There are many things that can be done to help transition our civilization to sustainability. This page is a collection of "brainstorming" ideas. We do not know if anyone is currently working on these ideas or what role, if any, we or you might play in furthering them. Over the coming months we hope to research these topics further and report our findings here. If you're interested and have the skills, maybe you'll steal-this-quest and dedicate yourself to furthering one of these projects?
Ted Turner (of Turner Broadcasting Network) pledged $1 billion to the United Nations in September of 1997. He intends to contribute $100 million worth of stock in his company to the U.N. in each of the coming ten years to be used for the U.N.'s humanitarian programs. Turner's stock holdings grew from about $2 billion to nearly $3 billion in the first nine months of 1997, making it possible for him to make the generous donation without decreasing his net worth for the year, but that shouldn't diminish what is probably the greatest act of philanthropy in history. Turner's contribution reminds us of the great philanthropists of bygone days-- the Carnegies and the Rockefellers. Perhaps, we hope, Turner can unleash a new era of philanthropy among the world's wealthiest individuals.
How can the wealthy be encouraged to follow Mr. Turner's example and provide substantial support for the projects that are necessary to preserve Life on Earth?
Hydrogen is a very compact, lightweight, efficient medium for storing energy. One transition path involves displacing Natural Gas, but using the same distribution infrastructure (underground pipes). To do this, it might first be necessary to deploy equipment (furnaces and turbines) capable of burning both fuels and/or mixtures of the two fuels. Perhaps today' s natural gas equipment is already capable, but, if not, there's a lot of work to do.
It appears that the Earth really is getting warmer. One way, therefore, to help counteract some of the effects of deforestation (such as CO2 build-up), would be to plant more trees in Northern areas that have previously been too cold to support forests-- places where the permafrost is beginning to melt. Forestry corporations could capitalize such planting programs. (governments might have a role to play by making military personnel and equipment available for logistical exercises in tree-planting field work, or through tax incentives). Northern U.S., Canada, Russia, Scandinavia. Special casings for seedling's roots have been developed that allow seedlings to be airdrop-planted so that their roots are sunk just far enough into the soil to take hold.
Global Warming must be mitigated, but people driving cars is probably the largest contributor to CO2 build-up in the atmosphere and most drivers have a rather gun-nut attitude about giving up their means of transportation-- i.e. "you can have my car when you pry the steering wheel out of my cold, dead, hands". What to do?
Zero- and low-emission vehicles, in one form or another, must displace today's typical cars. Amory Lovins' group at the Rocky Mountain Institute have shown that vastly superior "hypercars" are possible with today's existing technology and market conditions. But there is much retooling and investment that must be done to get there. Hence, it would seem that an organized shareholder movement within the large motor companies could help set the climate within those organizations to take the risk and commit to new ways of car building.
Studies have shown that it should be possible to reduce income taxes by shifting the tax burden away from middle-class wage-earners and placing it on polluting corporations. Everything taxed tends to be diminished-- if you tax cigarettes, fewer people smoke over time. If you tax alcohol, other factors being equal, people tend to drink less. When you tax gasoline, I mean really tax gasoline like they do in Europe, people tend to drive more efficient cars and use passenger trains more.
Therefore, it stands to reason, that if there are practices that society wants to see phased out, taxing those practices is a great starting point. We could tax SO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants as an incentive to help the owners invest in emission-reduction equipment and to promote alternative energy sources. We could tax dioxins to reduce the flow of endocrine disruptors into the ecosystem. We could tax gasoline at higher rates to promote use of fuel-efficient cars and to reward people who drive less (this would have to be coupled with an income tax reduction to get anywhere politically). We could tax diesel to encourage rail transportation of freight for long distances (rail companies offer "piggy-back" and "intermodal" service to carry truck trailers and shipping containers) and to reduce the primary cause of wear and tear on our freeways. We could tax pesticides and herbicides to accelerate the adoption of "integrated pest managements", reduce toxic chemicals in the environment and promote products made without using chemicals. We could tax CFCs very steeply to promote use of ammonia and other alternatives for refrigeration and air conditioning and to help save what's left of the ozone layer.
Ask politicians where they stand on green taxes-- make it a major campaign issue.
It may be that the ozone layer situation is already out of hand. Chlorine atoms in the upper atmosphere act as catalysts to break down ozone and are not consumed in the process but continue on breaking O3 down into O2 over and over and over for a hundred years. It may be that we've already released more than enough Chlorine into the upper atmosphere to destroy the whole ozone layer and that to preserve Life we should pursue some ozone layer remediation programs.
Ozone is produced in the lower atmosphere naturally by lightning and artificially by various sources of pollution. Perhaps there may be ways move some of the lower atmosphere ozone into the upper atmosphere. Perhaps there could be ways to introduce Sodium ions into the upper atmosphere in such a way that they would tend to capture Chlorine atoms and precipitate down as ordinary salt. More study is needed.
By far the most efficient and least polluting form of transportation (excepting bicycles), passenger trains should be more widely used, but passenger train service in the U.S. is too slow, frequently behind schedule and doesn't serve enough destinations to be really popular. Amtrak is hamstrung because it relies on privately-owned rails that are not maintained well enough or upgraded to enable high-speed rail travel. There may be possibilities for shareholder activism and government incentives to convince the private companies to invest in infrastructure.