Lopez Island in Puget Sound has a year-round population of about 2200. Before Ann and I embarked on the fifty-minute ferry ride that would take us there for a ten-day stay, we stocked up on the kind of food that we thought it unlikely to find in such a small and remote place.
To our surprise, Blossom Grocery was as accommodating as a Whole Foods Market, just smaller. Local and organic vegetables and fruit, of course, but also veggie burgers, plant-based cheese substitutes, nondairy milk products, prepared vegan food, earth-friendly laundry detergent, cloth grocery bags to borrow and return. It was a relief to discover that efforts to stop destroying life on our planet are that widespread. Nevertheless, they are insufficient.
Public alarm about destruction of the planet has not yet reached critical mass. When it does – if it does – our daily lives will be drastically changed. Incentives will be recognized as the puny compromises that they are; strict regulation will be the order of the day. Most will find such changes unappealing, but not as unappealing as the end of all human life.
Gasoline-powered vehicles and leaf blowers and lawnmowers and the like will be prohibited. Long daily showers, Styrofoam, and eating meat will be unthinkable. Coal-fired power plants will be history. And so on. But we are far from reaching critical mass. Maybe a way to get there is for more people to take a long trip by car. Here’s what I’ve seen on my trip: all over the Great Plains, dry-land farms sucking the Ogallala Aquifer dry never to be recharged; feed lots stuffed with so many cattle that the stink alone testified to environmental harm, never mind all the other issues involved; single-use plastic containers of soap and shampoo in most motels; plastic utensils, cups, and plates that can’t be recycled in the motel breakfast rooms; truck stop parking lots full of idling diesel eighteen wheelers.
As a constant backdrop, a substantial portion of our population is always on the move, often as one person per low-mileage car. Was any consideration at all given to mass transportation when the interstate system came into being? If so, it didn’t come to much.
We can’t realistically dig up the interstates now that they are with us, but as a small first step we could bring back gasoline rationing. We did that in World War II. Surely the end of all life on earth is a greater threat than that posed by the Axis powers. We could charge a high tax on gasoline and dedicate the proceeds to a train system. We could tax automobiles heavily, graduated according to fuel consumption ratings. We could get serious about requiring fuel efficiency in every motor vehicle that is manufactured. We could recognize “draconian” for the life-saving term that it is.
My guess is that the most important obstacle in the way of radical actions to save the planet is that its incineration is generally envisioned as something that will happen, if at all, a long time off in the future. Put a date certain on the end, say the birthday of any child now living, and few behavioral changes would seem extreme.
Another factor slowing and limiting our response is that we are beginning, however inadequately, to make some necessary changes. Not just Blossom Grocery on Lopez Island either. Recycling is the rule just about everywhere, albeit with varying degrees of carefulness. Hybrid and electric cars are becoming common. Every motel we’ve stayed in has had low-flow shower heads, and they’ve encouraged guests not to change towels and linens unnecessarily.
But I say again: incentives are insufficient. An example. Ann and I are seriously concerned about environmental degradation, but the antique VW camper we are traveling in gets only about fifteen miles a gallon. To our further discredit, we recently washed it within steps of a sign that reads “Be courteous to your neighbors and the island. Please conserve water.” This polite request simply did not have the same force as legal prohibition.
The pollster Stan Greenberg makes a persuasive case that Donald Trump will not be re-elected. I hope he’s correct. His administration is dismantling environmental regulations as quickly as they can write “DELETE.” That has to end.