Short-term schemes for growth instigated the current financial crisis. Similarly, a short-term economic lens led to a 16 percent reduction in EPA funding and a snowballing movement to loosen state conservation policies, all for the sake of balanced budgets. Chances are, this short-term economic strategy won't solve the failings of another short-term economic strategy.
Potential victims of proposed environmental deregulation
include the Florida Everglades, millions of protected forest acres in Maine, South Carolina's Department of Environment and Natural Resources and New Jersey's largest watershed. For now, these strategies will cut spending while developing previously protected land in the name of economic growth. In the future, these actions will be precedents for loosely-managed national resources and economic instability.
Although this debate is sharply divided along party lines, a long-term understanding reveals conservation as a bipartisan ideal. Some political dialogue implies conservation is a liberal tree-hugger's battle, but this is historically inaccurate. Conservation, unlike ecologically focused policies, is a strategy for economic security which first gained steam among conservatives in the early 20th century.
The first conservationists — the most famous of whom was Republican Teddy Roosevelt — wished to regulate the use of U.S. land and wildlife to ensure there would be an adequate amount to benefit future generations. National security, they argued, rested upon conservation policy. Conservatives nationalized unprecedented amounts of land and water as protected zones and parks, doing so to provide the greatest number of people with resources for the greatest amount of time.
By the late 1960s, another mass movement erupted to protect land and species, this time in response to pollution and toxicity more so than rapid use of resources. Environmentalists of the '60s were primarily liberal, but by 1970, it was a collaboration between parties that fueled the most successful push for environmental legislation in history. Pres. Nixon backed the largest grouping of environmental laws ever accomplished by any president. These included the Endangered Species Act, The Clean Air Act, The Federal Water Pollution Control Act and the National Environmental Policy Act that created the EPA.
Flash forward almost four decades, and the EPA is offered up for sacrifice with a whopping $1.6 billion budget cut. Much of Congress and conservative state governments wish to open protected land and ecosystems for development to boost the economy. You don't have to be a tree-hugger to realize these actions endanger much more than "tree frogs and Canadian lynx," as mentioned sarcastically by Maine's governor. Limiting the strength of the EPA and state conservation capacity will aid short-term goals while endangering long-term stability.
Conservation has bipartisan roots and bipartisan benefits. To forget the long and complex history of that relationship, and to neglect its delicate future, are both ominous mimicries of a short-termism that crippled our financial markets. In other words, a government bailout of the environment will be much trickier. Just as our generation and our children's generation will be paying off debts of our financial crisis, we will be struggling to survive among improperly managed natural resources.
Reconciliation across party lines will only be possible when politicians remember these mutual benefits of carefully managed finite resources. Because in the end, we must live by one chilling bipartisan reality: we can write the rules of our economic strategy, but we can't write the rules of nature.