By Joe Carpenter, Programs Director
~”If you ain’t first, you’re last,” Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights
People (including me) say, do, and believe some of the most bizarre things. Even the Pope commented how humans don’t want to see what is before them. I get it, I don’t want to see the troubles before us either – reality can be a hard pill to swallow.
On my first deployment to Iraq I was exposed to open air burn pits. It was an unfortunate reality that trash of all sorts was burned as a form of disposal for a time. And at that time, depending on the wind, fumes from the burn pit would sometimes make their way to my part of the base.
Flash forward to the present-day aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. It was widely covered in the news that pollution from homes, businesses, and superfund sites had been exposed to flood waters from the hurricane. I’m taken aback by the potential for unintended consequence from this reality and feel for those who may have been exposed to pollution by the hurricane.
I’m not ignorant of the choice that I made to serve in the military and the associated risks to my life; albeit, I thought it would probably only come from someone shooting at me in some form or fashion, rather than trash disposal. It’s sad to say that a lot of people in the world live these realities types of realities on a daily basis.
Complexities in any operation
I’m not ignorant of the complexities of life either. There isn’t always, in fact rarely ever, a perfect solution. We are often forced to do the best that we can with the information and resources that we have. But part of me cries out in anger for us as a species not to be so myopic in our thinking. Sometimes we don’t do the best that we can, which is partly due to entrenched personal, business and societal interests.
Between confronting issues like these and my academic studies, I’ve come to see the world differently than I used to – much more fraught with environmental hazards posed by how we live – even for a 1st world dweller such as myself. Sure, life expectancy in much of the world has gone up due to innovation, but I genuinely wonder how long that will last.
There is a concept that environmentalists refer to as “not in my backyard” or “NIMBYism.” Pollution can be ignored, especially if one reaps a benefit from it, but should not negatively affect one’s own life. Of course, this does not get rid of the pollution, it simply moves it to another location – often to lower-income communities that lack the political capital needed to prevent the project from being carried out or have a legitimate need for good paying jobs.
As time goes on, not even those yet severely affected can avoid the devastating and deadly effects of environmental pollution and climate change. As I grapple with the reality of our complex world, I still can’t help but be driven by a series of questions: can’t we do better, why does it have to be an either-or situation, doesn’t cleantech provide jobs, what about the golden rule — ad nauseam along this line of questioning.
Why it makes sense to improve
War is dangerous enough, responding to a natural disaster is dangerous enough, business can be dangerous enough, and life is dangerous enough without adding to it. I tend to see extreme positions as just that, and believe that understanding different viewpoints / concerns is vital to taking appropriate action. When it comes to the environment, I get the sense that the pendulum has swung too long, and far, in favor of other considerations.
Maybe we are doing the best that we can and this is all just part of a process. I know for all my bellicose questioning here I’m still contributing to the problem (less than I used to, mind you, and with general guilt when I do). I feel a bit like Neo from the movie The Matrix – trapped in a system that I want to escape from.
Except, there is no escape from “the system” really. I don’t discount the nature of who we are as a species. I get the fact that people change when they need to, rarely when they should, and sometimes never (including me).
That’s why advocating for systems changes, along with being willing to change aspects of our personal lives and businesses, is so important. Feeling guilty won’t help us address the environmental degradation our species creates in the world, but taking tangible action may.
And if you are a business, we can certainly get you started in taking action. Don’t wait for something bad to happen, act now to become more resilient and minimize not only the impact of a natural disaster on your business, but the impact of your business on others.
I’ll begin this last paragraph with a final quote that feels appropriate – “everything’s good until it’s not” (source unknown). Whether you are a first responder, soldier, business owner, or someone who doesn’t fall into the previous categories, we all should live in an unpolluted environment. We might not be able to see all second and third order effects, but I believe we see clearly enough to know more action is needed now to achieve a goal like that. I certainly don’t ever want to breath in the fumes from an open air burn pit again.
About the author: Joe Carpenter is the Director of Programs at CABA. Previously, he served as an Officer in the U.S. Army for nearly 10 years, including three combat deployments, and working for a small manufacturing company in a number of capacities. Joe graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree in Management and from Harvard University Extension School with a Master of Liberal Arts degree in Sustainability; among a myriad of other educational experiences. Joe enjoys spending time in nature, working out, playing video games, watching improv comedy shows, and trying to figure out how things can be “done better.”