Avoid environmental panic
It’s turning into a spooky summer. Arizona is baking more than usual. Canadian forests burned and provided some North American cities with orange skies. The rural Northeast is flooded with brisk rains, and many small towns have suffered massive flooding. The ocean off Miami is 90 degrees, and nobody seems to be singing about “the slow, foggy, crazy days of summer” anymore. School may be out for the summer, but for some, misery has replaced relaxation. Countries and self-interested companies continue to promote and burn fossil fuels. Climate models from early 21st centurystreet A century predicting the impact of a warming planet has proven too close for comfort, and it’s easy to succumb to a sense of hopelessness and panic. Every day we see a new weather disaster.
Despite the bad news, there is good news lurking beneath the surface. More people are understanding the crisis of environmental sustainability, and because of this increased awareness, we are witnessing the application of human ingenuity in our environmental crisis. Culture, economics, politics, and technology never change instantly, and when they do change quickly, it’s often in response to war or natural disasters. But the winds of change are blowing. The first step in solving a problem is recognizing that there is a problem. This recognition is growing and unstoppable. There is a new urgency for the work of engineers and scientists who develop the technologies needed to transition to renewable energy and an economy based on renewable resources. Technologies are becoming less expensive and less toxic, and we are witnessing the beginning of economic transformation. Currently, it is cheaper to mine the planet for natural resources than it is to mine our waste stream for these resources, but that is starting to change. Compost made from human waste and food waste is price competitive with fertilizer made from raw materials, in part because recycled goods are subsidized by lower waste disposal costs. Renewable energy is already less expensive than fossil fuels, and as battery technology advances, intermittency issues will disappear.
The cultural force driving this onslaught of technological ingenuity is the growing understanding that the only way to preserve our lifestyles is to develop a highly productive economy that does not destroy the planet. All of us hoping to enjoy the outdoors this summer understand the danger posed by orange air, floods, and fires. Flooding rivers and boiling oceans show that we cannot continue business as usual. these Experienced facts They resemble the smog that masked mountains from downtown Los Angeles in the 1960s, the toxic waste that seeped into the basements of working-class homeowners on Love Canal in the late 1970s, or the toxic chemicals released from a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio in 2023. These environmental indignities were real and frightening to the people who lived where they occurred. Even in our politically polarized nation of blue and red nations and narrow social media worlds: fire, poison, smog, and flood waters cannot be ruled out.
Poll data reflects changing views on threats to the planet. The foundations for the transition to environmental sustainability are being built everywhere. Companies see their most talented customers and employees asking about the company’s environmental impact. Corporate concern is not “pure environmentalism.” It does not prioritize sustainability over all other values, but puts these factors into a mix of facts and values that influence decision-making. Companies are investing in cleaning technologies and trying to reduce their environmental footprint. Ignoring environmental influences was once the norm. This is no longer the case.
We have to remember that environmental well-being is not the only value or objective we pursue. We have other serious problems: Russia is bombing homes and hospitals in Ukraine. New York City is now home to more than 100,000 homeless people – half of whom are recent immigrants striving for a better life. Mass shootings seem to be the norm in this country. People around the world are facing crises of survival, desperate for food, clothing, health care, shelter and hope for the future. Sometimes these crises dominate other times, and environmental issues must wait. But unlike in the past, environmental issues remain in the decision-making mix.
Even in the terrible war in Ukraine, no one forgets about the destruction of the environment. Basil Segos, New York State Commissioner for the Department of Environmental Quality, took a leave of absence and volunteered as an ambulance driver in Ukraine. Last April, he wrote a stark account of the devastated environment of that country in hill. According to Seggos:
Russian forces destroyed or damaged more than 300,000 housing units and 400,000 motor vehicles Millions of tons of debris Its toxic residue slowly seeps into soil and water. And also with the bombing of a dozen major industrial sitesincluding the Azovstal refinery, where intense fighting released extraordinary levels of toxins. Abandoned coal mines In the east it is filled with polluted groundwater, which affects the drinking water supply and pushes methane to the surface. All this pollution threatens the health of Ukraine’s 43 million citizens – 6 million of whom now have limited or no access. Drinkable water. The fight killed more than 50,000 dolphins in the Black Sea and destroyed 3 million acres of protected land.
What is important about Seggos seeing this damage is that leaders in Ukraine are also aware of, and deeply concerned about, these issues. I am sure that concern about environmental damage was present in past wars but was not quickly expressed. In my opinion, the priority given to environmental damage is an indication of the cultural transformation now underway. However, it is nowhere near the dominant issue in this fight for national survival. Again, as Seggos noted:
“Environmental concerns seem like a far-fetched luxury when civilians are being bombed in their beds. But the extraordinary sacrifices of the Ukrainian military have enabled leaders to consider the ramifications of the devastation as they look forward to the rebuilding ahead.”
What does this have to do with environmental panic? I argue for Point of view and a sense of balance. Yes, my six-year-old granddaughter’s day camp had to stay indoors on New York’s worst orange-sky day. Yes, I’m still afraid for the planet you inherit. And she’s not the only camper whose summer days are disrupted. The New York Times Reporter Stephen Kurtz recently submitted an article on the impact of severe weather on summer camp this year. According to Kurtz:
“Campers are still swimming, playing tetherball and singing around the fire as they take steps toward independence this summer, but they’re also dealing with a precarious natural environment. Parents who sent their kids for an enriching outdoor experience — perhaps in the hopes of child-free time — have received alarming messages from camp managers, with updates on recent flooding, unhealthy airflow or a blast of heat. The wild weather has come at a time Summer camp demand is on the rise, three years into the pandemic. “
Despite the impact of severe weather, Kurutz found that “summer 2023 has taught campers to be flexible and adaptable.” And I still hope that we can adapt to a warming planet and eventually mitigate global warming. For my granddaughter, she polished the skies over New York, and soon returned to playing outside. We are coping, but we are going through an ecological sustainability crisis. People are going through this crisis firsthand, and it’s changing their understanding of how the world works. Like other crises that humanity has faced, I believe that we will gradually deal with this crisis as well.
It is important to assess the progress we have made in applying new technologies to address environmental problems. The pace of innovation is impressive, as is the application of human ingenuity to problem-solving. The path to addressing this crisis has not been and will not be easy or simple. Evil men like Putin pursue their goals without worrying about the people or the planet they are harming. Some companies seek to make a profit without worrying about the damage they cause to the environment or life on Earth. But this evil is outnumbered by a large number of people who understand these crises and who, like Commissioner Segos, are determined to act.
One problem with environmental panic is that it makes people worried about other issues less willing to engage in dialogue about environmental problems. Another problem is that it can lead to paralysis or unrealistic policy proposals. While it’s a scary summer, and we have reason to be afraid, don’t panic. The alternative to environmental panic is the pursuit of meaningful and practical change. There are signs of this change in companies and governments across the United States and around the world. Environmental sustainability has moved from the sidelines to the center of our political agenda. The environmental sustainability crisis is real, but so is our determination to address it.