I believe that pollution comprises the biggest wedge issue the Left's got. Handled correctly, it could dwarf the political impact of Der Kulturkampf. As frightening as the idea of extending human rights to fellow citizens might be to the average American, there's compelling evidence that Americans are more concerned about the state of their air, water, and food than they are about gay marriage and televised nipples. For one thing, it's a local issue, and the Right does poorly on local issues; they prefer to prattle about abstract ideas of national rebirth and manifest destiny, because they know that there's a limit to the lies you can tell people about what's going on in their own communities.
You hear a lot about BushCo's assualt on the environment - and rightly so - but unless you read a hundred environmental news stories a day, as I do, you might not notice that all over the country, people are fighting back and winning. They're bringing lawsuits against polluters, preventing various types of development, and generally raising hell. And at the same time, cities and towns are converting vehicle fleets to alternative fuels, installing rainwater cisterns, banning truck and bus idling, installing solar panels, and offering consumers green energy options.
What's interesting about all this is not whether, say, biodiesel or wind farms will "save" us from this, that, or the other catastrophe; what's interesting is the incredible rapidity of these changes, which is something I've really never seen in my lifetime. Half the battle with bureaucracy is getting it to admit that change is possible, let alone necessary. But today, in many states, local bureaucracies are actually in the vanguard of change. I find that heartening, and pretty much unprecedented; it seems to me that this may be what the early stages of a national change in attitude look like.
Meanwhile, BushCo's appalling Clean Skies Initiative is dead, for now. And although one hesitates to put any faith in evangelicals, since they're so easily sidetracked by the voluptuous terrors of human sexuality, the fact that they're taking a stand in favor of "creation care" (i.e., common sense) is promising:
The Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella group of 51 church denominations, said he had become passionate about global warming because of his experience scuba diving and observing the effects of rising ocean temperatures and pollution on coral reefs.A new study shows just how much Republicans and Democrats agree on the environment. Here's what happened when respondents were presented with Bush's 2005 budget priorities, and asked to adjust them to match their own priorities:
"The question is, Will evangelicals make a difference, and the answer is, The Senate thinks so," Mr. Haggard said. "We do represent 30 million people, and we can mobilize them if we have to."
Funds for conservation and the development of renewable energy were increased by 1090%. That is not a typo. 70% of respondents opted for increases in this area.So why do we keep losing battles? There are various answers; one of them is "We don't." In a recent article called We're Winning, Ted Williams interviews a gaggle of long-time environmentalists, and finds a remarkable amount of optimism:
"The environmental movement is doing fine," said Brock Evans, formerly of the Sierra Club and Audubon and now president of the Endangered Species Coalition. "I remember in the 1960s rivers were burning. There were no laws; there was only hope. Today we win most battles. I don't get scared anymore when I see another Republican assault on an environmental law. We've been there before; we saw it in 1995 when Gingrich came out with his Contract on America." Evans cited seemingly hopeless battles won at the 59th minute of the 11th hour — the California Desert Bill, saving Hell's Canyon from dams, establishing the wilderness areas in the Cascades, the Alaska Lands Act. "Our greatest victory was the ancient-forest wars from 1988 to 1994. We got allowable cut in the Northwest knocked down 95 percent. Politicians from both parties were opposing us. I kept an 1,800-page diary of it. Scary reading, but we did it. I'm optimistic because we win. We win so much, I've come to believe there's no such thing as miracles. We win by standing tall, by not quitting against seemingly hopeless odds, by endless pressure endlessly applied."He's got a point. One of the places I occasionally go birdwatching has a deep, manmade duck pond in the middle of one of its meadows. It was the initial excavation for a nuclear plant that was never built, because public pressure stopped it.
And at a preserve I sometimes visit near Stanford, an aerial view of the site has an overlay showing the acres of parking lots, malls, and airport tarmac that were supposed to be built. It didn't happen, and now the preserve is home to "Rail Alley," one of the few places where one can reliably see the retiring clapper rail, which was hunted almost to extinction in the early 20th century.
Both these battles were won at a time when there was virtually no public awareness about environmental issues, no organized environmental movement, and no Internets. We should be able to do better today. And while we're at it, we should be able to portray the GOP as the party of dirty air, dirty water, and cancer clusters.