How Green Is Your Valley? Reflections on Environment 2012

How Green Is Your Valley?
Reflections on Environment 2012

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It’s not a question most people are comfortable asking now that Congress has a Republican majority which seems hell-bent on undoing all the environmental advances gained over the past decade. In spite of that, the above question needs answering, if only so that the minority of environmental activists doesn’t get drowned out in the furor.

Case in point, thanks to Francesca Rheannon of CSR Wire, Republicans like presidential hopeful Mitt Romney still think that anthropogenic climate change is debatable, even though reputable scientists from NASA’s James Hansen to Michael Levi, a senior fellow for energy and environment at the Council on Foreign Relations, agree it is the result of modern human lifestyles.

In spite of this détente, global climate change deniers appear to be winning, at least judging from the recent Climate Change conference in Doha in late November. This conference, which started with little fanfare and ended not with a bang but a whimper (thank you, T.S. Eliot), is the culmination of previous and equally ineffective climate talks in Copenhagen, Denmark (2009), Cancun, Mexico (2010) and Durban, South Africa (2011). In fact, such inconclusive conferences begin to look not like climate mediation but expensive delegate vacations.

Some seem to think Doha is a step in the right direction because rich UN signatory nations which participated promised to collect $100 billion per year until 2020 to help poorer nations fight the effects of climate change. You and I know the value of promises, don’t we? Especially when coming from those who have everything to lose if someone actually forces them to honor said promises.

For example, in Durban, signatories signed a pledge to create (and affirm) a global climate change treaty by 2015 which would take effect beginning in 2020. This treaty would institute measures designed to keep temperature increases below two degrees Celsius, or 3.6° Fahrenheit – a high water mark beyond which climate change scientists foresee catastrophic global warming. The concern of developing nation’s leaders is that no promise was made about money being allocated between 2011 and 2020. In fact, at present, a whopping U.S. national debt has politicians from both parties questioning foreign aid altogether.

The 2015 goal is creeping up on industrialized nations like the United States, which seem remarkably adept at temporizing, but much clumsier and ineffective at doing the actual heavy lifting. Meanwhile, thanks to corporate lobbying, it’s business as usual.

Nor is the U.S. the only guilty party to this make-believe rectification of climate change. China has become a world leader in low-carbon and renewable energy sources. Of course China is also a leader in population, and in order to maintain a standard of living continues to burn more and more dirty coal.

Where do we in the U.S., who know a change must be made, go from here? If we are among the 67 percent who believe that global warming has steadily increased over the past several years, we have every right to be disheartened, particularly as the current crop of Congressional delegates approve fracking (an environmental nightmare) and cut 90 percent of allocations to America’s Land and Water Conservation Fund. The 10 percent that will be left when Republicans get done carving will be expected to help protect drinking water supplies and critical habitat for endangered species. Or not.

Out of the 67 percent, only 42 percent say the warming is anthropogenic, according to an October survey by the Pew Research Center among 1,511 adults. The Pew Center, always hopeful and largely charitable, notes that increasing numbers of Republicans, Democrats and Independents ascribe to the notion of warming. That is, 85 percent of Democrats agree to the principle, while only 48 percent of Republicans do. It is probably safe to assume that this 48 percent is not the powerful and highly audible contingent that favors fracking and free enterprise (i.e., business as usual and the Devil take the hindmost)!

The most discouraging fact is that both Democrats and Republicans favor “all-of-the-above” energy strategies, which include fossil fuels as well as renewables. The only difference is in the percentage, with Republicans leaning toward zero renewables and heartened by the news that the Enbridge oil pipeline expansion has been greenlighted through the Midwest, as well as Ontario and Quebec in Canada. The $6.2-billion price tag does not include remediation funds.

In fact, the National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB, has ascribed a recent pipeline rupture to:

  • Deficient integrity management procedures
  • Inadequate training of control center personnel
  • Insufficient public awareness and education

In November when Americans voted for local and state representatives, they were more politically and economically polarized than at any time during the past quarter-century. This resulted in the Republican sweep, which is now pushing a GOP environmental ticket of fewer business regulations and more government cooperation with producers and landowners. Grand Old Party, indeed; but what will all of us do when the party is over, and climate remediation can no longer be put on the table as a bargaining chip?

In addition, the Republican platform of 2012 onward insists that conservation initiatives must be balanced by economic development and private property rights – a tack taken in several other nations (the Czech Republic, Paraguay, Slovakia, South Korea and Spain) to the detriment of the poor and landless.

As I ask the question (how green is your valley?) again, please consider your answer carefully. Are we Americans in better environmental shape than we were in the last half of the 20th century, or is that perception something foisted on us by politicians whose lifework is playing a virtual shell game with public opinion. Let us know what you think.

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