Rational Politics Chapter Eight: The Environment

Those crazy environmentalists have been having a field day in the aftermath of the “event” that B.P. and Halliburton wrought. I say “event”, because commentators are upset that some have called The Big Spill an environmental disaster. Apparently that is too harsh a term for something that has just killed some fish. The spill in the Gulf is a microcosm of America’s views on the environment, industry, and the preservation of natural resources. It also neatly summarizes our conflicted ideals on how much influence we the people should have over business through our democracy.

The political battle over the environment has been fought largely by partisans unwilling or unable to look for context and see the big picture. It takes a willful suspension of logic to be a successful capitalist, someone who by definition believes in the capabilities of individuals and corporations, and refuse to acknowledge the capability of individuals and corporations to redefine our planet in a dangerous way. Similarly, to be an environmentalist and understand on a fundamental level the interconnections in natural systems, and then refuse to accept the dangerous side effects that accompany the removal of large elements from those systems, is no less damning.

Humans have primacy in the biosphere that is Earth. Whether we like it or not, an economic framework is in place that must be respected. Whether the non-green among us like it or not, humans are capable of (and are now doing), catastrophic damage to the biosphere that has clear economic costs both now and in the future. These externalities are inevitably paid; the current debate over B.P.’s liability is precisely a debate about the costs attendant the externalized risks of oil harvest. Whether the discussion revolves around clean-up costs from an oil spill, public health costs from pollution-driven asthma outbreaks, or costs incurred through the mandatory development of foodstuffs to take the place of decimated worldwide fisheries, the democracy must take the lead.

There is this notion that conservatives don’t like environmental regulations, but I have always felt that this stereotype is reckless. Conservative fisherman don’t like conservative factory owners that dump pollution upstream. Conservative resort owners and industrial fishing operations, don’t care for the conservative leadership at Halliburton and B.P. Ours is an interconnected world, and the notion that business or industry can operate in isolation from one another is ridiculous. Libertarianism in the sparsely populated West of a century ago is a philosophy that had merit. Unless, however, you are a business that operates a zero emission platform, you have an effect on your neighbors.

The question often asked is, “How much regulation is enough, how much is too much?” The Rational Middle believes that this question misses the point. Regulation should be the end square on the flow-chart, the last and final stick after a full array of carrots. Rules and regulations are a curious and inconvenient artifact of management theory from 19th Century Prussia. The democratically elected representation of local, state, and federal government should, for this issue, do the following:

  1. Make the case for change, by clearly quantifying the known risks (and costs) of non-action
  2. Clearly show the costs of past policies, i.e. spill cleanup and floods that cause damage because of the destruction of wetlands
  3. Identify public and private sources of action, and by extension, funding. These plans must be presented along business lines
  4. Have the courage to tell the truth; trying to hide or rename a tax is an implicit admission that the tax is wrong. Tell Americans what they are paying for, and they will generally open their wallets. Tell them enough for “their own good”, and they will riot in the streets.
  5. Accept the retention of current economic structures and entities in order to gain their help in the conversion of their efforts and processes. The fight against big industry has cost environmentalism years in the fight against environmental degradation.

Many of the immediate side effects of changing America’s course on the environment are positive to the culture and traditions of our nation. The switch back to more locally sourced products will inoculate our economy against globalization. A revitalization of our transportation infrastructure, particularly in rail and brown water applications, has a series of positive effects on rural communities. The restoration of forest, prairie, and wetland ecosystems on a large scale will allow for the revitalization of America’s traditions of hunting and fishing. Environment, energy, and transportation are issues that are inescapably linked; action on them must be led by the democracy with the firm and unyielding support of our nation’s capitalist infrastructure.

A disengagement from politics is a necessity for taking the steps necessary. America’s natural resources are not a conservative or liberal issue; they belong to the democracy. Rational discussion, reasoned debate, and prudent planning must be followed by vigorous action. The two political parties and their partisans have proven unable to disengage in politics and take leadership positions. It is past time for people to make the choice for them. Democrats that purvey the fantasy of “free” energy should be censored; Republicans that sell conspiracy theories about environmental causes should be rejected. If the future of Earth as a habitat for humans is at stake, then it is only rational that environmentalism be the true pro-business position. And that makes it a critical issue for the democracy.

The Rational Middle is listening…