So I went to a local Japanese restaurant after work the other day, I’ve been craving sushi after my week in the desert and so I settled in for a little chicken teriyaki and a B52 roll. I ordered my standard bowl of miso soup as well and while I waited for the waitress to bring the soup, I sat there listening to the discussion at the next table. At the table sat an older man who had the attention of a younger woman and two young guys, he was pontificating about the environment, liberals and such and I was about to tune it out when something caught my attention. It was the phrase, “all this environmental stuff is blowing hot air, our environment is better now than it has ever been.”
He then went on to describe how the foothills area of the Sierras has improved vastly over the gold rush times. He went on to talk about how the area was deforested and polluted with the chemicals of mining and how now we have trees and clean water and everything is wonderful. Now, he’s not wrong about that but he then went on to talk about how because the environment is getting so much better that we need to get rid of all of this unnecessary regulation of the environment, that things get better as time goes on and that fifty years from now our environment will be cleaner than it has ever been because the earth repairs itself. I looked over to see these three young people staring up at him with admiration in their eyes and I almost spit up my miso soup.
I quietly sat there wondering if I should insert myself into the conversation and lay down a little bit of reality and in all truth slaughter this half-ignorant wind bag, but in the end, I live and work in a very conservative county and I really just wasn’t up for the annoyance on a Friday afternoon, so I ate my meal and slipped out to enjoy my weekend. But I don’t want to let this go, it fries my ass when I overhear things like this and friends I frequently overhear people who know just a little bit about science and then use this tiny bit of understanding to inappropriately apply science to support their ideology. So my friends instead you’ll get to hear it and this is what I would have said.
Hi pal, couldn’t help overhearing your conversation and I find your perspective to be interesting and completely idiotic. You are covering and interesting concept in environmental science, which is what point in time do we use as the baseline for the environment. Taking your example, if we use the middle of the 1800’s as our baseline then yes, our environment here in the foothills is much better than it was. However, if you pick 1800, then we have a whole different ballgame because prior to the massive environmental impact of the gold rush, this area was pristine forest habitat. So apparently things don’t get better as time goes on, maybe you just picked a really convenient point to make your argument conform to your ideology. I would ask people who lived on the Cuyahoga River in the 1960’s and 70’s if they think all of this environmental nonsense is just a lot of hot air. In case you don’t know, the Cuyahoga River is most famously known as the river that caught on fire because it was so polluted:
So my friend why don’t we look at the reality of the environment globally and seriously if you think the global environment is better now than in 1850, I’d have to say you’re a moron. In 1850 passenger pigeons on migration flew overhead in flocks that were a mile wide and sometimes 300 miles long, taking hours to pass; you could regularly catch blue fin tuna bigger than the biggest tuna caught today; and there were even grizzly bears in California actually roaming around, not just on the flag. I could go on and I don’t want to take away the successes we have had in recovering and saving species, species like the Bald Eagle, the Gray Wolf and the California Condor. However our environment is in trouble:
* There are dead zones in our oceans depleted of oxygen
* We now the Great Pacific Garbage Patch floating in the Pacific
* Niger is so polluted due to oil extraction that they should close the country
* Air quality is so bad in Beijing that athletes at the Olympics wore dust masks
* Haliburton and friends are destroying water quality through hydrologic fracking
And yes my conservative friends, I made that entire argument without once mentioning global climate change. How do we get people to understand the simplest of scientific principles and the difference between causation and correlation? Honestly I don’t know but trust me we are trying in Biology and Environmental Studies classes all over the world we are trying. In the meantime let’s remember all of the good things the Clean Air and Water Acts as well as the Endangered Species Act have done. Should our environmental laws and policies be reviewed, of course no law or policy should be above review, but let’s not be stupid enough to think that they should all be abolished, if you’re not convinced you can borrow my copy of Silent Spring.