Monday, May 10, 2010

Environmental Studies 101

I took one environmental studies class in college. It was to fulfill a general education requirement, and the year was... somewhere post Exxon Valdez oil spill and pre Gulf War I.

They say education is what remains after you've forgotten what you've learned. Well, these are the major lessons, predictions, and dire warnings my professor left me with:

  • We would enter a major war in the Middle East over oil.
  • Our future energy needs would have to be met with a diversity of renewable sources -- nuclear power not being one of them because it's dangerous and not renewable.
  • And because we need energy to get energy, we need to develop these diverse technologies and infrastructure before we run out of oil, coal, and natural gas.
  • Earth day is about more than cleaning junk off of beaches.
  • Accidents always happen. If a group of scientists say that drilling for oil here or there will cause an ecological disaster, they're probably right.
  • Global warming will result in increased droughts, flooding, soil erosion, and landslides.
  • Something about the unsustainability of exponential growth.

At times the lessons seemed apocalyptic, but the apocalypse, at least, seemed far off.

But here we are in 2010. Endless war in the Middle East? We've got it. Twenty straight days of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico? Yep, and they don't know how to stop it. Devastating floods in a major U.S. city? It hardly even makes the news.

Okay, I honestly don't want to compare these events to signs of the apocalypse, but they are signs of something.

They are signs that as a nation we are confused and we don't know who to listen to. Hyperventilating know-nothings like Rush Limbaugh get way too much press. (Hey Rush, environmentalists did not blow up that oil rig, because that would be bad for the environment!) And actual climate scientists get way too little press, and when they do, it's because some oily politician is making a McCarthy-like political assault on their research.

These politicians think that if they create distractions, they won't have to actually do anything. But those who think we should wait until all scientists are in absolute agreement over global warming are willing to risk the entire planet.

I'm reminded of the French water lily story: "French children are told a story in which they imagine having a pond with water lily leaves floating on the surface. The lily population doubles in size every day and if left unchecked will smother the pond in 30 days, killing all the other living things in the water. Day after day the plant seems small and so it is decided to leave it to grow until it half-covers the pond, before cutting it back. They are then asked, on what day that will occur. This is revealed to be the 29th day, and then there will be just one day to save the pond."

Are we going to wait until that one last day?

No comments: