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Environmental progress begins at the confluence of applied science and political science. The more we know about each one and the mixture the faster the progress.
In what ways do applied science and politics differ? What happens when they come together?
The two paths of endeavor diverge by as little as word meanings. The end results are amazingly far apart.
The life force of science and applied science (engineering) is defining terms with precision. Fixed meanings of words are drilled into students. Countless lessons focus on strict definitions.
“Pressure” means force per unit area, measured in pounds per square inch or the equivalent. Nothing more, nothing less.
The political world is different. The great difference is not merely that “pressure” has a different meaning. Rather it has a multiplicity of meanings.
“Pressure” means a host of things demanding attention. Or “pressure” means the burden of mental distress. Or “pressure” means to urge action that favors a certain interest. All meanings are in the dictionary.
Word goes out that our hero “reacted to pressure.” What do you understand?
Ah, he worked extra hard and got a host of things done. Alas, he gave way under stress. Bah, he caved in to lobbyists’ pressuring.
As words spread, they gain a party spin. We soon hear our hero, the no-good bum, is strong, weak or treacherous.
The end result of a fixed meaning in applied science is an airplane flies reliably from coast to coast. The end result of multiple meanings in politics is the debate goes round and round in circles, spiraling downward.
Other contrasts are just as notable. When I first began looking into pollution control technology, I was surprised to find so much key information in industry’s own technical journals.
What I learned in trade journals was more to the point, clear and complete than I could learn in the political forum.
In effect, I and others took industry’s applied science and hand-carried it to the world of politics. No one is an expert by reading engineering journals, yet their reports on control technology are powerful tools.
Applied science and politics each has its role. A scene from the past shows them together.
My colleague had just given lengthy technical testimony to the state air pollution board in Farmington. He gathered up the charts he used to explain the Gaussian spread of pollution flowing out from a large smokestack and meeting a sharp rise in terrain. In arid lands, ancient rock formations have picturesque names, this one being Shiprock.
The next witness to speak was a young Native American man. He strode to the podium on the auditorium stage — splendid in his turquoise velvet blouse, leather leggings and hand wrought silver belt.
He spoke of the lands and the skies as they had existed since the beginning of time. He spoke of his ancestors keeping these lands and skies for us.
He spoke of how we must keep them for those who follow.
Almost unnoticed in the scene, a small Indian boy, perhaps five years old, made his way onto the stage, oblivious of the audience. He took hold of his father’s leggings, looked up and listened.
There you have the two elements it takes to get clean air: a strong command of applied science coupled with the political potence of human spirit. Together they bring a force to be reckoned with. One without the other is no more than one hand clapping.
The Internet gives clear lessons on how applied science and political science combined to bring environmental change to New Mexico and the nation. A firsthand recorder of the history is Larry Gordon, a familiar name in New Mexico and beyond. He was a key figure in the change and was director of the state’s first environmental agency in 1971.
Go to www.larryjgordon.com. Click on “Environmental Health Adventures” to see Gordon’s book on the subject in full. Enjoy the compelling story of applied science and political science joining up for a sturdier society.