Thursday, January 25, 2007

Another Inconvenient Truth

I had the opportunity to hear Al Gore speak in Boise on Monday night. While it wasn't much different from his movie, he did have some updated studies and some Idaho specific points and examples, and it was interesting.

I got to reflecting on how partisan politics play into global warming, and why. (Not that I have great answers). I never cared much for Al Gore, to be honest, but I do respect that he is taking a message he believes in to the people, not just in America, but all over the world. He's not doing it for profit, he's doing it because he believes it needs to be done, and he was not successful in getting our government to listen and take action. The whole "take the message to the people" thing and the passion for a cause I have to respect.

I don't think I've ever been in a room with as many Democrats before. (Despite what one might assume, I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Democrat). Out of 10,000 attendees, I would guess the majority were Democrats based on the crowd reaction to a few political comments made by Gore. I think this detracts from his message, personally. I realize people who agree with him may get energized by banter or slight slams at the Republicans, but fundamentally global warming should not be subject to political partisanship, and such jabs only perpetuate that thinking. (Not that I blame him - who could resist a few good slams? The quote Gore used from Ex-Governor Jim Risch about not taking a position either way on global warming was priceless, for example, I wish I had it word for word).

I give Gore credit not only for taking his message on the road and being active and passionate, but for taking a complex problem and distilling it to the average person in a way they can understand, and care about. Taking complex, sometimes dry data and making it into graphics that work, and a message that remains interesting, is no easy task, as any trial lawyer who faces the same challenge with a jury can tell you.

As I listened, I wondered: how did this become a political issue anyway? Why are conserving species, protecting the environment, advocating for humane treatment of animals, preserving migration corridors, considered largely Democrat issues anyway? Why are these "liberal" issues? Shouldn't we all care equally about the problem, and debate ways to solve it, rather than debate its existence, or brand people as "radical environmentalists" or "animal rights extremists"?

Unfortunately I've been around enough Republicans, and politics in general, long enough and deep enough to understand the answer. It is an inconvenient and ugly truth that politicians don't take action on these issues because doing so would cost them votes and money. Oil companies lobby and make campaign contributions, caribou don't. And the non-profit groups that advocate for animals and the environment don't make campaign contributions. Business lobbyists don't want extra regulations or increased expenses, so they tend to advocate for the status quo or maximum freedom, including freedom to pollute or take actions that increase global warming. they have higher priorities than the environment: making money. Sure, we could create incentives rather than regulation, we could reward environmentally responsible behavior rather than ban bad behaviors, we could take all kinds of actions to encourage the market to reward "being green" not "making green," but largely, we don't.

If we want this to change, I believe it has to come from direct pressure on politicians from their constituents. For the first time, I plan to vote based on the candidates stand on these issues, rather than others which are also important to me, and to let candidates know why I am, or am not, voting for them. If this means voting Democrat, I'll certainly do it. I am also making it a personal policy to take all the actions we can in our own home to be environmentally responsible, and to only buy products from environmentally responsible companies. (Yes, it's a bit more expensive, but in the long run I believe it's worth it). Every time I make a purchase I am supporting a company that has chosen a path I believe is the right one. It does mean paying more attention. It is a pain. So is walking or biking to work instead of driving, so is buying only organic, buying animal products only from humane farms, etc. It's all a's all inconvenient. But the truth is, that's what we all need to start doing if we want to change the big picture of how things are going.

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