Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Fixing the Economy: Fixing Our Environment’s Health with Green Technology

We are anxiously plunging into an uncertain future. We watch the news each evening, soaking in every bit of information about the economy. Some of us read the latest books on the subject, including history books that may shed light on what is happening. Even though most experts don’t seem to be of much help in navigating the complexity of finances and banking, some pearls may be found in their debates. I am betting that Harold Wilson, Thomas Friedman and others who feel as they do are the eggheads with the best insights.

Dr. Wilson and Friedman propose that the 21st Century must be the century of Green Technology, much like the 20th Century was the century of Industrialization, when countries focused single-mindedly on production and utilization of energy and raw materials from the Earth without significant efforts to mitigate and minimize the literal raping of Mother Earth. The 20th Century planted the seeds for not only the environmental problems that are now coming home to roost, but also the economic woes we are having. Ironically, a cooling economy and a warming planet also present us with an opportunity to fix these problems, if we so choose, much like ancient Chinese wisdom tells us: a crisis can also be an opportunity for growth.

Wilson and many others feel that the development of Green Technology (wind power, bio-fuels like alcohol, solar and thermal energy, perma-culture, clean coal, etc.) is a must if we are to make it in the next few years. We have recently become aware of the ecologic imperative to do so; now, we must embrace an economic imperative.

Some economists feel that economies are always going through Bubble and Bust periods, mostly due to human nature and our penchant for spending money we don’t have. The Busts are then nothing but periods of adjustment so that we are forced to face the grim reality that we cannot live on credit from our children’s futures. And the Bubbles are nothing but New Technologies that spur growth that lasts a few decades until everyone has embraced said technologies. For example, the textile industry and the navy fueled the British Empire; the Spanish Empire was built on the riches of their South American colonies, and, more recently, the American Empire was built on not only its WWII victory, but the computer and the revolution. When those bubbles start to run out of steam, economies try to get cute with shortcuts like bundling bad debts (credit cards, housing, etc) to be sold as legitimate assets (CDOs) to unsuspecting gamblers throughout the world.

In other words, Green Technologies (producing Energy and cleaning our environment) have the potential to spur our economy out of the recession it is mired. The benefits are legion, including improving our physical and emotional health. As Chairman of the Environmental/Public Health committee for the Utah Medical Association I am very interested in bringing to the fore environmental issues that have been thoroughly documented to impact our health. But, I feel it is naïve to work in this often-controversial field without an understanding of the economic and energy issues that are involved. Even our National Security depends on how we manage energy issues in the future: we cannot continue to depend on foreign oil and expect to call our own shots in the international arena.

As physicians we have a duty to help our patients understand these intertwined issues so that they may become involved and a part of the solutions. For instance, the UMA's Environmental Committee has passed resolutions supporting clean air, wind power, and mass transportation in Utah. Concerned doctors like Michelle Hoffman have been working side by side with Mothers for Clean Air; David Jack and Katherine Wheeler have been working with the Adopt a School program to address “other energy” issues (obesity in children); Charles Langelier has been instrumental in starting an Environmental Medicine course at the Medical School, and Bryan Moench has been extremely active with Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and their efforts to limit Coal Mining pollution.

Let us be part of the solution: join our Environmental Committee’s efforts to work on all these fronts that have the potential to heal our communities in so many ways.

(Article submitted to the Utah Medical Association Bulletin for publication.)

1 “The Forgotten Man: a new history of the great depression;” Amity Shlaes, Harper Perennial, 2007,
“No Ordinary Time. Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: the home front in WWII;” Doris Kearns Goodwin, Simon & Schuster, 1994,
“The Ascent of Money: a financial history of the world:” Penguin Press, 2008
2 “The Future of Life;” Harold Wilson, Knopf Press, 2002.
"Hot, Flat and Crowded: why we need a green revolution- and how it can renew America," Thomas Friedman; Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2008.


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