Environmental policy: those two words spark fervor in the hearts of communities worldwide as disputes with over the best methods of approach occur more and more frequently. Largely influenced by socio-political factors, the atmosphere regarding the environment remains one of muddled uncertainty, contention, and debate. Last week, I sat down with Dr. Andrew Jorgenson of Boston College’s Environmental Studies department to discuss the current environmental atmosphere, the shifts in policies and opinions, and the general progressive movements. However, it’s apparent that a dialogue needs to be created, open to discussion and critique of the world’s current environmental issues.
Dr. Jorgenson illuminated several individual level characteristics, as well as broader, contextual factors which influenced the expression of environmental concern in societies around the globe. One of the most common findings regards gender; those who self-identify as females concern themselves more with environmental rights, a fact to which both localized surveys and nation-wide statistical analysis lend eviden
ce. Additionally, political ideology plays a role: those who affiliate themselves with the more liberal wing are more likely to advocate for the environment. Jorgensen explains that historically, they recognize the science behind climate change, a fact which made itself evident with this year’s presidential race.
However, Jorgenson cites survival-based need as the most prominent socio-political factor. In brief, those belonging to impoverished and developing communities which are directly impacted by environmental change express higher levels of concern. One sees this within the United States but particularly in the global south. The explanation behind this: poor and disadvantaged groups “with deeper connections with the natural world [recognize] that human well-being and environmental well-being go hand in hand. [There is a] deeper sense of sustainability […] among those who are the most vulnerable”.
Having identified the general demographic of the opposition towards environmental consciousness, our discussion shifted to motives. Within the last four years, the subject of climate change has been the scrutiny of several governmental projects. Under the Obama administration, the United States became a front-runner in the stance with which it approached climate change. Objectively speaking, President Obama engaged in several, world-wide conversations and collaborated with the EPA to propagate policies in favor of conservation, renewable energy and other environmentally conscious motives. The concept of renewable energy incites opposition from different branches of the government as well as dissonance between the public and private sectors, particularly with regards to the fossil fuel corporations. Now, the new administration aims to deregulate the private sector, a goal which is consistent with the ideologies of the republican party, not solely President-elect Trump.
Jorgenson analyzed the specific case study of coal mining jobs, which shows the unfounded rationality of these plans. The private sector argues that turning towards renewable energy eliminate thousands of jobs within coal mining communities. Contrarily, jobs decreased due to the development of technology and machinery that made the mining process more automated and safer for those individuals working, unrelated to steps taken advancing renewable resources. While it’s not to say that coal mining communities do not require jobs, turning towards a more fossil-fuel friendly industry does not necessarily guarantee this. However, the long term economic and human benefits in turning towards renewable energy make such a route a “job creator, not a job killer”, according to Dr. Jorgenson.
Despite these changes, which Dr. Jorgenson describes as “not huge steps backwards, but giant jumps backwards”, he still emphasizes a growing sense of optimism among himself and his colleagues those who have dedicated their lives to studying this information. Threat inspired an overall movement within deeply concerned scientific communities to be more vocal. While they now run the risk of becoming activists, these individuals recognize the necessity of being more publicly involved in environmental discussions. This can be difficult to achieve, as one must balance being an impassioned, concerned civilian with being an objective, scientific researcher presenting founded information. “Wars on science, we’re kind of living in that right now”, states Jorgenson. Yet, the general movement towards a greater sense of involvement, noted within the scientific community, the heaviest polluting nations — mainly China and the United States — and the commendable activism of the youth movement presents hope for the future. It’s very much a mindset. People are waiting for solutions; the next step remains growing accustomed to compromise, accepting solutions, and cooperating to care for the sustainable beauty that is the planet.
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