You’ve been hearing about global warming and the polar bears since grade school. Most of my generation knows about the melting ice caps (now at their lowest mass in recorded history) and rising temperatures being catastrophic for the world. The modern environmental movement started in the 60’s with Rachel Caron’s book “Silent Spring”, focusing on issues like urban pollution, pesticides and chemicals, and environmental destruction. It was a grassroots movement that had its heart in the suburban majorities of America. The environment use to be a bipartisan issue. It’s early champion was Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, who established huge reservations of land for public use and enjoyment, something few nations have in such vastness. The Environmental Protection Agency was founded by Republican Richard Nixon in 1970, something the Republicans of today are seeking to abolish. There are few who don’t claim to love nature, especially in Wisconsin. Somehow the human need for the natural world has been amiss in the national conversation.
There use to be a consensus on the need to protect our environment. Republicans use to be the go to people on pollution, park reservation, and resource conservation, for they saw a healthier environment as essential to the public and private good, for air and water quality is not distinguished between the two. They thought it was against business interest when the Ohio river caught on fire in 1969. They thought that clean air and drinking water was something that should be a guarantee for everyone. But today, the slightest opposition to proposed environmental regulation from the richest business group makes Republicans cry foul in the name of jobs, despite the fact corporations have record capital and aren’t expanding much, and that all regulations in the U.S. from any government agency have been found to add less than .5% to the unemployment rate. Most environmental regulation isn’t a catastrophe. It’s obvious public good to make sure you aren’t dying when they step outside. People tend to not be productive consumers or workers when they have trouble breathing or drinking water.
It’s not just a matter of clean air and water though. Our food system in the US has become abysmal. We produce and consume more meat than any country in the world, and we create a huge amount of pollution doing that. Meat is the most expensive form of food to produce in mass because of the huge amounts of food and water that must be fed to the animals we consume. Those animals in turn create massive amounts of carbon pollution and byproducts that pollute rivers and water tables. We need to transition to a more plant-based system, with a balance of meats. There is a large body of evidence that points to our excessive meat consumption as being a major drag on our health and economy, and at huge risk to small droughts or plant disease outbreaks. We subsidize the hell out of only a few cash crops, mainly corn. Corn is in everything, and the subsidies given mostly to corporate farmers for growing it go to making starch based foods that are extremely unhealthy, which is a major contributor to our obesity crisis. We should be subsidizing a variety of other fruits, grains, and vegetables so that they are cheaper than pop-tarts, not the other way around. We consume the worst food because it is the cheapest. We should be able to create a much more stable, healthy, and cost-effective food network that would make huge strides to end hunger and obesity in the states. With this transition, our health problems due to our huge starch and sugar consumption like diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, some cancers, and obesity would drop at rapid rates, saving us billions of dollars every year on medical bills and making us more productive and happy as a result.
It is also good sense for us to invest heavily into green infrastructure. The private sector will follow suit once government goes first. It must be seen by the business world as being at Google investment level. The sense for government to invest is all there. We need to make our infrastructure, transportation, and energy grid the most advanced in the world. We have the resources and manpower, and the improvements are sorely needed. When our grid becomes loaded with advancing high-tech solar, wind, and hydro power, energy will be infinite and domestically produced. Within the coming decades it is unlikely for us to break the 50% mark in green energy use, but unless we start laying the foundation with investment, it won’t be there when it’s needed most. Here’s what I don’t get from the market whiners on green energy and industrial investment. It is an industry that will be creating millions of sustainable domestic jobs, and with our eventual energy independence a boom of more millions of jobs in various industries. Our quality and length of life will be better with a cleaner energy, and we will be reducing our carbon footprint, which besides reducing the effects of global warming, reduces our strain of world resources. We will be the envy of the world, an evolved economy that all emerging nations will try to imitate. And we can export our green tech machines to these aspiring nations! Global warming is now something that is taboo to deny. Science trumps skepticism. The only debate left is how much humans are accelerating the process or how much it can be slowed. Who cares? If we aren’t directly lessening the effects of global warming that 95% of scientists agree is happening as a result of human activity, then we have created a better nation all around in the pursuit of it.
We’ve waged wars against communism and fascism for the good of America. Why not against pollution and waste? Why not spend a trillion dollars planting trees and building a smart energy grid? If we have that luxury of wasting blood and bullets in the sands of Iraq, we can surely put priority to a desperately needed first world face lift. Oil and coal companies use to think that mineral reserves were an infinite resource that could just be found by digging deeper. But they are not. Some day a hundred years from now, the wells and mines will run empty from the weight of the expanding world, and anyone caught begging for energy will find its economy at its knees and its citizenry’s standard of life shattered. Why not preempt that inevitability and make a new world trend? Romney thought green energy was a good economic investment when he was governor of Massachusetts. He was one of the most progressive governors in the nation on environmental legislation and pollution control until his staff figured his presidential ambitions would be harmed by what would be perceived by the new conservatives as anti-business.
There’s a scene in “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring”, where Bilbo has a monologue about the life of hobbits. He roots the true love of hobbits in peace, quiet, and good tilled earth; a people who live in a world of natural goodness and beauty. It is a simple life, but a happily content one. This central theme comes from Tolkien’s love for the English countryside. His desire is an innate one among all people whether they know it or not. I mention this because it is the simple life which we seem to be slowly casting aside because we have forgotten what happens when we let enterprise trump our public interest. While there is some progress from politicians like Obama and community leaders who understand that, to make a true effort requires universal consensus. I title this entry “Go Green or Go Home” to be ironic. If we don’t make the simple and obvious changes that should be natural to us, we won’t have a home worth going to.