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A sustainable environment is not optional

Fri, Feb 17th, 2006
Posted in Commentary

A sustainable environmental policy is not optional. By definition if it is not sustainable, the earth as we have known it and the human race cannot live with it long term. To assure the survival of our children it is imperative that we realize our place in the ecology of the earth. We cannot continue to apply band-aid solutions that only decrease the rate of acceleration toward; air, water, and soil that can not support human life; lose of vital resources; extinction of other species; and the destruction of natural beauty and open spaces we depend on for spiritual sustenance. It is time for a comprehensive and common sense approach.

1.We must have environmental protection organizations such and the EPA and MPCA that have a bias for protecting our environment. These groups must enforce and work toward improving environmental regulation. We depend on them to balance the self-interest of individuals and corporations that gain short-term profits by degrading our environment.

2.We must decrease the impact of human activities on the earth. Human induced climate change, pollution, over population, depletion of resources, extinction of species, and loss of open spaces are all examples of this. There are only three possible actions to decrease our impact. A) Reduce our population. B) Consume less per person. C) Manufacture and dispose of the things we consume in a more environmentally friendly way. A combination of all three will be necessary.

3.Pay the full cost of our consumption, including the cost of environmental damage. Currently the markets are not working because we subsidize energy use and manufacturing. Our current unregulated market gives an advantage to companies that externalize costs through dumping pollution on all of us. Instead we should subsidize things we want and tax things we do not want. Examples of things to subsidize would be sustainable energy production or companies that either manufacture products that are environmentally friendly or take responsibility for the appropriate disposal or recycling of their products. Examples of things to tax would be vehicles that are not energy efficient, the use of toxic chemicals, and emissions such as mercury or carbon dioxide. If we apply this to ethanol as an example, we would stop subsidizing corn production and ethanol distilleries and we would tax soil erosion, agrichemical use, and carbon emissions. The market may soon show ethanol production to be economically and environmentally unsustainable.

4.We must support leaders with enough vision to know that nothing else matters if we do not care for the environment we live in. We cannot have a strong economy long-term with out natural capital. We cannot have long-term health without a healthy environment. Our children’s well-being can never be secure without clean air, water, soil, and abundant resources. No one can be for the security of this country, public health, education, care for the elderly, jobs, justice, markets that work, moral values, or a strong economy unless they are for a sustainable environmental policy.

Post 9/11 Dick Cheney commissioned a pentagon study on threats to our security. The pentagon’s conclusion was that climate change is the number one threat to the security of the United States. Of course that was not what he was looking for and it never got reported in the mainstream press.

Just recently the top climate scientist for NASA spoke out saying that we have only about a decade to make drastic changes in our greenhouse gas emissions or we will have done irreversible harm to the earth’s climate (once we modify our behavior the problem does not end, we only decrease the rate of acceleration toward the problem). He was warned by George Bush appointees not to speak out. He said he could not live with the thought of his grandchildren knowing that he had this knowledge and did nothing. It may cost him his job.

There is a chance that the entire scientific community with the exception three on the Exxon Mobil pay role are wrong, but there is a better chance they are right. Are you willing to bet the future of your children on the possibility that they will be proven wrong? What is the upside and down side potential of taking action?

Air, water, resources, and natural beauty are our birth right as much as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. No one and no business have the right to take away these necessities of life.

Bryan Van Gorp lives in Rushford.

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