It’s all over the news. Texas governor and Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry doubts that human activity contributes to climate change.
He doesn’t believe that the federal government can afford to pay for something that can’t possibly solve a problem caused entirely by natural solar and geologic processes.
Predictably, his detractors are all in a huff about Republicans not believing in Science. I might as well capitalize Science, because the accusation comes in the same way that others huff and puff about someone not believing in God. Issues of sustainability get lost in the scuffle.
Well, for a moment, let’s seriously consider: what if Perry is right? What difference would that make? If the only reason to care about the environment is how human activity drives climate change, Perry being right would probably put an end to the environmental movement.
But let’s rephrase that question that we’re taking seriously. If climate change is not caused by human activity, which environmental causes become unnecessary? Not a one. So what does it matter if Perry is right or wrong? It doesn’t matter at all.
In that case, arguing for the environment on the basis of climate change is counterproductive. It makes caring for the environment a matter of partisan politics, not a matter of quality of life. Sustainability, on the other hand, does not focus on some hypothetical looming disaster. It focuses on solving problems that we can see and that have unpleasant consequences that are painfully evident.
Why do we need to wean ourselves from burning fossil fuels?
We can’t produce enough in the United States to keep up with current demand. We have to buy it from people who oppose our values.
- Oil spills, coal mine collapses, and other inevitable consequences of obtaining these resources are too costly, both in money, human life, and animal and plant life. That’s just as true for our various national rivals and the developing countries that aspire to something like our lifestyle.
- Besides the disasters that make the news from time to time, other inevitable consequences of obtaining and using fossil fuels include pollution of our drinking water supply, the air we breathe, and the land that we want to live on or grow crops on. These problems are likewise too costly, and for all the same reasons.
- Even if we could obtain and use fossil fuels without environmental consequences, the earth has only a finite supply. Already we are having to look for them in places that would be too expensive to consider if we hadn’t used up what we could get to cheaply. The growing cost of these resources in the face of increasing demand can only lead to a growing gap between the haves and have nots. That, in turn, can only lead to worldwide social disruption.
Why do we need to wean ourselves from plastic?
- We make our plastics with fossil fuels, so every answer to the last question applies to this one.
- Microbes do not degrade plastic, as they do organic matter. It just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces.
- No one knows the long term effects of eating and drinking plastic, but eat it we must if it gets too small for water treatment plants to filter out, or small enough for our food crops to take them in.
- At the risk of raising another blind alley like climate change, the consequences of ingesting plastic that we know about are bad enough, but what about possible genetic consequences that could weaken future generations?
Why do we need to be concerned about deforestation?
Trees sequester carbon dioxide. Even if the extra carbon dioxide that over-forestation releases has no impact on climate change, it has other, more immediate effects on the ozone layer. Lack of ozone high in the atmosphere leads to higher levels of carcinogenic radiation. Excessive ground level ozone causes respiratory problems and other bad health effects.
- Trees hold the ground. Deforestation causes soil to wash into nearby streams. Without adequate soil, the earth cannot sustain healthy plant life. Excessive soil in streams means polluted water.
- If we don’t know about deforestation’s effects on climate, we can measure its effects on weather. They are not good for us.
I could pose plenty more questions like these, and come up with many more answers to the ones I have posed. What I have written touches on geopolitical realities, social concerns, economics, health, and the kinds of disasters that are unarguably man made.
Why are we fussing about climate change and ridiculing people that don’t accept one side of the argument with sufficient religious devotion? When are those shouting loudest about climate change and ridiculing their opponents going to start dealing with questions that really matter?