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These are my holiday wishes for the world: a longer memory, pollution prevented, an ey on the future, paying it forward and More...

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Wii’s and flatscreen TVs are on many holiday wish lists.  Here’s another list of what I think all of us could use from an environmental perspective.

Solar car that won the 2005 North American Solar Challenge.  Photo by Stefano Paltera.
In 2005, University of Michigan students designed an experimental solar car that travelled on sunshine alone from TX to Canada (2,400 miles) at an average speed of 46.2 mph. Stefano Paltera photo, North American Solar Challenge.

A longer memory.  In June 2008, the national average price of gasoline reached an all time high of $4.086.  A barrel of crude oil topped out at $147.27 a month later.  But now, even in Connecticut, gasoline can be purchased for $1.75 a gallon.  By December 12th, oil had gone down by 72% to $40.50 a barrel.  As the sticker shock of summer fades, consumers are likely to be lulled into complacency once more.  I hope we will remember how painful our dependence on oil can be, and really do something about it.

Pollution Prevented.  Pollution Prevention, or P2 (not PP, which elicits too many giggles), is using practices or products that avoid or reduce the use of natural resources and creation of pollutants.  It differs from managing waste that has already been generated.  For example, the government establishes standards on vehicle fuel efficiency and emissionsStricter standards would force automakers to produce vehicles that reduce gasoline use and health-damaging, climate-changing emissions.  But so far, automakers have been in the driver’s seat, lobbying hard to prevent stricter standards from going into effect.  As a result, U.S. companies have been churning out thirsty SUVs and trucks that get 12 mpg, despite the existence of technology that would enable vehicles to do far better.  If businesses are not willing to make protecting the environment a priority, the public and government should step in and require more emphasis on preventing pollution.

An eye on the future and the big picture. As the economy tanked, so did prices for recycled materials.  Plastic bottles collected for recycling went from 25 cents per pound in September, to 2 cents per pound in early December.  Dried up demand may tempt us to give up on recycling programs that were such a struggle to invent and implement.  However, from both an economic and environmental standpoint, it still costs more in the end to burn or bury trash.  If citizens and municipalities can keep an eye on the long term, life cycle costs, they may stay motivated to weather this downturn in prices.  If consumers, businesses and government demand recycled content, we can create new and bigger markets. 

Non-natives under control.  Humans have messed with Mother Nature over and over by introducing non-native plants and animals into the ecosystem.  Many of these aliens have overwhelmed native species, with profoundly negative consequences.  I wish nurseries would stop selling invasive plants even if they aren’t prohibited by law, and really promote native alternatives instead.  I wish people would control invasive plants in their own gardens or yards.  I wish they would volunteer to help control them on public lands.  I wish everyone would stop releasing, aiding and abetting non-native animals.

Pay it forward to the public trust.  The original “pay it forward” concept focused on being kind to strangers. That principle can be extended to kindness towards our home planet.  Look for opportunities in the upcoming year to help others and the world, even if it doesn’t provide any direct benefit to you as an individual. (I know this means I have to make a New Year’s resolution to stop sneaking containers of sour milk into the garbage so I don’t have to open and smell them before recycling.)   Try to be appreciative of what we share, like open space, wildlife diversity, and clean air and water Do what you can to ensure that these wonders continue to exist for the benefit of others. Be active and contribute to help build a better future for generations to come.

Originally published in the Villager newspapers on December 26, 2008

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