Fragilecologies

The Last Minute

November 4, 1996
By Michael Glantz

Fragilecologies By Michael GlantzAs all things must change, so too do the editorial policies of the Daily Camera. In response to those changes, this is the last of the Environmental Minutes. I've spent considerable time thinking about how to end the series. Thanking my loyal readers was a strong contender. They are the ones who put up with all kinds of ideas, good and bad. Then, I thought of thanking the occasional reader who, by accident, came across my article on the second Thursday (at first) or (later) the second Monday. Then I thought of thanking those who have taken the time to send me letters about the form or content of my Minutes. Finally, I thought about the possibility of writing the ultimate Minute, a blockbuster expose or challenge.

Lacking any great environmental insights at the moment, I opted to end the six-and-a-half year series by emptying the queue of ideas for future Minutes. So, here goes.

Climate Changeability

There's a tension in the world of climate research. That tension exists between those researchers who believe that research on climate variability from one year to the next is much more important today than research on a potential climate change decades in the future. Climate change is, as you know by now, another phrase for global warming.

Those involved in climate change studies put climate change research as the highest priority for a variety of reasons. I was recently at a climate meeting in Switzerland where the split (and animosity) between these groups was extremely vocal — a veritable shouting match.

But this, I believe, is needless tension. Climate changes on all time scales — from years to decades to centuries to millennia and beyond. Both groups are focused on "climate changeability." This phrase leaves out the time factor. What the climate change researchers are concerned about is the human contribution to the natural changes in the climate system. What is it that we do that heats up the atmosphere? This is, in fact, an important but relatively small part of the research agenda that scientists are focused on. Putting our climate-related research under the label of "climate changeability" could help us to focus on the science of the problem rather than its politics.

Future Eaters

During a recent trip to Australia, I came across a book by Tim Flannery called "Future Eaters." A best seller "Down Under," it is hardly known by, although highly relevant to, North Americans. It suggests that we are all "eating our future" in the sense that we are consuming our natural resources. Some societies consume them slowly (he spoke of the aboriginal populations in this regard), while others (like our industrial society) consume them rapidly. By destroying the resource base on which we and future generations depend for our livelihoods, we are creating what Boulder Economist Kenneth Boulding once called an "utterly dismal scenario" for future generations. The eventual resource-population balance will be worsened by the use of new technologies that keep us going just a little longer at high rates of consumption. Collapse awaits distant future generations. Technology has gotten us this far in terms of economic development. How much further can it take us? Blind faith that technology will save us is not the answer. The solution rests with a better understanding of and improved interactions with the Earth's resources, including improved interactions among its inhabitants.

"Experts Come From Out of Town"

This is a sign on the wall of Murphy's Bar & Grill at the corner of Iris and 28th Streets in Boulder. It is one of "Murphy's Laws." As someone who has gone to scores of meetings and workshops in the US and around the world, I can attest to the fact that it is one of Murphy's Laws that is absolutely true. It seems that local people tend to trust the views of outsiders in many matters, viewing them as experts. Yet, there are many experts within these towns that are much better equipped to address environmental issues with facts instead of with vague thoughts about the particular problem or with universal platitudes.

Credentials aren't everything. Because I head an environmental group in a national center does not mean that I am an expert on all environmental issues everywhere. I have been invited to make presentations on a variety of issues that are clearly environmental but are not at all within my area of expertise. No matter. Those inviting me to speak want me to do so, perhaps for any insights that might happen to appear in my talk.

Standing at a podium, I have often looked over the audience and wondered (a) why I was asked to be there, (b) why I ever accepted the invitation to be there, and (c) wouldn't they have done much better by choosing a keynote speaker from amongst their own locally based experts?

Boulder, Colorado is filled with local people who are experts on a variety of issues: global warming, ozone depletion, clearcutting, tropical deforestation, the environmental media, space research, environmental ethics, deep ecology, new environment-friendly technologies, and so on. The list is almost endless. Articles appear in the local media from writers based in L.A., New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. that discuss environmental issues in which experts in our community are deeply involved.

Boulder is not unique in this regard. Experts do not necessarily have to come from out of town. Let's exploit and expose our local expertise more effectively than we have done in the past. At the least, it will cut down on airplane traffic!


As a final comment, I want readers to know that I have neither been offered nor sought any compensation for the Environmental Minute column. It has been done as a labor of love and will likely continue on the Internet as such.

Thank you for your interest and support.

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