By Ryan Duffy, Communications Fellow
The following is an excerpt from Greenthink: How Profit can Save the Planet, by USGBC's co-founder and current CEO, Rick Fedrizzi.
Today we're on a disastrous path. But the good news is that government and business leaders around the world are starting to wake up to reality. The result is, we finally have a chance to break free from the tired global argument about who needs to what to save our planet
On one side, developing countries balk at the idea of emissions caps or other environmental compacts that would limit their economic growth. They note, rightly, that rich nations like America spent the past century growing their economies with the help of dirty fossil fuels and without being hampered by environmental regulations. Developed countries, meanwhile, countercharge that China and other rapidly industrializing nations want to spend the next century doing the same thing, despite the tremendous and irreversible consequences that will have for everyone on the planet.
This argument has been going on forever, and there's a good reason for that: It's an argument without a resolution. Everyone is right, and everyone is wrong. The simple fact is that all countries– developed and developing alike– use lots of dirty fossil fuels and do terrible things to the environment. Until very recently, it's been the only way to improve living standards and achieve economic growth.
Yes, a century's reliance on fossil fuels has put our planet in the perilous position it is today. But it has also made the lives of billions of human beings immeasurably better. People are living longer and healthier lives thanks to scientific and technological innovations that simply would not have been possible without large quantities of low-cost energy. An abundance of cheap oil, coal, and gas, combined with the desire for someone, somewhere to make a profit, is what has enabled countries around the globe to build modern societies.
For a long time, most people understood and accepted the trade-off that some level of environmental decay was the cost of a growing economy that raises standards of living. Cut down a few forests, pollute a few rivers, drive some species to the brink of extinction, and in return you can build a bunch of stuff to sell for a profit and create jobs and growth along the way. You could ignore the negatives– especially when you never saw them with your own eyes. But this old trade-off has become a rip-off, because today, environmental degradation is threatening people's lives and livelihoods.
Thankfully, for the first time in modern history, economic and environmental interests have begun to align. Environmentalists have long argued that you can't have a healthy economy without a healthy environment. They're right. But the argument never hit home before now, because environmental degradation wasn't impacting companies' bottom lines and countries' GDP. Now it is, in a big way.
It's also going to start shaping the future.
A couple of years ago, I read an article in the New York Times about parents in Beijing forbidding their kids from playing outside because of the city's terrible air pollution. It brought back memories of my own childhood in upstate New York, where the soot from the local factories interrupted my afterschool playtime. I would get out of school at 2:30 and have to run straight home to help get the laundry in, because at 3:05 the factories nearby would belch black soot over everything in the area.
So I know how those kids in Beijing feel. They want to run around, get in trouble with their friends, play, explore, and have fun. In other words, they want to be kids! But they can't And they know why: the air is their enemy. Even if they can't put it into words, even if it hasn't yet risen to the level of a conscious thought, I know there is a powerful feeling bubbling up inside them, a feeling that will stay with them forever. They hate pollution– just like I did.
Hundreds of millions of kids are growing up right now, in China and around the world, in megacities and rural villages that are being devastated by an intolerable level of pollution and environmental chaos. Many of these kids have friends or relatives who will get sick from bad air, bad water, or the chemicals they don't even know they're being exposed to. Some of them will get sick themselves. Some will die.
This generation is growing up with the pollution that my generation created. It's a terrible thought. But they're also inheriting a world in which profit and the planet are, for the first time, inseparable. It's a difficult concept for folks my age to grasp. But the next generation will understand this intuitively. They'll profit at the expense of pollution– and that will be a beautiful thing.
In the wake of COP21, and with sustainable and energy efficient technologies becoming rapidly more cost-effective, scalable, and profitable, this is a timely excerpt. You can buy the book on Amazon new for $12.99. Fun fact: each copy of the book is made after the order is placed so as to reduce waste and ineffiency!