Tag Archives: Notions of Progress

The Political Balance Between Modern Society & The Environment

This is a unique time in history. On one hand, the blessings of our high-tech lifestyle are everywhere to be seen. On the other hand, a high amount of discernable social alienation is visible too. What explains this situation? Historically…material comfort and technological advancements have sometimes resulted in an increase of social stability.

As is well known, a tremendous amount of anxiety exists currently in America and through the world about the state of the environment. Although fear of the future has been strong since the writings of the economist Malthus in the 1800’s, this thinking is now mainstream. Indeed, some fear that environmental damage caused by man is almost too strong to correct. These intense concerns help explain the modern disconnect that makes it hard for many to be grateful for the blessings of technology.

Although there’s intense debate about environmental policy nowadays, it’s good for perspective to look back on the dawn of America’s environmental movement. This movement was born out of concern for the tremendous smog and pollution that America had in the 1960’s and 1970’s. As opposed to the more complex and politicized environmental debates now occurring, the pollution crisis that America suffered back then was obvious to almost all. In addition, many of America’s rivers, as well as the Great Lakes, were clearly suffering from decades of having raw sewage and chemicals dumped directly into them.

When Republican President Nixon formed the Environmental Protection Agency, many on both sides of the political aisle breathed a sigh of relief. This was because there was then born a concerted and nationwide effort that largely succeeded in cleaning up America’s air and waterways. Improved vehicle emissions standards, as well as The Clean Water Act contributed to this success.

When one fast-forwards to the environmental debates currently happening in America today, things seem more confusing. Interestingly, some Liberals who used to be known for being open-minded on many topics are now inpatient with being questioned about their views on the environment. This is shown by how they refer to those questioning their environmental views as deniers.

On the Conservative side, there’s some skepticism about modern environmental concerns. On issues ranging from climate change to natural resource use, some Conservatives favor giving freedom to business to operate without the strict regulations Liberals want. In addition, some Conservatives feel its possible that some change in our environment is due somewhat to natural forces at play with the earth. A glance at geologic history shows the earth has had cycles of change going back thousands of years.

To many Americans watching this intense debate play out, it’s difficult to find candidates offering a middle ground between development and environmental protection. Interestingly, average Americans on both political sides are often in favor of increasing the use of clean energy when practical to do so. This is shown by the fact there’s strong interest in using solar power as a secondary energy option on new construction.

However, even if the use of solar, wind, and geothermal power were to increase, the fact remains that for the immediate future, green energy usage will be used mostly in addition to traditional sources of power. To go totally green with energy use is not easy to do in the immediate future. This is shown by the fact that a strong amount of fossil fuel usage is still needed in countries that have pushed green energy such as Germany.

On other environmental issues such as logging and mining, there exists resistance on the part of Liberals to allow for the development that Conservatives say is necessary for a strong economy. Obviously, there needs to be some natural resource usage to sustain the complexity of modern life. After all, with the scrutiny that the more synthetic plastics now are undergoing, turning away from natural resources will be difficult. At best we can minimize natural resource and plastic use by strongly enhancing the already successful recycling movement.

A middle ground with environmental issues will remain difficult to stake out in today’s political climate. Currently, the political dialogue regarding environmental issues seems to involve a pendulum of backlashes. When each side gets in power now, they often swing almost farther away from where they were before. This process then cements in another round of a potentially stronger backlash. And so the cycle repeats.

However, a common sense political balance between the economic needs of modern society and the environment is doable if both sides can truly listen to each other more. Only by thoroughly examining the positions on both sides of the political aisle will we be able to come up with compromises that not only protect the environment, but also allow for an adequate amount of natural resource use for modern society. If there can be more of a concerted effort to protect the environment prudently while still allowing for development, its possible that we can then regain the optimism we once had regarding modern life, progress, and technology.