Monday, April 20, 2015

What Are You Doing Here?


by Kevin Clemens

If I told you that I spent the first “half” of my career working as an engineer in the automotive industry and then as a journalist covering the latest and greatest in high performance automobiles, you might find it strange that I will be writing in a blog dedicated to global environmental education. It’s not that I had a sudden epiphany and gave up my love of cars—in fact it is my passionate interest in transportation that has brought me to Hamline University’s Center for Global Environmental Education (CGEE) as the Energy and Transportation Fellow.

The reality is that transportation is the second largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. and accounts for 70 percent of oil consumption in this country. Globally, the numbers are similar and by 2050 the number of vehicles on the road is expected to double while global transportation demand grows by 50 percent. So an ever increasing world population whose demand for energy intensive transportation will likely overwhelm the traditional view of conservation of natural resources and environmentalism.

Engineers & Environmentalists Working Together
It is easy to be opposed to transcontinental oil pipelines, mountain-top removal coal mining, fracking for oil and natural gas, and arctic and off-shore oil drilling based upon the dangers that they present to the environment. But I like when the lights come on at the flip of a switch at my house and that my car can effortlessly transport me to a meeting across town or a vacation at a National Park. As third-world countries develop, is it fair for me to deny their citizens the same simple convenience in their lives?

The reason then for an engineer to be placed among CGEE’s group of committed natural scientists and environmentalists is that a love and abiding respect for the outdoors is no longer sufficient if we are to protect the diversity and vital nature of the only planet we have, while also maintaining a way of life that most of us would find difficult to abandon.

In the past there was a hard line between engineers and environmentalists—an “us and them” attitude.  The future we face however will not be easy: environmentalists can’t make decisions without considering the engineering side of the equations, and engineers must learn to be much better environmentalists. We are all in this together and it is time to start acting like it.

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