|Earth Day 2012: Mobilize the Earth|
For Earth Day, I thought I might make a list of green things to do around the house, but I was reading blogs this week and discovered an excellent one, already written, at Simple Mom. She’s listed 40 ways to go greener at home.
It’s worth checking out, but I have to admit, when I first read it, something irked me. She started off with a disclaimer about how she didn’t want to push a political agenda. Few things are more politically urgent to me right now than our need to cut back on CO2 emissions. If you care about the earth enough to write a post about going green, how can you not care about the politics of making green things happen on a larger scale? I mean, who cares if you change your light bulbs if your car still only gets 26 miles/gallon in 30 years?
There are politics in the light bulb (and the blog post) whether intended or not. Why deny it?
I stewed about this for a bit. Then I had an idea. Simple Mom has thousands and thousands of readers—I think she has as many comments in a day as I have readers in a month. An audience that big must hail from a broad array of backgrounds. Perhaps she’s just walking the fine line of inclusion—trying not to alienate readers. Instead of a political agenda (code for democratic agenda, I think), she claims to support good stewardship and frugality. She even connects green practices to God, explaining that going green is a way of caring for God’s earth.
Is she apolitical, or is she a political genius?
I ask because, whether she intends to or not, she’s encouraging conservative readers to become activists for what most perceive as a democratic cause. And this got me thinking about our desperate need for some green cooperation. No one can deny that the humanitarian and planetarian crisis of climate change is mired in a paralyzing heap of steaming partisanship that could undo us all.
It wasn’t always that way.
The first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, had bipartisan support. Democratic Senator Gaylord Nelson and Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey co-chaired the campaign to have a national environmental teach-in. Twenty million Americans participated in rallies across the country, giving the issue enough political clout that the following fall, Republican President Nixon passed the Clean Air Act. Of further note, the 1970 Clean Air Act passed the Senate unanimously. Unanimously!
Then Ronald Reagan came into office. No sooner had he wiped his shoes on the White House welcome mat, than he ordered the removal of the solar panels that Jimmy Carter had installed just 2 years prior (the panels didn’t actually come down until 1986, in conjunction with some other roof work).
Carter installed the panels as a symbol of our clean energy future. Reagan removed them as a symbolic rejection of that future. He went on to cut 85% of Carter’s R&D budget for renewable energy. He also allowed solar tax credits to expire and abandoned planned increases to fuel efficiency standards.
With his pro-market decimation of Carter’s energy policies, Reagan made the environment a liberal issue, effectively sneezing on earth-day, infecting its preservationist and conservationist ideals with the parasite of partisanship that we have yet to eradicate.
Now, after 30 years of bickering, we’re in a real mess. To turn things around, we need to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels from our current level of 392 parts per million (ppm) to 350 ppm (read more at www.350.org). To accomplish this goal, we need to cut CO2 emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. That’s just 38 years away!
Predictions of what will happen if we don’t accomplish that goal? Collapsed continental ice sheets, a sea level rise of dozens of feet, and the ever-lurking and dire possibility that warming becomes irreversible.
A few energy saver light bulbs ain’t gonna cut it.
We need Republicans. We need them bad.
We all know there’s no chance that Republican lawmakers will voluntarily abandon their big oil buddies for the company of a lush green forest. Demand for environmental policy needs to come from below, from Republican voters. Currently, however, the only way a Republican can vote for the environment is by voting for a Democrat. That’s too much to ask. To avoid that affront, Republicans cling to flimsy claims about an environmental conspiracy, burying their heads in the sands of denial. But there's no need for that. We don’t need Republicans to be Democrats; we just need them to be environmentalists.
Climate change is a humanitarian and planetarian crisis that doesn’t care at all about partisan bickering. We can ride our donkeys and elephants straight into the lethal rays of a burning sunset for all it cares.
Or we can try to work together. I know it seems like Republicans are doing all the bickering and denying, but there is also a way that Democrats don’t make room for them. We like to claim green policy as ours—as one of the things that makes us right and them wrong.
We need a campaign to show Republican voters that they can care about the environment without giving up their other conservative ideals. We need to put the conservative in conservation, to frame environmentalism as pro-life, pro-American, pro-job, even pro-God—because it truly is all of those things.
The idea that Republicans should oppose sound energy and environmental policy was always a trick of the energy sector. If Republican voters could see a conservative pathway through all of the misinformation about climate, perhaps they could be motivated to put the environment on their list of political must-haves with anti-abortion and guns. Then policy-makers would have no choice but to follow suit. Then we would have a real chance of defeating the demands of big oil in congress.
So, I know the incentive today is to go out and hug a tree, but if we really want to save the earth, perhaps we should go out and hug a Republican.
(don’t worry, we can still fight about all the other stuff)