Going Green Like We Mean It

Question: What would a responsible national energy policy look like?

Alex Matthiessen: Well I tell you, I think the simple answer to or let me rephrase that, it’s actually not so simple but I think that a key to environmental problems in general and energy issues in particular is that we need a tax or a cap in auction program, trading program is a different way to do it but I think you need to make it expensive to emit carbon and frankly emit other pollutants into the atmosphere and expensive to pollute our waterways and so on and until you do that I think that the risk we run is that all the green work that we’re doing and it has become so popular over the last year or two is just a passing fad. You really have to make polluting cost money for these companies and in terms of an energy policy again there’s no quicker way to start to develop all these promising technologies in terms of the biofuels and solar and wind and geothermal and cell fuel technology and so on until gasoline and oil becomes prohibitively expensive and, you know, I’m not saying they should be unfairly taxed, the problem is that those, again those fuel sources have been subsidized for so long that we are not capturing the true cost of using those sources, you know, in terms of all the money that goes into building national highway system, all of the health impacts that burning fossil fuels have on our health, the climate change impacts that are coming down the road that we’re already seeing, which are gonna have huge economic impacts on our economy and so on. So the key in my view is to make carbon emissions cost real money and the only real way and the most efficient way to do that is through a carbon tax.

Question: What, if anything, can sustain the green movement?

Alex Matthiessen: Well, you know, the truth is that the environmental movement in my view has been enormously successful in its, you know, modern incarnation, you know, meaning from the late ‘60s early ‘70s when we passed our modern environmental laws til now, we’ve had huge gains there. We eliminated ozone polluting chemicals and we’ve done a lot but the problem is, is that we’re such a specialized country that it’s really been left up mostly to environmental groups and environmentalists to do this work and we’ve been up against enormous odds, you know, you’ve been up against these corporations that, you know, the way the system works, don’t have a real clear financial interest in protecting the environment all the time and frankly the government doesn’t do a very good job of enforcing the laws which is another regulatory way to stop companies from polluting. And you have certainly the concern of a lot of Americans who support us but they’ve got a million concerns and the environment often is kind of ranked low.

So it’s really the environmentalist and the environmental groups kind of working on their own with a vast gap in resources, you know, to take on some of these colossally large, expensive programs. So I think one of the results of that has been that our progress has been relatively incremental and because of that we are now starting to realize that some of the gains that we’ve made haven’t been nearly enough and you’re starting to see real kind of ecological crisis and collapse and potential for collapse, you know, when you’re talking about our fisheries, our air quality, you know, record level asthma rates, a change in climate and so on. So suddenly Mother Nature is speaking back to us and telling us that whatever progress we’ve made isn’t nearly enough and we gotta do a lot more.

So I think in order for us to get to the next level as an environmental movement if you will, it has to be about every American, every citizen in the world, we have to recognize that we’re all in this together. We can no longer say “Okay, they’re the environmentalists, they’re gonna take care of the problem or technology’s gonna take care of the problem” everybody has to take a very hard look at the way that they’re living and that we’re living together and figure out how to minimize their impact on the planet and it can no longer be just write your check and send it off to Riverkeeper, NRGC or one of these other groups, we’ve got to have everybody doing their part and really making those personal lifestyle changes and choices in order to minimize that impact and, you know, the myth is I think that it’s gonna mean a radically—it’s gonna mean this radical sacrifice and that we are gonna have to, you know, go back to cavemen days and living very frugally and uncomfortably and so on. I don’t think that has to be the case at all, I think that we can live very, very comfortable lives without having such a big impact on our environment.

Unless a realistic, responsible national energy policy can keep it current, "green" may prove to be a passing fad.

Scientists find a horrible new way cocaine can damage your brain

Swiss researchers identify new dangers of modern cocaine.

Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • Cocaine cut with anti-worming adulterant levamisole may cause brain damage.
  • Levamisole can thin out the prefrontal cortex and affect cognitive skills.
  • Government health programs should encourage testing of cocaine for purity.
Keep reading Show less

How to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable? Build global partnerships.

Pfizer's partnerships strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines in developing countries.

Susan Silbermann, Global President of Pfizer Vaccines, looks on as a health care worker administers a vaccine in Rwanda. Photo: Courtesy of Pfizer.
Sponsored
  • Community healthcare workers face many challenges in their work, including often traveling far distances to see their clients
  • Pfizer is helping to drive the UN's sustainable development goals through partnerships.
  • Pfizer partnered with AMP and the World Health Organization to develop a training program for healthcare workers.
Keep reading Show less
Politics & Current Affairs

Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.