How can we save the world from environmental destruction? If you are a traditional (yes, I mean liberal) enviro-type, your first reaction will very likely involve demonstrating against some evil corporation and/or demanding that the government pass this or that restrictive legislation.
I feel comfortable making this claim because that is more or less the sort of person I am. These are worthy activities and they have their place. Obscene profits can and have been made from unscrupulously pillaging nature, and national (or international) governments are in a better position than Adam Smith’s invisible hand to give the perpetrators a whack upside the head.
But there is also another way. Or, more accurately, other ways. One of the most exciting developments of the evolving landscape of recent environmentalism — dare I call it a sea change? — is the diversification of approaches, political affiliations, and motivations all aligning (uncomfortably at times) in the direction of a more sustainable future. Our conservative colleagues over at Terra Rossa may be most concerned about gaining energy independence from hostile foreign powers (who can argue with that?). Evangelical Christians may be concerned about the environmental context of social justice and creation care (who can argue with that? Well, Jerry Falwell, and other of their their far-right brethren, evidently). But you get my point — we are beginning to move in a common direction.
Consider (via Kate Shepherd at Grist) the New York Times’ special section yesterday on Green Business. If the venerable ship of state is like a lumbering ocean liner that takes an hour to turn around, private enterprise might be considered a little speed boat–it may get swamped easily but it sure gets around a lot faster and more nimbly. And heaven knows we need fast action at this juncture in human history.
The new landscape is especially evident in energy. Venture capitol is flowing into a wide range of alternative energy technologies, including wind, solar, various biofuels, and my personal favorite: algae (see my previous post on this). The NY Times piece profiles a couple of VCists excited about biofuel from algae:
“What is different, though, about Ms. Morgenthaler-Jones and this latest entrepreneurial wave is that the search is for something that both produces profits and offers something good for the environment. One goal, for instance, is to find an energy-efficient way to convert algae into fuel, which is why she was visiting a catfish farm here that was for sale. Farmed catfish could provide a useful source of carbon dioxide for the algae, as well as a critical revenue flow to keep research going. The timing may be just right. With oil prices at high levels and fears of global warming growing, the old world of conventional hydrocarbon energy has been joined by an alluring new array of alternative-energy gadgetry, technical wizardry and potential riches.”
Sustainable biofuel and fried catfish! Now that I can get behind.
“If the U.S. put 15 million acres of desert into algae production, we could produce enough volume of liquid fuels to get us off the Middle East oil addiction and give Iowa back to the songbirds,” said B. Gregory Mitchell, an algae research biologist at the University of California, San Diego . . . The company projects that in three years it can produce some biofuel, which theoretically could eventually be produced in quantities of as much as 20,000 gallons of fuel a year per acre of algae.”
Not sure if I’m ready for 15 million acres of desert algae farms. But then, it’s a brave new world. And it sounds more palatable than oil wells.
And the green energy wave is not just at the venture stage. New energy technology is moving into the industrial scale:
“Wind, solar and other renewable-energy technologies that were once considered more appropriate for single homes or small communities are reaching levels of scale and centralizing that were formerly the province of coal- and gas-fired plants and nuclear reactors. In other words, green is going giant.”
So how do I get in on the action? Well, I already have a day job. But there is growing opportunity out there. I have been telling students in marine science for a few years that the job market for people with expertise in environmental science and policy is steadily diversifying beyond the old ivory towers. According to the NY Times, this view is gaining ground:
“None of the academics, employers or young professionals would call these boom times for environmental employment; plenty of graduates with degrees in environmental science must work at finding a job. But all say they are witnessing both an upward trend in the number of jobs and a change in the definition of environmental work. ‘The issues themselves have changed — climate change is far and away an example of that,’ said Kevin Doyle, the national director of program development for the Environmental Careers Organization, a nonprofit group that places recent graduates in environmental internships at federal agencies, businesses, nonprofit groups and state and local governments. ‘Businesses as businesses are becoming actors of environmental sustainability, either because they want to, or they feel they can do good public relations, or because they have to,’ Mr. Doyle said. ‘The axis of influence is starting to shift from a more exclusive focus on activists and government. You can work in business because you’re an environmentalist.’”
And you can choose where to spend that green dollar too.
Photo by Marsha Miller.