Our Environment: Living Like There is No Tomorrow

During much of our history humans have had this idea that everything was placed on Earth for our consumption.  In the West this notion may at least partially stem from the Bible’s Book of Genesis which commands humans to “…rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Western philosophers such as John Locke and Jean Jacques Rouseau promoted this belief that all animals, plants, minerals and other resources exist only for human consumption.  That belief is threatening the only world on which we have to live.

  • A study released two months ago concluded that approximately 60% of the planet’s primate species are currently in danger of extinction because of human activity and populations of 75% of primate species are on the decline.
  • There is evidence that half the Earth’s wildlife has disappeared during the last forty years.
  • The population of bees has been on the decline in recent decades, and at least a portion of that decline results from herbicide and pesticide use.  One in three bites of human food come from crops pollinated by bees, so this really matters.
  • The use of coal, a plentiful and cheap source of energy, releases numerous chemicals that lead to acid rain, respiratory illness, lung disease, developmental disabilities in humans and other species, and other environmental problems.  Also, about 2/3 of the coal used in the U.S. is extracted by strip mining which removes the top soil (including mountain tops) to expose the coal seams below.
  • More than 600 million of the Earth’s inhabitants do not have access to clean and safe drinking water.  More than two billion do not have access to clean sanitation systems and almost a billion go to the toilet outside.
  • More than 97% of actively publishing climate scientists believe the current global warning trend is likely caused by human activity.
  • Humans dump eight million tons of plastic into the Earth’s oceans every year.
  • Humans also dump about 2.4 million pounds of carbon dioxide, the worst of the greenhouse gasses, into the atmosphere every second (China is the worst offender but the U.S. is in the top ten). In 2013 a total of 38.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide were released. CO2 is removed from the atmosphere by plants, but it also remains in the atmosphere longer than other greenhouse gasses.
  • Oh… and 32 million acres of rainforest (that remove a great deal of CO2) were lost to deforestation between 2000-2009.  Thankfully the United Nations’ REDD program has created incentives for countries to slow or halt deforestation, so the loss of forest land has at least slowed in some key countries.

You get the idea. I’m inclined to believe this is NOT what the Book of Genesis meant. It appears that humans are determined to slowly destroy our own home.  We also seem to believe that resources are unlimited and will last forever, a rather short-sighted point of view.  Because of a growing population and an increasing desire for more “stuff” (new cars, TVs, clothes, furniture, Snickers bars, etc.), our demands lead us to explore new avenues for energy development such as fracking without seriously considering the potential long-term consequences. It is almost like the human race is so determined to have what we want NOW and to satisfy our need for instant gratification that we ignore the potential consequences for future generations.

I am in favor of improving our current infrastructure (highways, airports, power grids, etc.), but I also believe we need to urgently seek energy solutions that ensure future generations a clean home in which to live.  As an optimist I do believe this dilemma can be resolved, but not until we begin funding research into alternative and renewable energy sources with the vigor of a modern day Manhattan Project.  We should approach the issue with the resolve required for success in a war that must be won. We must also begin investing in mass transit, begin weaning ourselves from reliance on automobiles that burn fossil fuels, and must find ways to make planes and other modes of transportation as energy efficient as possible.

People of my generation will not likely live long enough to suffer the more severe consequences of inaction, but our children and grandchildren certainly will.  To continue behaving as if this is not the truth is selfish and irresponsible.

  • http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/1/e1600946.full
  • https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/29/earth-lost-50-wildlife-in-40-years-wwf
  • http://e360.yale.edu/features/declining_bee_populations_pose_a_threat_to_global_agriculture
  • http://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/index.cfm?page=coal_environment
  • https://www.unicefusa.org/mission/survival/water
  • https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/jul/01/global-access-clean-water-sanitation-mapped
  • https://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/
  • http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/02/150212-ocean-debris-plastic-garbage-patches-science/
  • http://www.cbsnews.com/news/carbon-dioxide-emissions-rise-to-24-million-pounds-per-second/
  • https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-greenhouse-gases
  • http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/09/10/people-near-fracking-wells-health-symptoms/15337797/
  • https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/19/why-is-fracking-bad-google-answer

15 thoughts on “Our Environment: Living Like There is No Tomorrow

  1. “I am in favor of improving our current infrastructure (highways, airports, power grids, etc.), but I also believe we need to urgently seek energy solutions that ensure future generations a clean home in which to live. As an optimist I do believe this dilemma can be resolved, but not until we begin funding research into alternative and renewable energy sources with the vigor of a modern day Manhattan Project. We should approach the issue with the resolve required to be successful in a war that must be won. We must also begin investing in mass transit, begin weaning ourselves from reliance on automobiles that burn fossil fuels, and must find ways to make planes and other modes of transportation as energy efficient as possible.”

    So how do you do all of this without further enriching corrupt crony capitalists seeking exorbitant government “subsidies (other people’s money) or destroying entire industries (like coal), along with people’s livelihoods (re: Obama’s “War on Coal”)?

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/specialreports/solyndra-scandal/

    http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2011/09/06/06greenwire-solyndra-bankruptcy-reveals-dark-clouds-in-sol-45598.html?pagewanted=all

    http://money.cnn.com/2016/04/21/investing/sunedison-bankruptcy-solar/

    http://dailycaller.com/2016/03/29/the-worlds-largest-green-energy-company-is-facing-bankruptcy/

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-objects-to-abengoa-bankruptcy-exit-plan-1480630625

    http://dailysignal.com/2012/10/18/president-obamas-taxpayer-backed-green-energy-failures/

    http://dailycaller.com/2016/04/28/the-stunning-effects-of-obamas-war-on-coal-in-one-chart/

    “Obama: My Plan Makes Electricity Rates Skyrocket”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HlTxGHn4sH4

    “EPA Chief: Yes, We’re Fighting a ‘War on Coal’
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpJhJW0rvbg

    So where in the Constitution does it say that the government has the right to choose winners and losers in industries?

    • I don’t have all the answers, but I’m always hopeful that there are lots of folks much more intelligent than I who can address these policy challenges. I absolutely understand that any major economic transitions have an adverse impact on certain groups in society, and the more liberal part of my conscience believes that society is responsible for any workers who are displaced by those transitions. This displacement has been present throughout all major historical transitions. If we find a way to quickly replace coal, for example, we must provide for the miners and others who are displaced until they can develop the skills necessary to thrive in new jobs. Four of the best years of my life were spent in coal country (for two years our house overlooked the rail yard through which most coal in the region was shipped), so I at least partially understand the magnitude of this concern. The people in that region are near and dear to my heart. However, when we know with certainty that coal harms people and the environment we must find ways to protect future generations by replacing coal as a major source of energy.

      And I also absolutely understand the problematic corruption with government funding. Government itself is corrupt(as I’ve discussed in previous posts). However, I also know that a great deal of research through the NIH, NSF, and other agencies has benefitted or will benefit society. Again, politics needs to be removed from the funding process.

      My tagline is “Professor, Dean, Dreamer”. I do believe solutions to problems are available, but the masses will need to begin pressuring those with power rather than playing dead. Being informed is the first step.

  2. Let’s try again…

    “I don’t have all the answers, but I’m always hopeful that there are lots of folks much more intelligent than I who can address these policy challenges.”

    There aren’t.

    “If we find a way to quickly replace coal, for example, we must provide for the miners and others who are displaced until they can develop the skills necessary to thrive in new jobs.”

    And therein lies the rub…have you ever considered that miners DO NOT want to be provided for, but want to work and provide for their families using their own muscle and resources? It’s pretty humiliating being thrown out of work by forces beyond one’s control, and then having to accept demeaning handouts from Uncle Sam just to survive. And how do you help 40-60 year old coal miners develop new skills when the coal industry is all they know, being fourth and fifth generation miners? Make them tour guides, or train them to answer telephones in call centers? That’s been tried, and was a miserable failure. And let’s say that you do somehow re-train middle-age miners as electricians, plumbers, and HVAC repairmen, where are they going to work when the industry that heretofore generated the dollars to pay for those services is gone? So now we have thousands of re-trained electricians, plumbers, and HVAC repairmen but nobody to hire and pay them? So what then?

    “However, when we know with certainty that coal harms people and the environment we must find ways to protect future generations by replacing coal as a major source of energy.”

    The coal industry of today is NOT the coal industry of 40 years ago. Coal is now heavily automated, and regulated via the Reclamation Act of 1977, which requires companies either restore their mining sites back to their original condition, or else develop them into useful properties. You hear all of these horror stories about strip mining and mountain-top removal, which are exaggerated anyway, but what is never reported is what happens after all the coal is extracted from those sites. By law they have to be reclaimed, or else the companies are prosecuted and put out of business, with jail time for the owners.

    “And I also absolutely understand the problematic corruption with government funding. Government itself is corrupt(as I’ve discussed in previous posts).”

    Then you surely know that what you are dreaming about is an impossibility at the federal level.

    “Again, politics needs to be removed from the funding process.”

    The funding process is politics, so this is also impossible to achieve.

    • Ok. I understand and accept your argument because I also came from a hard working family. My mom worked for the same company for lots of years, and when it closed she lost her job. I know coal miners don’t want a handout and I know that coal extraction is much safer and cleaner than ever before. However, that does not negate the overwhelming evidence that coal is one of the major threats to the environment and is the major source of CO2.

      I grew up in Mississippi and learned to drive on country roads where I could drive pretty much as fast as I wanted. Should I be allowed to drive my truck as fast as it will go today or should the government limit my speed to protect the safety of my fellow citizens? If I’m a smoker (which I’m not) should I be permitted to smoke in an office I share with others or should my decision be restricted? I enjoy target shooting and, consequently, own guns. Should I be allowed to fire them any place and anytime I want? The bottom line is that governmental restrictions always adversely impact some members of society and that is unfortunate, but it is sometimes necessary.

      The two industries for which my parents worked are now gone. All the people employed by those companies lost their jobs. Online classes are gradually displacing some of us who teach in the classroom. That is an unfortunate reality.

      I continue to be a little more optimistic that solutions may be found, but you knew that before you started commenting! 🙂

    • A little alcohol is good or us. Drinking too much kills us. The same is true of CO2. And you passed over one passage in the report:

      “While rising carbon dioxide concentrations in the air can be beneficial for plants, it is also the chief culprit of climate change. The gas, which traps heat in Earth’s atmosphere, has been increasing since the industrial age due to the burning of oil, gas, coal and wood for energy and is continuing to reach concentrations not seen in at least 500,000 years. The impacts of climate change include global warming, rising sea levels, melting glaciers and sea ice as well as more severe weather events.”

      If there are conflicting research reports I choose to err on the side of caution. Even if the possibility that CO2 is damaging is remote I’m willing to try to reduce it because my children’s future might depend on it.

      http://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/coal-and-other-fossil-fuels/coal-air-pollution#.WLlkJIWcGZ8

      I’ll not continue arguing on this because I’m pretty sure we’ve both stated our cases (and I have to go to work). I appreciate your point of view and I appreciate you following my blog. And I knew this would be the one closest to your heart when I posted it.

  3. “The bottom line is that governmental restrictions always adversely impact some members of society and that is unfortunate, but it is sometimes necessary.”

    So the ends justify the means?

  4. That part of NASA’s report is just nonsense, probably inserted at the end by a public affairs hack in committee to keep favor with the Obama regime at the time.

    Climate change is not a modern phenomenon. If so, then why is there so much oil in the Arctic regions? Nor is it “man-made.” The sun and the Earth’s interior have a lot more to do with the climate than anything man can possibly do.

    “If my (and your) children’s future is at stake? Yes.”

    So to make that omelet, we have to scramble the eggs, and that’s just too bad for coal mining families?

    • We can’t just accept the science that confirms our beliefs and reject the rest. That is confirmation bias at its worst. I tend to accept the overwhelming consensus of the science community. And if they are wrong at least we will have erred on the side of caution. The consequences of incorrectly erring on the side of the minority could be catastrophic.

      And there are about 83,000 coal miners in the United States. Their commodity affects seven billion people currently living on the planet and all future generations of humans. You can do the math and anticipate my conclusion.

      We really are done now. I don’t need to be doing this on company time. Have a great weekend.

  5. It’s surprising how environmental issues become politicized. I’ve always appreciated the anecdote “My right to punch you ends at your face.” I feel like the same should be true of the environment. The corporations’ right to dump their sewage ends at the water the rest of us share.

  6. I believe in the Bible, and yes, I believe that everything was put here for man’s use. But not overuse…

    We live off the land here, so to speak, as much as we can. Since we just started two years ago, we haven’t re-used as much as we can since we’re starting something that will hopefully last a long time. For instance, we have a neighbor who wonders why we purchase fencing material, when we could cobble together something out of scrap; well, ours is standing and his is not.

    My big beef is plastic – you can only re-use it so many times and for so many situations. Sure, it can be convenient to have a bottle of olive oil that doesn’t break when it slips out of your hand, but the only place for that bottle when it’s empty is the trash. We compost, we burn, but plastic is just useless.

    As for man causing most of the climate change, sure, no argument there. The climate fluctuates, always has, but now there are a lot more people to influence it. And I don’t think all the piddly little things that individuals do are going to make a huge difference. It’s the corporations that produce more waste than ever – including that damn plastic.

  7. Opponents to environmental protection measures love to highlight the 3% of scientists that defect from the overwhelming majority. In some cases, they even expand that percentage value.

    But, there’s fun new stats about Climate Change consensus. The 3% of climate scientists that supposedly rejected the idea of global warming do not actually exist. The 3% of studies about climate change that didn’t directly identify global warming as an active occurrence were studies about the effects of global warming. The studies would not have existed, if they did not already accept global warming as reality.

    A newer study of peer-reviewed scientific papers about global warming reveals virtual unanimity on the subject–only 4 out of 69,406 authors do not believe in anthropogenic global warming.

    http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0270467616634958

    Climate change is yet another topic on which we, as a society, continue to skew toward a culture of pure absolutes. No one considers “likelihood.” We either think all life on Earth will be extinguished as we enter the runaway greenhouse effect or, from the other side, absolutely nothing will happen and the planet’s atmosphere will self-correct like it has so many times before. Those are the two razor-thin edges of an error bar. Too many people dismiss the possibility of everything in between.

    The likeliest outcome was predicted under the George H.W. Bush administration when he approved climate studies. We’ll face major droughts or floods depending on region. The U.S. is rich and we’ll deal with the aftermath better than most nations. We’ll probably see massive regional death in island nations due to natural disasters; starvation and thirst in the interior of large land masses. Climate change won’t cost humanity everything. It most certainly won’t cost us nothing. We won’t go extinct, but not everyone will survive.

    • Great information, Aaron. I was still finding the 97% number.

      I don’t think I ever assumed climate change would be an extinction event, but I have assumed that if we reach the “tipping point” (which some say we have already reached) life would change dramatically for everyone and that a large portion of the planet would not survive. I still believe that if policy makers accepted this as a possibility we could find solutions, but according to those who know much more about it than do I, time is quickly running out.

      Thanks for your comment, and thanks for following my blog.

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