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The bad news about the Environment

by Dianne Kochenburg


For the past 30 years or so environmental activists have been banging their heads against thousands of brick walls trying to alert our country and the world at large about the perils that are facing our earth in the very near future and in the coming years. Radical groups like Green Peace, Earth First! and ELF have gone to great lengths to shake us up about the extremely dangerous and thoughtless practices that so-called average entrepreneurs and garden variety capitalists are engaged in, practices such as: over-fishing the oceans, drilling for oil, unsafe coal mining, indiscriminately clear-cutting forests, polluting the streams and rivers --  while mills, factories and other enterprises contaminate our land, air and water, and while our housing developments over-run our fragile suburban eco-systems, while our farmers contaminate the soil, ground water and farm workers with pesticides and herbicides, while our garbage piles up in land fills, and our sewers over-flow, and thousands of endangered species die off every year, and so forth, on and on and on.

In the meantime, more mainstream environmentalists have tried educating people about these same practices. Agencies like the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, the Nature Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife, all of the agencies that work to save whales, dolphins, bears, wolves, tigers, owls, African wildlife, while other groups try to educate us about how important our forests, water and air are – ALL of these groups have been banging their heads against those worn-out thousands of brick walls for years. Unfortunately, all this preaching has been to the choir of a few like-minded, thoughtful people who have been wringing their hands and trying their best to inform an ignorant, resistant and thoughtless world of self-absorbed people, mainly the relatively wealthy, consumer-driven populations living in North America and Western Europe and the rest of The First World countries that it is time to change our ways.

We First Worlders live in the lap of luxury compared to the majority of people living outside our borders. All but the poorest of US citizens seem insanely wealthy compared to the majority of the people in, say, Africa, Mexico or Central America, for example. Yet, we think we need even more to live the lifestyles to which we have become accustomed. We need more gas for our guzzlers, bigger houses with more TVs and a vast array of trendy electronic equipment, bigger spa-tubbed bathrooms, larger refrigerators, wine cellars, and square footage for our master bedrooms, family rooms, second homes, RVs and boats. These days our “necessities” are simply outrageous. Spend any time at all on our Interstate highways counting the thousands of monster SUVs compared to the lowly number of small cars on the road today and you will be sickened. Check out the number of RVs on the road sucking up thousands of gallons of gas going who knows where. Ask yourself if all those millions of semis traveling our highways are hauling “important” cargo.

Despite the ostentatious, lavishness of our lifestyles, if you ask the average American, she will say she is very worried about the environment. In fact, she may even claim to be a “greenie”. After all, she faithfully recycles her trash and is thinking about buying a Prius, if she will qualify for a commuter pass (if not, forget it!). Others claim to be interested in solar panels for their roofs, if they can get a good enough kick-back from PG&E. A few might even admit to being members of the Sierra Club, an even fewer might be trying to reduce their “carbon footprint”. And of course, everybody is concerned about the price of gas these days. But that’s about as far as the average American commitment to environmentalism goes.

During the past 30 years of environmentalism in America, there have been some small successes, but every iota of success has been gained through excruciating and pains-taking effort. All environment efforts are always political fights. The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave appears to be firmly controlled by our conservative politicians who have mounted a staunch and highly successful anti-environmental movement of their own. And their credo is biblical. As silly as this sounds, they firmly believe that God gave the world’s riches and natural resources to America to use to make a better life for us alone. There is no sense of the global community within this credo. The better life for the USA is created at the expense of the rest of the world. Our sense of entitlement is God-Given, according to this conservative credo.

And this better life, this land of economic bounty, knows no boundaries. In fact, it must keep growing all the time for the very survival of the USA. Ask any economist. As long as we keep creating more wealth in terms of new housing starts, more sales of “big ticket” items, as long as our stock market keeps growing, and new products keep rolling into our homes and businesses, our economic outlook is good. As long as we continue to throw away things and replace them with new stuff, we’re doing well. Cutting back on spending, cutting back on growth, cutting back on anything is a bad thing. Conservation is a bad word to the conservative elements in our society. And I am very sorry to report that most people in the good old US of A are conservative enough to agree with this credo. Nobody wants to do without anything!

The state of the world’s environmental problems must be laid at the feet of the Republicans. Beginning with Nixon and following along with all Republican presidents since then, there has been in place a fierce and relentless anti-environmental program because conservatives have a definite distaste for any environmental practice that alters in any way the economic growth of our country. For example, even to this day, they see no reason to cut back on gas consumption until the last drop of oil has been sucked from the earth. That’s the oilman’s mantra.

The Wise Use Movement is the best example of anti-environmentalism that the conservatives have come up with. Google Wise Use and read for yourself this cynical, under-handed and the incredibly effective logic the Wise Use Movement has created to deter all government-inspired measures that have been suggested to clean up or protect our environment in any way. And remember what I said earlier in this essay, our environment is held hostage by politicians. Individuals may do what they can on their own, but it takes a committed society to make significant and meaningful environmental changes, and every societal change in this country appears to need some political mandate in order to take hold. Thank the conservatives for that, even though they claim to be against “Big Government”. Every environmental change must have a law or regulation to mandate it -- from trash hauling to bottle collecting, to solar engineering, to gasoline consumption and emission standards on automobiles -- for some strange reason must be approved by our politicians first. Our government refused to sign the Kyoto Accords, which is a world-wide commitment to try and reduce Green House emissions. Even the world at large needs governmental permission to do anything at all to protect ourselves from ourselves.

The other piece of handiwork by the conservatives that has effectively stymied environmental changes is science itself. The conservatives label every environmental study that comes along. They have two categories: junk science and smart science. Junk science is any study they don’t agree with. For example, they are completely at odds with Al Gore’s research, even though Gore has been a staunch environmentalist for years and years and he knows his stuff. Smart science is so-called “studies” that are really just political hackery that conforms to their ideas. They have a group of conservative henchmen posing as scientists who decide which studies to believe. And beyond that, the present administration now actually alters real scientific reports, removing the parts of the reports they don’t like, so they can continue to delude the American sheep into thinking that buying a new Hummer is a great idea.

Real scientists, in addition to Al Gore, are sounding the alarms. We are entering a devastating period of climate change. If we do not act immediately to change our ways, life as we know it will come to an end. It sounds eerily like Chicken Little who announced that the sky is falling. It also sounds like the biblical Doomsayers, who continually announce that End of Days is coming. Well, the joke is on them. The end of days is probably coming, but not the one that they envision where the godly will rise up to heaven leaving the rest of us sinners to our earthly pain. This end of days is quite different; it’s the end for everybody, no free passes for the Chosen Few. And that’s a pill that is impossible for the anti-environmentalists to swallow. They would rather make cynical jokes, continue to alter reports, nay say all the scientific studies, block any and all environmental bills, and convince the easily convincible not to worry. Well, don’t believe them, it’s time to worry if you have any kind of a social conscience at all.

It was Karl Marx who theorized that capitalism contains the seeds of its own destruction. He went on to predict that capitalism's demise would come about by the laboring classes rising up and over-throwing it. Well, it appears that Marx was only half right. The laborers, instead of rising up and over-throwing the capitalists, became capitalists themselves. But I would argue that if Marx were alive today, he would probably theorize that unfettered, runaway capitalism does indeed contain the seeds of its own destruction and that the earth itself, and human society as we know it,  will be its victim.

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