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For the life of me, I cannot figure out why there is always someone – who with others develops into an organized group or, if so empowered, into a movement – that is opposed to whatever is proposed or suggested. Seriously, there seems to be an opposition quota requirement for every proposal irrespective of the merit or the value of the original plan, program, or statement. It is understood that opposing viewpoints are critical to any reasonable decision-making process, but sometimes the counter-points have little or no basis in fact or science, relying only on emotional arguments that have no basis in reality. While life lived as a fantasy may be acceptable for some, it does little to promote a healthy social and economic climate for the rest of us who are trying as best as we can to advance the same.

Clearly, we could try to engage one of the social scientists to explain this phenomenon. Maybe if we understood the reward mechanism that drives the opposition we might be in a better position to at least understand their presence, or better, we might even be able to mitigate their impact before it becomes a costly and time-consuming production. There must be something driving these people, and often it has little to do with the gray matter between their ears. It often appears that it is simply the flavor of the month, and after the issue is put to rest these same individuals deny their participation or find some other reason why they were so adamant in the first place.

Maybe the emotions take over long before the brain becomes engaged because of the overly used excuses that they are too stressed and overworked in their daily lives. Or, for some, there is a need to be heard and thus feel entitled to do some stumping, no matter what it costs or the damage it creates downstream. Since there is little enforceable accountability for these opposing forces, their argument might be 'why not have a little fun...exercise a moment in the spotlight...or possibly just gain a sense of control over a piece of their destiny.'

Think what would happen if there were a direct charge to the participants on the non-supportable side of the argument for all of these activities instead of the current everyone-pays doctrine. No advocate would subscribe to this penalty since without the counter-points little good would occur, or at least it would be more costly than it is today. Note, of course, that most unsupportable arguments are representative of the opinions of only a small percentage of the involved citizens.

The question should be where are the rest of us during the debates. The silent majority is getting run over, and worse, they pay for it in higher product and energy prices plus increasing taxes. Maybe when the issue is finally settled, those that knew better should be penalized for not speaking up like the ones with the private agenda. Of course, that is the current everyone-pays process. Remember, this can be likened to the old taxation-without-representation concept that was one of the key catalysts that created this country. I think we are, or should be, better than this.

THE QUESTION SHOULD BE WHERE ARE THE REST OF US DURING THE DEBATES

Let’s face it, we have little control over our lives at work. And, heaven knows we have little or no control at home with our spouses, and if we have teenagers... well you get the picture. What concerns me the most is that perfectly reasonable people who get the wrong or miss-directed information are willing to commit a wealth of emotional capital, notwithstanding the actual monetary expenses they will have to incur, all without looking at the issues for accuracy. Somehow the emotional plea trumps all common sense arguments. So what is the solution?

Instead of finding a rational way to put these irrational arguments to rest, I think it would be a lot more fun (tongue-in-cheek) to simply oppose the opposition. That way we can scream just as loud, but use the facts to make ourselves feel better and clearly become superior to those ne’er-do-wells who are clueless and act like fools. Oh, I guess that would put both sides of the argument effectively in the same boat, where both sides can rail on the other with no hope for a cessation until the audience stops listening or the financial well-being of the parties simply run dry. Clearly there must be a better way that allows for a counter-point without the emotions, all based on the best and most verifiable evidence.

The difference in a possibly better plan, instead of falling into the trap of considering only the emotional side of the equation, would be to simply consider the tools used by most scientists and engineers to present the well-documented and corroborated facts. Unfortunately, that route has been tried at times but for whatever the reason, some of which are referenced above, the facts are simply ignored for the sake of being right and emotionally vested in the intended outcome.

Some people simply want to believe what they want or what they have been told, independent of the facts. Some create their own truth to fit the reality they want to have, and facts are not a part of the issues. For example, several concerned citizens, groups and organizations condemn coal and demand the closure of coal-fired power plants because they are dirty, dangerous to operate, and they think we should try to set a better example for the rest of the globe.

SOME PEOPLE SIMPLY WANT TO BELIEVE WHAT THEY WANT OR WHAT THEY HAVE BEEN TOLD, INDEPENDENT OF THE FACTS

So, we are closing coal-fired power plants when the rest of the globe is building them at record rates, and theirs will most likely be much dirtier than what we design and build. It is no longer a ‘them versus us’ argument; we all breathe the same air and drink the same water. The globe is spherical and what everyone does where they live and work affects all of us, in time. This is completely independent of the myopic view that we are the center of the universe and what happens here stays here.

Modern U.S.-designed coal fired power plants are cleaner than any other competitor out there. Instead of upgrading the older plants, our solution is to simply close them. Energy production is the key ingredient to a modern and successful society. Coal has been and will continue to be a key element for that energy production, even if not in the U.S.

Of course, this is all okay because natural gas has finally been rediscovered in the U.S. and that will make up the lost capacities from the plant closures. This has no basis in fact and the next couple of cold winters will show that reality. When people start suffering and dying from lack of power, the current opposition will most likely switch sides and deny ever having anything to do with this original foolhardy notion.

Losing sight of the forest for the trees becomes an appropriate but often-ignored adage. Consider the overall picture of phasing out one resource in favor of another in a safe and affordable fashion. Economics usually do force the better path unless we simply want to look at only a sub-set of the problems associated with the situation. What happened to leadership that can put the overall program together so people can support and defend our best interests?

MAYBE WE NEED ANOTHER TYPE OF BATTLE CRY DIRECTED AT THE DISSEMINATION OF CORRECT INFORMATION

Oh, in case you hadn’t noticed, we now have naysayers opposing the construction of new natural gas pipelines which are to feed those new power plants that have yet to be built. Of course, there is the continued opposition to the drilling and hydro-fracturing processes, again independent of the proven statistics, all causing us delays in social and economic productivity. Clearly, these are only a few of the examples of the programs and their opposing forces that we could discuss. The question is what can we do to take advantage of the time and energy of the people who feel compelled to act so that they can contribute in a way that is beneficial to all of us.

We are a very diverse and complex society. This country has gotten old enough to create multiple layers of bureaucracy, none of which have been filtered and corrected for the needs of the present time period. Additionally, our older companies and our social programs, for that matter, are in much the same shape. There is no way to back up to correct what is there, plus, trying to update what was decided in the past is a hopeless task. The solution is to accelerate the social progress and the technological base from which we have derived our country’s authority and just stop looking back. The trick is to get ahead of the curve, and instead of our organizations and government feeding on the stagnant past, the future growth will compel them to look with us to the future.

Unfortunately, to get to this point will require a concerted effort by the population to get on the same page, reduce the typical emotional response, and to take a responsible look at the bigger picture. It will require that we become informed and cognizant of the impact that we have when we unite with a common front. The interesting part is that we have done it numerous times in our past. More importantly, not all were associated with going to war or to the moon. Maybe we need another type of battle cry directed at the dissemination of correct information, the mitigation of the irrational emotional response, and an unwillingness to continue to support the art of stupid!

James Smith is professor and director of the Center for Industrial Research Applications at West Virginia University.

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