I know, I know. The blogosphere is going to be swamped with essays on Earth Day Wednesday. I suppose in a way we do need a special day set aside to give us a good excuse to think about the environment, but it’s also kind of unfortunate that we do.
Earth Day was established in 1970. Think about that for a minute. 1970. 1970 is to 2009 like 1931 is to 1970. 1931. How much changed between 1931 and 1970. I remember the first Earth Day. What a great idea. I was 12 … or about to be … and of course we all wanted a clean planet. It was the dawn of a new decade, and there was still plenty of residual 60’s thinking that captured the imagination of those of us who were too young to participate during the ’60’s. “Think Globally, Act Locally” was the mantra back in the day … and here in 2009, we’re still setting aside a day to raise environmental awareness. Some would argue that we have a cleaner environment now, and for some waterways and cities I’m sure that’s true. But there’s still a long way to go.
But please don’t try to make this into an “Evil Republicans Hate Bunnies and Trees” thing, because it’s not. We’ve been through how many administrations from both parties and we’ve still got a special day. Just don’t even go there.
Republicans like to point out that President Nixon established the EPA, and signed the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts into law, for instance. But the Republican track record on the environment is admittedly mixed at best. While Democrats are generally seen as stronger on the environment, it’s unfortunate that so many people see this as a black and white issue, and that no one who identifies as a conservative is concerned about conservation … despite the two words sharing a common root.
Now, how many out there think dirty water and stinky air and decimated landscapes are a good thing? Anybody? Bueller? No, me either. If there’s one thing on which we can achieve consensus, it’s that a clean environment is a good thing. But if that’s the case, you have to ask yourself what constitutes a “clean environment” and what is the compromise you’re willing to accept to achieve that clean environment, because compromises are likely.
Would it be electricity only part of the day, or generated in such an expensive manor that your electric bill is more than your mortgage? Once you get past the hydro-electric dams, which cause other environmental problems (if you live in a low-lying area upstream of the dam for instance), generating electricity from renewable sources would require major subsidies from the government to be competitive. At least for now. There are very smart people who are doing a lot of research right this minute on how to make it better, cheaper, faster … but those technologies are perhaps years down the road. Meanwhile, some other very smart people are working on ways to burn fossil fuels more cleanly, but again, technology adds to the cost of generating electricity. Is that the trade you’re willing to make?
What about a return to $4.00+/gallon gasoline? I know some think it should be taxed to that level now to generate revenue for highway and infrastructure maintenance, but if you tax it more, and people drive less in more efficient vehicles … would you see the additional revenue? Are you willing to curtail your travel? What about those who drive long distances to have one of the increasingly rare jobs that seem to be around these days. That’s just a de-facto tax increase. Is that the trade you want?
Is it plastics, or paper products, or steel or aluminum or household cleaners or electronics … the manufacture of which all have an impact on the environment? And while it shouldn’t be the determining factor in how we proceed, how do you get China, and Russia, and India to play? Even Mexico, home to one of the planets most polluted cities. If what goods are manufactured in the U.S. are more expensive due to environmental considerations, do you place stiff tariffs on goods imported from China in order to make ours more competitive? Here in Jacksonville alone, it could have a devastating effect on our port, which is touted as one of the driving forces for our local economy. What is the compromise?
And, too, I’m not one who believes the science is settled on what is now euphemistically called “Climate Change”. Climates change all the time. While my house a mile and a half from the ocean MAY be oceanfront one day, it’s more likely to be because it’s on a barrier island, and barrier islands change. It won’t be in my lifetime, I don’t expect. As I wrote a while back, for every PhD, there is an equal and opposite PhD. Climate Change isn’t exempt, and it seems that the about every month some doctor of something comes along with the lead-pipe lock on global warming, and another doctor of something else comes along with equally compelling data to refute it. The good thing about science is that it should never be settled. But I do think former Vice President Gore should give up his private jet and work to reduce the carbon footprint of his Tennessee Mansion … but I digress.
At the end of the day, I do think responsible people should approach our planet responsibly. Like so many other things, the discussion on the environment has been hijacked by people on both extremes of the spectrum, and they seem to get the most attention. Maybe it’s because they talk the loudest. I would love to see a measured, thoughtful, bi-partisan approach to the environmental concerns we have not only in this country but planet wide. Still, it seem that the mantra of “Think Globally, Act Locally” has somehow been lost in the last 39 years. We can each do our part to help the environment, by turning off lights, using more efficient CFL’s, driving less, keeping our cars tuned, and the like. We can let our elected representatives at all levels know that the environment is important to us. Businesses should be encouraged to use best practices as it relates to the environment, and our leaders should lead by example and through well-thought-out legislation that protects the environment, but also protects the business interests we need to bring our economy out of this recession. We all want a clean environment. We also need jobs and a strong economy. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, but in the end, we each need to determine what is the level of compromise we’re willing to accept to achieve those goals.