From the Publishers

The time has come

by Chris Klein
very important environmental issue seems to have its time. Debates rage, vested interests vie with ethical stands, politicians consult pollsters to see which way the winds of public opinion are blowing. When the smoke clears, behind the myriad details about economic costs and benefits, health impacts and moral necessity, I believe there develops a shared public sense of "the right thing to do." Ultimately, government laws and regulation memorialize this consensus position. Some assert that the people get the government they want; others sceptically comment they get the government they deserve. I hope that at least one of these is true.
In the 70s, issues of pollution and species protection eventually gave rise to the federal Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts and the EPA. Heightened awareness of waste caused recycling to really take off in the late 80s and 90s. I believe that public support for these comes from that developing ethical sense of what is "right" - how our society should conduct itself.
So, what about the current political attacks on many environmental protections we have come to take for granted? Does this signal a shift in public opinion? Do we no longer care about a clean, healthy, protected environment?
I say it does not. I believe that what we are going through is a political anomaly, a momentary power grab by financial interests for whom the protection of public interests equates to lost profits. I've never thought of myself as incurably optimistic, but I don't believe that these attacks will stand over time.
Prohibition provides an illuminating case study. In 1919, a coalition of rural, religious and business interests passed the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States forbidding the manufacture, sale, import or export of liquor. What followed was an unprecedented spree of illegal drinking, despite the best efforts of The Untouchables and other law enforcement agencies to curb it. Ultimately, in 1933, the Twenty-first Amendment repealed prohibition. The law simply didn't reflect the moral sense of the American people.
Today, another coalition (oddly enough, it again seems to be rural, religious and business) is trying to make policy against the public consensus, and I believe it will also fail. Of course, prohibition lasted for 14 years. If these power plays succeed, we may have some tough times ahead before things can be set right.
There have already been some signs that the wind may be shifting. I heard sound bite from Newt Gingrich to the effect that perhaps the public had a misperception of the Republican Congress' position on the environment. I say, perhaps the perception is dead on, and he's looking for a way to back off an unpopular position.
What can make a difference is you expressing yourself in the public arena. If you do nothing else, pick one issue and write one letter or make one phone call. You may get a nice form letter back, or a polite brush-off from a political staffer, but don't be discouraged - your opinion will be counted.
ou may have noticed that the Earth Times has been devoting an increasing amount of column space to issues of land use: two articles last month and three more is this issue. The reason is simple: land use may be the environmental issue of the late 90s.
Land use may also be one of the most polarizing to date. At one pole are the land owners who assert their perceived Constitution-given right to use their land in any way they see fit. They see any restrictions as "taking" their land, and demand compensation for any (potential or imagined) loss of value. At the other pole are environmentalists and community planners who assert a right, based on the common good or habitat protection, to regulate how lands may be used.
It may be some time before a public consensus on this issue appears. Clearly, we live in a complex society that tells you what you can and can't do at every turn, so the extreme property rights position has little practical basis. Anyone who has ever tried to get a building permit in the City of San Diego understands this well. And frankly, I wouldn't want my neighbor to decide to convert his home to a chicken ranch, thank you very much.
It may take a while to see how this one plays out, and the result is critical to our ability to preserve endangered habitats and the character of our communities.
hese and many other environmental issues are forced to the table by one overriding factor: overpopulation. For most of human history, there simply weren't enough people to mess up the planet. Now there are. If we don't deal with it, nature will: disease, pestilence, starvation. Compared to the size of the problem looming, what it gets now is little more than lip service.
I don't sense that this issue's time has come; people are not fully prepared to grapple with it. It will certainly be the issue of the next century, if not the next decade.