APU Environmental Exploring STEM Podcast

Podcast: How Has Politics Changed the Public’s Attitude Towards the Environment?

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Podcast featuring Dr. Bjorn Mercer, Program Director, Communication, Philosophy, Religion, World Languages and the Arts, and
Dr. Danny WelschAssociate Dean, School of STEM, American Public University

How has environmentalism changed in recent years? In this episode, Dr. Bjorn Mercer talks to APU Associate Dean of STEM programs Dr. Danny Welsch about the effects of politics on environmental issues and changes to environmental activism. Learn about the current debates surrounding climate change, growth in the usage of alternative energy sources like wind and solar, and what individuals can do to help the environment by reducing consumption, buying food locally, and more.

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Dr. Bjorn Mercer: My name is Dr. Bjorn Mercer, and today we’re talking to Dr. Danny Welsch, Associate Dean in the School of STEM. Our conversation today is about the current state of environmentalism, and welcome, Danny.

Dr. Danny Welsch: Thanks, Bjorn. I’m glad to be here.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Yeah, definitely. So let’s just jump into it. So, in general, what is the current state of environmentalism in the US?

Dr. Danny Welsch: I think currently, right now, it’s pretty good. It’s always pretty good, but there are other things that are pretty far out in front of that right now. But, of course, those things are tied up with environmentalism in the state of our environment in some way.

So if you were to go into a diner or stop someone on the street and ask them what their biggest concern is, probably right now today, most people would say the global pandemic. And then beyond that, they might say problems with politics. But actually, these things are all related to our environment and global environmentalism in some way, but they’re a little bit disconnected.

And one of the reasons that environmentalism is unfortunately never at the forefront of concern for most people is because it is a long-term project. It’s not something that is going to yield results tomorrow if you make a change today.

[Podcast: STEM, Science Degrees Teach Students to Have a Problem-Solving Mindset]

And in terms of the pandemic, the potential for that exists, like if we discover a vaccine today, we could have a pretty significant change in the outcome of this pandemic in a relatively short period of time. But if we were to all of a sudden, dramatically alter our lifestyle to benefit the environment, the impacts that we would see would take years to decades to manifest. So it’s a difficult thing for people to put at the front of their minds because the timeframes for it are so long.

But I think most people generally are concerned about the environment. And when you talk to them about the environment in terms of a legacy or for future generations or their own kids or their own grandkids, that concern goes up pretty significantly.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: No, and I completely agree. I would say it’s a rare occasion where somebody will proudly say, “I don’t care about the environment.” That just doesn’t make any sense. And wanting to have clean air to breathe and with so much going on, like in the past, there’s a lot of criticism of the EPA. Well, if you go back several decades, the air was actually quite bad because industry at the time, was a lot “dirtier.” And so there’s a lot of benefits that have come from the EPA.

And it seems like today people have forgotten that those benefits have been realized and now environmentalism sometimes is viewed as a political issue. What it’s really about people living healthy lives.

Now a follow-up, is there environmentalism in China, in India? Because we always talk about environmentalism here in the states and what we could do, but then you look at China and India, the two other largest countries in the world, two other very large pollution-producing countries in the world, and are they concerned?

Because India, of course, is still just trying to modernize, industrialize, and they have such a large population in dire poverty, that environmentalism is very hard to deal with when you’re dealing with that.

Dr. Danny Welsch: Yeah, I think there is. India and China are a little bit different from each other because of their political structures. But the political structure of a country is actually really important when it comes to how the citizens of that country think about the environment.

And if we start off with our own country and where we are with that, I mean, you kind of mentioned that environmentalism and concern for the environment and politics are very closely related and that’s even more so now in the United States because of the heightened tribalism that exists in our political system.

And anything that doesn’t conform to the policy of one tribe or the other is considered bad. So in the grand dogma of politics in the United States, environmentalism and concern for the environment is generally considered to be a Democratic issue.

And in our very heightened political environment that we have, if you do not subscribe to Democratic politics, then you might be vilified within your community for having a concern for the environment because it is seen as something that your tribe doesn’t follow. And I think that’s a big problem. You have a lot of people in the United States that might have concern for the environment, but don’t feel like they can act on those concerns because they’re not part of their tribal politics.

But if we move to India and China, I think in India, there is concern. But the concern of most people is simply staying alive, feeding their families, and scraping together some meager source of income because a large part of the population is so desperately poor.

But you do have a rising middle class in India, which has concern for the environment. But in any developing nation, it’s difficult to tell a developing nation, “Hey, you need to slow down your development so that we can protect the environment.”

In China, it’s a little bit different because the individual citizens of China have much less power just because of the communist nature of the Chinese government. There really is no opportunity for individual citizens or even groups of citizens to tell the government what to do because you don’t elect people in China.

So I think individuals in China have a different level of ability to make changes to the environment. But again, China and India are both rapidly developing. Now, that said, they’re huge countries and they contribute a lot of carbon into the atmosphere, which I think everyone is recognized as the primary driver of climate change. And of course, climate change is one of the biggest environmental problems that we have in the nation.

But because they are so populous, if you look at the amount of carbon per person, per capita, it’s actually quite low. So you have a lot of people generating a lot of carbon in those countries, but for each individual person, it’s pretty low.

The country that generates the most carbon per person is us, it’s the United States. And we do that by a lot. So it’s a little bit like the pot calling the kettle black when we look at large developing countries and tell them that they should really sort of moderate their development to benefit the environment.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And I’m glad you brought that up because I’ve seen that as part of the narrative, well, reality, it’s not just the narrative, is the US being concerned, telling other countries what to do, and then them being like, “Well, you went through an industrial transition. You polluted the world. We’re just trying to greatly industrialize, as with India.” And China, I mean, they’re doing so many different things.

And the US, not to get to international politics here, can’t tell people what to do. And so we see that conflict, especially with environmentalism, where like you were saying with China, it being an autocratic communist state, whatever the communist government wants to do, they’ll do.

Not that there’s a benefit to a communist government, but if they decide to be environmentalists, then they can change it in a second. If they decide not to be, then nothing will happen.

And this leads me to the next question is why is there still a debate about climate change considering the science seems pretty straightforward? And you mentioned a little bit about tribalism, of the little bit of the fractured politics of the US which all contributes to this.

Dr. Danny Welsch: So that’s interesting because I think it depends on the groups that you’re talking about when you say that there’s a debate. If you’re talking about general scientific consensus, both nationally and internationally, there really isn’t a debate.

There’s two main factors, I guess, or things to consider. The first is, is climate change real? And then the second is, are humans a factor, a big player in that? And those are sort of the two big things that people question. And that first question is climate change real, that was debated for a long time throughout the ’80s and the ’90s. And generally, no one really debates that anymore. There’s always the fringe of the fringe that is going to bring up some of these things. But for the most part, we generally accept that climate change is real.

Now, I remember when I was in graduate school, there was a big argument that it wasn’t and they called it the tarmac effect. They were saying, well, the reason that it looks like the climate is warming is because we’re moving all of the weather stations to airports, which is true, and airports are generally hotter because of all of the black tarmac on the runways. And that got a lot of traction for a while and was used as an argument to say, look, this is an artifact of the data, this isn’t really true.

But we’ve got so much more data now. You just look at the number of named storms. We ran out of names for hurricanes this year. We actually had to go into the Greek alphabet. That doesn’t happen very often. You look at the severity of the storms. You look at all of these things, which decades ago, scientists would tell us we’re going to happen and they’re happening. So the debate over whether or not the climate is changing has largely been extinguished. We all pretty much agree the climate is changing.

So now the big debate in the political world, not necessarily in the scientific world is what is the role of humans in that change? And from a scientific perspective, it’s pretty clear. Atmospheric physics says, if you put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, you’re going to raise the temperature. That’s just general math that describes that relationship and you really can’t refute that.

So then the question is what, where does that carbon come from? There’s a lot of people that come out and say, well, it’s these Milankovitch cycles, and it’s solar cycles, and it’s this natural cycle. And there is that signal that lives underneath of what we’re putting on top of it, but you really can’t explain all of the carbon going into the atmosphere through natural cycles. In fact, you can’t even get close.

So it is pretty clearly a human-induced cause, but you do still have a lot of people that will debate that. And they debate it for tribal reasons simply because they want to be part of a tribe that doesn’t necessarily believe that climate change is real or an important factor.

They will debate it for profit. There are a lot of corporations out there that stand to lose a lot of money if climate change regulation becomes more mainstream. And I think that some of the big oil companies actually have come out recently and either said that they knew climate change was real decades ago, or there have been investigations that identified that they knew that they tried to cover it up because obviously, they stand to lose a lot of money.

But now that wind and solar are actually becoming profitable, you’re seeing the same companies get into wind and solar. The big oil companies are now energy companies, they’re not really exclusively focused on oil. They’ll sell energy any way that they can develop it. And if they can develop energy through wind and solar and make money doing it, they’re more than happy to do that. And that is possible now, so you’re seeing them have more recognition that fossil fuels and carbon emissions caused by humans really contributed largely to the climate that we have now.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: That’s a great overview of it. And I guess the most disappointing is the tribalism, where two sides, I guess you can say one side is like environmentalism is such an extreme that we’re going to die in 10 years. I think if that was true, the message would be out there a little more if we truly were going to die in 10 years.

And at the other side, of course, whatever we do doesn’t contribute to anything because as an individual, it’s really hard to see how you contribute to anything. But even buying a computer, which makes our lives so much more efficient, has a carbon footprint. Everything about a more contemporary lifestyle, which makes our lives easier, has a carbon footprint, even though we’re not actually contributing to it directly.

And I remember, was during the Reagan administration, when they were saying, well, cows are farting and that’s contributing to it. But at the same time, it’s that same kind of rhetoric where it’s like, well, ketchup can also be considered a vegetable in school lunches.

And this brings me to Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager, what are some of the positives, focusing on positives of activism, like Greta?

Dr. Danny Welsch: I’m a big fan of Greta Thunberg primarily because she has visibility and she is able to deliver a level of passion about this that motivates people. And because she’s so young, I think she’s not been tainted by politics. People aren’t going to look at her and go, “Oh, well, she’s just a Democratic shill,” or, “She just really promoting wind turbines because she wants to make money out of them.” That sort of thing. She is representative of a pure embodiment of concern for the environment.

And she’s not going to let the reality of politics or technology or society get in the way of her passion for solving this problem. And I really don’t think she set out to become who she has become, but she has embraced it and made the most of it. I know that my daughters are inspired by her, which I am really happy about. I think that she and people like her are probably what is going to drive us forward in this fight.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And that’s wonderful and I’m really glad that you said that she inspired your daughters because, this is going to sound terrible, but Michael Moore isn’t that inspiring anymore. And it’s not that he hasn’t done great work for decades. He’s been a good advocate for environmentalism. He’s done some great work.

But when you see somebody like Greta who comes out, and like you said, it’s not like they’re going to have visibility on the world stage. And, to me, just like you said, the purity, and I remember being a teenager and looking at the world problems and thinking, how are all these adults just ignoring it? And there’s such a clarity of thought you have when you’re a teenager to cut through all of the BS.

And, one of my comments about Greta is really not about Greta because her influence, you can take it or leave it. It’s up to you as a human, and as a person, you can listen to her or you’re just like, okay, whatever, is how some of the adults then react to her.

And I would say it’s extremely unethical in how people have responded to her because number one, she is a teenager. And all you have to do is set out some comments about facts and leave it versus people have made comments about her. And again, in a very, I would say disgusting political manner.

Dr. Danny Welsch: Yeah, I completely agree. And one of the things that I think makes Greta Thunberg so authentic is the fact that she’s young and she hasn’t been tainted by some of the specters of politics or commercialism that you could level at other spokesman or spokespeople for the environment. She is just pure concern for the environment.

And then when people try and bring her down using the same tools that you would use against an environmental organization or a Democratic politician, it’s really disingenuous because I think most people recognize that that sort of thing doesn’t stick. It doesn’t stick with a teenager who’s just out there with raw passion for saving the planet. So I think it almost backfires.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Oh, I think it completely backfires. And again, even if you don’t agree with her, all you have to say is, “I respect her passion. I respect what her drive is and what she’s going for. But I disagree with X, Y, and Z.” Which is a different conversation about civility in public discourse. Why is there such a controversy with Planet of the Humans? It’s a documentary that came out in, I think, it was 2020, early 2020.

Dr. Danny Welsch: Yeah. It was on Earth Day 2020.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And Michael Moore helped create it, who we just talked about his decades of good environmental activism. But what is the controversy with this documentary?

Dr. Danny Welsch: So this is really kind of fascinating for me because I think from the liberal spectrum of politics, Michael Moore has long been somewhat of a hero. And then to come out with this film, which is essentially an intellectually dishonest attempt at proving an old point. No one is completely sure why this film was made or what it is attempting to do. And the film wasn’t actually made by Michael Moore, it was made by a friend of his, but Michael Moore put his stamp on it.

But it’s really using old data, old photos, a lot of old information to try and back-up this old point, that alternative energy isn’t ready to take over, and that it’s causing more problems than it’s solving. And the biggest problems that the film has is that the data is old. I mean, they’re saying that alternative energy is not nearly as efficient as it is today. I completely agree with one of their main points, that we are not ready to flip the switch and turn off fossil fuels. We’re in a transitional economy right now, transitional energy economy.

They also have as one of their major complaints that fossil fuels are used to make renewable energy equipment like solar panels and wind turbines, which is completely true. And it’s also completely expected because we are in this transitional energy economy. We don’t have the ability to turn off the fossil fuel switch tomorrow.

And the main reason we don’t isn’t because we don’t have the generation capability, we can make a lot of electricity that doesn’t use fossil fuels, we just can’t store it. So the battery technology isn’t where it needs to be for us to flip that switch.

But that isn’t a good reason to say that we shouldn’t try. And I think that is really one of the things that this film is saying, alternatives are never going to do it, we should just stop with alternatives and live with this problem. And I think that that’s not really the message that we want to convey.

The film also has an outsized focus on biomass burning and biofuels. And there’s a lot of potential with biomass burning and biofuels, but it makes up only about 2% of the energy consumption in the United States, but they spend a lot of time on that. And the other thing that they neglect to recognize is the timescale in terms of carbon when you burn biomass.

So biomass is essentially like if you were to grow a field of willow, willow is one of the things that they use a lot for biomass energy because it grows really quickly. Grow a field to willow, burn it, make electricity. And their argument is well when you do that, it puts carbon in the atmosphere, which it completely does.

But that field of willow that you harvested will regrow really quickly. In fact, the fact that it grows so quickly is one of the reasons that they use willow. And as it grows, it’s pulling carbon out of the atmosphere. So while not completely carbon neutral, the timescale is really rapid and you’re replacing carbon in the atmosphere. You’re pulling carbon out of the atmosphere for every molecule of carbon that you’re putting in the atmosphere as you’re cycling through this willow biomass.

When you burn fossil fuels, you’re putting carbon in the atmosphere that was put into that fuel millions of years ago, so the timescale is completely different. And when you burn fossil fuels, there’s very little to pull that carbon back out of the atmosphere because the process of creating new coal or new oil is very slow. So they really neglect that timeline of biofuels.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And that’s great because I didn’t know that. When I watched the documentary and they’re talking about biofuel and burning it, I was like, oh, well, that’s not that great. And the biggest message I got from the documentary was it seemed like the perspective was capitalism and profiteering took over the environmental movement. Because then they totally talked about Gore and how much money he’s made and kind of like portraying them as, well, they sold out the movement.

And I don’t know if they’re trying to find a more, I’m putting, again, quotes in the air, a pure form of environmentalism. But anytime you try to go to a more pure form of anything, it excludes a large population. And this documentary just really turned into a political football it seemed like.

Dr. Danny Welsch: Yeah, that was one of the things that really bothered me about it is they tried to vilify the heroes. So Bill McKibben, they sort of vilified him because at one point he supported biomass fuels, which they viewed as very bad. They vilified Al Gore because he was able to actually make a profit off of his environmental activism.

It goes back to this premise that to do something for the environment must include a massive sacrifice either individually or societally. And while there’s a lot that we can do for the environment that is very sacrificial, that is not going to ever gain a lot of traction.

So now that we can actually make environmental activism and things that benefit the environment profitable, the movie paints those as bad, which I think is really dangerous because the profitable stuff is the only thing that’s ever going to take off.

And like before, I mentioned wind turbines and solar, those are profitable for the companies that are producing those things, which is why, at least in my area, when you look at every single ridgetop around here, there’s wind turbines on it for better or worse.

We generate a tremendous amount of wind energy in the Appalachian Mountains where I live. And they’re actually putting a relatively huge solar farm on an old strip mine just a couple of miles from my house, which I think is an ironic use of that land, but a very effective use of that land because unfortunately nothing really grows there. The reclamation on it wasn’t really great.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: As the economy ages and matures, people will, of course, be innovative and figure out ways to use old technology, like you said, strip mines. When you drive to LA from Arizona, you see wind turbines everywhere, you see solar farms, which is great because honestly, you’re not doing anything with that desert land.

And then when you’re going into the mountains going into LA, there’s all the wind turbines. And again, it’s really windy there, you might as well try. And that’s one of the things with that movie, it’s like, well, they’re talking about the technology not being terribly efficient, and like you said, the information was a little old, so that should help people then try to improve it.

And again, going back to it, it just seemed like it was a political football in the sense that, like you said, things aren’t going to change unless they’re profitable. And I’m not the most fervent capitalist, but I also know that if people don’t make some money doing something, they’re probably not going to do it.

Dr. Danny Welsch: Yeah, or at least it doesn’t cost them anything.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Yeah. And I would love it if everybody is altruistic, using that term, and we just did things for the greater good all the time, because honestly, most people do lots of things for the greater good, but there’s, there’s a limit to what people can do in their daily lives.

I mean much like COVID, you can only do so much when you’re working, and you have kids, and you’re trying to just make things work. And that’s where environmentalism, to a point, has to do a better job of PR. Environmentalism is on everybody’s side and how we individually can help that, which leads me to the last question. How could we today help with environmentalism and the environment in general?

Dr. Danny Welsch: So if you think about the biggest threat to the environment, it is consumption of fossil fuels and the generation of carbon dioxide that goes into the atmosphere. When you think of that, the general response is, okay, well, I drive less. But automobiles, aren’t the biggest producer of fossil fuels or carbon dioxide emissions. It’s actually the generation of electricity.

And if you think about where that electricity goes, it generally goes to two places. It goes to individual households and it goes to manufacturing. So there are two things that individuals can do and they address those two problems, so those two places that electricity is used.

And the first we’ll talk about is manufacturing. So just think about what you buy. Do you need all of those things in your house? Can you repair something? Do you need all of the consumerism and the stuff that we buy on a regular basis? Is it all needed?

And I’m not saying that we should all live like hermits in windowless hovels with dirt floors, that sort of thing. But it’s pretty easy to just go buy. I see this in my own habits and in the habits of people that are close to me, we get addicted to new stuff all the time, and that can really be a dangerous thing.

And all of that new stuff really has to be made somewhere. And it’s made in factories that consume electricity. It’s made out of stuff that comes out of the ground. If you look at everything in the world, it has to be either grown or mined. And I know that that sounds like a simplification, it’s completely true. Just identify any item on your desk and it’s either grown or mined. And if it’s made of plastic, it’s mined because it’s made of oil.

And we do mine oil, although people don’t think of an oil well as a mine. But anytime you pull something out of the ground, you’re mining it. And same with water, we mine water. So everything has to be grown or mined.

And those are two things which can be detrimental to the environment or they can be beneficial depending on how they’re done. So just think about the amount of stuff that you have and the amount of stuff that you need and the amount of stuff that you throw away.

On the other side, the household electrical consumption, there’s a lot that we can do there on an individual basis. And you might think, well, I’m just one person, what can I do? But if you look at the electrical grid, it all sort of scales up. So if a bunch of households really work together to reduce their emissions, that’s really going to cut down on energy consumption.

In California when it’s really, really hot, they don’t black out the factories, they black out the houses because of the individual energy consumption that’s occurring there and most of that is through air conditioning. So just think about the amount of energy that you use in your house.

One of the things that I’m a big proponent of and investigating for our own use is localized energy. So our energy here in the Appalachians primarily comes from a large power plant that burns coal. And the closest one to my house burns coal really, really cleanly, which is nice. It’s a relatively new plant.

But the second closest one is one of the dirtiest plants in the country because it’s one of the oldest and it’s huge. So I’m sure we get electrons that are generated from that plant from time to time as well. But what if we could generate electricity, cleanly literally on our rooftops?

So I’m a big advocate for rooftop solar. It’s something that I think we’re probably going to do pretty soon. I had to wait to put a new roof on the house before I put a solar panel system on top of that.

But the battery technology that we mentioned before I think is going to come a long way. Tesla’s battery wall and some of the other innovations related to that I think are going to let us generate our own power, but also store our own power. And that’s always been the limitation. So that sort of thing.

And we heat our house with wood. I mean, go back to the biomass burning, I go up into the state forest a couple of miles from my house, I use a probably really dirty gas-powered chainsaw to cut firewood, but then I’ll come home, I’ll burn that wood, that’ll get us through the winter.

And then when I go back to that same spot the next year, there’s all this new stuff that’s growing up there, so it’s not a barren wasteland. And maybe in a couple of decades, I can go back to that exact same spot and cut another tree.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And I really like how you’ve highlighted biomass. And of course, growing a tree, cutting it down, burning it for fuel and energy, and then, of course, it grows back. Here in Arizona, we have sissoo trees. They grow in a second and they’re huge. Those would be probably perfect for growing for biomass like you said willow.

The simple things that people can do is literally stop using single-use plastic products, just stop. And going to, I guess you can say political activism and voting with their dollars, is if you stop using things, they’ll stop making them, or if you start demanding different products, they’ll start making them again. Individually, it takes each individual to do that for things to change.

Dr. Danny Welsch: Yeah. Single-use plastics are a pretty big deal. And if you look at most of the trash, if you go to any waterway anywhere, and ocean, a lake, a river and just look for the trash, probably 90% of it is going to be single-use plastics. You’re going to see plastic bags. You’re going to see straws, cups. You’re going to see bait containers. All this is single-use plastic.

So a lot of the visible litter that we see is single-use plastic. And unfortunately, a lot of that stuff ends up in our waterways and all of our waterways are connected and go out to the ocean. So there is a lot of evidence now that plastic is ubiquitous in the oceans, and not just in this large garbage patch, the Pacific garbage patch that you always hear about. But it’s everywhere. Little tiny bits of it are in fish tissue that they collect from just ridiculous depths in the ocean and from the Arctic, where you would not necessarily think that there is any impact of humanity, but then they find microplastics in fish tissue. So it’s everywhere. So the more that we can keep single-use plastics out of our waste stream and out of the pollution stream, I think the better.

But even beyond that, single-use plastics are made of plastic, and plastic is made of oil. And eventually, we are going to run out of oil. And anytime we mine oil and produce something with it, we’re contributing to the greater pollution problem.

So there’s two parts of single-use plastics, I guess. If we just take the straw as an example, because I know that gets a lot of attention. Plastic straws, there is that viral picture of a sea turtle with a straw up his nose that got a bunch of traction a couple of years ago and then everybody started to use these metal straws, which I thought honestly, was kind of a crazy solution.

Do you need a straw? It takes a lot of resources to make a metal straw, probably more resources than it takes to make a couple thousand plastic straws, to be honest. So my question wasn’t, well, let’s find another material to make straws out of. My question was, do you need a straw?

Straw has just seemed like the epitome of first-world convenience to me. They don’t really serve a practical purpose. So that goes back to what we were saying before, think about your consumption. Do you need everything?

And then the second is if it is something you truly need, can you create it in a non-single-use plastic way? Think about plastic wrap that you use, you use it once you throw it away. Well, we got a bunch of these super stretchy silicone things that go over bowls that you can just reuse indefinitely. Little plastic Ziploc baggies, do you really need those? We got a bunch of these kind of heavy-duty ones that you just rinse out and reuse over and over again.

So I’m not saying that we don’t use the single-use stuff anymore, but we have greatly reduced the amount of single-use plastics that we use by essentially buying tougher versions of the same thing that aren’t single-use. Now, of course, you’re still using a resource to rinse them out and that sort of thing.

And it’s this sort of balance between disposable diapers and washable diapers, where you can throw them away and they build up in the landfill, or you can use the reusable ones in your house, and you’re going to use energy to heat the water, to run the washing machine, that sort of thing.

So everyone has to make that decision for themselves. But I think it’s pretty obvious in a lot of cases, if you can not use something, you’re definitely going to benefit the environment. And if you can find something that you can use more than once and not throw away, that is going to be beneficial as well.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: That’s wonderful. And, living in this country, people need to literally just do research and just look for options. Because versus just inheriting what was given to us and not questioning the world that we inherit, will only perpetuate whatever is going on. And there’s a bunch of really wonderful things and there’s a bunch of things that really aren’t the best.

And single-use plastics makes everything easy. But if you just buy things that last longer or, I read stuff about more of not single-use, but products being made out of leaves or compressed shells, which again, those are all things that will go back into landfills and biodegrade. So if those can be investigated, they might cost a little more. But again, these are all first-world problems, people can spend a little more on things versus paying the absolute cheapest price for everything. Well, at this point, any final words, Danny?

Dr. Danny Welsch: I think one thing that we haven’t really touched on about things that people can do to benefit the environment, a big one has to do with food and the amount of energy that it takes to produce food. So, there’s a big push to reduce meat consumption, to try and eat more locally. The data is pretty clear that the farther your food travels, the worse it is for the environment and often the worse it is for you from a health perspective as well.

And then if you look at the relative energy inputs that it takes to raise or grow certain types of food, there are some clear advantages and disadvantages there too. So I would just encourage everyone to sort of think about what you eat, what you buy, and what types and how much of energy that you use in your lifestyle. And I think if you really think about it, you’d be surprised that it is possible to make some changes without any real major sacrifices or lifestyle alterations.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: I completely agree. My wife operates a backyard garden in which we probably, we get about, I’d say only 5% of our food from there, but it’s 5%. And it also allows us to see and our kids to see where food comes from. They see the process. They’re learning so much about growing.

And one thing we’ve tried to do is reduce our meat consumption because of those very reasons. We’re not becoming vegetarians per se. But not having to have, is especially contribute to say the more industrialized meat production, which if you just look at the ways in which animals are raised, you could have an argument for unethical treatment that will have certain traction with some people and not with others. But at the same time, having a more vegetarian-focused diet is generally healthier. And so reducing meat consumption, not a bad thing, just eat some more veggies. And it’s a good thing.

Dr. Danny Welsch: Yeah, and they’re easier to grow yourself. They can generally be found more locally. Yeah, I mean, not all meat is bad. It depends on where it’s coming from and how it’s raised. And it doesn’t take a whole lot of energy to raise a chicken, but it takes a tremendous amount of energy to raise a cow. So there is a trade-off there. And I’m just thinking about the energetics of it, not necessarily the ethics of meat production.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Yeah. I know. And being able to grow your own crops, growing squash or zucchini, is extremely easy. Growing different types of cucumber, in a weird way, the cucumber you get in the grocery store has only one version of a cucumber. There’s dozens and dozens, probably hundreds of different types of cucumber that are more durable and honestly better tasting.

Dr. Danny Welsch: Yeah. Grocery store food is primarily raised for how it looks and how it ships not necessarily how it tastes.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Exactly. And if anybody wants to try to grow an Armenian cucumber, it is absolutely wonderful.

Dr. Danny Welsch: I’ll have to try that.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Yeah, no, it is. It’s really good. Oh, well, definitely, thank you, Danny. This has been a great conversation. And if anything, we hope we can inspire some people just to think more about environmentalism.

Dr. Danny Welsch: Yeah, that would be fantastic. Thanks.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And, thank you.

About the Speakers

Dr. Bjorn Mercer is a Program Director at American Public University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Missouri State University, a master’s and doctorate in music from the University of Arizona, and an M.B.A. from the University of Phoenix. He writes about leadership, management and why the humanities and liberal arts are critical to career success. Dr. Mercer also writes children’s music.

Danny Welsch, Ph.D., is the Associate Dean of the School of STEM at American Public University. He holds a B.S. in Environmental Analysis and Planning from Frostburg State University, an M.S. in Environmental and Resource Engineering from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and a Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences from the University of Virginia.

Dr. Bjorn Mercer is a Program Director at American Public University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Missouri State University, a master’s and doctorate in music from the University of Arizona, and an M.B.A. from the University of Phoenix. Dr. Mercer also writes children’s music in his spare time.

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