Callous disregard or guilty conscience?
It’s been a big year for environmental news in North Carolina. First there was a major coal ash spill into the Dan River in February that raised concerns about water quality. And there’s been a push for more hydraulic fracturing – better known as “fracking.” It’s led to packed houses at town hall meetings across the region.
But these issues aren’t likely to change the political landscape. That’s according to Jason Husser. He’s an assistant professor of political science at Elon University and also works on the university’s poll. He spoke with WFDD’s Paul Garber about where the environment ranks among voters and where it could make a difference.
This is not surprising. For years, polls have steadily shown that only about 3% of voters put environmental concerns at the top of their list of most important issues. That may have increased slightly in the wake of the spill and the looming fracking problems, but hoping it will be a major factor in November is probably naïve. I explored some of the reasons for this in an op-ed I wrote earlier in the year:
The things that poison our air and water are not “evil” in nature or something that attacks us from outside our society. They are the byproducts of our desire to be comfortable, stimulated and entertained.
We revel in our toasty-warm and well-lit houses, taking long, hot showers and curling up in front of our monstrous flatscreen televisions. Not only do we waste energy like drunken sailors, we waste many other things, as well. If that truck doesn’t come by every week to magically disappear all our refuse, pretty soon it’s a problem. And we laugh when we talk about how slow our old computers were, even the one we just replaced a few years ago. But where are those old computers?
They are likely degrading and decomposing in a landfill somewhere, maybe as far away as Cote d’Ivoire, releasing toxins and heavy metals into the local water table.
The bottom line is, as a society, we are not psychologically prepared to grasp the significance of threats to our environment. Only a small fraction of us seem to “get it,” and that simply must change, if we are to muster the political will to keep our state a safe place to live and raise a family.
There are a few bright spots on the political landscape this year. Thanks to a concerted effort by conservation groups, some of the media barrage is dedicated to environmental threats like fracking. And maybe even more important, the fossil fuel industry has engaged in a transparent propaganda campaign of its own, trying to convince people of their benign nature and dedication to making people cozy and safe. The fact that voters have never seen this level of public relations from these entities in the past speaks volumes, and even those who weren't paying attention before may be smelling a rat.