by Nathaniel Batchelder
Americans voting this fall must elect Members of Congress who will support legislation in the common good and general interest of all, especially addressing economic and environmental sustainability. The challenges are urgent and daunting:
On the first Earth Day, in 1972, many of us learned that, with only 6% of the world’s population, the US consumes some 25% of all resources turned to human use, and produces some 40% of the wastes needing appropriate disposal. Despite thousands of articles and books since then, the US has mostly ignored its opportunity to demonstrate to the world that comfortable lives could also be environmentally sustainable. The American love of bigger cars, bigger houses, bigger meals, and extravagant consumption as signs of “success” attest to a “me first” value system oblivious to the implications for humanity and Nature. Champions of consumption without reflection include Rush Limbaugh and other national talk-show hosts who daily ridicule environmentalism or any concern beyond one’s desire for more. Our national media are complicit, failing to consistently report environmental losses to Americans, while benefiting from advertising campaigns celebrating consumption.
Thirty years of implementing tax and trade policies favorable to corporate interests and the rich have resulted in an explosion of wealth among a minority of Americans. Meanwhile, working households historically supported by a single wage-earner have become two-job, three-job, or four-job households. The exodus of tens of millions of US jobs to El Salvador, Indonesia, Bangladesh and China is the result of global trade treaties passed by Congress during two Clinton and three Bush administrations. Activist organizations tried to sound the alarm, and to get riders on the treaties protecting workers’ rights and environmental rights, but Congress said, No, these are trade treaties.
The stock market “boom” of the late ‘90s turned out to be a cancer of deregulated industries, particularly Enron and World-Com, whose abuses turned billions of dollars of stock-holdings into worthless paper. The irony of policies profiting primarily those on the top rungs of the economic ladder is that they contain the seeds of their own destruction. America’s Great Depression came about when warehouses were full but people had too little money to buy. Current policies are creating the same conditions, all made worse by the War in Iraq, the annual deficit of some $400 billion, and the push for even more tax cuts. A stark reckoning approaches.
Lifting environmental sustainability to political importance will call for a national popular movement with a voice government cannot ignore. Saving the US economy will require federal control of banking and finance, and “Franklin Roosevelt” solutions putting millions to work fixing and building the infrastructure needed to support a healthy economy: roads, bridges, railroads, canals, schools, power stations, public buildings, health clinics and the like. A national commitment to universal public education and universal public health care would create jobs in those industries and improve the economic prospects of the 80% of Americans whose salaries support the economy. Call it “trickle up” economics.
Conservatives currently controlling both houses of Congress and the White House were elected by wealthy and corporate elites voting their pocketbooks and people attracted to conservative attacks on homosexuals and reproductive freedoms. Neither group appears much concerned about the economic future of 80% of Americans, or the environmental future of our planet.