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Humans are catching on to conservationism

Terra Mater

It seems the environment is sticking its nose into everything these days. You can’t pass a magazine rack without some publication’s “special green edition” yelling out from the stand. Hybrid car owners have almost become a special class of citizens. You’d think biofuels will save American agriculture. And global warming has become a genuine movie star.Eagle County itself is not immune from the ruckus. Three new commercial projects in Eagle County are (or will be) LEED certified “green” buildings. Dozens of homes in the valley are certified “Built Green.” And Priuses may actually now outnumber Hummers.So how has the environment snuck so stealthily back into our lives? It seems to have changed tactics. Not so long ago it was just plain mad at the misuse and abuse it suffered, when really all it wanted was to be appreciated. In its frustration and anger, it blew things up and burned things down.But the environment has realized that, like it or not, it can’t get rid of us without fouling up the whole works. And while it does still reserve fouling the works as a last resort, it’s now embracing “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” “turn lemons into lemonade” and all that cheery pip. So, like a leech used to clean an open wound, it has resigned itself to our icky, but potentially useful, presence.A little history:A little more than 100 years ago, the industrial revolution made the then-scarce resource of human labor vastly more efficient in its ability to utilize the seemingly endless environmental resource. And the environment was happy to help. Had we not, after all, shared the same space for countless ages? What’s mine is yours. Make yourself at home.But we quickly proved an ungracious guest. We stained the furniture, stunk up the bathroom, abused the pets, ate all the food and killed all the plants. And – the last straw – we paid no rent. That is, we placed no value on what the environment provided us.Here’s an example: What does one pay the environment to cut down a forest? What is it worth? It depends on where you live, but what is it worth to have clean water and clean air? To not have landslides or flooding? Forests provide these services for free. There is a cost to removing a forest – even an economic one – but it is shifted both in time and in type so it is difficult to notice. It’s sort of a long-term Enron approach to environmental bookkeeping.So maybe the environment has a right to feel under-appreciated, but it has nevertheless given up on the pity party and decided to go about this constructively. Rather than complain about neglect, it has decided merely to wean us off these cheap and abundant resources – to cut the apron strings, as it were – and join the marketplace! A service given freely, after all, is valued accordingly.It has decided to throw its hat into the ring and participate in our cultural and economic systems. It has retained a high-power, Fifth Avenue ad agency and is pumping up its value. It is bringing the message of a new ecological revolution that makes the now-scarce environmental resource vastly more efficient for the now seemingly endless human resource.The environment, once a big downer at parties and Republican fundraisers, is a peppy adolescent again with a message of hope, opportunity and a grand vision for the human future.What does this new world look like? Will our homes become tiny energy generators? Will organic food become affordable? Will Gov. “Ahnold” tear down the walls dividing the Republicans and the Screen Actors Guild? Will Ralph Nader just please shut up? And when do I get my flying car?This new monthly column will attempt to answer these and other more fantastic and mundane questions for our own little slice of that brave, green world. Terra Mater is the resident know-it-all at the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability (eaglevalleyalliance.org). If you have a question about local recycling, sustainability or other such issues, e-mail Terra at askterra@eaglevalleyalliance.org.


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