By John Klar
One of the most contentious wedges in America’s current cultural rift is over the reality or degree of human-induced “climate change.” The Democratic Party has maneuvered conservatives into a vulnerable position on this issue — regardless of whether humans actually are warming the globe. Conservatives must reclaim the higher moral ground on the ecosystem, for both political expediency and taking sensible charge of the environmental problems that we can all agree require action.
Once upon a time, “the environment” was not a political issue. World War II sparked massive industrial expansion, which included technological advances in chemical engineering and industrial applications of these new tools. The use of DDT and other early mistakes caused real harm to the ecosystem. In 1962, Rachel Carson animated this national conversation with her seminal book “Silent Spring,” the title conjuring visions of a world without songbirds. The environmental movement was born.
America was facing numerous environmental pollution threats at that time: oil spills, smog, automobile pollution, depleted oxygen levels in Lake Erie, and more. By the summer of 1969, President Richard Nixon had created the Environmental Quality Council. His State of the Union message in January 1970 pronounced what must now be reclaimed:
“Restoring nature to its natural state is a cause beyond party and beyond factions. It has become a common cause of all the people of this country. It is a cause of particular concern to young Americans, because they more than we will reap the grim consequences of our failure to act on programs which are needed now if we are to prevent disaster later.”
There is no reference in 1970 to “global warming.” That “issue” awaited the arrival of Al Gore’s 2006 “Inconvenient Truth” film documentary and book. Overnight, the national conversation moved from how humanity was polluting to whether humanity was warming the planet.
This red-herring shift undermined an effective response to environmental pollution: Instead of regulating identified toxins, environmental utopianism identified carbon dioxide as a toxin and shifted resources to solar and other projects. Republicans have been placed in the untenable position of seeming to advocate for environmental degradation by challenging the diversion of public resources toward this “global warming menace.”
If America (especially its conservatives, who once championed the issue of conservation) set aside its warming squabble in order to assess its growing pollution threat, it would better recognize the looming menace that is not waiting 12 years to strike. Republicans sacrifice nothing and gain much in human health and political capital by addressing these problems. Most pollution remediation will reduce global warming in tandem (just in case it is real).
The argument about the anthropogenic causes of pollution is already won. Consider what is being dumped into our water, air, and soil as we dither over temperatures:
- Our mowed lawns exceed the crop area of corn, wheat, and fruit trees combined. A NASA study estimated that there are 63,000 square miles of turfgrass in America, an area approaching the size of Texas. It is calculated that Americans burn 800 million gallons of gasoline in lawnmowers annually, of which 17 million refined gallons are spilled onto the ground (more than the Exxon Valdez crude-oil spill). Then there are lawn fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.
- About 93 million acres of corn are cropped in the United States, with accompanying chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.
- The European Chemicals Agency estimates there are more than 144,000 man-made chemicals in existence. The US Department of Health estimates 2,000 new chemicals are being released every year. Pharmaceuticals are in major cities’ drinking water.
- Billions of plastic bags and bottles are entering our food chain. National Geographic reports a global airborne saturation of microplastics that reaches even into the French Pyrenees and a microplastic soup in our oceans. Most table salt now contains microplastics.
- Our landfills are like putrid mountains. We are backed up with failed recycling efforts.
All of this “activity” is decidedly anthropogenic: None of it depends on a measure of heat to calculate damage. Bickering over the warming effects of this accumulating ecotoxicity, we echo Nero as we play debate-team fiddle while the birds and bees die and our children burn in radiation treatments. Perhaps humans warm the environment by consuming 99 million barrels of oil daily — but those burnt billions of gallons most assuredly do pollute it. A delayed response to pollution engendered by a dumbfounded response to warming is akin to checking for proper tire inflation on a Mack truck while it rolls over you — those bare rims will get you just fine!
The Republican Party must appeal to sensible, especially young, Americans who see that the left is “progressing” toward greater debt, government growth, and economic ruin, always unhinged from economic reality. The ideological distraction of Gore and Co.’s global warming has led the nation astray long enough. The Green New Deal does not address suburban lawn mowing, let alone the pollution created by the many ambitious fantasies it proposes, while it seeks via “energy democracy” to “empower communities and workers most impacted by climate change.” Not a word about chemicals.
The GOP must reclaim Nixon’s legacy to become the competent leaders who preserve national resources and human health as much as economic and social stability. Curtailing pollution also reduces carbon emissions, blunting criticisms of right-wing inaction. Whether or not climate change is anthropogenic, solutions to these complex problems most certainly are — and conservatives must again forge a common-sense plan of action to lead America.
John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield, and pastor of the First Congregational Church of Westfield.