Writing Center
Fall 2009 Edition

Environmental Science and the Green Revolution

Jeremy Christiansen
Argumentative 2010 2nd Place
Professor: Dr. Christensen

As Americans come to the close of the first decade of the new millennium, many have jumped on a bandwagon headed for the Emerald City. Five years ago if one had said, "I'm going green," those around may have wanted to help the poor person to the bathroom. While even only a few years earlier than that, those who were environmentally conscious and paid any attention to scientific research regarding our eco-systems seemed to either be the scientists themselves or hale only from the northwest, wear Birkenstocks, and eat amazing quantities of granola. That image has morphed, however, to the clean-cut twenty-something-year-old that wears Gap and drives a Toyota hybrid. It seems that suddenly everyone has become environmentally aware. You cannot not open a major newspaper nor turn on the television for an hour without seeing that every company suddenly is conscious of its "footprint" and wants you to know about it. To any observer of our culture it must be obvious that recycling, energy conservation, and other environmentally friendly practices have in recent years come out of the subculture category and have begun to dominate the main stream. Although these trends may, at the moment, be only shallow attempts at an effective application of the science, the impact of years of environmental research is at last beginning to strike a chord with the average Joe.

Mankind has always had some interest in its environment, for its members must live in it each and every day for the duration of their lives. Although many events took place previously in the evolution of the environmental sciences and their postulates, one that is of heightened importance to us is the birth of the theory of global warming, this being one of the most influential theories in environmental science. In the first half of the 19th century French mathematician Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier made certain calculations which showed that the earth's temperature was increasing (Global Warming Newspaper Archive). He had argued that the earth's own atmosphere was trapping the sun's radiation and reflecting it back towards the earth, thus increasing its temperature. Scientists later on in that same time period coined the phrase the "green house effect." While this theory held for a number of years, many scientists later decided on a different theory that attributed climate change to the earth's orbital patterns. It merits attention that the theory itself while certainly impacting the scientific community, did not appear to reach the average Joe nor affect his life nor his habits at that time. Famous authors like Whitman and Thoreau, worried about the social effects of the industrialization of America and by some are considered precursors to environmentalism (Taylor). Their writings certainly had an effect in their time; however, they did not seem to sway the mainstream of America to all go live in the forest.

Flash forward to the 1960's and 70's and we see a tidal wave of legislation and lawmaking in defense of the environment. Activists and politicians alike began implementing laws and regulations that were based on scientific research about the green house effect, pollution, and other areas of environmental science in a way that would impact every day citizens (Zanetti). Businesses now had to meet certain regulations in order to carry out their practices. There appears to have been a chasm between big businesses and environmental science (the latter seemingly stifling the prior). That chasm may have kept the mainstream from fully accepting environmental science and its implications. During the seventies and eighties Americans saw the emergence of subcultures that strived for a harmony between human life and our planet. Groups like Greenpeace, however, often conjure up images of bearded agitators cutting through the billowing waves yelling at tanker ships or whalers: not exactly what mainstream America wants to do. In the 1998 blockbuster Armageddon, the sea fairing scientists/activists are seen protesting against off shore oil rigs as Bruce Willis drives golf balls off his rig at their boat and mocks them: A very symbolic scene representative of the cultural canyon between Big Business and the Mainstream on the one side, and implementation of environmental science on the other.

Throughout the late nineties into the new millennium our nation hit a peak of non-eco friendly behavior. The influence of the sport utility vehicle later known as the SUV swept through the soccer mom community like wild fire. America played environmental rebel in 2001 when President George W. Bush refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol on global climate change and our nation became the only nation to oppose the agreement. It looked as though mainstream America really didn't care much about conservation, the theories about pollution, and global warming. After the events of September 11th, however, Americans saw abrupt changes in their economy which eventually caused them to reevaluate. One of the changes that hit home the most was soaring gasoline prices. Jeremy Peters, journalist for the New York Times, put it well when he said that "since 2004, when the number of light truck sales, which include pickup trucks and S.U.V.'s, peaked at 55.7 percent of vehicle sales in the United States, the American love affair with large vehicles has cooled" (Peters). While Peters was correct that it had cooled, it has now frozen over. The application of environmental science was poised to swoop in and heal the wounds of post-lavish-living America. The hybrid car, for example, became a sought after commodity rather than on oddity in the automobile industry. The SUV evolved into "the crossover" and the mommy-driven monster trucks of yesteryear have gone the way of the dodo with their drivers and manufacturers now considered irresponsible. According to some America's purchasing habits have begun to shift, and "green" products are on more peoples wish lists than before (Environmental Leader). It may be that Americans' fascination with all things green at this moment is simply a fascination with the green things (money) that they don't have a lot of but can save as they start to use these new green things (products of environmental science) of which they used to make fun. This, however, does not change the fact that we are becoming aware and taking steps (although perhaps small ones) towards fixing some of the problems scientists argue that we have created.

While the true-blue (or should we say green?) died-in-the-wool readers and appliers of environmental research and science may scoff at the mainstream now posing as eco-friendly, they should see it as positive step in the direction that has been wanted since Thoreau decided he didn't like all the smoke stacks and Fourier felt like it was getting hotter. Never in America's history have we been so aware of our impact on the environment nor been so willing to make changes that will lesson that impact. Although most Americans probably don't know what the word "organic" really means or the threat to shellfish caused by the acidification of open oceans by heightened CO2 levels, we have come to grips with the facts that many scientists have been arguing for years: what we do and how we live does in fact affect the planet upon which we do and live and that we may have a more enjoyable future by taking some precautions.

Works Cited
"Environmental Leader." Environmental Leader. 4 December 2007. Web. 10 October 2009.
"Global Warming Newspaper Archive." History of Global warming. Web. 10 October 2009.
Peters, Jeremy W. "U.S. Makers Facing Glut of S.U.V.'s as Gas Rises." The New York Times. Web. 3 May 2006.
Taylor, Robert E. Environmental Defense Fund. 1990. Web. 10 October 2009.
Zanetti, Olly. "Greening the Law." New Internationalist. October 2009: 21-24. Academic Search Premier. Web. 10 October 2009.