by Bob Massaro for Napa Valley Life Magazine
One of the more critically acclaimed shows on cable television is AMC’s “Mad Men.” It follows the lives and times of the people in a fictional Madison Avenue advertising firm circa 1960. The writers and producers have worked hard to depict life in the early 60’s, down to the clothes, sets, cars, and interestingly enough, how women were treated in the workplace. But the one thing that jumps out at the viewer is that in “Mad Men” everybody smokes. All the time, everywhere, in restaurants, in elevators, in offices, at the dinner table… there is no place off limits. Even pregnant women smoke in “Mad Men.”
Looking back now 50 years from 1960 we now know how inappropriate, and more importantly, how dangerous this type of behavior was to everyone’s health.
I can’t help but draw the parallels between how smoking was viewed in the 1960’s, and how we here in America view global warming and climate change. By the time 2060 roles around, 50 years from now, those of us living will look back at the 1990s and early 2000s and think…. “didn’t they know how bad global warming was for them; why didn’t they work sooner and harder to stop it.”
Somewhere in recent times there was a turning point for smoking. People started to hear the statistics, and made the connection to shortened lives and smoking. Regulations were put in place and people’s behavior changed. Today if someone lights up a cigarette in an elevator or restaurant he or she would be met with consternation and criticism and quickly someone would make the smoker stop. You have all heard the statistics and the forecasts about global warming. Rising sea levels, droughts, lost species, lost micro‐climates (including the wine-growing regions of Northern California), and a general loss of the quality of life, as we know it today.
Yet in many venues global warming is the family cousin that nobody wants to talk about. There are those that even insist that it is a hoax, just as there are those who think that the Holocaust never happened, or we never landed on the moon. But let’s for a moment put that discussion aside, whether you believe human behavior and its machines caused global warming or not, consider the affects on our lives if we all worked to live more sustainably.
Sustainable living reduces our dependence on fossil fuels, which would in turn change the world‐wide political stage. Our transportation would move from internal combustion engines, and their polluting side effects to electric and fuel‐cell powered vehicles. Transportation would become less important, because we would live closer to where we worked and learned, and because mass‐transit would be more readily available and more user‐friendly. Our homes, offices and schools would be powered by renewable energy, or at the least, by clean energy. Buildings would be designed to be more focused on natural light and ventilation, and less on conditioned air. They would be cooler in the summer, and warmer in the winter, without the need for mechanical systems for heating and cooling.
Our food would be grown more locally, and transported shorter distances. Biomass facilities, which turn waste products into energy, would replace coal‐fired power plants. Our clothing would be made of rapidly renewable fibers, grown organically, and manufactured and transported sustainably. Landfills would become obsolete, because all products would be designed to be recycled or reused in true cradle‐to‐cradle fashion. Water use would drop dramatically, because we would have learned how to use less, and to recapture what we did use. Rainwater capture and grey water systems would be commonplace.
In a sustainable world we would live in smaller houses, and drive smaller cars because we would come to realize that smaller is better, particularly if it is also designed smarter.
Yes, all of this represents change. Not everyone likes change. Many times change is caused by a force or action. In 1964 it was the Surgeon General’s report on smoking that caused smoking to be viewed as what it was… the single greatest health hazard of its time. If climate change caused by global warming is in fact proven to be a hoax I will be among the first to stand up and say… “You got me.” But until then I think we should all recognize global warming and climate change for what it truly could be - the single greatest threat to life on this planet since the extinction of the dinosaurs.
We have learned to influence smoking behavior. But the efforts to influence, and in effect stop, climate change caused by greenhouse gas production are proving to be much more challenging. That doesn’t mean that the effort should in anyway diminish. If anything, it should intensify.
Ultimately the threat or hoax discussion should take a back seat to the goal…more sustainable living. In this case the “what” is far more important than the “why.”
Onward – to a more sustainable world.