The Human Erosion of Progress and Will

Erosion is a process of gradually losing earth to natural processes like wind and water but I am referring to a different erosion and that is the general understanding of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (S.T.E.A.M.)? I first stumbled on this combination of words, and it's both convenient and ironic acronym, in an article about education in New Mexico.

What does this erosion mean to our futures and does it matter? How do we even recognize the moments when the best technological solutions are put on hold in favor of what will bring in a quick profit and excite share-holders? Cornering prices in the energy market has been a strategy by the natural gas utility owners. My thoughts move to fracking for natural gas. It is rapidly growing worldwide. There has been very little time to get a true estimate about the damage that fracking causes. Apart from the damage to the local environment there may be cumulative damage to the atmosphere. Methane is said to escape to the atmosphere which is a much worse green house gas than CO2.

What about learning complex science? Is Nuclear Physics so hard to learn? How much do we need? It is complex but what you need to know is not so far away or hard to find. So between truth and fear lies a lot of fact finding to clear up the misconceptions about nuclear. Once the truth comes out then we can see how the big energy players care more about profits than the environment. Getting a grasp on the science will also help to lighten your view of what is possible and what is not. Common myths like "all radiation is dangerous" can easily be seen to be false by looking at data and knowing that radiation is everywhere.

Most people know that when we disturb nature we affect the way nature reacts. Examples are abundant. If someone accidentally introduces an insect or a fish from another land or habitat and that creature has no natural predator or enemy keeping their populations in check, it will sometimes result in the loss of crops and/or other forms of life. The ease of human mobility and their careless behavior can have a devastating result on other species and on the general survival of healthy vegetation. It is an unfortunate mistake and in the past such actions were forgiven. The popularity of beaver fur hats in the 1700's was the driving force behind much of the early exploration in Canada. But trapping caused a dramatic decline in the beaver populations. (See wikipedia's list of human caused transfer of invasive species.) Again these human caused activities were mostly done unknowingly.

It is beginning to be imperative that we take responsibility for the damage we cause to nature and our planet Earth. Pleading ignorance is no longer an acceptable excuse in the information age. It's sounds like a cliche but you are either part of the problem or you are part of the solution.

Travelling has become very easy, too easy. But with travel comes responsibility. We travel great distances by planes, trains and cars for business and pleasure and we tolerate gas fumes and inconvenient traffic jams using up fuel that pollutes the air without much consideration of its cumulative effect. The environmentalist will seriously consider finding work close to home or finding a home close to work. The idea of providing incentives for living closer to the workplace is pretty rarely implemented. Housing near employment centers is usually more expensive. Cooperation of employers with employees needs to improve to make a difference.

Do electric cars make sense if the charging of the cars relies on energy created by fossil fuels? So you electric car supporters need to support nuclear because it keeps cars going without affecting the air quality. Nuclear energy can through process heat in high temperature reactors also be a solution for producing hydrogen for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

How we erode progress has just as much to do with turning a blind eye as it does with willful ignorance.  The kind of human failure I'm talking about has to do with many human traits including greed and self-indulgence. In addition this failure is also determined by the limits of how we practice capitalism. The traditional idea of each home having a "bread-winner" is still very prevalent among couples and families. The idea of being pragmatic and driven to provide food and shelter has a "noble" origin and harmonizes well with the idea of what defines success. The mansion on the hill does you no good if you are caught in a mudslide due to extreme weather.

Who's to blame for this decline in awareness, the apparent complacency? Not everybody, but almost everybody. Seriously.

The wealthy 1% are more to blame. The old idea of the nouveau riche and the bourgeoisie had some traits in common, traits similar to what we now call the 1% and they live up to their reputation as shallow and greedy with a false sense of self importance.

And in the middle are banking and financial institutions. While the 1% are busy controlling what they can to maintain their advantage over keeping the wealth the banks and financial institutions are allowing inflation perpetually which could be argued is the worst influence.

The less wealthy 99% are to blame for masochistically taking the abuse without fighting back and if they do fight back it's for the wrong reasons and often contribute to the noise by fighting for causes that do more damage than good.

I think of Greenpeace protests against nuclear plants. They occasionally succeed in delaying construction but what is just as bad or worse is that they promote the notion that nuclear energy is scary allowing natural gas and even coal to dominate the base load power. They really do meddle and they have outlived their welcome to those who have a more enlightened view of what is needed. The recent arrest of Greenpeace activists by Russian authorities is a perfect example. They wanted to draw attention to the offshore drilling for oil. Their arrest had many thinking they deserved it. Oil independence is not such a crazy idea and groups like Greenpeace need to pick which companies they protest more thoughtfully. What about coal and natural gas?

Another example is the unwillingness of so many protesters to actually try to understand the science and relative value both economically and environmentally is another example of the human failure. Two nuclear reactors in the US were recently shut down due to market driven factors. Kewaunee in Wisconsin and Vermont Yankee were forced out of business partly because of the existence of cheap natural gas. But the other factor is lack of public awareness. Too many people see the closing of a nuclear power plant as a victory. I am one that feels both angry and sad that fear of radiation, and I mean any radiation is very much part of the North American psyche. There is a huge difference between reality and perception. We need to close this gap.

The reactions to the Fukushima accident has endless claims of insane apocalyptic scenarios. The truth is far calmer than most people think. Robert Stone asks the right question when he says: "Is everything you know about nuclear energy wrong?" His documentary Pandora's Promise which opened in Theaters last June and will be airing on CNN in November (Nov-7 at 9pm) is a great eye opener. The documentary film asks the right questions. The premise for the film is about how it's featured guests who, being once anti nuclear, changed directions to support nuclear. Most of what we think we know about nuclear is wrong. I think the film succeeds in getting viewers to think and to gain a much needed perspective on the subject.

There is an arrogance that accompanies fear. The damage to US reputation abroad has been heightened by the arrogant treatment of muslims and the countries that contain terrorists of muslim heritage because of their connection to the 9/11 twin tower tragedy. The flames of fear were stoked by war mongers who encouraged war for profit. The reckless thinking of profit for the short term sounds like a serious case of greed and that might explain why the separation between rich and poor is increasing. Possibly the rich sense a future where entitlement will be the only way to escape the misery that the planet will become.

But what about "will"? What should an individual do? Anonymity is both a condition and an excuse for bad behavior. We witness this daily in car traffic. People feel anonymous behind the car steering wheel and raising a finger or showing our dark side is not so uncommon. Is the same effect occurring by remaining passive to concerns like fracking, natural gas pipelines, coal plant operation? In other words anonymity is making us less responsible. Nobody will confront our horn blast or finger gesture as we rapidly drive off in another direction. Is it a similar hiding that we do by being unnoticed? Hiding behind the wheel and hiding behind your anonymity in front of a TV screen or computer screen is a convenient way to be ruled out of the loop when action is needed.

But our condition is still easy to understand. The continual battle to make ends meet in the face of constant inflation and loss of employment opportunities. But there is a connection between our lack of involvement in the process and the never ending spiral. We keep using credit cards and living beyond our means giving the bank reasons to keep up their penalties and fees. Why not join a credit union which has fewer fees and penalties. I know you need to pay off the debts first.

So our collective inaction adds up quickly and we let democracy lose to whoever makes the most effort to manipulate the system. Brush up on your STEAM and when you are ready you can start making a difference.

One comment

  • October 31, 2013 - 11:45 pm | Permalink

    Excellent head’s-up article!

    I’m trying to do my nuclear advocacy bit by trying to rebut this Vermont Yankee The Sequel situation ( ) on my native Long Island here. It shouldn’t fall on lone pro-nuclear individuals to carry the torch against antis pitchforks like this. Nuclear professional organizations like NEI and ANS and atomic workers unions ought be royally leaping into the fray with their resources and manpower to challenge FUD and nuclear misinformation whereever it peeps its head via mass media ads and constant nuclear info exposure. No rebuttal is a tacit confirmation to the other side! BP and Tylenol proved you can salvage a stained reputation but the nuclear community must have the GUTS and WILL to do so to save their own skins and careers. We’re witnessing the grim result of such complacently not educating the public on nuclear issues since TMI by today having to fight tooth and nail just to keep plants open, not to speak of built.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

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