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Environment Magazine September/October 2008


May-June 2017

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Editorial - An Urgent Need for Action

Although Environment strives to remain unbiased in its writing, it is difficult to avoid commenting on the Trump Administration's attitude and activities regarding the environment. As this is being written, we receive news of the new Environmental Protection Agency being staffed with professionals who are called “skeptical” of the realities of global climate change. A more accurate term would be climate change “deniers.”

It is hard to believe that any professional who has read any of the numerous studies concerning the dangerous changes taking place in our climate system can continue to deny the certainty of these changes. Yes, many of the predictions have been somewhat inaccurate, but in the opposite direction of the deniers' claims: The changes often have come sooner and more forcefully than early models predicted. Rising sea levels, Inuit villages in Alaska needing relocation as a result, cities such as Miami under water during storms, Venice needing to build sea walls to protect its ancient buildings, and many other problems, all demonstrate the dangers that face us.

The delay in action has exacerbated our problem. At a time when we should be discussing the many possible ways to combat, ameliorate, or adapt to climate change—and there are many issues to debate—here we are once again in the silly debate over whether it is real. Although we as a nation have long depended on technical solutions to urgent problems, given our love of science and technology, many students of the issue feel that technology will not allow us to avoid the “sweet agony of choice”; social changes will be necessary as well. Some of these may be extremely difficult, politically speaking, but these are the points we need to be discussing. We have already waited too long; the longer we wait, the more difficult the changes will be. The choices may be difficult, but discussing them does allow us a vision of a more hopeful future.

Now for some good news. Those of us who live in cities, which includes an ever-increasing percentage of the world's population, often have a love–hate relationship with their chosen domicile. Along with the noise, the dirt, the crowds, the small apartments, come the benefits of world-class music, dance, drama, the visual arts, to name just a few. And Julian Agyeman, a long-time contributor to this magazine, and his colleague, Duncan McLaren, have given us another reason to love cities, with their vision of “sharing cities.” It is a vision that should animate us all.

Pointing out that humans are natural sharers, Agyeman and McLaren call for the reinvention of our urban centers, stating that a sharing city would prioritize social justice and improve collaboration and cooperation. Read the commentary and send us your thoughts; we would love to hear from you.

Elsewhere in this issue we look at fracking and shale development, in particular what we can learn from the conflicts that have raged over this, perhaps the most contested fossil fuel controversy of the last decade. The authors, Tanya Heikkila, Christopher M. Weible, and Kristin Olofsson, point out that despite the necessity of learning how to deal effectively with new technologies, we have often engaged in conflicts that prevent that learning. On the other hand, they state, these arguments often lead to new information. In a very insightful article, the authors ask what we have learned about how to deal with these conflicts, at both the state and federal levels.

Finally, back to cities. Amsterdam, long a progressive force, has decided “to become a circular hub of products and raw materials.” Carrying out in real terms the concept of “sharing cities” mentioned earlier, the city is bringing together the public and private sector, knowledge institutes, and residents to realize the benefits of a “circular economy,” in which products and raw materials are reused, and in which the waste products of one process may be the feed stock of another. This “industrial ecology” approach to manufacturing has long been advocated by some, and as author Jacqueline Cramer points out, this is a very good example of “think global, act local.”

To return to the theme that began this editorial, this is the kind of effort we should be talking about and trying to emulate. Instead, we find ourselves stuck in the last century, arguing about things that have long been decided by the scientific community. This magazine will do its best, as it always has, to bring these positive developments to your attention. Thanks for listening. 

—Alan H. McGowan

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