Talking dirt about dirty energy respectfully?

April 12, 2016

May reason permit me not to be one of those mouth-breathers in the comments section.

That’s my major life request. That’s also I suppose the reason I tend to blog less these days but I love to write and it helps me process my thoughts so I am still trying to find a way to continue doing so without being shrill, self-righteous or otherwise annoying to myself or rational others.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I understand why people, particularly millennials, are increasingly reluctant to self-identify with any label. Because chances are most people who claim any label are going to (at least some times) speak and act like an asshole–regardless of what that label may be and whether whatever that label represents is true or not.

Take environmentalism for example. Today more than ever it is pretty evident to rational people who are not willfully ignorant for political (and/or financial) reasons that climate change is real, is exacerbated by humans by the use of fossil fuels, and is causing harm that can already be experienced and will very soon escalate. Even though I believe all of these things and am very critical of the fossil fuel lobby which has succeeded in fooling huge chunks of people for far too long, I realize that in most issues related to addressing climate change there is room for nuance and debate. The Guardian US recently published a story about the self-driving car only to exclaim that such technologies were misguided and that the only way forward is public transit which, according to the author, we already have. So ditch your car and ride the bus or subway! Anyone who commented that they liked or needed personal transportation in the comment thread was attacked by a woman who aggressively accused each of them of raping the planet with their cars. Do you think this woman won any converts to her cause? Furthermore, this commenter and the article’s author both missed a lot of less than small points: that as spread out as America is public transit will never be enough to transport every person everywhere and that clean electric cars are part of the answer as well. I’ve driven through enough mid-sized cities regularly enough to know that if places like Atlanta and Nashville don’t soon add reliable rail and bus systems to match their expected growth not only will they be choking the air with carbon but that travel in and around these cities will never move above a grid-locked crawl. However, I also know that for people like me–who need to drive 30 minutes to get to work, almost an hour to get to a mid-sized city and even 15 minutes to get to gas or groceries all the while living in a community without a public transit option–a personal automobile is unavoidable. Plus, there’s a lot of this country I want to see and price-wise car travel is usually much, much cheaper than air. If everyone like me moved closer to the hub of the city to rely on quality public transit, then the swell of the city center would get intolerably crowded and the outlying areas would become absolutely vacant.

So, I would think, the answer to city turnpike congestion and automotive smog lies in BOTH building, selling, incentivizing and transitioning completely to clean electric cars AND building and/or greatly updating bus and rail systems for all cities. Both of these actions need to be taken as soon as possible as time isn’t on our side regarding climate change. But, ignoring the expenses and practicalities in such a revolutionary shift particularly in a hostile and obnoxious manner that ignores other issues isn’t going to help the situation at all.

But..I can’t help but wonder, do I sound the same to some when discussing some of the other major climate change issues? I know many people who rely on coal for their jobs back in my hometown and I am continually frustrated when they jettison all information about how coal is the LARGEST contributor to carbon emissions. Coal is the dirtiest fuel source on earth and we are now developing multiple ways in which to move away from it. However, the coal industry has done a frighteningly good job of convincing the people and communities it employs some combination of the following lies: 1) there are no good alternatives to coal as of yet and we are not close to developing them; 2) coal can be “clean”; 3) global warming isn’t real, isn’t affected by humans or isn’t as bad as is said; 4) your community isn’t capable of adapting to a new way of life.

I have tried my best for years to not sound like the assholes in the comment thread when discussing this particular issue. But first of all, that is a major point–years. The people of my community and those similar to it around the country have been warned of this for years and done nothing. The leadership and business communities in these towns could have been trailblazers in planning for what’s next. If you know an industry is fated to end you plan for your transition out of that industry. Hell, even without climate change the coal industry has shown a precedent in using up all it can and moving on leaving communities in tatters. When this happened to Eastern Kentucky and most of West Virginia communities in Western Kentucky should have been leery.  I realize it is painful and frustrating to shift out of a job particularly a career as I have had to do so myself more than once in my working life. But if you know that your field is soon to be short-lived and/or your field contributes directly to disasters that will affect you or your children then you have to plan for a change.

So where do you draw the line? When do you stop politely acknowledging a difference of opinion and insist on observance of observable facts and debate thereon without sounding like the comments section mouth-breathers?

I think it comes down to understanding nuance and intricacy–that is, refusing to live and die by any party line and instead acknowledging there are many inter-connected issues that require multi-level approaches. Next, you have to realize you are dealing with people and their lives, beliefs and livelihoods. As Bill Nye pointed out in a recent appearance on the Larry Wilmore show there are many people willfully ignorant of climate science because their paycheck depends on them not understanding. We can empathize with the individual on the working ladder stuck with this position but we cannot empathize with the industry heads who dole out this result. Yet we know the industry heads will not make a change unless profitability or circumstance insist on that change so how do we debate with individuals who willfully disregard fact to hold onto an untenable position without being the asshole?

I don’t know. And I fear our country’s disregard of the importance of education (which I plan to write about next time) will only make things worse on this and all other issues.


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