Saturday, February 16, 2008

Trying every solution but the obvious

It feels as though the US presidential primaries have been on forever. All the slogans have been memorized—“Change we can believe in,” “Ready to lead on day one,” “Faith, Family, Freedom”—and positions have been outlined in debate after debate. Candidates have been grilled by news anchors and commentators, and all the pandits have weighed in with their opinion as to who is most likely to win the black vote in general, the affluent black vote, the rural black vote, the dership by doing all those things?)

If one were to say such a thing, the response of much of the American public would likely be very much like that of the a news commentator whom I happened to hear yesterday saying “Some of the politicians would have us sitting in the cold and the dark. Well not me! I don't want to live like a European !” (I wish I knew which politicians were honest enough to say that more of us should be sitting in the cold and the dark. If I knew who was saying that, I might have a better idea whom to vote for.)

When environmental issues were being brought to everyone's attention a couple of decades ago, we all learned about the Three R's: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. The order of those three measures was important; the most effective was named first, the least effective last. And yet recycling is about the only one that has received serious and sustained attention. There is money to be made in recycling. But if people stop buying unnecessary goods, and if they use things until they are no longer needed and then give them to someone else who may have a use for them, then dramatically fewer things will be bought and sold and manufactured. Dramatically fewer things would be thrown into landfill sites or burned or shredded. Reductions in manufacturing, sales and waste management, we are told, would mean fewer jobs and less economic growth. A slower economy is un-American.

So if doing what is right for the environment—living sustainably with the resources that the earth provides and reducing the amount of toxicity poured into the water and air and soil—is bad for the economy as we now know it, then doing what is right for the environment must be un-American. That so many Americans apparently think this way, and feel no shame for their addictions to possessions and comforts and pleasures, is very bad news for the third planet from the sun. And because it is bad news for the earth, it is also very bad news for the very people who are unwilling to change the way they live.

Those political candidates who are calling for change are right. Things must change. But the changes we require are not going to be achieved simply by having news faces in the the White House and the Congress. The changes we require amount to nothing less than a radical change in human behavior, and those changes probably cannot be made without equally radical changes in human nature. Philosophers and religious leaders have been saying as much since writing was first used to record human thoughts. The advice has been given repeatedly and eloquently. It has rarely been heeded. There is not much evidence that the advice will be heeded now.

This year's presidential campaign so far has focused on hope, experience, national security and conservative values. Experience shows there is little hope that the environment will be conserved and that the entire nation is therefore deeply insecure. Which politician has the honesty to try to win the vote of reflective people by saying that?