Discussing environmentalism can be a tricky thing to do, especially in an intercultural project like Going Green. Over the last years, we've had several experts help us understand some of the difficult questions surrounding the field of sustainable development. Experts like David Goldfield, who was invited to Germany by the U.S. Embassy to give lectures and teach workshops on sustainable development in the U.S. He is the Robert Lee Bailey Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Some of our participants from previous Going Green cycles reached out to Professor Goldfield with their questions, inquiring about the Republican/Democrat divide regarding climate change, the rise of pollution in the past, and the significance of bike cities:
Is there still a considerable difference in attitude toward climate change between Democrats and Republicans?
Mr. Ulrich Kempkens and his students at Bettina-von-Arnim-Schule in Berlin asked:
“Is there still a considerable difference in attitude toward climate change between Democrats and Republicans?”
Here is Dr. Goldfield’s take on this:
“Hi, Uli. Good to hear from you. The answer is yes and no (helpful, right?). Actually, a number of Republican senators and congressmen believe climate change, particularly human-induced climate change, is a scientific fact and not one theory out of many theories. Some evangelical Protestant ministers also believe in climate change, and they are traditional supporters of the Republican Party. The problem is that the Republican base, particularly the very active Tea Party, and major donors such as the Koch Brothers, believe, at best, that the jury is still out on climate change, and that scientific evidence of human-induced climate change is dubious at best. The practical political result of these views is that Republicans running for office can rarely divulge their true views on climate change (a great example of this was the unanimous denial of the Republican candidates for president during their 2012 debates). Also, this makes legislation addressing climate change very difficult to achieve at the federal level, which is why many of the current innovations occur at the state level. It is another example of the growing divide between the Democratic and Republican Parties in the U.S.
Do you think it's possible that the world could ever change in a positive way?
We received further questions from a class of 10th graders at the Goethe Gymnasium in Frankfurt. They were wondering about these aspects:
1. “Do you think it's possible that the world could ever change in a positive way?”
2. “How can people, for instance in Germany or Australia etc. (in countries where people consume a lot) do something for our ecological footprint without cutting down their spending?”
Again, David Goldfield:
“Dear Victor, Moritz, and Valeriia,
Thanks for your questions. I am basically an optimist, so I think we can solve these environmental problems, hopefully, before it’s too late. My optimism is based on what has happened here in the U.S. over the past 50 years. In many cities, including mine (Charlotte, North Carolina), the air is cleaner, the rivers and streams are more supportive of life, and there has been growth in the use of renewable energy. But, your question asks about the “world,” not about developed economies such as Germany and the U.S. The efforts to create a world-wide pact or agreement on the environment have been disappointing. Developing nations complain that the developed nations attained their status by polluting the environment, and now they want to impose restraints on poorer nations. We need to do a better job demonstrating to poorer nations that economic development and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive
Which brings me to your second question. We have a saying in the U.S.: “You can pay now, or pay a lot more later.” As climate change begins, increasingly, to have a monetary impact on the U.S. (and on other countries as well), particularly with respect to disappearing shorelines, increased flooding, and serious weather events, as time goes buy the expense for addressing these issues will increase dramatically. But, politicians rarely think in the long-term, even, say, next month, particularly at the national level in the U.S. Fortunately, many of our states have been pro-active. They have demonstrated that alternative energy sources, pollution control, and recycling will result in monetary savings for both consumers and governments. The costs of alternative energy such as wind power and solar power are continuing to come down and are increasingly competitive with conventional energy sources.”
How do you evaluate the development of pollution (caused by humans) in the past 50 years or so?
Natalie from Leipzig, Germany raised the following issues:
“Based your background in history, how do you evaluate the development of pollution (caused by humans) in the past 50 years or so? Is there any chance that we can lower the negative impact effectively?”
David Goldfields answer to this:
“Hi, Natalie. I have wonderful memories of Leipzig, particularly its heritage as a center for great classical music. It proves that humans can create things of great beauty. Which brings me to your question. Here in the U.S., we have made significant strides in attacking air and water pollution over the past 50 years. A major reason for this is that many more people in the U.S. are aware of pollution and the problems caused by pollution. Let me give you a specific example. In 1952, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio caught fire because of all the chemical pollutants in the water. The event scarcely made the news. In 1969, the river caught fire again and there was national outrage and concern. What happened in the meantime was that we were made aware of polluting industries and the health and environmental havoc they were visiting upon humans and the natural environment. Soon after, President Richard M. Nixon signed the Environmental Protection Act and subsequently established the Environmental Protection Agency. As a result of federal and state policies over the past 50 years, our water and air are cleaner and we are developing (slowly, to be sure) alternative energy sources.
We still have a long way to go. The major problem is not technology; it’s the political will. The momentum has slowed in the U.S. over the past 15 years. Hopefully, we will not have to wait for another disaster to move federal policy forward.”
How is it that cities like Portland encourage people to leave their cars at home and ride their bikes instead – and thereby even create revenues of many million dollars?
A final question came from Jacques, BIP Kreativitätsgymnasium Leipzig. He wanted to know:
“While we worked on the topic City/Transport (Portland, Oregon - A sustainable city?), a question came into our mind. People pay taxes on cars and gas, which can create profits for communities. But how is it that cities like Portland encourage people to leave their cars at home and ride their bikes instead – and thereby even create revenues of many million dollars? In my opinion this is impossible, because the car holder should have to pay taxes for the car and insurance. So, wouldn’t the city lose money if there were no people paying these taxes?”
Here is David Goldfield's response:
“Good question, Jacques. If everyone rode bikes in Portland, the city would benefit tremendously. First, most of those taxes are state and federal taxes, so the city of Portland benefits little from those revenues except in the maintenance and building of roads, which only encourages more automobiles. Second, the savings in road maintenance, parking spaces, and the health benefits derived from cleaner air would more than make up for any lost revenues as a result of the diminished presence of the automobile. This is why cities across the U.S., including my own (Charlotte, NC) are pushing to extend public transportation – we are extending our light rail (trolley) system here in Charlotte and extending our network of bike paths. We believe that these policies are all part of making cities more “livable,” and, therefore, attracting bright, energetic, and well-educated young people to make our cities interesting and economically vital.”
Once again we would like to thank the students for sending in these interesting questions and also David Goldfield for sharing his expertise with us. Remember, it is you who make Going Green a bi-national project, so keep the good work going!
Janina Schmidt obtained her B.A. in teaching Economics and English as a Second Language (ESL) at Leuphana University Lüneburg in 2014. After earning her Master's degree (expected 09/2017), Janina intends to teach ESL as well as English for Specific Purposes with an economic focus at vocational schools. As a student assistant she supports the educational management of the Teach About US initiative.