It’s a new year, and there’s little doubt that it will be a very different one. Here are ten wishful thoughts, from the global to the local, on how to make it a happier one:
1. U.S. gets a climate clue: In 2000, candidate George W. Bush vowed to deal with global warming. Within a year of his election, Bush was overruled by Vice President Cheney, who labeled the campaign promise a “mistake.” For eight years, the Bush Administration dodged the issue, silencing its own climate scientists and sandbagging international agreements. Focusing on global warming, they said, might trigger an economic disaster. Without focusing on global warming, we got one anyway.
Barack Obama has rolled out a hard-nosed climate czar in ex-EPA boss Carol Browner, and two genuine scientists for other key posts: Renewables-minded Steven Chu as Energy Secretary, and Marine Ecologist Jane Lubchenco as head of NOAA. By reputation, people with big brains and track records to match, with a huge turnaround ahead of them.
2. U.S. lifts a finger to help global climate agreement: Well, at least a different finger than the one we’ve been lifting for the past eight years. After a discouraging, results-free international meeting in Poland last month, all eyes are on a major climate meeting in Copenhagen in December, 2009. The goal is to strike a successor agreement to the Kyoto Treaty, and to bring India, China, and other developing nations to the table. Without U.S. leadership, it won’t happen.
3. It’s the economy, stupid: If Ford, GM, and Chrysler hope to see another New Year’s Day, they need to be force-fed the green goals they’ve resisted for decades. Gas may be back to a buck-fifty a gallon, but it’s still killing us. Don’t think of it as a bailout, think of it as a surrender. And the terms for the Big Three are EV’s and high-mileage gas-eaters. Let this be a part of the economic recovery.
4. No parks roadkill: From Florida to Washington State and dozens of states in between, governments with budget shortfalls are closing state parks and historic sites. Let’s put a lid on this, shall we? It shouldn’t take our public lands longer to recover from a bad economy than it may take Ford, GM, and Chrysler.
5. Treat environmental laws like they’re actually laws: The non-profit Environmental Integrity Project, led by former EPA Enforcement boss Eric Schaeffer, says that enforcement actions and fines dropped off dramatically during the Bush Administration. The Center for Biological Diversity reports that the Bush Administration averaged about nine listings per year under the Endangered Species Act -- nearly all of them forced by environmental groups’ lawsuits. Papa Bush’s administration listed species six times as often.
6. Get beyond “shock to trance”: When Barack and Michelle Obama sat down for their post-election 60 Minutes interview, the President-Elect neatly summed up one of our national behavioral problems: We go from “shock to trance,” depending on the price of our gasoline. It happened in the 1970s, and it happened big-time in 2008, as gasoline prices went from $4 to $1.50 a gallon. If we only pursue better vehicles and cleaner fuels when we’re at the $4 end of the equation, it’ll never happen.
7. Get beyond politics: Just how did “conservation” and “conservative” get to be opposites in this country? That clean air, clean water, and a stable climate have somehow become left-versus-right issues defies logic, and defies the way the rest of the world looks at these issues. Let’s not lay blame in any one place: It’s everybody’s fault.
8. Get beyond “economy or environment”: Like it says in #1, environmental concerns didn’t get us into this economic nightmare, but re-structuring a cleaner economy may be a big part of the way out.
9. Bigger isn’t better: In a single decade, what we drive put on almost half a ton of weight: According to ForbesAutos.com, the average passenger vehicle went from 3,221 pounds in 1997 to 4,144 pounds in 2007. This is pretty much reflected in the size of our homes, meals, and waistlines, too. Are we any better off? Think a little smaller.
10. Get to Know Greenwashing: As you read this, unspeakable things are being done, or at least claimed, in the name of a cleaner environment. Greenwashing is the time-honored art of creating the illusion that you’re helping the environment when you’re really not. Corporations sometimes do it; so do individuals. Be positive, but with a healthy skepticism about green claims.
Peter Dykstra, the former executive producer of CNN's Science, Tech and Weather Unit is currently a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. He writes three columns for MNN: Media Mayhem on Mondays, Political Habitat on Wednesdays, and Green States on Fridays. (Yes, he writes a lot.)