An Environmental Interview with Mrs. McNany- Anna Stiesi

As we change our wardrobe and enjoy the warmer weather, it is hard to ignore the beauty of nature. Although Earth Day itself has passed, the conversation about our planet is still ongoing. As the AP Environmental Science teacher here at Oak Knoll, Mrs. McNany offers a very informative perspective on the politically charged topic. 

When asked why Earth Day is an important holiday, McNany explains that it provides the opportunity for institutions to reassess their own environmental protocols, allows people to reevaluate their social behaviors, and brings awareness to the state of the environment. She continues, “these protocols should be interventions that are helping to reduce carbon emissions, bring awareness to the concept of ‘Carbon footprint’ and curb climate change.” She adds, specifically for schools, Earth Day is a good time for teachers to incorporate environmental concerns into the everyday curriculum. 

With shocking headlines being published every day, it can be hard to determine what our key environmental issues truly are. Some of the most destructive issues, however, tend to be the ones not as publicized. McNany explains a disguised yet most significant issue, Big Agriculture. McNany explains that Big Agriculture includes “concentrated animal feeding operations and monoculture farms.” Although the process produces “cheap” food, it comes at an enormous cost. She continues, Big Agriculture is the largest consumer of water in the world, and generates a significant contribution of global greenhouse gas emissions. She points out that the fast food industry is not alone; it is joined by fast fashion, fast furniture, etc. as they all “have a short lifespan and leave a scar on the environment for a myriad of reasons.” 

Another example of a hidden environmental issue is electric cars. These vehicles are marketed as green saviors, yet they take a huge toll on the environment. Batteries in these cars are made of a mineral called lithium which must be mined. Mining leaves a huge carbon footprint and disposing of lithium batteries at the end of their usable life is another environmental concern. McNany explains that this is just another environmental issue that is hidden from many. These downsides will not be as publicized for business reasons. 

Circling back to highly publicized events, the recent train derailment in Palestine, Ohio is a hard one to overlook. After the derailment, many took to social media to express their concerns, and hysteria followed. Many questions arose from the media: How will this spill be cleaned? Can it be cleaned? Is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) being honest about the severity of the situation? When asked about her own thoughts on the situation, McNany responds that she trusts the government and believes that residents of the area were appropriately protected afterwards. She explains that the EPA has good protocols in place for these incidents, and has already started remediation. She admits, however, that the situation is still very unfortunate and the best remedy may be time. As taught in AP Environmental Science, purifying the soil and water of toxic chemicals takes a long time. She is hopeful that “by the time the toxins that can’t be removed make their way through soil and the river system, the natural filtration process might be powerful enough to protect humans from exposure and consumption.” 

While the media is important in spreading awareness, it can exaggerate situations and mislead people. You can turn on your phone and be told the Earth won’t exist in just 20 years. This misinformation is dangerous. While some may argue it motivates people to change habits, it can also make people feel hopeless which will not encourage change. When asked how concerned she is for the future of the planet, McNany affirms that “as global citizens we will face climate disruption and have to adjust our way of life to deal with the more frequent and disastrous storm systems.” However, with new technologies and hopefully a decline in population, McNany anticipates that the admission of greenhouse gasses will be reduced. McNany notes that it is important for the media to show “the hard work going on behind the scenes in both technology and farming to help diminish the current climate crisis.”

Now, we’ve discussed the major issues plaguing our environment so it is only appropriate to talk about the major ways these issues can be addressed. McNany believes that the most effective change can be brought about through big industrial changes. This involves new farming practices that do not rely on mono-culture farms or concentrated animal feeding operations as those deplete “large amounts of water and energy and release methane.” McNany suggests new practices that “move more towards regenerative farming and more humane large-scale animal farming practices.” McNany states that the biggest question we must ask ourselves now is “how do we move towards more sustainable practices and feed almost 8 billion people in an economical way?”

Farming is not the only area where we can improve. As we enter this new age of electric cars, McNany emphasizes that despite the surface-level environmental bonuses, these cars still use the electrical grid which is fueled by coal and natural gas. She specifies that in order for these new cars to truly benefit the environment, we must first revamp the electrical grids so that “the transmission of electricity is less wasteful and increases the amount of renewable energy that feeds the grid.”

Finally, McNany was asked a particularly contentious question: Can the individual truly make a difference? She tells us that yes, you can make a difference as an individual by living a more environmentally mindful existence, but the best way we can make a true impact is as a collective body. As outlined earlier, industrial scale operations are the main contributors to climate change, so as an individual, McNany recommends that everyone “support companies that operate in a sustainable way, and pay their workers a living wage with benefits and paid time off.” While this is a considerate thing to do, she further explains that it is not always the most economically feasible option for everyone. These sustainable companies tend to sell products at a higher price simply because sustainability is expensive. Ultimately, McNany punctuates the importance of the collective effort. When we do not collectively work together, we fall into the Tragedy of the Commons. She describes the phenomenon as, “when no one is thinking about how their daily actions affect the environment, and you multiply that mindset by close to 8 billion humans.” This pattern of behavior will only dig us deeper into the hole of environmental damage we now face. Optimistic, she leaves us with this: “there’s power in numbers and if everyone is making smart environmental choices that will make a dent in the damage being done.”