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Environment Magazine September/October 2008


September-October 2014

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Editorial - Choices

Most of us feel pretty comfortable making the choices that are necessary to live our lives. Although we debate with ourselves and others—what schools to send our children to, what job offer to accept, and so forth—we generally know when there is a choice to be made, and we make it.

It is often more difficult, however, when it is up to society to make choices. We often feel we don't know enough to make the choice, and it sometimes feels as though we are making choices for other people. For example, do we really know the candidate for whom we are voting? On a local level, we might know the candidate or at least have shaken his or her hand, but on the national level, it is rare to be that knowledgeable.

And yet choices must be made on a national and even international level. The three articles in this issue make that point very clearly, although in very different ways. As always, it is the job of this magazine to inform our readers so that you feel confident in making the decisions about the matters at hand. We hope that these articles will help you do so.

Samuel Snyder's article on the Pebble Mine controversy in Alaska very clearly lays out the issues that the state of Alaska faces, as does the nation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has signified the issue's national importance by initiating a study to determine ways to preserve the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery from the impacts of the proposed Pebble Mine. Although Alaska is quite different in many ways from the “lower 48,” the issues that play out there resonate throughout the nation, and in fact, the world. As Snyder points out, this is not about jobs versus the environment: It is a much more complicated issue, with fishery jobs and mining jobs playing a key role. In a state with few opportunities for employment, the stakes here are huge.

Turning to John W. Farrington's insightful and detailed analysis of oil pollution in the world's oceans, we find a different issue. Here, the decisions are slightly more subtle, but present nonetheless. He points out that one of the main culprits of oil pollution is the normal, everyday leakage from tankers as they ply the seas. With the prospect of the Arctic opening up to year-round shipping because of the breakup of the sea ice, this raises issues far beyond the ones facing us today, as important as those are. Here it is even more complicated, because it is not clear who will make the decision about year-round shipping if the will is even developed to make the decision. Given the decision at hand, more questions about pollution arise: Is the technology event available to prevent such leakage and spillage? At what cost? And who will pay?

Finally, Africa. Again, a continent that affects the world. It always has, although we have often ignored it. With “240 million hungry and 25% youth unemployment in some areas,” Richard Munang and Jesica Andrews inform us that it is going to take a well-articulated, “radical,” and “transformative” effort to overcome its widespread problems. Here is also a decision, though hidden from view. This decision rests with not one person, country, or even area, but it is a choice the world makes nonetheless. As the world spends more and more on armaments of various kinds, it is perhaps necessary to look carefully at the choices we make that affect real human beings in areas that until now have been largely ignored by the rest of the world.

Quite a feast, this issue. From mining to oil to hunger, the world has a series of choices to make, either overtly or by ignoring the problem. We await your responses as to how to move forward.

—Alan H. McGowan

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