyle than meets the eye, just as there’s more to Las Vegas than most of us take the time to notice. Personally, I very much look forward to my next trip to Vegas, and I’ll certainly have “Eating Vegan in Vegas” along for the ride.
– Kim Miles, from a review on Sullivan Street Press
These are but a few examples that the decarbonization of America is underway, but there is a long way to go. Remember, this is a race!
Every choice we make makes us more competitive, one way or the other. Choose wisely. Be a responsible citizen. Reject the manufactured role of “consumer” and step up with the best you have to offer. We are all players on this team. There is no other option than to participate in the Human Race.