Polls have consistently shown that Americans care deeply about the environment but this has not translated into sufficient action on the part of our leaders. It is time for a Presidential candidate to put forth a strong vision for environmental stewardship that favors conservation, the public interest, and long-term concerns over the whims of special-interest lobbyists, an over-reliance on free markets, and the overblown opposition of automakers and auto unions (remember, these are the same people who opposed seat-belt laws, didn’t believe Americans would buy compact cars in the 1980s, and are already falling behind the Japanese in the production of high-demand hybrids). Here’s what this new environment platform should emphasize:
1) Energy independence as the key to America’s long-term national security. Despite another major war in the Middle East and our growing awareness that a portion of the proceeds from oil revenue ends up in the hands of terrorists, Bush has proposed an energy bill which amounts to little more than a multi-billion dollar giveaway to the fossil fuel industries (a bill almost exclusively written by the companies in Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force- which by no coincidence are many of Bush’s largest campaign contributors). It would do little to nothing to decrease our dependence on foreign oil and at a tremendous cost to society. We need to focus instead on moving toward an economy based on renewable energy and far greater energy efficiency. This would produce huge environmental benefits, and in addition could lead directly to millions of new jobs: a true win-win situation. It will also allow America to become competitive in the new energy technologies that will ultimately define the 21st century. Think of what the markets for these technologies are eventually going to be in places like India and China.
2) Environmental protection is a moral issue. All of us are stewards of the world we inhabit. No matter what God we believe in (or don’t believe in), it is our responsibility to protect Earth’s resources for future generations, and out of respect for the other forms of life with whom we share the planet. Environmental protection is the fundamental “pro-life” position.
3) Almost all natural resource subsidies are a lose-lose situation, and they must be stopped. Currently, U.S. taxpayers spend tens of billions a year paying farmers, ranchers, miners, and timber companies to exploit our environment, leading to large-scale pollution and destruction. Much of these are illegal under international trade agreements and often the subsidies are greater than the value of the resources on the open-market; signifying the height of inefficiency. The money saved by ending these subsidies could be used for environmental research, to support health care and education, or even for targeted tax cuts.
4) The Federal government should support the work of conservation groups who have identified biodiversity "hotspots" in their efforts to protect these areas before they are lost forever. These regions represent our evolutionary heritage and they are being lost at an alarming rate. It is not imperative that we save every square inch of natural habitat or that we reject economic development, but allowing the earth’s most biologically richest areas to be despoiled is bad for our own future as well as the species that are lost.
5) More than half of the nation lives in areas with poor air quality and addressing this situation should be a top priority. Many of these people are young children and the poor, who suffer from respiratory diseases at disproportionate rates, so this is an issue of basic fairness and justice. We are the richest nation on earth and this situation is more than an embarrassment, it’s a disgrace. Much of the improvements in air quality could be achieved within the larger issue of renewable energy technology and greater automobile efficiency.
6) Bush reneged on his campaign promise to regulate CO2 emissions as a pollutant but this is essential for seriously addressing global warming. Although there is still a degree of scientific uncertainty surrounding the “greenhouse effect”, the overwhelming majority of the world’s top scientists believe it merits serious concern and it is something we need to address sooner rather than later. Science will never give us exact answers nor perfect predictive power but uncertainty is no excuse for inaction.