Yardley Voice – Going Green Solar Column – May 2012
by Mark Bortman
I really like peanut butter. But even I know that if I use it faster than I replace it, one day I’m going to run out.
“Duh, dad!” as my daughter would say.
Well, what if it took a million years to make a jar of peanut butter? Surely I’d eat it faster than it could be made. I’d have to figure out a way to eat peanut butter sustainably, so that some would be available for my children and grandchildren to enjoy, because, heaven knows, life without peanut butter would be very hard indeed!
That is the basis for the buzzword “sustainability” that we hear so often these days. Since everything we need for living comes, at some point, from the natural environment, sustainability means making sure there are enough resources maintained in the environment for future generations. If natural resources are consumed faster than they can be replaced, life cannot be sustained.
Different resources are replenished at different rates. Some resources, such as sunlight (and peanut butter), are constantly replaced. Other resources, such as heat from the earth or sun, are virtually limitless. Some resources, on the other hand, are finite and either not able to be replenished or take a very long time to replenish.
Each person on the planet consumes resources – water, air, land, food and energy. Within each of these categories, there are choices of how to make use of these resources and the rate that they are consumed. Each of these categories, moreover, has economic and social dimensions, in addition to the environmental impacts. Only by consuming in a sustainable manner in all of these domains, will these resources be available for future generations.
We often think of sustainability in terms of energy usage. There are lots of energy sources, but fossil fuels currently account for a huge percentage of our energy. Fossil fuels are solar energy that was captured by plants and animals millions of years ago and which, over time, has become compressed and transformed into oil and coal. This is a very slow, time-consuming process.
If we use the fossil fuels faster than they can be remade, as has been done over the past 50 to 100 years, sooner or later there will not be any available. Unless we develop a way to create more fossil fuels ourselves, our answer must be to figure out ways to use less of them. So sustainability demands that we think about using other energy sources so that our descendants will have energy for their needs.
What is our responsibility as a society when it comes to sustainability? Is it our responsibility to make sure that our children, and their children, have anything at all? I think so. Because, heaven knows, I’d be really unhappy if life had no peanut butter.