Saturday, June 30, 2012

Sustainability update: June 2012

It's been sixteen months since I last posted, and much has happened on the sustainability front. A huge positive development has been the transition from coal to natural gas in many US power plants. This has mainly been driven by historically low natural gas prices rather than environmental concerns, but I think it also results from the EPAs plan to impose more stringent emissions regulations on power plants. Sustainability continues to gain more publicity, and consumers are driving less and buying more fuel-efficient cars in response to gas price increases resulting from Peak Oil.

However, Americans have done little to change their consumer lifestyles. And the conservative backlash against environmentalism, especially in Congress and state legislatures, has only intensified. For example, the South Carolina legislature recently voted to prevent planning commissions from using sea level rise forecasts when making planning decisions. That's the first time I've heard of a political organization mandating that relevant information be ignored when making decisions. Even worse, the bill, which is blatantly anti-intellectual and anti-science, passed by a wide margin. Virginia is about to pass a similar law. And a recent study shows that people with high scientific literacy are actually more likely to be climate change skeptics/deniers, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence of global climate change.

These events have finally convinced me that no amount of information will convince climate change deniers that we must act to prevent catastrophic climate change. I now accept that most people are capable of being deeply irrational on certain topics. We must place our hope in those who are still able to think rationally, who can still be swayed by the evidence and accept that we are moving toward a global environmental crisis. We must also appeal to those who are not so self-centered that they are able to consider the effects of their actions on the future well-being of their children. It doesn't help to be angry or frustrated with people we view as ignorant or unethical. We must accept that human beings are deeply flawed creatures, and hope that either God or chance will pull us through this crisis, despite our self-destructive behavior.

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