The environmental mortgage crisis

David Owen’s recent New Yorker comment, Economy vs. Environment, draws an apt analogy between the mortgage and ecological crises we face. Countless living beings over millennia deposited their saved energy as carbon so that we might burn the resulting coal and oil with less heed than a homeowner on her third subprime equity loan. When you consider how quickly we’ve sent these millions of years up in smoke, our energy profligacy outweighs our recent real estate binge by astronomical orders of magnitude. Yet the vice is the same: squandering hard-earned assets with little thought of caring for tomorrow.

And yet after several years of virtuously foregoing the clothing dryer, I’ve concluded that spending my hours hanging up wet laundry is a backwards step in evolution; we cannot build a modern economy on stone age technology. Clean, sustainable power to fuel a healthy an growing economy — one that lets us all enjoy the amenities of technology, including the dryer — is the only realistic way forward. If we are to redeem our prodigal dissipation of the riches that our ancestors bequeathed us in the form of fossil fuels, it is to make that downpayment on this future way of life.

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