Monday, October 29, 2012

The Election and the Environment

Another autumn, another horrible storm bearing down on the USA, and just a week away from our 2012 presidential election. We are experiencing these destructive mega-storms with ever-increasing frequency. Just last year on almost the same date, a hurricane that came after many weeks of heavy rain did massive damage, including turning a street near by me into a river when the underground sewer exploded from an excess of water pounding through the pipes. The weather event unfolding today and expected to continue to howl and rage all this week, is truly a monster, called "Frankenstorm" by some, as it combines a hurricane with a couple of other weather fronts to create a huge storm system nearly 1000 miles wide, which means it will move very slowly through the region before it finally dissipates, and subject most of the US East Coast as well as areas well inland to a sustained beating by rain and wind that is sure to cause many people to lose electricity, if not their lives, and many homes, buildings, road and other structures to be severely damaged or even destroyed. Low-lying parts of New York City are already being evacuated, and if the water surge around coastal areas is as expected, major damage could be done to the NYC train and subway system, which could soon be sitting underwater.

This kind of extreme weather is exactly what all the scientific research about global warming has been predicting: more killer storms, ever more frequent, ever more immense, and ever more destructive. The storm bearing down on us today is much larger than the horrendous Katrina storm of 2005, which shows, I suppose, some kind of progress on the climate change issue, but progress in the wrong direction, in that we have succeeded in paving the way for even more destructive weather.

If the storm is half as devastating as some are predicting, one would hope--and pray--that this would be the wake-up call that America has been needing to begin taking serious measures to change our patterns of energy usage and production, in order to at least slow down our descent into a future of hellishly calamitous weather, if not begin to reverse it, but I am not confident that my country has the wisdom, judgment, collective will or long-term vision to step up to the task.

Looking at our ongoing presidential election campaign, I see little cause for confidence. Both candidates are refusing to raise the difficult questions that need to be raised about carbon-based fuels and our need to make a rapid transition to other forms of energy. How fast can we make a transition to cleaner energy sources? How much will it cost? What new structures will have to be created? Instead of speaking to any such concerns, both President Obama and his challenger, Governor Romney, are peddling the same moronic pablum about the need to pursue an "all of the above" energy strategy, meaning continuing to drill for oil and gas, including expanding the controversial, environmentally dubious practice of hydrofracture gas drilling which has been previously addressed on this blog; continuing to extract coal by all means possible, including blowing up mountaintops for coal, ruining the surrounding rivers and streams and kissing goodbye to some of our most cherished landscapes; continuing to press for new nuclear power plants, even after the hard lessons of the Fukushima meltdown of a year and a half ago, not to mention Chernobyl 1996; and also, last and perhaps least in the two candidates' schemes of things, continuing to develop newer, more sustainable energy sources, such as wind, solar and geothermal.

The main area of contention between the two has been over who is more supportive of the coal industry. That's right, COAL: the dirtiest, most polluting carbon-based fuel of all. To listen to Obama and Romney go at each other on this issue, each pointing out how the other has in the past taken measures to limit or turn away from coal production, you might think that the two men were running for King of Coal, not President of the United States. Both keep going on about "clean coal," which does not exist outside of coal industry propaganda. Coal is a dirty, polluting fuel, period, and its extraction wreaks havoc on the environment wherever it is done. The sooner we are done with coal, the better.

Obama is better than Romney on the environmental front, but not by much. Obama's administration did provide funding for weatherization, solar power and other "Green Energy" type businesses, as part of the 2009-10 "Stimulus" program, but has not done much in this area since, caving in to vociferous opposition by conservative Republicans who mock the very concepts of climate change and green energy. He has however advanced higher fuel economy standards for cars and put in place other environmental regulations. Rommey has followed his party in attacking Obama for supporting some green energy businesses that went under, such as the Solyndra, solar power panel company, but continues to claim that he is pro-green, arguing that what was wrong with Solyndra was putting public, taxpayer money at risk when all such new investment should be left to private investment companies.

A major problem with the Romney private investment approach is that it leaves our long-term energy and environmental future to the whims of short-term oriented capitalists and investment brokers, who are not concerned with the fate of the planet in 2100 and 3100, but only the profits to be made in the next few months or years. Romney also talks of rolling back environmental legislation that he characterizes, in official Republican party-line jargon, as "job-killing," painting the Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA, as a kind of demonic, cannibalistic force that must be stopped. Ironically, it was President Richard M. Nixon, a Republican, who created the EPA in the first place. That was back when Republicans were still capable of caring about the environment and did not yet view environmentalism as an anti-American conspiracy that they could profit from denouncing.

Sadly, both candidates were in the past far more environmentally aware and far more supportive of government action to combat climate change and global warming than they are today. While governor of Massachusetts, Romney made an appearance in front of a coal-burning power plant and stated the forthright position that he was in favor of shutting down the plant because "it kills" by virtue of the negative health effects of burning coal. Romney now completely rejects this stance. In a similarly breathtaking display of political expediency and environmental hypocrisy, the same Barack Obama who once spoke eloquently about the need to combat climate change and turn toward cleaner forms of energy now hardly ever mentions the word climate change, but has a lot of kind words for coal and hydrofracking.

Obama's betrayal is especially grievous because he was in a position, coming into office after the carbon-fuel based Bush-Cheney administration, to really chart a different energy and environmental course. He has, as noted, put in place regulations that will help create a cleaner environment over time, but Obama has displayed his characteristic timidity and political cowardice in failing to make a strong, loud, public case in favor of clean energy and a greener future. He has been too worried about reelection and so failed to use the presidency as a teaching-tool to educate the population and shape public opinion for the long-term struggles ahead. He took the coward's way out, and now fewer Americans believe that global warming is a real and pressing issue than did when Obama took office. By pursuing a kind of "stealth strategy" on environmental issues, quietly pushing regulations behind closed doors while for the most part keeping silent on the public stage, Obama has ceded ground to the anti-environmental, pro-carbon fuel forces that have swamped the media universe with pro-coal, pro-fracking propaganda, and cast doubt on the need for rapid and decisive action on energy and environmental issues.

So who's a liberal, environmentalist American Pagan to vote for, given this choice between two candidates who have each proven so craven and hypocritical on environmental issues? Well, taking into account other issues like women's health care, abortion rights, ending tax policy that favors the rich, reducing the size of our obese and bloated military, the future composition of the Supreme Court, and preservation of social programs that help the underprivileged, Obama is definitely the better choice, and is still marginally better than Romney on the environmental front, as he has, as stated, supported regulations that will be helpful in the long run. But either way, we will not yet have a President who clearly, boldly, publicly and forthrightly supports a new direction in energy policy for the USA, who is capable of turning away decisively from carbon-based fuels to aggressively promote less polluting energy forms like solar, wind and geothermal in order to preserve the health and well-being of the natural world for the sake of future generations. Voting day this year will be a sad day for environmentalists, regardless of who wins.

There is however another choice: the Green Party candidate Jill Stein for President. She has no chance of actually winning the election, but if the Greens make a stronger showing this year than in years past, it will put pressure on the other political parties to be more pro-environmental, and will also help the Green Party obtain government funding for future election campaigns. I therefore advise liberal, environmentalist Pagans to consider voting for Jill Stein as an alternative to President Obama. However, as the worst result by far would be for Romney to become President, as he is clearly beholden to the extreme right wing of his party, I would advise voters who share my concerns to look at the situation in the following manner.
If you are in a state where Obama is sure to win, such as New York, Massachusetts or California, then consider voting for Jill Stein. Obama will still win the state, but your vote will help promote the only political party currently offering a boldly pro-environmental direction. However, if you are in a state where the election is very close, such as Ohio, Florida or Nevada, I would suggest supporting Obama, not with great enthusiasm, but simply as the necessary expedient to prevent a total right-wing takeover of our system of government. Romney's foreign policy statements and advisers suggest he might well drag us into another Middle Eastern War, and this must absolutely be avoided.

So, if you are a liberal, a Pagan and concerned about the environment, I urge you to consider, depending on where you are, either voting Green or Democrat.

Beyond the election, I hope to see Pagans getting more involved in political causes, especially as regards the environment. As far as I know, reverence for the environment and the sacredness of nature is one of the unifying themes of ALL Paganism from Asatru to Romuva to Wicca. Hopefully we can all make more effort to protect this earth that we all love and value.


Anon. said...

I was just wondering if you've seen this article on heathen environmentalism that Hex published recently? I think it might be of interest to you.

Maelstrom said...

Thank you for the link to the Hex article about holy trees in Germanic Paganism! I strongly recommend it to all!

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