The Task of Environmental Leadership
Amid the ever rising, discordant, disconnected, coursing invasion of voices and information and interpretations competing to engage our consciousness 24-7, it’s ever more difficult to achieve perspective.
Are we surprised that people retreat to various explanatory ideologies to impose some order… or perhaps, a surcease, a rationalization for disengagement?….
Our evolving environmental consciousness exemplifies the challenge of achieving understanding in our highly connected age.
Earth Day week is an apt moment to make note of some of the spectacular changes underway.
Undertake a thought experiment:
—What issues before us now will appear most consequential fifty years hence?
—What questions that appear to us to be settled, entirely beyond debate, will be viewed as erroneous in the future?
—What issues are taboo, kept from discussion, that will be viewed as central, in the longer view?
What follows are a series of observations and questions intended to stir thought–and spur action.
China Emerges—and Staggers Back, Struggling for Breath
China’s environmental crisis has become impossible to ignore. It’s estimated that polluted ambient air is a causal factor in more than a million premature deaths per year.
Indoor air likely is a corresponding health hazard.
If there is a positive aspect, it may be the wide availability of information. Even the Chinese Communist Party cannot forestall the inevitable conjunction of demands for self-determination in public health as in other areas of life and work.
Transparency can be transformative for our environmental consciousness. It holds the opportunity to align our values and our actions. There’s every reason to think that the populations in rising nations will demand something like American environmental ideals as they achieve economic betterment.
Transparency is also the handmaiden of collaboration. This is uniquely the case for environmental issues, which know no boundaries.
America Heads Toward Energy Self-Sufficiency
Bismarck said that God looks after fools, drunkards and the United States of America. He might well have been characterizing the recent, spectacular turn of events in American energy policy.
As politicians dithered, innovations in technology made possible a historic reversal of America’s longstanding decline in domestic oil production.
The International Energy Agency envisions the USA as becoming the world’s greatest oil producer. Oil imports are down by one-third.
These achievements are occurring in the absence of national political leadership. It would be a mistake to thereby conclude that political leadership is not required for the future.
If one concludes that Congress is institutionally incapable of overcoming regional interests absent presidential guidance, this ongoing federal government failure must be seen as resting primarily with the current and recent presidential administrations.
Going forward, presidential leadership is required for a number of strategic decisions:
—What is the proper regulatory framework for fracking? How can the current generation ensure that the costs of practices now understood to be acceptable will be imposed on those who profit? The evolution of the best available science presents this dilemma repeatedly in history. There’s simply no excuse for not getting it right this time.
—Can agreement be reached to lock up environmentally sensitive areas? The political pressure to explore the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, for example, as well as sensitive offshore resources, has abated. Can this time be used to seek a new national consensus on how to value such environmental resources? Can such a consensus take a longer view of future technological potential and national security needs?
—Can the breakthroughs in oil and gas production occasion reconsideration of outdated tax policies? Can carbon taxes begin to replace taxes on income and investment?
—How will the increases in oil and gas production be utilized to transition toward sustainable development of renewable sources? How will such uses be prioritized against competing claims, such as reforming entitlement and pensions programs, perhaps seeking oil and gas production tax dollars for the transition?
21st Century Environmental Leadership | Part I