Legs To Stand On: Are Multiple (Weaker) Arguments Better Than A Few Strong Ones?January 2, 2008
I was reading a post recently at The Sietch that discussed how the radioactive releases of burning coal (including the byproduct fly ash) and it’s potential detriment to our health is just another nail in the coffin for coal power. However, the radiation we could receive from coal isn’t really worth considering when you compare it to what we’re exposed to via naturally occurring radon and even medical x-rays: (via the USGS)
Coal doesn’t even make the pie chart.
Are “weak legs” like this one viable supports for arguments for sustainability or do they devalue the stronger ones they accompany? Is it worth it to even make the radioactive argument when issues such as greenhouse gas release, mountaintop removal, and air quality are so much more compelling? If the subject were being formally debated, an opponent could spend their entire time picking apart the weak legs and undermining your message, while completely circumventing any strong points you hoped they would have to concede.
Environmentalists shouldn’t have to grasp at straws here. We know things such as fossil fuels, over-consumerism, and habitat destruction are bad for the environment, and the people we need to convince know it too. So what’s the problem? Accountability and the bandwagon. It’s hard for individuals to see the environmental results of their shopping choices and energy use when the impact is hundreds or thousands of miles away. It’s also difficult to change when it seems everyone else lives just as wastefully. But the strongest points for sustainable practices have elements of both accountability and individuality.
Consider the “Save the Rainforest” campaigns of the 1990s. They focused on highlighting a specific area that was being destroyed, and connected it to individuals in the Western World. The rainforest is supposedly the home of miracle drugs for cancer and all sorts of unsavory illnesses. Everyone knows someone with cancer. So not only is a parrot in Brazil suffering from habitat destruction, but your great aunt as well.
It’s easy to start analyzing the details when you’re in a group of like-minded sustainable people. But when going head-to-head with an ardent consumerist, stick to the basics. They’re on our side.