To qualify myself as someone you should be listening to, as we explore the wonders of environmental studies, I first need to qualify myself. Who I am, and why am I here? (On this webpage I mean, this isn’t an existential crisis) If you’ve managed to get here completely by accident…. hello, my name is Chris, welcome to my Green and Gold blog.
The question of the hour of course is ‘Am I a Hypocrite’? If I am to talk about some of the tough environmental issues we face today; pollution, over-population, climate change…I have to be a hippie freak right? Everything organic…my home powered 100% by renewables, 100% recycling, 0% waste, no carbon footprint, etc. etc. etc. I have to be a tree-hugging naturephile, a vegan, and hate society. I know for a lot of people those are images that get conjured when someone says they are an environmentalist. (If that even is the appropriate label) As you may imagine, none of these things are the case. My home is powered by the local utility company, so I seriously doubt it’s 100% renewable. I try to recycle, but I do it much less than I should. We throw away quite a bit of trash all destined for the local landfill. While I sometimes keep my hair long, I have no desire to hug trees, I eat meat, and am generally all for modern day society. Out of all my colleagues, you are least likely to find me outside. Am I a hypocrite? Yes, in more ways than one.
So how am I to justify everything that I stand for now and into the future of this project? I don’t think there is an easy answer to that. The stereo typical solution to many environmental issues is to go live in the woods away from civilization. However, I’m not willing to do that, nor do I expect anyone else to.
What am I actually here to do? I’d like to qualify this one as well. I believe that we face many pressing environmental issues. Issues like climate change, or biodiversity, or conservation. Issues that don’t have easy solutions. Issues that seem like they are divisive. Issues that either are not well talked about, or issues that drown in a sea of noise. I believe these issues are worth talking about and worth understanding. I am here to do just that. To talk about the environmental issues that face us today, tomorrow, next week…and to help anyone make sense of those issues. For me, I am here to have a conversation.
I think talking about environmental issues is a difficult subject to actually discuss. As difficult as talking about major life decisions, as difficult as the social issues that pervade today. I caution myself when making direct comparisons to other issues. My point is that environmental issues are hard. Solutions to them often require fundamental changes to how the world works.
For a quick example let me tell you a little bit about the issues surrounding DDT. DDT stands for dichlorodiphenytrichloroethane (easy enough right?), in case you were really interested in knowing. DDT was used as a pesticide in the US from the 1930s till it was banned in the 1970s in the US and other developed countries (this is an important distinction). The US Department of Agriculture once hailed DDT as the ‘safest all-around insecticides based on its “cost, ease of handling, safety to humans, effectiveness in destroying the pest, and safety to wildlife”’(1). At the time in 1952 all these things were kind of true. DDT was effectively used during World War II to control malaria causing mosquitoes in military camps. It drastically increased the yield of crops in the US and abroad. It is still considerably cheaper to make than the pesticides we use today instead. As it turns out DDT was both poisonous to humans and wildlife. I hope you more or less know the story. In many birds, including our countries’ beloved bald eagle (assuming you are reading this in the US) DDT altered the calcification process of egg making, resulting in thin egg shells that couldn’t stand up to the weight of brooding parents. Thanks to the positive effects of DDT, banning it required hard change for some industries in this country. While I’m sure the average person wasn’t crying that they couldn’t buy DDT at the local hardware store anymore, once it was banned the pesticide industry had to change, and the agriculture industry had to change. Like any other environmental issue, the results are complicated in the present. DDT is banned in most instances in the US, but can still be manufactured in the US and sold to other countries. Whether this happens, I cannot say (though wikipedia says only India still makes and sells DDT). The World Health Organization supports DDT use for indoor areas in certain areas where the risks of malaria and other vector-borne diseases are extremely high (2).
If we can’t even get a clear result on an issue like DDT, which seems pretty clear cut, how do we resolve any other environmental issue today? I don’t have an answer for that. Change is difficult, change is perhaps the single most difficult thing to do. Harder than brain surgery or rocket science (no disrespect to those who can do these things, leave a comment if you can). I can’t tell you how any issue gets resolved, when they are all extremely complicated.
I can tell you that ignorance of these issues certainly won’t solve anything. Even if all we do today, or in the next post, or in the post after that, is have a conversation about the issues facing us, then we will take a step forward. I’m not here for ra-ra inspirational speeches, and hopefully if I shove my opinions through your computer (or mobile device) screen that the brightness is turned down and it doesn’t hurt your eyes. I hope that now and going forward we have some good conversations. That is the most important first step.
Am I a hypocrite? (Gosh I hope not)
(1) – http://www.fws.gov/contaminants/Info/DDT.html
U.S. Department of Agriculture. 1952. Insects: The Yearbook of Agriculture. United States Government Printing Office, 780 p.