On Earth Day 1971, Walt Kelly's Pogo featured its most famous line ever. Kelly liked it so much that he used it again in a later strip. Today, with so many different kinds of environmental issues, it helps to remember Kelly's wisdom instead of joining in the noisy blame game that has become so popular in this country. Whether one points the finger at Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives, big business, big labor, or big government, three fingers point back. Energy spent on finding someone to blame cannot be spent on developing a sustainable lifestyle.

What is a sustainable lifestyle? Living as individuals and as a society in such a way that we can meet our current social and economic needs and use natural resources without creating shortages or bad environmental conditions for future generations. If, for example, we use up all the world's oil, fail to develop alternatives, and pollute all the water in the process, we thereby create an unsolvable mess for our children.

The Earth from space (from NASA)

Not everyone accepts the necessity of developing a different, more sustainable lifestyle. Most of those who do view the prospect of catastrophic global warming as the most serious looming disaster. They propose to deal with it in one of two ways: top-down government-directed global initiatives designed and implemented at such international meetings as those in Kyoto or Copenhagen, or ground-up local and national programs to stimulate research and development in new, more efficient and less toxic products and technologies.

Frankly, the major global initiatives seem unlikely to lead to anything but heated rhetoric and frustration. No national government seems willing or able to take the first steps to implement the agreements, and even citizens used to living under totalitarian regimes would not take kindly to the imposition of short-term hardships for the sake of long-term goals.

But if national governments, acting together or separately, cannot devise and dictate workable solutions, entrepreneurs cannot innovate the world to new sustainable products and technologies without governments' help. Individuals cannot develop sustainable lifestyles without viable alternatives to the way we live now and will not make personal changes in that direction if they seem too inconvenient.

Here, then, is a modest proposal for what as many individuals as possible need to do as soon as possible if they are not already:

  • We need to examine our conveniences and see if they are really helpful. Is it really better to use a drive-through window than to walk into the store?
  • We need to take advantage of whatever environmentally friendly products and practices are available now. We can fully participate in the local recycling program. We can take cloth bags into the grocery store and not have to choose between paper and plastic. We can buy the most energy-efficient products available, from little things like light bulbs and batteries to expensive things like major appliances.
  • We need to hold our politicians accountable. The time to insist on bipartisanship is when our party is in power, to insist that the majority party not shut the minority out of the legislative process.
  • We need to be willing to pay some extra taxes. Developing and adopting new products and technologies, bringing them to market in such a way that they can compete with the status quo, and upgrading our infrastructure to make everything work is not free.


A drive-through at night

The call to developing a sustainable lifestyle is not at all a demand that everyone give up all the benefits of modern technology and live as our pre-industrial ancestors did. It's more about developing new technologies and products to take the place of non-renewable resources (including land-fill space) and using everything more efficiently and with less waste. It's also about sharing those technologies with poorer societies so that they, too, can be self-sustaining. That will be good for us and good for our descendants.