Baxter Black: The choices we make

I was in Colusa, Calif., in the beautiful Northern Sacramento Valley. But, farmers were worried because of the lack of snowmelt in the surrounding mountains, which furnishes their irrigation water.

Drought is a serious problem in many parts of the country.

In times when conservation of water is so critical, how do environmentally conscious consumers justify the consumption of all-natural organic produce, products that use more precious water and cost considerably more per pound or per acre to grow than crops that use herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilizer?

I would be hypocritical if I didn't place the same scrutiny on my personal proclivity to buy Choice grade beef. Beef, which uses more grain, at least quantitatively, than meat that grades Select.

The same dilemma applies to the eco-aware person who buys a brand new fuel-efficient Toyota that gets eight more miles to the gallon than the three-year-old Ford Explorer that they now own.

Logically, the energy and natural resources consumed in building the new Toyota could never be justified by the fuel savings.

The answer that explains our behavior is that this is a free country.

Free to eat the meat and vegetables we desire and drive the car we like and can afford. America is a land of abundance. Even in our bad economy, we are lavish consumers compared to most of the world. We live in a land where even the poor have a vehicle and cable television.

It is good that our concern to conserve natural resources has grown.

But there often is a condition: the sacrifice must not be personal. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., loves wind power, but not in his own backyard. Movie stars condemn pharmaceutical companies but demand the best health care possible when they get sick. Senators know they need to eliminate redundant military bases unless it's in their own state.

Coloradans refuse to dam beautiful canyons until their own suburb runs out of water, farmers complain about government spending except for the Farm Bill and I gripe about the price of gasoline as long as my Conoco stocks don't decline.

Truth is, we are so wealthy as a nation we can still afford luxuries, even in hard times. Luxury is relative, though.

It can be a hybrid car, a meal at Ruth Chris Steak House, an organic Thanksgiving meal, a $500 vet bill for your dog, a $24 monthly cable TV payment, or $4.80 for a triple-shot no-foam gingerbread latte.

I do not expect shoppers at Alfalfa's to quit buying organic produce, restaurants to quit serving prime beef or people to quit trading in older cars for more efficient, but more environmentally costly ones.

I cannot make excuses for our behavior. I can only quote a survey that said three out of four Americans make charitable donations each year.

That's considerably more than Europeans, the Middle East and most of the rest of the world. We choose to help our neighbors and the global needy our own self, rather than leave it up to the government.

What we have going for us is the right to choose and the history of being one of the most generous people that ever walked the face of the Earth. So, in spite of the drought and the economy, if you want to help, fix your leaky faucet, help your neighbor and pray for rain.

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