Global warming, sea level rise, land subduction, erosion. These words are commonly thrown around the media, highly debated, highly researched but rarely understood by the general public. Many deny the existence of these issues but few can argue that are coast lines are not in trouble. Even as we watch ice caps melt, sea level rise, storms worsen and coastlines erode away, little is being done. We like to blame the scientists, the engineers, the politicians and developing countries, but who really is to blame?
Before leaving for Journey 2 we had a lecture from Dr. Hopper about the policy process and window as well as the challenges of environmental policy. For most laws to begin to make their way through the system they must align with the problem, policy and politics stream. These streams include evidence and research, a viable solution and a supportive public. Unfortunately it takes very little to unbalance these parts and conflicting research, decreased media coverage or economic issues can end any hope for progress. Environmental policy is frequently dismantled with issues of incrementalism, opposition, existing laws, reliance on science, tradeoffs and high risks. So can we blame the state of the environment on the politicians and their slow, flawed system? Or do we understand that they have little control over the accuracy of the science and the media’s interpretation?
Many pass the issues off to the scientists, blaming them for an inconsistency within their field on whether these issues are real and what needs to be done about them. Jamie Baxter, a speaker at the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Forum, stood firm, professing that climate change is real and happening with serious implications. He explained that air and sea temperatures are rising, precipitation is more frequent and intense, there are warmer days relative to nights, shoreline ecosystems are being washed out and stream flows are changing. But even as the science behind these issues is becoming more and more reliable, the trust from the general public is still low.
We can blame these issues on the scientists and politicians or deny that it is even happening, but we rarely hear anyone say it is our fault, every one of us. We aren’t vengefully trying to hurt the environment but our everyday means of living slowly degrades the world around us. Maybe our true issue is our lack of communication, education and overall individual want to make a change. Maybe we each need to decide if this responsibility is important enough to get involved.
To say that nothing is being done about these issues or that we are not planning for the future is far from true but most of this research and expertise is put into systems that will save us, not the environment. When watching the National Geographic documentary Earth Under Water, we were informed of the newest technologies such as huge damns, bulkheads, floodwalls, pump stations, levies and even floating houses to keep us from evacuating our precious coastlines. How can we blame the scientists or the politicians when we are the ones forcing these changes because we don’t want to change our way of life? These huge systems to protect us from sea level rise and erosion may be expensive but they do not force us to make large changes as an individual. Instead of driving less, eating local food and making everyday lifestyle changes, we would rather pay taxes to have someone fix it for us. Instead of moving back from the coastlines that we have destroyed, we rebuild our houses and larger walls when nature is stronger than what we can hold back.
As I found myself frustrated by individuals’ lack of ability to realize what they are doing and make a change, we visited Smith Island. On the way there it seemed stubborn and unintelligent to stay on this island when erosion and storms cause them to constantly rebuild and fight nature. But as you meet this small, simple community, delicately placed on this unique piece of land, the answer doesn’t seem so black and white. This is the only way they know how to live, removed from many of the complexities of the mainland. It no longer seemed so easy to blame them for putting in the bulkheads and rebuilding storm after storm. This inside look forced me to realize that I too was playing the blame game.
This internal view was also extremely insightful at the Chesapeake Bay Watershed forum. Elected government officials, scientists and local non-profit organizations came together and tried to portray their issues and goals. While the main goal of cleaning up the Bay is the same, the communication and understanding seemed strained. They were listening to people they were used to blaming, seeing their way as the only answer. From the inside their answers made sense but each groups’ answers did not fit together. It is easier to blame another group for their piece not fitting than to shift their opinion.
So how do we solve this issue and end the blame game that plagues our environmental progress? The keys are communication and goals. If our goal is to fight back against nature, building bulkheads and damns, we will fail. If our communication is based on blaming and denial, we will fail. Our politicians, scientists, media and general public need to work together to reverse some of the immense damage we have created. Blaming each other is solving nothing while sea levels continue to rise, coastlines continue to erode and temperatures continue to increase. Instead it is up to each of us individually to change our everyday actions to inspire our government and press the scientists to work together and enact change.