Sustainability on TED

19 Feb

As my plane was leaving LA  after TED2010 and I watched the curious man-made landscape of circling streets and repetitive housing, I though of the provoking book by Stewart Brand called Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto which stated some environmental heresies. The first one, and the one I will examine here, was that cities are green. It is hard to think about New York City, for instance, as a model for sustainability but let’s examine the lifestyle of organic eating, juice sucking, prius driving  southern californians for a minute. They all live 30 to 90 minutes away from their jobs, so each family has at least one car, usually two, with a big commute two times a day. If we do some math with this calculator from the EPA we’ll see that a tipical californian household emits between 20,000 to 35,000 Kg of CO2 a year.

Each house has to receive (at least) water, electricity and some bandwidth so pipes, copper cables and fiber optics have to be deployed to cover miles and miles of land. Furthermore, all those lawns require massive amounts of water and fertilizers, let’s not forget we are actually on a desert with almost no rain. Each time they need groceries they go to a supermarket, you need quite a bit of them to cover such big areas, and they all needs truckloads (literally) of food and supplies. The amount of energy and other resources consumed by this design is monstrous.

The contrast of this way of living with Californian’s love for anything green is startling. At the TED conference we received an aluminum bottle to refill from filtered water dispensers instead of the typical and stupid water bottle. If 1500 persons consume 3 bottles of water a day for 5 days we would have fabricated a mountain of 22500 plastic bottles. Although you could argue that they can be recycled if properly disposed, it takes quite a bit of energy and carbon emissions to turn that amount of slightly used plastic into usable bottles. I personally think that it is a catastrophe that after installing all those water pipes, people everywhere in the world still consume bottled water. The plastic have to be fabricated from oil using energy to melt and take it’s shape, then sent to a spring, if you are lucky, and then back to supermarkets all over the world. Then you grab those waters, haul them to your trunk, take them home, drink them, throw them away and probably end in a landfill nearby.

TED had also on display Hybrid Cars by Lexus, and although I applaud Hybrid’s oil efficiency I hardly think that they constitute a solution for a zero-emissions, green way of transportation. There where a few Segways and a few bicycles but most people there had arrived either by car (bad) or by plane (the worst), including myself. I took a flight from Buenos Aires, to Dallas and then to LA. The carbon emissions of that flight was roughly 2,825 Kg of CO2. You can calculate them here.  As one TED U session said, if you wanted to be green going to TED you would have to go walking.

I’d better start walking now to reach TED2011 on time.

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