A Norman Environmental “Primer”

Topics for every Norman resident

This webpage discusses important environmental issues that every Norman resident should be aware of. They are among the most important topics facing the world today.  Voters today need to have a basic understanding of these topics, since the future depends very much on how society deals with them.  The last section of this material attempts to dispel the notion that there is little one person can do to affect any of this.  Effective local action can serve as an example for others to emulate.

(Note: The reader can change “Norman” for their Oklahoma town or city and the material on this page will have virtually the same applicability. Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Watonga, Altus, Anytown USA – you all have similar environmental issues.)

Motivation for preparing this material comes from listening to and speaking with many people over many years.   But it has been hastened by the apparent lack of environmental awareness shown by voters and political candidates in recent years.  The veneer of knowledge displayed by some politicians and their supporters requires push-back from those who have some technical background in the issues involved.

All of the topics discussed here can be expanded into book-length discussions. However, very few of us would have the time to digest such lengthy material.  I have tried to condense the discussions to a point where the reader can digest the importance of each topic in a few minutes.  Otherwise, few will have the inclination to read through the material.

The material here is not intended to reflect any particular political party’s viewpoint. All of these topics should be apolitical. Whatever your political inclinations the material here can be understood and reflected upon by all.

Most of the topics discussed below are of wide interest, not just to Norman’s citizens.  The hope here is that some of the material will find its way to other communities. That is why it is being put online. A booklet would be more convenient to read, but it would be costly to include many figures and errors or omissions could not be easily corrected.

The big issues of our time

Many issues are very local.  Who will win the high school football game next Friday night?  Will a Costco come to our town next year?  What is the best Mexican restaurant on Main Street?  Such topics fill the local newspapers with content and stitch together our local community. But where do we learn about the global issues of the day?  Not just the daily news – the bus accidents, the forest fires in California, the minute-by-minute changes in the Stock Market.  But a more in-depth explanation of major trends and issues of the current decade.   Is natural gas better for Oklahoma than wind energy?   Is fracking acceptable to increase oil production even if it might contaminate our groundwater?  And what about climate change – is there anything I can do to change the dire predictions? And are those predictions really believable?

Many of us simply ignore these topics and get on with our lives.  If I work in a restaurant, or even if I own a chain of restaurants, these topics might seem to be irrelevant to my life.  But are they?

The distinction between “news” and “important problems” is so critical that I am quoting below verbatim from a valuable website that I only recently became aware of. In its About section they state the following:

“If you want to contribute to a better future you need to know the problems the world faces. To understand these problems the daily news is not enough. The news media focuses on events and therefore largely fails to report the two aspects that Our World in Data focuses on: the large problems that continue to confront us for centuries or much longer and the long-lasting, forceful changes that gradually reshape our world.

The criterion by which the news select what they focus our attention on is whether it is new. The criterion by which we at Our World in Data decide what to focus our attention on is whether it is important.

The front page of Our World in Data lists the same big global problems every day, because they matter every day. One of the biggest mistakes that the news media makes is to suggest that different things matter on different days.”

from the “About” section of the website “Our World in Data“.

Outline of this Primer’s sections

We break our discussion into global and local issues. These are not all of the important issues – just a selection of important ones that Norman’s citizens should be aware of. There are many others. Perhaps readers of this page will suggest other issues that are of higher priority that I have not included here.

Before we discuss the “issues” we cover some basic concepts that are often not appreciated by many people. These topics are those of the commons, urgency versus importance, and where to find reliable answers to questions in a world seemingly saturated with information at our fingertips.

Because satellite imagery from Google Earth is so widely used in the material herein, I would suggest readers not too familiar with it to look quickly at this section.

Basic Concepts

The notion of the commons

Urgent versus important. Getting lost in urgent issues without a master plan.

Where to find information – and how to tell if it is reliable.

Global Issues

Climate change

Pollution of the environment

Oil, gas and renewable energy

Energy conservation Should we bother?

Global population

Global food production and its consequences

Who cares about nature? What’s it worth? Why is it disappearing?

Biodiversity Conservation. Does it matter?

Protecting our landscapes and avoiding permanent damage to them

Local issues

How do we want to live? Where are we going?

Master plans are not really “master plans”

Our city parks. Why so many? Why so few?

Finding nature in Oklahoma.

Should we recycle?

Should Norman have trees?

To lawn or not to lawn? This is a serious question.

“Action” – related topics

How to teach environmental awareness. Should it be left to schools? How will adults learn about it? How can adults keep “current” as the world changes around them?

How to communicate among ourselves.  Role of newspapers, social media, public discourse.

Should you take action – or just complain? There are proactive options for everyone.

Political action tips for “environmentalists”.

Additional material

References and some web pages

Using Google Earth

About me

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