Saturday, November 7, 2009

Will Ken Burns' National Parks Series Inspire Us to Be Greener?

By Steven Castle

In viewing Ken Burns' new film, The National Parks: America's Best Idea, I am struck not only by the stunning beauty of our preserved lands - but by the possibilities they still behold. I wonder if this latest mini-series will accelerate our collective interest in being greener and more energy efficient.

Is it too much to think that people will equate the enjoyment of natural wonders with actually doing something to preserve our most important natural treasure: our livable ecosystem?

The idea behind our national parks system was to set aside natural wonders like Yosemite and Yellowstone at a time when the United States was expanding into western lands and damn the consequences. This started in the 19th century, when nature was to be mastered and exploited for commercial gain. Yet lands like Yosemite were still protected and preserved so that generations in the future could marvel at their wonders.

Today we are faced with the prospect of curbing our consumption not to preserve the beauty of nature, but to preserve its life-sustaining gifts. Yes, I'm talking about the effects of climate change, global warming, greenhouse gases, ocean acidification, melting glaciers, extinction events and the whole CO2/methane apocalyptic stew.

Regardless of whether you believe we are threatening our livable environment, shouldn't we do more to protect and preserve it? Shouldn't we now possess the intelligence and maturity not just to exploit and master nature, but to work with nature for our commercial gain? That's already happening to some degree with clean technologies like solar and wind and geothermal, and with biofuels like CO2-storing and energy-producing algae.

However, not one of these clean technologies is the magic bullet that will free us from burning harmful fossil fuels for our energy needs. And collectively they are not likely to replace oil, gas and coal for decades. That means we must try to work more with nature in our individual homes and businesses. In other words, green starts with each of us as individuals.

Commentators in the National Parks series talk not of going "out" into nature, but going back "in" to nature and returning to our roots in it. That's why being out in a beautiful natural setting can be so peaceful and relaxing. So shouldn't we act in the same spirit with regard to our life-sustaining ecosystem? Everything we purchase and consume has an effect on it in some small way, so why not try to make those impacts minimal or even helpful to our great natural resources?

This is the sea change we are confronted with in becoming greener. We have to change our collective attitude from a culture that takes the bounty of nature for granted to one that considers the effects of our consumption.

It is unrealistic, however, to flick a switch and be green overnight. To consider every purchase and every action in its relationship to the natural world is too much for most of us in this fast-paced world. But we should definitely consider more of our actions and more of our purchases. And we should consider some of the same principals of conservation in energy and materials that inspired the earliest proponents of our national parks.

That means looking for ways to reduce our energy consumption in our homes and businesses, which produce most of our greenhouse gases. That means shopping for products that use less toxic materials and that can last a long time and be recycled. Nowhere, we contend, is this more important than in electronics. With their short life cycles, energy demands and specific material construction needs, electronics can either be a big part of our environmental problem, or a big part of the solution.

Green technology should not be such a radical idea. It should be natural evolution of our intelligence and ingenuity. We can use green electronics and green technology not to take us farther away from our roots in nature, but to get back to it-and without leaving our modern conveniences behind.

We should also remember that setting aside land for national parks was a radical idea - once.

Steven Castle is a green tech journalist and co-founder of GreenTech Advocates, ( an informational resource for businesses selling green home technologies and businesses going green.

Copyright 2009 GreenTech Advocates. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

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