This past Monday, I opened up my copy of the New University and was unpleasantly surprised by the article, “Catch 22: Regulating Climate Change During a Recession.” The article seemed like a standard opinion, yet its assumptions concerning the future of energy reform in the United States were insidious in their capability to convince the average reader of their merit, and thereby encourage complacency.
In the article, it is argued that during the Bush administration the federal government did not address the concerns of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over carbon dioxide emissions, and failed to take the steps necessary to increase our usage of clean energy sources. It is also argued that during these hard economic times, it is now impossible for the Obama administration to take action.
The danger of this article and its way of thinking lies in its assumption of the inevitability of a solution to our pollution problem. It believes that we can fix it at a later date without causing irreparable damage to our environment. And it shifts blame for the potential inaction on our part to Bush’s eight years in office, while simultaneously disregarding all of the years of pollution and waste extending back to the Industrial Revolution.
Currently, there are enough natural resources produced on the planet to sustainably provide clean food, water, shelter and health care for every living person. The reason why the majority of people don’t often get all of these things is due to human machinations, rather than environmental availability. In the not too distant future, this may not be the case due to human disruption of natural ecosystems and the loss of natural resources. The variation of species on the planet is diminishing at an alarming rate, which further weakens ecosystems and lessens the genetic diversity that could be utilized in health sciences.
It is economically necessary for our society to restructure toward clean sustainable energy and a sustainable mode of production. This can be accomplished during this recession by effective legislation at the federal level to encourage companies to embrace less consumptive methods that are geographically and culturally specific.
Structures are an important example. They account for about 50 percent of our energy consumption. One possible solution for diminishing the energy cost in the building of structures is the “cradle-to-cradle” approach, collaboratively proposed by the chemist William Braungart and architect Michael McDonough. In this approach, structures are designed to holistically take into account the local ecological conditions, cultural composition and available local materials. By doing this, less energy would be consumed in the construction, heating, cooling and maintenance of the structure. This shift must occur not only with buildings, but should also be applied across all sectors of industry and production.
It is true that retooling the way industry operates will have negative effects on the economy. Switching over to clean renewable sources of energy will require initial upfront costs and will cause some workers in the production and transportation of fossil fuels to lose their jobs.
But there are also benefits that will ensure a better standard of living to us and future generations. Industry stands to gain by these measures more than it stands to lose. The adoption of more energy efficient systems will lead to more savings on its part. The use of less waste producing methods will lead to less cost associated with disposal and purification.
Over time, the initial cost will be recovered via these savings. By decreasing our production of greenhouse gases, we can ensure there will always be enough food and water for everyone. By lowering our output of waste, such as smog and carcinogens, the cost of health care will decrease. By designing buildings and appliances that take into account their surroundings and users, ecosystems can be strengthened rather than weakened.
Not only must these changes occur, but they must occur as soon as possible. It is essential that our politicians are not excused from addressing these reforms, just as it is essential that each and every student hound all of our politicians, from the federal level to our lowly campus representatives, on the issue. Each and every one of us at UC Irvine and at all colleges throughout the United States are gifted in our privileged positions and should be working together to safeguard a dignified existence for ourselves, our descendents and all of humanity.
Thomas Gocke is a second-year biological sciences, anthropology and environmental engineering triple-major. He can be reached at email@example.com.