Friday, July 11, 2008

The either or problem....

Tonight a friend of mine had an opportunity to catch up over a couple of "games" of curling. Part of the conversation concerned what are the next steps we are planning on taking in these transitional times. He's coming off of a leave of absence and is passionate about doing something in the non-profit sector or environmental area, but it's a big leap for many reasons. That old saw about divorcé's wanting to continue to a life to which they've become accustomed to rings true. Does one go corporate and have a cush life, or does one go green and live poor. It's a tough either or choice and I think it's a false one. Let me explain why.

First off, I'm not going to go and perpetuate the myth that you can have it all. I have many a friend struggling with the expiring option of being able to have a family, it's clear in life there are trade offs, but they don't have to be this stark. We tend to think can we be environmental or can we have economic growth? That's the wrong question, the question is what problems do have in our world that need resolution and solution can remedy that in a way that is compatible with our better and worse natures.

If you were to think what things in the world have made the biggest difference in public health. You wouldn't think the internet, you wouldn't think consumer goods, etc. What probably comes to mind is our public works system for clean water and sewage removal. The number of lives saved by plumbing is astounding. Boring, but astounding. More recently, some readers may recall that there was something called regular gasoline, which was sold next to unleaded gasoline. Actually, unleaded gas came later. IF you go the the pump today you find unleaded, premium, super premium. They are all unleaded but you don't find regular. Regular gasoline had lead as an anti-knocking agent, but it became clear that the lead was making kids stupid and impeding their development. We saw this in paint too, so now lead free paints are the norm as well. We didn't go lead, it's going to kill the paint industry, well I'm sure someone used that argument. We completely changed the system where lead just didn't make sense in these products. It didn't happen instantly, there was a period of overlap, but it did happen.

Even more recently was CFCs or chlorofluorocarbons, a key compound in air conditioners and aerosols that was responsible for the ozone hole. We factored those out as well and guess what the internet happened and our economy adjusted.

Think about the upcoming transition to Digital TV next February. The naysayers who say you can have an economy or an environment with increased regulation, but you can't have both, have not spoken up about the regulation banning analog signals. No one is saying you can either have digital or analog. No they figured out a way to make everything better (except for the vast number of TVs that were instantly obsoleted)

We can have cars that run on alternative fuels and a clean environment. If we make our decisions about choices, we've got a problem. If we make the problem is how do we restructure the world where the default is better, it's not an either or, but instead a how. That's what we need to start asking ourselves. The internet has made us think things happen instantaneously, and when it doesn't happen that way we think no way it can happen. But we forget, it's the first step that matters and if you have to go that direction anyway, why hold off taking that step.


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