Growing up in the San Gabriel Valley, the air was so bad that I was unable to breathe well enough to run very far at times. With the creation of the EPA and efforts to cut pollution, it got better. We can make laws to protect the environment and set aside parks and wilderness areas, yet it is best if each American does their part locally, too. It’s a balance between government and individual action, between the our rights and the rights of the following generations.
Since I take no money, I’m free to make the best decisions. My experiences in the outdoors make me determined to protect it, not for its own sake, but so that all of us have a quiet place to go, not too crowded. Or even a lonely place far from city lights where we can see billions of stars late at night, or a full moon shining on the high mountains. Perhaps time away would revive our spirits so that we might better appreciate our place in the universe and understand that we are all in this together, sharing a planet we must care for or perish.
On Dec. 2nd, 2019, a visitor to this site asked me to comment specifically on the following:
Plastic pollution/ ocean pollution
The oceans are a shared resource and pollution cannot be solved by a single country. Ideally, all nations would behave responsibly, but as you can see from the graph below, they don’t. Regardless of the source, we share the problem.
Since we aren’t going to change China’s habits, for example, going to the root of the problem requires cutting the use of disposable plastic items or else switching to biodegradable forms. It isn’t enough for the United States to reduce waste (the U.S. accounts for a small 1.2% of the total nine metric tons of plastic marine debris entering global waters each year). What we can do is move away from disposable plastics, share technology, and work cooperatively with other nations while respecting their sovereignty. The worst polluters are also countries that crave American fashion, so perhaps they will also want to adopt better practices if we do.
And specifically, an unpopular recommendation is to reduce bottled water consumption. In some countries, bottled water is a safeguard against illness for the privileged tourists, but in the United States it’s a wasteful product in every respect: bottle materials use oil, transport of the product burns fuel, and the bottles are often not recycled. Here’s Jim Gaffigan’s humorous take:
Reducing consumption is always a good idea in protecting the environment.
Water management / drought
Water management should be governed at the local (state, county) level since supplies and needs are particular to geographic areas. Water quality standards including general rules around polluting industries are the domain of the EPA. Water rights that go across several states, such as the Ogallala Aquifer, could be managed federally if needed. Some of these large aquifers are being drained faster than they fill and California is the top consumer, withdrawing 16% of the groundwater in the U.S. according to the American Geosciences Institute.
I support the EPA and federal clean-air standards because air pollution can move move across states and it is a health issue requiring some common quality standards. The only way to ensure clean air is to control pollution at the source, as we have been doing since the EPA was created. Moving toward renewable energy sources, the air is expected to become cleaner. Should new threats to air quality arise, the EPA should take action.
Wildfire mitigation / land management
Due to the demands of the local geography, population density, and the principle of subsidiarity, the federal authority should be primarily around National Forests, National Parks, or any land managed by the BLM. State lands should be managed by the states. The federal government can assist with research, funding, or as otherwise requested by the states.
As with the “leave no trace” ethos, the guiding principle is to leave the wild places wild, neither starting fires nor taking strong action to prevent them. Sometimes, doing nothing is the right thing to do, and our attempts to improve on nature often create new problems.
Some believe that since wildfires are a natural part of the forest lifecycle, they should not be thoroughly prevented, and holding these fires back or attempting to regulate them too much can result in greater damage when they occur naturally. People want access to forests for homes and businesses and expect the government to protect them from natural hazards. Building in a forest, like building in an earthquake, flood, or on an eroding cliff, is hazardous. We can strive for balance but must also listen to the advice of competent authorities on forest and land management. I can’t say exactly how each area should be managed, but we can fund the right departments and ensure we have the right people in them who won’t do the wrong thing for profit or for the sake of partisan politics.
It is very important to preserve our wild places and let them stay that way. I generally oppose the reduction of public lands, cuts in their funding, or commercialization.
The most convincing evidence for Climate Change, to me at least, is this:
I really don’t like the way this is presented by Climate Change activists and candidates, especially because this has been clear for a long time (there was a good documentary on the weather in the 1950’s that touched on it), and it’s got more attention recently as a means of gaining wealth and power.
That said, it looks like a correlation to industrialization (and recorded atmospheric CO2) to me and many others, and polluting the air is a bad thing anyway.
The United States contributes about 15% to the overall carbon emissions, with China around 30%, probably because manufacturing has decreased in the U.S. while increasing in China. China and India are still building new coal-fired powerplants, which pollute worst of all.
A warming atmosphere will raise sea levels, increase the power of storms, and some effects can’t be predicted. It is all unintended effects of industrialization and runaway consumerism. We currently demand a lot of products and haven’t considered the cost to the environment. Reducing consumption has economic effects, and these are often waved away with a promise of more jobs. I believe we have to both pollute and consume less while moving to clean power and more efficient use of the energy we produce. And by the way, remember that China would pollute less if there weren’t so much demand for products that, in truth, we don’t really need.
It’s a complicated problem, and conservation isn’t popular (retaining high levels of consumption with green power is), but we really need to consume less.
Fossil fuel v. clean energy
The world consumes fossil fuels faster than the Earth produces them, and we’ve long known that oil and gas are limited resources even though we keep finding new ways to extract them. Fossil fuels are easy to use and provide a huge amount of energy from a small amount. Clean energy, with the exception of nuclear, can’t compete, but we are compelled to get off of fossil fuels because they emit greenhouse gases. About 10% or so of the energy produced in the U.S. is from renewable sources, and this has to grow. Unfortunately, solar and wind both require materials (such as Cobalt) that are difficult to source ethically, so once again, we have more problems than solutions. We (or manufacturers in other countries) often obtain raw materials from poor countries where the leaders exploit workers with low wages, child labor, or even slavery. We have to do our best to respect human life while still getting off of fossil fuels.
A note on nuclear energy: it is clean with respect to carbon emissions, but we haven’t solved the problem of waste, and it would just keep accumulating. Some waste is lethal for centuries, while some is lethal for thousands of years. The potential for waste weaponization, for introduction to the water table or air (in event of an explosion — not a nuclear explosion but steam or sodium-water) is not acceptable. A change in technology could fix this, but I don’t see anything promising on the horizon, so I’ll vote no on nuclear.
Offshore oil drilling
About 30% of global oil production is offshore. It carries huge environmental risk in the drilling rigs, in transfer, and in transport. If I could manage the worldwide strategy, I’d recommend severe cutbacks for companies that pollute, while allowing those with excellent safety records to continue as we move toward renewable resources. In time, our dependence on oil must decrease if we are to cut carbon emissions, and we should reduce production in the most risky methods or locations first.
Most likely, I would vote against any expansion in offshore drilling, unless it involved a very significant reduction in risk, which seems unlikely. I would also be likely to vote for sensible reductions, closing more areas to drilling, offshore or not. This also relates to water management since some drilling may pollute the water table.
References for Further Reading