The Collegian
Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Response to "Blah ... Environment ... Blah ... Blah"

English Department

It may not seem fair for a faculty member to call a student editorial writer to task. Yet I cannot be silent about Michael Rogers' editorial "Blah ... Environment ... Blah ... Blah" that ran on Aug. 28. In particular, I want to point out to the Richmond community Rogers' two most dangerous errors.

First, the tone of the piece itself suggests that we "greens" are more concerned about warm-and-fuzzy animals than we are about humanity. My 20-plus years of activism on issues such as mountaintop removal and global warming have shown me that my fellow environmentalists are not all vegan luddites who run about yelling, "The sky is falling!" as they hug trees and consider every animal an extra from Disney's "Bambi."

Yes, I've met a few who match that description and laughed hard at them, but I've also met others like me who support nuclear power and new, carefully developed, domestic drilling for oil. We are technologists who pair that support with a demand that we embark on an Apollo-type program to ramp up alternative sources of electric power and fuels. Greens who feel this way share a concern that human civilization cannot withstand two stark facts before us, eloquently called, by James Howard Kunstler, the "converging catastrophes" of our century.

First, the climate is changing rapidly, as measures of ocean temperatures, incidences of severe weather and loss of glaciers and snowfall all indicate. Those who deny that, at this point in the game, are arguing against a preponderance of peer-reviewed science and a wealth of empirical data. We can only guess at the impacts of America's dilly-dallying to cut carbon-dioxide emissions, but the geological and historical records indicate that past climate change, whether natural or man-made (as at Easter Island) spawned disasters of the sort Jared Diamond notes in his book Collapse.

Second, the world's oil supply is at or near a permanent peak, at which point it will begin a slow and painful decline. Aside from Exxon-Mobil and a few partisan analysts in their pay, a global consensus has emerged on this issue. Even the International Energy Agency, known for its rosy projections, sets the peak-date for oil at 2030. Other analysts set it much earlier.

To acknowledge and address these two global environmental problems, we need a new type of "progress." This raises the second red-flag error with Rogers' argument. He implies that human progress must be premised on ever-expanding growth and use of nonrenewable resources. We might instead define progress as careful stewardship of legacy and new sources of energy, patriotic initiatives to curb the most wasteful aspects of consumerism, and a crash-course to develop clean-energy solutions that we, not the Danes and Chinese, would export to other economies. Such progress would make our nation stronger economically and popular internationally.

Yet we will not get there without sacrifice of certain comforts and conveniences at all levels. Rogers is correct in noting how pious environmentalists can be in calling for conservation from the comfort of climate-controlled buildings with ample parking.

Protecting nature's balance and preparing for a civilized future are bipartisan. I'm proud that Senator McCain has bucked his party's stand on key environmental issues, and I'm proud that Senator Obama continues the Gore legacy on climate change. Die-hard Texas Republicans such as T. Boone Pickens and energy analyst Matthew Simmons have sounded the alarm loudly and clearly. Simmons, who sat on Dick Cheney's Energy Taskforce, wrote perhaps the most authoritative work on oil depletion yet, "Twilight in the Desert." In that book he calls on all of us, as patriotic citizens and guarantors of the earth for those to come after us, to begin now as best we can.

"No step is too small," Simmons claims, "but small steps barely begin to address the magnitude of the challenge." With new hurricanes following in Katrina's footsteps, it's a timely message for all of us. Whatever Michael Rogers thinks, we are not separate from the cycles of nature. Yet nature itself is rather indifferent to humans. We can, however, align our technological progress with that balance.

I ask the Richmond community to join, not condemn, the small steps I'm seeing on our campus: recycling, green building, walking, biking, mass transit, and most importantly, raising awareness as we redefine "progress" for this century.

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