Last year the National Football League used renewable energy at Super Bowl sites as part of an on-going commitment to 'greening' their games. While I am enthusiastic about the NFL's attempts to use sustainably sourced power, reduce consumption, recycle waste, and reuse unused material--all things that they take to heart--this is far from a truly green Super Bowl which would be one without advertisements because advertisements encourage consumption, and consumption encourages manufacturing and profligate energy consumption.
We live in an age where our consumption may ultimately create a much less livable world. To combat global warming we must embrace the economic logic of consumption control.
Our impact can be viewed as the product of our population size, our affluence, and the energetic costs associated with the technology we use. Each citizen of an affluent country, like the US, has higher per-capita energy expenditures, produces more carbon, and creates more wastes than a citizen from a less developed country. Thus, while our population is growing slowly, and while we become ever more efficient with our manufacturing processes, our affluence breeds consumption--conspicuous and un-sustainable consumption that is ever-so clear in the orgy of advertising associated with the Super Bowl and its wonderfully imaginative advertisements.
Our society is driven by consumption. Keeping up with the Jones' now requires a 5000 square foot house, several SUVs, multiple plasma screen TVs, the newest computer and phone. Old products are often discarded with little regard to their fate (how old is your current phone?). Product cycles have decreased. For example the DVD became widely adopted in a fraction of the time it took the VCR to become commonplace in American living rooms. Just think about how fast touch screen 'smart' phones have spread to commonplace. Such rapid shifts in the normative technology we use require manufacturing and transportation. New technology requires energy and other limited natural resources. Manufacturing and transportation creates waste. Old products quickly loose all value; contrast the value of an 100 year old rocking chair with a 5-year old computer.
Such consumption, while arguably good for short-term economic indicators, is moving us rapidly towards a long-term ecological and environmental train wreck. Our addictive use of fossil fuels has changed the global environment. And, shockingly, because we expect non-linear responses, we don't know when we will reach the "tipping point" that will have disastrous global consequences. Economic experts tell us that we can do something and that it will be much less painful if we do it now.
Technological fixes are just that; the only viable solution is consumption control. We must internalize the ideas that recycling requires energy and other natural resources and that while recycling may be better than simply throwing things away, re-using and reducing are much more effective ways to help the environment. During the Great Depression and World War II, American's managed to get by while using less. Surveys say that we are no happier now despite our profligate consumption. Happiness comes from within. It is essential for us to learn that it is possible to be happy without having the latest gadget, and that by doing so we are also doing something good for the environment. Just because we can purchase the latest gadget doesn't mean we should.
In the summer I live and work in Gothic, Colorado, an old ghost town converted into a biological research station. The area is rich with excellent low-priced thrift stores. Re-using is a way of life out here. It's pleasantly rewarding to find a great bargain at a thrift store. Gothic has few amenities; for a while there was no movie theater in the entire county. While in Gothic there's virtually nothing to spend money on. The Gothic Exchange is a place where we place unwanted items and somebody finds a use for them. There is no time to miss a consumption driven lifestyle; it is filled with work, recreation, and cultivating friendships and relationships.
Our future will be brighter if we, as Americans, re-learn how to value the simpler pleasures and consume less. A first step towards this goal is to focus on building our social relationships while watching an exciting game, rather than planning our next purchase. Now that's a way to really green the Super Bowl!