Friday, July 2, 2010

BrightHome's Eco-Ed for

Schwartz: Will any good come from Gulf oil spill?


As I have received so many questions regarding the Gulf oil spill, it was difficult to choose one that best captured the sentiment of all of your concerns. Therefore, I have scrapped the usual format and will seek to address those questions and concerns.

The situation in the Gulf of Mexico is truly disastrous. Estimates vary wildly on the amount of oil unleashed into our waters, but the consensus is the same: This is an accident of epic proportions. We see the visible impact, with tar balls, bands of sludge and birds covered in oil, but what is unseen could hold far greater reaching consequences.

The impact will not be fully realized for years, as marshes, estuaries, spawning grounds, etc. try in vain to escape the damage. Devastation of sensitive coral reefs and less visible life forms could conceivably permanently impact the entire food chain in this region. That is not even considering if the oil makes its way up the Gulf Stream, impacting the entire Atlantic Seaboard.

Among the rhetoric and comments I have received, people seem to be in two camps. The first seeks to blame BP. It is now clear that they consciously took steps to put profits over safety on many occasions, and we will bear the brunt of their risk-taking. The second speaks about our government's slow responsiveness, or holds the Obama administration in particular, as the Pariah. They based many of their early assumptions on the estimates provided by BP, and clearly misjudged the potential impact of the early explosion of the oil rig. Once more accurate data was available, it was clear that it was too late. There are limited actions for slowing the leak, and the damage has already been done.

I am not choosing sides here. Believe me, there is enough blame to go around. The awareness that I am proposing is that we are all to blame. Our insatiable appetite for oil and other fossil fuels is at the core of what makes this situation possible in the first place. We enjoy vehicles that are larger, on average, than those used in other countries. Every time we choose a vehicle and put looks, status, performance, etc. over consideration for the mileage and emissions, we are supporting this behavior. Every time we drive into town or school, instead of walking or riding a bicycle, we are implicitly condoning it. Our homes are estimated to waste an average of 40 percent of the energy used, but we choose to turn a blind eye. We continue to leave lights on, leave computers on overnight, not focus attention on making sure our homes are efficiently sealed and insulated, and that the heating/cooling systems are efficient and performing properly.

If there is one positive that can come from this unfortunate "accident," it would be that we, as a society, take a deep look within ourselves and our behavior. There is a way that we can feel less helpless to avoid an event like this in the future.

We can:

* Support more renewable energy sources for both homes and vehicles.

* Consider available options besides using fossil fuels.

* Drive less and with more efficient vehicles.

* Have a home energy audit done, and develop a plan to target reducing wasted energy use.

* Support our local farmer's market, where products are grown locally, and not shipped in from around the world.

* Support local stores and businesses, which require less travel.

* Use our power as consumers to purchase products that use less packaging or use resources more efficiently.

Together we can all make a difference. In the meantime, enjoy the summer and be thankful that our beaches (and our own Graydon Pond) are cleaner then they have been in years.

Ed Schwartz is the chairperson of the Ridgewood Environmental Advisory Committee, the coordinator of Sustainable Energy for the North Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club, Certified Energy and Sustainability Consultant, and co-founder of Green Living Solutions in New Jersey. He is a partner in BrightHome Energy Solutions, NJ, and has restored his own historical home in Ridgewood, using energy saving and sustainable practices. Eco-Ed can be reached at


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