Giving Environmentalists Their Due

A reader made a comment on my last post about the current air quality along the Wasatch Front. While that pollution doesn’t actually relate to global warming as far as I know, I agree wholeheartedly with her implied sentiment that we need to be as concerned about the local, immediate environmental conditions as the long-term, global-scale environmental problems. The pollution to which she referred, the winter inversion, is the twin of the summer pollution problem I posted regarding some months ago, and which is caused by the same problems (Our decentralized communities, dependence on automobiles and our highly mobile and independent lifestyle).

When they hear people complain about the inversion and its effect on their health, many “old timers” like to retort that conditions are much better than they were in the middle of the last century. According to them, the smog was much thicker and lasted longer back “in the day.” Things are better, so we should stop our environmentalist whining.

Perhaps this is so. Very likely things have improved—at least per capita, though the burgeoning population growth along the Wasatch Front means that it is crucial that per capita pollution must continue to be driven down if our children are to be able to live here. If, for example the pollution released by the average vehical is cut in half, but our vehical total increases four-fold in the next five years, the aggregate pollution has still doubled, and the improvements are insufficient.

I like to ask those elders why they think the conditions have improved. The answer is not because of the benevolence of the corporate world, or the unassisted gears of the market turning inexorably toward a greener economy. It is, of course, because of environmentalists. It is because the tree huggers began to whine about the source of the problems. It is because organizations like the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and national and international organizations mobilized their money and grassroots support in a worldwide concerted effort to call attention to the sources of pollution, to the problems that pollution was causing us, or communities, and our planet, and began proposing alternatives. It is because people passionate about their stewardship of the earth created Earth Day and other awareness activities.

Through their efforts, awareness was raised and a combination of public pressure and legislation coerced industries to clean up their processes, relocate to safer sites, and when necessary, close down throughout the planet—including here in the U.S. and Utah.

In other words, the progress we’ve made in having cleaner communities is because of environmentalist whining. And with an burgeoning population which will continue to increase the pressure on the environment, I’m happy to be among the environmentalists keeping up the pressure for further improvement.

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6 Responses to “Giving Environmentalists Their Due”

  1. Allie Says:

    It may only be a small part, but our local actions contribute to global warming. The things we can do to cut down on the local pollution are also things that may help prevent global warming problems from getting worse.

  2. Juniper Says:

    Allie is absolutely right…every action has a ripple effect, whether for good or bad. If we work to decrease our short-term pollution problems, we do our part to help prevent global warming for the long term.

    The thing with people in Utah is that they consider “environmentalist” to be a dirty word…yet most of them are environmentalists themselves. They may not be major donors to The Nature Conservancy, but they do believe in stewardship of the land and preservation of the open spaces and natural places they loved when they were growing up. Why the disconnect?

  3. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Thanks for your comments. It is correct that the two problems are related and have the same causes. Technically they are distinct, if related problems, and I only pointed that out to make the segue.

  4. Allie Says:

    I think the disconnect happens because we are so comfortable with the life styles we have, so instead of having to change anything, it’s easier to just view anyone who wants to make a change as a Wacko-liberal-environmentalist.

    Until people are forced to be uncomfortable (and I’m picturing mandatory air masks to go outside and stronger emissions requirements for cars, and higher taxes on suv’s) I don’t see a lot changing.

  5. Bob Says:

    Back in the middle of the last century, much of the stuff the inversion trapped was produced by wood and coal burning stoves. While more visible (which is why it doesn’t look as bad now), it wasn’t as hazardous as the stuff we get now.

  6. Cody Says:

    Let’s just be glad that, even without large-scale wood-and-cool burning, there are still periods during the year when the pollution is so bad that it’s impossible to pretend it isn’t there. Imagine trying to convince people of the need to improve air-quality standards if nobody could ever look up and actually see that awful split-pea smudge.

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