Binge and Purge

Conservative, anti-environmental activists such as Michele Bachmann like to portray the EPA and other environmental regulatory bodies as proof of America’s increasingly hostile, dystopian government when in practice the very opposite is true.

Part V of The Season of Our Disconnect

Jon Huntsman, President Barack Obama’s former ambassador to China, broke away from the field of Republican presidential candidates in bellicose fashion this week. He chose to take on his opponents by slaying a sacred cow in today’s GOP by thumbing his nose at unconventional wisdom with the most scandalous pronouncement thus far in the campaign. If you are sensitive to radical ideas and harsh language, I urge you to stop reading now.

In a tweet to his followers, Jon Huntsman said: “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”

Crazy, indeed.  What’s next? Dinosaurs roamed the Earth?

Huntsman is reacting to the growing anti-environmental platform in American politics, a curious development in an even more curious nascent silly season. Sorry, Planet Earth. Due to the ongoing recession it is increasingly evident that the Earth-friendly platform will not be making an appearance this time around as our current president seems to favor the corporate interests of companies like Monsanto and Cargil; the opposition candidates… well… quite frankly it looks as though they just flat-out hate you.

For example, the winner of the ridiculously un-scientific Iowa Straw Poll, Michele Bachmann, has promised to shutter the Environmental Protection Agency on her first day in the White House. Rick Perry won’t close the EPA, but he’ll make gall-derned sure he castrates it like a bull calf to keep it from killing our jobs. Rick Santorum has said that because humans exhale carbon dioxide, regulating carbon emissions is therefore ludicrous. (No, I’m not making any of this up.) Most of the people running for president on the GOP ticket seem to believe that even though we are still the wealthiest nation on God’s greenish/brown Earth that environmental standards are holding us back. That maybe—just maybe—if we allowed ourselves to revert to pollution standards from the height of the Industrial Revolution, we would be better off. 

Mind you, although we haven’t lost our standing as the No. 1 economy on the planet, we do rank second behind China in carbon emissions. This loss of status has somehow translated into a sort of clarion call for deregulation activists who equate progress with the relaxation of environmental standards. Never mind the fact that on many days one would have trouble seeing clearly through the window of a building in Linfen, China, or that the Beijing government instituted “emergency air-quality measures” in the days leading up to the Summer Olympics.

Our narrow view on environmentalism has left everyone already suffocating from American ignorance and Chinese malfeasance nonplussed and defenseless. In his book Harmony, A New Way of Looking at the World, Prince Charles talks about his experience at the UN Conference in Copenhagen and the “all-out assault on the evidence base” of climate change, calling it “a deliberate attempt to dampen the justified concerns about the climate change threat.”

Presidential candidates who call for dismantling the EPA to help America reclaim its hegemony in destroying the atmosphere are nothing more than hucksters handing out licenses to operate toxic apothecaries stocked with volatile organic compounds. Conservative, anti-environmental activists such as Michele Bachmann like to portray the EPA and other environmental regulatory bodies as proof of America’s increasingly hostile, dystopian government when in practice the very opposite is true.

Ironically, common ground regarding the environment can be found in yet another profound area of intensely partisan disagreement: universal health care. It is in this debate that one can find room for both ardent anti-climate change deniers like Rick Perry and fervent environmental activists like Al Gore, whom Perry once supported. It’s far easier to agree that noxious emissions and pollutants increase the risk of disease and that a sick population is an expensive one to treat. Therefore, isn’t universal disease-prevention by regulating pollution a more efficient way for the market to deliver robust health care? Hell, there’s even room for Ron Paul under this tent.

Whether or not our society wakes up to the fact that we are indeed killing the planet and sacrificing human health along the way, there is an inevitable truth greater than all of us. Those who are most attuned to changes in weather patterns, the degradation of the world’s food supply, the rise of chronic health problems, and the rapid disappearance of clean water understand that humans will ultimately pay the price for our sins, not the Earth.

This is not the first time the Earth has been in such a precarious position. Moreover, there is mounting evidence of how she handles crises. We binge, she purges. The most succinct explanation of this phenomenon is from the great orator and environmentalist Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Onondaga Nation. Rather than paraphrase, I’ll leave you with his sentiment:

“What if we choose to eradicate ourselves from this Earth, by whatever means? The Earth goes nowhere. And in time, it will regenerate, and all the lakes will be pristine. The rivers, the waters, the mountains, everything will be green again. It’ll be peaceful. There may not be people, but the Earth will regenerate. And you know why? Because the Earth has all the time in the world and we don’t.”

– Oren Lyons

Global Warming – Copenhagen

Want to take a trip down the environmental rabbit hole? Spark a discussion about climate change and watch human warming reach extremes far greater than any place on the globe.

To the right you have the laughable stance adopted by the conservative movement that humans are having no effect on climate and the atmosphere. At the other extreme are non-scientist policy makers and pundits holding “The End Is Near” signs on every street corner claiming that Iowa and Chad will be beachfront property by the end of next year.

Personally, I’m not qualified to discern which side is closer to representing the truth.

What I do know is that the debate should remain in scientific circles because I have yet to meet anyone qualified to entirely explain the variances in global temperatures. While world leaders are dithering in Copenhagen and arguing over hacked e-mails about tree rings versus thermometers, the public needs to close its ears to the noise produced on both sides of the global warming debate and focus on the tangible aspects of industrial pollution.

You don’t need to be an expert on carbon emissions or reference “parts per billion” to understand that we are seriously screwing up the planet. Public health has been compromised by the rise of industry. While there are several factors that contribute to the decline in public health, much of the discussion centers on energy production and sources because it’s the baseline driver of industry. So let’s look at it.

First of all, there is no such thing as clean coal. True, you can clean coal emissions, but the process of scrubbing coal to burn cleaner is just as much of an environmental disaster. There is no such thing as clean nuclear energy either, for that matter. True, the emissions are carbon neutral, but at some point every nuclear facility must dispose of the spent fuel used in production. The spent fuel must be stored somewhere and wherever that place is, it’s no place you want to be near.

Large wind farms in lakes and oceans are unrealistically expensive and remarkably inefficient. The Danes will tell you differently and espouse the virtues of wind power—just look at the marvel that is Copenhagen—but the fact remains that they are the largest manufacturers of wind turbines and have a vested economic interest in, shall we say, massaging the numbers. However, wind, solar and geothermal energy present viable options on a micro level and should be encouraged in every corner and backyard of the world. Individuals and small businesses need affordable access to clean energy solutions, not just municipalities.

Economically, there is no such thing as cheap oil anymore. Whether or not the Saudis or Venezuelans care to admit it, we have hit peak oil in the largest, most accessible oil fields around the world. Period. Are there places on Earth with large reserves of oil and natural gas? Yup. Is it easy to get to? Nope. Expensive to retrieve? Yup. Environmentally secure to extract? Nope.

As far as Cap and Trade is concerned—please. Giving large corporations and polluters the ability to buy their way out of cleaning their emissions is a lousy practice. Lisa Jackson from the EPA is on the right track by simply drawing a line in the sand and taking it out of the hands of Congress. The message from the Obama administration is clear: Clean it up. If Cap and Trade is allowed to continue one can only imagine Goldman Sachs creating a derivatives market that bundles pollution credits in with mortgages on homes with inefficient boilers and selling them to school boards in Greenland. No more government-backed securities bought by large corporations and sold on opaque markets, especially if they contain something as ethereal as carbon credits.

This is it folks. We have reached the tipping point. The only option heretofore is conservation.