I heard someone say once that the most important political distinction is no longer left or right but green or grey.
That really resonated with me, though I wish more politicians had gotten the message as well.
But recently, environmental issues have been taking a front seat with the Green New Deal and destructive weather events pointing to the effects of climate change.
There are still people who claim not to care about environmental issues, and there are those who would try to ignore them when they conflict with other interests. However, it’s becoming painfully clear that these are issues we can no longer ignore.
Instead, we need to look to solutions that can stimulate healthy debate about the best steps to take going forward.
To that end, here are six debates that every knowledgeable environmentalist can engage in to generate discussion, awareness, and, hopefully, solutions to the world’s environmental problems.
1) Renewable vs. nuclear energy
Fossil fuels are highly polluting and will also run out – two good reasons why they need to be replaced.
But what’s the best alternative?
While most people think renewable energy sources like wind, waves, and solar are clean and elegant, they require a lot of equipment and serious investment.
They also often rely on batteries to store the energy produced, which introduces more mining of dangerous heavy metals into the debate.
On the other hand, nuclear energy is highly scalable, consistent, and reliable. It can also replace fossil fuels directly using existing power networks.
However, as we saw with the Fukushima disaster in Japan, nuclear plant accidents can have devastating effects.
Plants also create radioactive waste, one of the most dangerous and long-lasting types of pollution there is.
So, which way should the world go to meet our never-ending energy needs?
2) What to do about plastics
Ever since mass production of plastics started in the early 1900s, humans have been obsessed with their versatility and usefulness.
They’ve replaced many traditional materials in many applications, including wood, metal, glass, and even cloth, and more uses are added every year.
At the same time, we’ve discovered that they don’t go away. Instead, they break down into smaller pieces, and now microplastics are found in ocean water in every part of the globe.
So, how should plastics be dealt with?
Should single-use plastics be banned? Should we focus more energy on new chemical recycling techniques? Should they be replaced with bioplastics and other ecologically friendly engineered materials?
A complex debate is needed to find the best approach to deal with this growing problem.
Climate change isn’t something we’re headed toward – it’s already here, with mean global temperatures up 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) since pre-industrial times.
A lot of solutions have been put forth, especially reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but so far, they haven’t gained traction.
So, some scientists are looking at geoengineering (aka climate engineering) to solve this pressing problem.
They suggest manipulating the earth’s climate through direct interventions.
These can include carbon engineering solutions like bioenergy capture and storage, enhanced weathering, and even direct air capture and filtration.
Solar engineering puts forth the idea of reflecting more sunlight away to slow the earth’s heating, using techniques as radical as mirrors in space and stratospheric aerosol injection.
At the same time, these drastic solutions present new risks and debate over whether we can and should try to manipulate the entire climate of our planet.
4) Public vs. private transportation
Elon Musk made some huge projections for electric car use back in 2020 but instead seems to have focused a lot of his efforts on turning Twitter into X.
Still, many people believe electric cars are the way to move forward on transportation issues (pun intended). We’ve seen hybrid cars, fully electric vehicles, and even the development of autonomous or self-driving cars.
But is this the right way to go?
Should we be focused on the development of privately owned individual vehicles?
What about increasing the reliability, speed, comfort, and sustainability of public modes of transportation like buses, trains, and subways?
Or is there a hybrid model to consider that has not yet been put forward?
The debate continues, but it’s clear that reducing vehicle emissions can make a big contribution to improving urban spaces and fighting climate change.
5) Animal agriculture’s environmental impact
For over 10,000 years, humans have used domestic animals as sources of protein and power.
But with the increasing world population already over eight billion, animal agriculture is putting a huge amount of pressure on the earth.
It’s clear that raising animals for food contributes to deforestation, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.
For most cultures around the world, animal agriculture is an integral part of life.
But are there alternatives or better solutions to clean up this industry?
Some people are putting forth the argument that the only responsible thing to do is to go plant-based in our diets.
But there’s a lot of push-back from people with deep traditional connections to animal-based foods.
Can farming become more sustainable and less polluting?
This is a debate that is not going away anytime soon.
6) Environmental justice
One of the biggest environmental debates these days is how the environment intersects with social justice.
We’re starting to see clearly how the impacts of environmental degradation and climate change fall disproportionately on marginalized people.
These can be individuals, communities, and even whole countries, as in the global north-south divide.
Can we address these inequalities through policy changes, reparations, or other mechanisms?
This debate is complex because it intersects with other issues, including social justice, economics, and global politics, and requires environmentalists to have truly diverse knowledge.
Debates for knowledgeable environmentalists
All of these debates are real and relevant.
They deal with pressing issues that affect all people’s quality of life and future.
Debating these issues can help produce a well-rounded understanding of the environmental challenges and potential solutions facing our world today.