Well, lovely people, December is here, and it’s that time of year. Yes, it is. What time of year, you say? Well, the holidays. And what do those have to do with environmental policy? I have no idea. So I will just insert an attractive graphic of an Earth-shaped Christmas ornament.
Seriously, though, I’m writing today to talk about something very simple: why we need an environmental policy at all. The connection, perhaps, is that the end of the year is typically a time when people get reflective – and sometimes reflecting means getting back to basics.
The year 2011 has been a miserable one for environmental politics. EPA has been blamed for basically every problem in America. They’re universally known as the “job killing” agency, with ad campaigns by corporations spreading the story that environmental regulations drive up costs to consumers, ruin careers and small businesses, and start wars in small, third-world countries against defenseless bunny rabbits and babies. (Just kidding on that last part – at least, I haven’t seen that ad out yet…) Environmental policy is, according to some, nothing more than a sign of a bloated federal government with a meddling authority that seeks to intrude into every aspect of our daily lives. Far right-wing conservatives have introduced legislative measures to diminish the effectiveness of basic statues such as the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act, and even gone so far as to call for the elimination of the agency altogether.
And, why shouldn’t we? America is clearly going through a period of upheaval, re-evaluating every aspect of government in the search for a solution to revitalize a stalling economy (a phrase so cliché that it’s entirely possible I accidentally jacket it from a CNN op-ed). We hear ourselves described as stagnant, faltering, anemic, and incapable of growth – how could more regulations possibly fix that? What’s more, given this – and myriad other problems – it doesn’t make sense to be focusing on tree-hugging right about now. We have wars going on overseas that we need to finish. Economic woes threaten to destabilize Europe just as conflicts arise every day in Africa and the Middle East. Domestically, we must determine how we will handle basic social issues such as entitlements, health care, education, job loss, and a declining middle class. If there was ever a time to be worried about fuzzy little animals and scenery…now is not it.
Or what if it is?
An old boss (thanks, Rick Curtis!) once told me that there’s a reason a good hiker always carries a compass. You see, a hiker won’t always recognize the correct trail, even if he has a good map. But with a compass, you can always go back to basics. You can at least remind yourself what direction you’re supposed to be heading. When faced with a difficult decision, he was saying, you should make sure that you go back to the very simple stuff – and see if it all lines up.
So, why do we need an environmental policy?
You see – whether you’re a member of the 99% or the 1%, whether you use a Mac or a PC, and whether or not you own an iPad 2, you’re still a human. We all are. As such, we all have basic needs. As a species, we require food, water, energy, and shelter. We eat things. We burn things in order to keep warm or cook food. We use materials around us – maybe wood or stone – to create shelter from the elements. We generate waste.
Unless you are willing to forego these basic needs (anyone who tries – let me know how that goes, will ya?), we as a species – as a population – and as a race – remain dependent on the world around us. It is because we depend on our natural resources for our very survival that it is imperative that we pay attention to how we manage them. Land – on which to live, on which to grow food, and in which to store waste – is finite in quantity. So is water. So are fossil fuels and other mineral resources. Animals and plants – which we consume for food, unless any of you figure out how to photosynthesize without me – exist in carefully balanced ecosystems which can be influenced heavily by the conditions around them.
And that is the basic, fundamental, least-common-denominator reason for an environmental policy. We must protect and manage our natural resources because our lives depend on it. Because it won’t matter what our GDP is if we don’t have water to drink. We can have all the weapons technology in the world, and if we cannot feed our population and keep warm with long-term, affordable solutions to our energy crisis (hint: NOT coal and natural gas), our independence politically and militarily will be meaningless. We can solve health care, fix our entitlements programs, and create enough jobs for 150% of the population, and it won’t matter if society must bear the health care costs because people are sick from the water they drink. We can provide our children the best education in the world and make it available to all, and it will not matter if tens of thousands cannot go to school because the air is too polluted for them to step outside without a mask and an inhaler. We can re-build our infrastructure, creating the best transportation and communications grid on the planet, and it will not matter if hurricanes and natural disasters from climate change destroy them all within months.
Simply put, remember always the following:
“When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.”
~ Cree Prophecy