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More On Growth

August 23, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 34

In regard to Rudy Baum’s “Addicted to Growth” editorial and the letters about it, I would argue that we are actually addicted to greed (C&EN, June 28, page 3, and Aug. 2, page 6). So many sentences I hear start with “I want.” Career goals are measured in starting salaries, not professional growth and satisfaction. We register at certain stores for weddings and list everything we want. We elect politicians if they promise to lower “my” taxes, not if they promise to make the really tough decisions.

We have corporate executives who measure success by bottom-line dollar profits, not by contribution to the world community. Their corporate financial success is all-important for determining the size of their own bonuses. The primary goal of the health insurance companies has always been profit, not healthy people!

It seems counterintuitive that our current frugality is being blamed for the delayed economic recovery. I remember when frugality was good. Now, America benefits if I go out and get the latest gadgets, buy an oversized house, and eat out frequently. This concept of “consume at all costs” has created a society that must have everything and cherishes nothing.

No, my friend, we don’t want growth; we just want.

Fran Diamond
Southampton, Pa.

Is there room for one more comment on the “Addicted to Growth” topic? I propose something that I call “practical environmentalism.” I don’t believe that society will ever accept major sacrifices in the name of environmentalism, so let’s rule those out for now. Instead, let’s look at the things that can be done at little or no cost but can have a large impact.

Keep in mind that it’s not all about global warming (I’m not even going to get into that discussion). It’s about economics and societal stability. If we had put a modest amount of money into alternative energy research every year since the Carter Administration (when it was clear that our dependence on imported oil was hurting us badly), we could have alternatives today and probably be independent of the rest of the world for our energy needs.

What would that mean? We import over $100 billion in oil and oil products every year. What else do you think we could do with that money? Or consider the wars in the Middle East. While I would be the last to say it was all about oil, if we did not rely on the Middle East for our oil imports, do you think we would have spent trillions of dollars and sacrificed thousands of our young men and women fighting there? Do you think it would have any impact on terrorism or radical regimes if they had $100 billion less per year to play with?

I am constantly reminding people to turn off unused lights. I have started adding occupation sensors to the rooms. Cost? Fifteen dollars each—and they will pay for themselves in a year or so. Buying a new light bulb? Compact fluorescents cost about $3.00. Is your home empty much of the time? A programmable thermostat will pay for itself in months. Need a new computer, appliance, machine, car? Make energy usage one of the things you look at. I am not suggesting that you buy a subcompact car instead of a massive SUV if you need a massive SUV. But if everything else is equal while you’re looking at two items, why not consider the one that uses less energy?

So you can only save 100 W at a time with these changes. (I’m sure you can save much, much more than that, but this is for the sake of argument.) If we take your 100 W times 100 million U.S. homes, that’s 10 gigawatts of power saved—10 good-sized power plants that are no longer needed. So you save $100 or so per year and we eliminate the fuel usage and cost of 10 big power plants—at essentially no cost to the consumer. Add in even modest business conservation and the number goes up again.

If people would simply start understanding that energy is not infinite and just not waste it when it’s not adding value, then everyone would gain. Just what rational reason is there for not being careful with the energy we use?

I don’t believe that’s enough, but it’s a big step in the right direction. Ultimately, we need do to a lot more work on alternative energy for all of the above reasons. Some of that is purely engineering research (solar thermal, for example) and other areas require more basic research (photovoltaic). But in any event, taking even a small piece out of our oil imports will pay off handsomely not only for our children, but for us as well. So let’s stop fighting over things that we have no control over and do the things that we can easily do that will have an impact everyone can agree on, regardless of where they are on the political spectrum.

Joe Ragosta

The responses to Baum’s editorial span the spectrum from complete agreement to complete denial. Those of us who agree, including me, see the need for bold action to prevent a looming disaster.

Our time is clearly running out, as we look at diminishing resources in energy, water, food, and everything needed to sustain us. We continue to heat up our planet. People who deny that this is happening are not persuaded by evidence. For them, the status quo is fine. They are not open to hearing contrary points of view.

The most important matters of our time are the policy decisions we make. In order to make policy decisions, we need to have discussion and review, usually culminating in legislation that reflects a majority view. Unless we can have these discussions we will be unable to make choices that serve us.

Our legislative process is hampered by an effective supermajority requirement in the U.S. Senate, enabling a minority to block legislation. The power of money flowing from large corporate interests through their lobbyists adds to this. All the opposition has to do is say no. We have seen this happen many times.

Keep up your good work, Rudy. Do not be afraid to present important ideas that will not always get a warm reception. We all need to squarely face our problems and determine how we can collectively solve them.

Karl Bucholz
Carmichael, Calif.


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