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The Cost of Doing Enough

A higher price than we’ll like paying

Are we doing enough?    
    Reader Frank Allen’s answer to my Earth Day Is Our Birthday question, which you’ll read below in Your Say, praises the progress we’ve made in recycling. He’s right, and like his, our household and office delight in steering recyclables out of our almost empty trashcans into our yellow cans. At home, food waste nourishes our soil and garden. Or, if it’s meat, our dog Moe.
    That change in our nature is one big step, but it isn’t enough.
    We’d make more big steps if each of us adapted and advocated six or eight of the 10 best environmental practices writer Emily Myron gathered from around the world for our Earth Day report last week.
    But we’d still not be doing enough.
    I reached that conclusion after hearing the heap of facts piled by scientist Bert Drake. Drake is no remote talking head. He’s one of us, rooted in Southern Anne Arundel County for 40 years at home and work, the latter at Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater.
    Our consciousness-changing generation is like the point of a pencil that’s been writing for centuries. All the carbon-releasing humans have done throughout our past is written in our atmosphere. It started, Drake says, with cutting down trees. Over the years we’ve gotten better and better at it. Nowadays, we’re expert. Our marks are thick and black.
    One way and another, each of us Americans is responsible for flooding the atmosphere with 20 tons of carbon dioxide a year. That, Drake says, amounts to five African elephants a year.
    All those elephant-weights of carbon dioxide are about to stomp around the planet and make us very uncomfortable.
    Our marks are thick and black — but not quite indelible.
    In a Bay Weekly conversation in this week’s paper, Drake tells us how we can begin to make a difference.
    You may not like what he says to say.
    Burning less carbon is the remedy.
    He also prescribes getting over our aversion to nuclear power for immediate gains, adding alternative fuel sources at the same time.
    Capturing and releasing carbon dioxide underground in old coal mines, oil and gas fields.
    Paying for the energy switch over with a new tax on all fossil-fuel energy production that forces the adoption of newer, more efficient, cleaner technology.
    Raising the price of gas so we’ll have incentives to reduce its use wherever we can — especially in our cars, trucks and lawnmowers — also helps make up for necessary uses of gas, like flying airplanes.
    Another Bay Weekly reader, Shirley Little of Annapolis, exemplifies how little many of us will like Drake’s remedy. It hurts too much to pay, she writes in Your Say (below) of Anne Arundel County’s storm water capture fees.
    Her complaints are understandable. Why should big polluters pay no more than she? How will people on fixed incomes manage another tax?
    We had had better figure out how to give her tolerable answers. Because the alternatives — exempting ourselves and polluting more — are intolerable, whether we’re talking storm water or carbon dioxide pollution.
    Our flush tax to clean up sewage water costs Marylanders $64 a year. Anne Arundel’s storm water capture tax costs Shirley and me — and most households — another $85. What we might pay individually to control carbon dioxide I don’t know. The big picture, however, seems a lot less weighty than Drake’s elephants:
    “The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on mitigation concludes that this can be done for a cost that will reduce growth no more than 0.06 percent a year,” Drake says. “Instead of 2 percent growth, that’s 1.96 percent growth.”
    Not likeable, but doable. That’s the cost of doing enough.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com