There has been a lot of talk and concern about the lack of scientific thought in many of the pronouncements of the Trump Administration. Scientific facts are discarded and simplistic non-truths are becoming the backbone of some decisions in the energy, environmental, and health areas. I don’t mean to play politics here, but this seems to be predominantly the doing of the “Tea Party” and other right-wing groups, trying to deny the validity of climate change and the importance of environmental stewardship, all in the name of “small” government or short-term economic and jobs growth.
As an engineer and citizen, I feel this is terrible. But, this has been well-covered, and I don’t wish to “pile on” here. I do want to note that this is not unique to the right wing of the US political spectrum. I have seen examples of scare tactics and lack of reasoning from the left wing environmental community, also. We need to be vigilant and hold all sides accountable. Everyone (right or left) is entitled to their opinions, but not their facts.
What brings this to mind is an environmental group local to where I live (which shall remain nameless) which puts out many misleading emails and articles, that a common situation is so untenable, that it will lead to public health or environmental disaster. The other thing they do is attack a certain facility or process, demanding it be shut down without discussing what would replace it.
I know the person who runs the organization. She’s smart and has quite a personal story. I have tremendous respect for her. But she has only superficial knowledge of environmental matters, and, again, feels that everything is a tragedy about to happen.
A few years ago, we both gave presentations at a local environmental event. I gave an overview for the general public about what climate change is and what scientists know about it. In explaining greenhouse gases, I stated the fact that GHGs are not in and of themselves toxic even at elevated concentrations, but cause the trapping of radiation to conserve energy from leaving into outer space. We have lived in balance with a certain GHG concentration in the atmosphere, but now are affecting it adversely. Afterwards, she took me aside and berated me for saying anything “positive” about GHGs. They were the bad guys, in her view, and needed to be seen as such. I challenged her to find any published article that states that GHGs have direct toxic effects and I’ll personally apologize to the event organizer and reach out to every attendee with a correction. She never did (of course). I told her the only way we can fight climate change effectively is for the public to fully understand the topic. It is not simple (“good guy” vs. “bad guy”) with a simple solution if only governments understood as she does.
Her organization is sponsoring a movie about zero waste and she put out an email about it and advocating the shutdown of our county’s waste-to-energy facility. It releases toxic compounds, she wrote, affecting all our health. We are in a dangerous area with high ozone and particulate levels. We must shut down the facility ASAP.
There are so many holes to her arguments. Zero waste is a great concept; I am for it. However, cities (San Francisco comes to mind) have had this as a formal goal and spent millions to research and implement and has failed. This is not something that will be achieved overnight. Even if the techniques and technologies are developed to do so, there is always the implementation by cities, counties, etc. and the willingness of the public to use them (many don’t like change or an added expense). As for the waste-to-energy facility, yes, it is certainly not emissions-free, but it operates under a Title V Permit which mandates compliance with several state and federal air quality rules specific for such facilities, developed with public health in mind. It has continuous emission monitors and does annual testing to ensure these emission standards are met.
The county that the facility is in (as well as where the movie is being shown) was recently moved from severe to moderate ozone non-attainment, and has not had an exceedance in nearly 3 years. Besides, it has been demonstrated that most of the ozone forerunners come from sources many miles upwind of our county. This facility is not the cause of the current ozone non-attainment, nor would shutting it down solve this. The county meets the particulate attainment standard (why did they say it does not?).
Finally, the statement from the group demands the immediate shut down of the facility. Fine. But what would one do with the garbage? The alternative is to truck it to a landfill, hundreds of miles away. Given the size of the facility, that would mean hundreds of trucks traveling this distance daily, combusting diesel fuel oil. The use of any fossil fuel is another frequent target of their attack. So they are indirectly promoting a solution they oppose. Conveniently not mentioned in the email! Not to mention this alternative would require many workers to be in contact with the waste, risking their health. And not to mention the methane gas and other pollutants potentially emitted from the landfill. Methane is 21 times more potent than the CO2 emitted from the waste-to-energy facility.
So, we in the environmental community also need to be careful what we say in our writings. That what we say and write is scientifically grounded, thorough, and accurate; is not wishful thinking nor simplistic; and that alternative scenarios are thought through.
I am curious your thoughts and experiences. Please let me know what you think of this.
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