Environmentalist? Who, me?

During my online-activities, I have been called both environmentalist and anti-environmentalist. I think it's safe to say that we can't label people something or anti-something, since most people support and oppose many things associated with that particular group. I support many things environmentalists (or rather, people who call themselves that) do, and I oppose many things they do. Where do I stand on issues related to environment? Well, here it goes:

Renewable energy

Yes please! I think that government should subsidy citizens when they buy solar-panels and windmills for private use. They should also support purchases of heat-pumps (devices that extrac heat from the soil and/or air, significantly reducing the heating-expenses. Heat extracted from the soil/air is basically "free" energy).

Besides small-scale renewables, the government should increase the usage of renewables in large-scale as well. That said, in Finland it can be difficult. For example, wind-power is difficult since during the time we need the energy most (middle of the winter) we also receive the least amount of wind. But still, I support renewables.

Score:

Environmentalist: 1
non-Environmentalist: 0

Nuclear power

Yes please! Yes, we all have mental images of Chernobyl and huge piles of nuclear waste. Hell, my friend got cancer because of Chernobyl! But still, when you really look at it, nuclear power is very safe. During the history of nuclear power, there has been two large accidents: Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Three Mile Island didn't really cause any harm, and Chernobyl was caused by incompetent engineers carrying out a dangerous experiment on a fundamentally flawed reactor-design. But still, Chernobyl was bad, right? Yes it was. But when you compare the amount of radioactive waste generated by nuclear power, you will actually see that coal-plants pump out more nuclear waste. The difference is that coal-plants pump the waste in to the atmosphere, whereas nulcear plants have the waste in solid form.

Yes, many of the processes invloved in nulcear power could and should be improved. For example, the mining of uranium could be made more environmentally friendly.

Well, what about that waste? Yep, it can be a dilemma. But it can be solved. Enter Integral Fast Reactor. IFR uses 99.5% of the energy in the uranium, as opposed to mere 1% in current reactors. End result is a lot less nuclear waste, and the waste that is generated is dangerous for only few hundred years, as opposed to current timescale of thousands of years. In fact, the waste that we have today could be re-used as fuel for IFR-reactors.

IFR is also safe. In case of overheating, the fuel would expand (as mandated by laws of physics), and that would cause the nuclear reaction to automatically slow down.

Environmentalist: 1
non-environmentalist: 1

Private transportation

In this context this refers to cars, as opposed to trains and buses. I can't help it, but I absolutely love private transportation. I love cars, and I love driving them. I do use public transportation every day, so I'm not hopeless :). I do think that cars could be made more environmentally friendly, and I support it. Just today I saw a SUV (bleh!) with a hybrid-engine (yes!). Combine hybrid with uber-efficient diesel-engine, and you have a recipe for success. With gasoline-engines we could have something like VW's TwinCharger-engine, where even big cars could be equipped with relatively small engines that are both super- and turbocharged. 2-liter engines could be replaced with 1.4-liter engines for example.

Sometimes I feel that environmentalists are a bit irrational. For example, Helsinki has been planning for some time now to build an underground tunnel from western end of Helsinki to the eastern parts of the city. Rationale is that there a huge number of cars driving through Helsinki every day, and they are just passing through. Going around the city would take too long, so they go through. So we have traffic-jams, and lots of cars in the downtown. The tunnel would move that traffic underground, where the cars would move along switftly and efficiently (instead of spending their time if traffic-jams). The pollution from the cars could be cleaned up before it reaches the outside, and since traffic in the city would be reduced by a significant amount (I have heard estimates that the amount of cars in downtown-Helsinki would re reduced by 30-50%), several of the currently car-filled streets could be turned in to pedestrian-avenues. That tunnel would also be connected to several underground parking-areas, so those cars would not have to get above the ground in order to find a place to park (which is another significant source of traffic in Helsinki).

So everyone wins. The environment benefits when we have less cars sitting in traffic. The pedestrians benefit, because we can have more streets dedicated to pedestrians. And drivers benefit when they can reach their destination fast and smoothly. And we have a nicer city with large part of the traffic and parked cars being underground, insead of all around the place. So what's the problem then? The Greens that have large number of seats in the Helsinki City government oppose the tunnel because (and I quote) "we cannot support any initiative that would benefit private transportation". Uh, OK. So we still have car-infested city, where cars sit in traffic-jams, where pedestrians have only handful of streets meant solely for pedestrians and traffic is in general not as smooth as it could be. And we now have a method of helping the city and the environment. But we can't do it because it would benefit private transportation as well. Illogical? I think so.

And if we look outside Helsinki, we can see that many people absolutely need a car. Population-density is low, and distances can be quite big. Public-transportation is simply not feasible in many cases. Back when I lived in the countryside, the bus-stop was about 2 kilometers away, and buses drove past it maybe once every three hours.

So, while I do love private transportation, I also use public-transportation if it makes sense. And in my case it does. But I don't consider myself to be an environmentalist on this issue. Rather, I'm a pragmatist.

Environmentalist: 1
non-environmentalist: 2

Genetic-engineering

This is a tricky question. I would think that my answer would be a "yes.... maybe". There are downsides, but there are upsides as well. If we can create plants that need less insecticide and fertilizers, that is a Good Thing (tm). That said, I oppose the idea of patenting genes. And I oppose the idea of requiring farmers to "licence" new set of patented seeds every year, and the old seed have to be thrown away. That's just stupid. So the process of using the GM-seeds and products needs a SERIOUS change.

Yes, I do understand the worries of environmentalists. But humans have been doing genetic engineering for centuries, we just have better tools now. But there are still issues. You could say that I'm positive, but not enthusiastic.

Environmentalist: 1.5
non-environmentalist: 2.5

Animal-rights

I have donated money to Animalia and I do support animal-rights. Sort of. I'm against animal-testing in cosmetics-industry. But I do not oppose them in medical-research. While I think that conditions in fur-farms could and should be improved, I do not support banning them. In a way, furs are quite ecological. My wife has a fur she got from her grandmother. It's something like 50 years old, and still going strong.

So, what am I here? I support animal-rights where it makes sense, but I'm not gung-ho about it. I also eat meat. I would say I'm 50/50 on this issue.

Environmentalist: 2
non-environmentalist: 3

Recycling

Yes! We recycle, and it makes sense. The idea of throwing something away, and never using it again is just plain dumb. Idea of burying useful (in the sense that it contains usable raw-material) stuff in the ground is just stupid.

Environmentalist: 3
non-environmentalist: 3

Local Products

Hauling productst all over the globe consumes energy. I consciously try to buy products that are made in Finland or near Finland. That's not possible every time, but I try to do it. So you can label me as an environmentalist on this issue. OTOH, my reasons are economic as well, besides ecological.

Environmentalist: 4
non-environmentalist: 3

Hmmm.... I guess that's about it. Draw your own conclusions.

2 comments:

dr witmol said...

I think environmentalism is a way of thinking rather than black and white "planting trees, good", "driving cars, bad" and even at those points where you scored yourself as a "non-environmentalist" you still display understandings of the concepts of true environmentalism... which makes you an environmentalist.

The enviro movement is contextual, for example you cannot expect people to give up their cars if there is no alternative mode of transport (the buses in my area run once an hour and stop at 7pm on weekends - how do you think I'm going to get home after a night out?).

Just like some forms of politics put economics at the expense of everything else, some hardcore environmentalists will put the environment at the expense of everything else. Neither model is ideal (personally, I'd prefer the latter if it came down to extremes). What some environmentalists have to realise is that enviro concepts need to be integrated into our lifestyles to inflict gradual change so that no one is disadvantaged by a kneejerk reaction. I mean, if someone has trained as a logger their whole life and suddenly logging is banned, we're going to have to retrain that logger as something else.

I prescribe education. Education and Grist.

Janne said...

Yep, I agree with you. the purpose of my postt was to compare myself to the people who call themselves "environmentalists". Sometimes it seems that they share same viewpoints of things (like the things I listed). Well, at least the people who make noise about them do. Of course, it's just the hard-core people who put environment ahead of everything else. But many people do believe in the values and beliefs of environmentalists, yet they don't label themselves as one.

Which propably means that labeling people is a dumb thing to do. We all believe in things not believed by the "group" of people we (and/or others) associate ourselves with.