I just read an article online about the destruction of remote rainforests in Sumatra to meet our demand for palm oil, an ingredient in many foods, soaps and cosmetics, according to Rainforest Action Network. The rainforests being destroyed for palm oil are home to rare orangutans, but that is just one of the most charismatic of thousands of species that are being displaced. I have never seen an orangutan in the wild (and I have never been to Sumatra), but it's deeply troubling to think that such a wild and beautiful place is being destroyed to feed mindless consumption. But then again, we destroy mountains in West Virginia for coal, and deserts for solar. We can rationalize or tolerate so much destruction until we are faced with the consequences. And since our consumption draws on resources so far away, it is too easy to ignore the true costs.
Consider Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's (LADWP) recent announcement that it signed contracts to purchase solar energy from K Road's Moapa Solar project and Sempra's Copper Mountain Solar 3 project in Nevada. That's a cause for celebration, right? Clean energy for Los Angelenos that will hopefully replace coal. But both of these solar facilities are being built hundreds of miles from Los Angeles on beautiful desert landscapes, displacing desert tortoises, kit fox, and rare plants. The world population is growing, our consumerist demands increasing -- it's time to value sustainability, not convenience. And it's time to stop ignoring true costs. That bar of soap destroyed a grove of trees that buzzed with a chorus of birds and orangutans in the morning. That TiVo box coaxes toxic plumes from a coal power plant. And your TV is slowly slipping money into the pockets of a solar power plant developer that is bulldozing the desert.
If you want to do something about it, learn about the products you consume and their ingredients. Turn off the lights you are not using. Look into rooftop solar, solar water heating, or demand that your government and utility officials keep clean energy projects on lands that are already-disturbed. Live your life as if you witnessed the destruction and despair caused by each of your decisions. Positive change will have to come from individuals acting responsibly. Don't wait for Wall Street to grow a conscience.