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NIMG and the Politics of the Status Quo (Fall 2009 Article)

As a child, I always saw my parents as being panaceas for
any ill I had. Splinters required tweezers, cuts and scratches
required Neosporin, and etcetera. As I grow older, however,
I am beginning to understand the ramifications of the decisions
my parents’ generation has made about the most
pressing crisis our country faces right now. Global warming
has the potential to alter, in ways that we do not yet fully
understand, our lives completely, rendering our current ways
of thinking about energy, electricity, and the environment entirely
outmoded. We may not fully be able to comprehend
what a sustainable solution for our addiction to oil and coal
will look like, but its cause is much easier to identify: complacency.
For those intimately involved in environmental politics, the
acronym “NIMBY”—meaning “not in my backyard”— has
special significance. You may know NIMBY as the culprit
that killed nuclear power in the 1970s. Although many people
support the development of nuclear power, the thought
of a nuclear power plant in their hometowns scares them
enough to complain, and loudly at that. NIMBY has recently
set its sights on wind power as residents living near wind
farms complain about the noise generated by turbines and
the stray birds that inadvertently fly through their blades.
Fears have also arisen over the rather absurd scenario that
an errant turbine spoke could detach and strike passerby—
no one said that the NIMBY response was rational.
Today we experience NIMBY and all its vitriol on an unprecedented
level. As our parents’ grip on the reigns of power
begins to wane, their response to our growing energy and
climate crisis looks something more like “NIMG,” meaning
“not in my generation.” Our parents are not actively out to
harm our environment; rather, they recognize that any comprehensive
solution to climate change requires a paradigm
shift. Not only must we change the ways in which we power
our cars and heat our homes, we must also change the way
we think about energy, consumption, and waste. What holds
us back is their complacency.
Life is still pretty easy these days. Gas and electricity are
cheap, food is easy to come by for most—at least in the
United States, never mind the nearly 800 million chronically
malnourished people living throughout the world—and temperatures
are pleasant. A large-scale paradigm shift now,
however, sounds uncomfortable. Consider that a staggering
41% of Americans think that the perils of global warming
have been exaggerated. That number is 16% percent
higher for people over the age of 65 than it is for those under
30. It would be difficult, and unnecessary,
to convince the skeptics
that global warming is
actually as serious as it
is. For the sake of argument,
we’ll pretend
that global warming
is a hoax and that
there isn’t ubiquitous
consensus among
scientists that it is a
man-made problem
with serious implications
for our present
way of life.
The warning flags have been waving for more than half a
century. For those thinking about the issue economically,
our addiction to oil is one for which we have no comparative
advantage. Simply stated, oil has been a foreign policy
nightmare. Our efforts to procure it have lined the coffers
of despotic rulers who are as receptive to democratic ideals
as Senator Joseph McCarthy was to communism. The
cruel irony in this mess of petro-politics is that our addiction
to oil helps fund, indirectly, the insurgents who take the lives
of Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq. Feeling complacent
still?
Unfortunately, things aren’t much better at home. Coal,
which accounts for 60% of U.S. electricity production, makes
mounds out of the mountains that give character to North
America’s topography. Mountain top removal mining, which
isn’t a far cry from the slash and burn farming techniques
of our primitive ancestors, is widely regarded as one of the
most destructive activities to the environment that man can
engage in. Sulfur released from blasting through rock and
the sediment that runs off into rivers harms the health of local
residents. What’s left—tons of coal and other waste that
is of no use—is transported by trucks that are fueled using
gasoline. The process is a tad messy, to say the least.
Given these grave facts, I would like to write a memo to our
generation. We have a tremendous opportunity to learn
from our parents. We must exercise the political courage
that our parents’ generation never had. We must invest in
cleaner technologies aggressively and we must be willing to
leave all options on the table, including nuclear. Finding a
solution to climate change while meeting our current energy
demands is going to take sacrifice. Even as technologies
like solar and wind get off the ground, we must be willing to
curb our energy appetite.
Most importantly, we must demand action unyieldingly. Our
parents’ generation took nuclear power off the table because
it wasn’t politically palatable, and if they get their way they
are poised to do the same for wind. We cannot wait hoping
that technology will improve to the point that we won’t have
to sacrifice the comfort easy access to energy has engendered
in our lives. The status quo has unleashed political,
economic, and physical forces that are on a collision course
with one another. Each day and everyday, two very important
events take place. Iran inches closer to possessing a
nuclear weapon, if they don’t have one already, and 100 species
become extinct. Those two events aren’t unrelated, and
finding a different way to power our cars and heat our homes
will go a long way toward solving both problems. We cannot
let NIMG lay claim to the rampant idealism of our generation
as it did to our parents’.
We are left with one final question: how can we take action?
We must take action the way our generation knows best:
the internet. The internet is a great informational and organizational
tool, both of which, combined, can help to combat
the ignorance and complacency that pervades the debate
on climate change and energy alternatives. Our goal must
be to open the eyes of those around us. We must make
noise before we can be heard at all, and blogging and social
networking are two strategies that can help us achieve that
goal. Although the internet is a great tool for activism, our
activism cannot end there. Our demands for change must
be reflected in our mindset as well as in our actions, and we must translate our words and thoughts into concrete action.
There is no greater place to do this than on our campuses,
which act as bastions of idealism. The policies our generation
effects in the long run are currently being discussed and
debated on campuses throughout America.
Regardless of how we disseminate our ideas, we must act
on the maxim that we are our only last chance. Decisions
that are made now will affect us for decades to come. If we
do not speak up now, we may not have another chance.
-Zachary Simon

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