Column: Politics Straight, No Chaser
U.S. needs more environmental regulation
Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 02:04
This Sunday marked the 43rd Earth Day, a day when the environmentally conscious flood public spaces to plant trees, pick up garbage and do their part for a healthier planet. The annual event highlights threats to the environment in hopes of creating a more responsible and less wasteful population. Unfortunately, America is a major culprit when it comes to pollution. From the gas pump and disposable plastics to global warming and Texas-sized garbage patches floating in our oceans, the world is a dirty place and we’re not exactly helping.
Environmental politics affects every level of government, from town and city councils to the federal government in Washington, D.C. Even at the level of international politics, the United Nations has concluded that living in a world free from toxic pollution and environmental degradation is a basic human right. Environmental politics is an issue that involves giant multinational corporations and their massive lobbying efforts, geopolitics, foreign affairs and even religion.
The most popular environmental issue of the last decade has been global climate change, an issue widely accepted in the scientific and academic community. It is defined by the warming of Earth’s air and water temperatures, increasingly violent storms and rising sea levels. The human production of greenhouse gas from things like deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels increase its effects.
Around the world, most governments accept climate change. In the U.S., however, it has faced massive doubt and scrutiny from politicians, with some labeling it a hoax.
Becoming more environmentally conscious as a country will take time, money and massive legislation. It will cause long-standing industries to conform to new standards and result in some of America’s largest companies’ profit margins to be reduced. For example, laws require new and innovative designs from car companies, but also lower demands for gasoline that in turn lower oil industry profits.
Becoming more environmentally conscious as a country will also require a larger, more centralized government with greater involvement in people’s lives. Most people and companies need incentive to be green, regardless of scientists’ warnings. These incentives will take the form of government-mandated guidelines and regulations, which will cost money, and taxes to encourage environmentally friendly behavior. Those who claim climate change is a hoax often say it’s just a ploy to allow a global or national government to take more control.
Likely Republican presidential nominee Gov. Mitt Romney, speaking on this issue, said, “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet and the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.” However, last June he seemed to be singing a different tune, saying, “I believe the world’s getting warmer [...] I believe that humans contribute to that, because I know that there have been periods of greater heat and warmth in the past, but I believe we contribute to that. And so I think it’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases.”
Denying the human aspect of climate change is a popular conservative idea. Considering it’s common for candidates to head further to the political right or left during primary season—depending on their party affiliation—many are hopeful Romney will once again shift his stance in time for the general election, and that he and President Barack Obama can engage in honest and open debate about what should be done.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who is the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, has consistently denied the existence of global warming by citing the Bible. Speaking last month, Inhofe said, “Well actually the Genesis 8:22 that I use […] is that ‘as long as the Earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night,’ my point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is, to me, outrageous.”
Inhofe has repeatedly used his committee post to prevent environmental legislation from emerging and, by failing to acknowledge its existence, prevented Senate hearings on the issue from presenting credible solutions.
While most climate and environmental scientists would say that the Environmental Protection Agency, the department responsible for enforcing government standards and forming policy to ensure a healthy environment, should be expanded and given more power, there has been a recent move in Congress to limit or even abolish the agency. Republicans say the EPA requires “job-killing” reforms and unnecessary regulations. This is at odds with a 2011 Pew Research Center poll that suggested as many as 71 percent of Americans would agree with the statement, “This country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment.”
Whether we’re talking about preventing climate change, reducing one time-use plastic production, making cars more fuel efficient or reducing our dependence on fossil fuels for security reasons, we should all be able to see that without these things, we are putting our future at risk. Even if scientists aren’t 99.9 percent sure about something, we should still be working to be cleaner and more responsible. As our government grows to enforce environmental standards, capitalism will continue to thrive and new, profitable markets will emerge. Those stuck in denial will be putting us all at risk, and, for our safety and the safety of future generations, we can’t afford to wait any longer for substantial environmental legislation.