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Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day: Rhetoric versus Reality

We had a little gathering for Earth Day (not on the actual day but an observance nonetheless) with impressive student attendance.  There was a healthy string of speakers and some music and a wide screen documentary about "Climate Change," otherwise known as Global Warming, and various other monikers.

It was an interesting setting and I was glad to see so many people there.  The provost got to the microphone to start the event and her simple, declarative and dry opening statement left me thinking the rest of the gathering and feeling ashamed I can't remember a single word any of the speakers said.

University provost: "Mother Earth is dying."

Me, for the next two hours and more: "No, I think Mother Earth finds a way to rejuvenate herself every once in a few billion years or so... we are the ones who are screwed."

And thus began one of the most convoluted stream of consciousness to-date.  I have to admit that I have an inclination of taking everything literally.  Nevertheless, there seems to be a collective blindness when it comes to rhetoric versus fact.  I don't proclaim to have the "facts" about the environmental changes going on--although I could recite on call some of the historical events that have led us here.  I am simply thinking of how little people seem to notice about rhetoric.  Case in point: "We are taking action in Libya in order to avoid civilian deaths."  I have to admit I have no love for Qaddafi or any of his cronies, but the aforementioned statement sounds like one of the most absurd sentences to come out of the Vietnam conflict: "It became necessary to destroy the village of Ben Tre in order to save it."  Rhetoric, both in politics and in academia, has a tendency to rear its "distinguished" head ever so stealthy that even the most seasoned political journalists (or political science professors) seem in awe of it.  I remember one of my undergrad biology professors constantly saying, "If you want a value statement, go talk to the philosophy department."  It was his catch phrase, or at least I thought it was.  However, Prof. M's insistence was on facts, facts and facts.  You could love biology and have a passion for it; when it came to results, however, you either had the facts or he'd send on your way to the philosophy department. I think I took his advice, again, literally.

Again, I don't presume to have the facts, and, really, since I actually DID go to the philosophy department, I am inclined to make a value statement here.  While the United States and other western countries implement recycling programs, some of which--to some extent--have been very successful, the truth is that all the summits on the environment seem to overlook the amount of pollution in countries like China and India.  Both of these countries are expanding economically.  Their respective industries are churning day and night.  I can't speak on India because I have never been there, but since I visited China in 2009 (for far longer than I would have wanted to) and the pollution there was beyond reason.  Of course, after a few days one gets "used" to it, but I remember stepping out of the station after an all-night train to Changchun, in the Jilin province (China's Detroit or Motor-city) and my eyes (the same eyes that survived Kuwait oil fires in 1991) becoming so irritated I could barely see beyond my nose.  And this is one of the many examples I could site here.  My other favorite: nuclear plan reactors (a la Three Mile Island) across the street from major residential areas.  Japan notwithstanding, the whole thing looked to me as an accident waiting to happen.

At any rate, here's to our dear provost and her thought provoking statement.  After all, it yielded this blog entry.  Happy Earth Day.  Recycle and Reuse (sounds like rhetoric to me)... Mother Earth will thank you.

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