DUCK SOUP: Shorts in a Bunch

My first Soup of 1999 blends some ingredients I have sampled over the past four years. This recipe emanates from a holiday kitchen political debate in which I had taken the Republican Party to task (again) for its worse than abysmal environmental record. Republicans have done little good and inflicted great damage at every turn since the 1970s. After Richard Nixon signed many of our strongest environmental laws (mostly created by Democrats in Congress), the GOP became detached from reality.We breathe this stuff, gentlefolk, and need a drink now and then. And we utterly depend on topsoil which is disappearing in a geologic heartbeat. Hello? Anybody home?Some, like Ronald Reagan, the first president since Teddy Roosevelt to fail to expand any protection of land, water or biota in his term of office, appear blithely unaware. Others, typified by ex-Interior Secretary James Watt, anticipate imminent Divine Intervention, and view ecologic concern as unnecessary and generally un-Christian. A few are simply greedy.The current Republican congressional majority has mandated the slaughter of ancient trees, fought clean air and water regulations, tried to kill the Endangered Species Act, defunded the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, refused to approve the Kyoto carbon emissions accord, attempted to open National Parks for mining, succeeded in opening the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling, etc., etc., etc. Some PAC-heads even proposed selling off the National Forest System.Back to the kitchen where my Mom was at pains to point out that not all Republicans are anti-environment. "There's a growing group of Green Republicans in Tallahassee," she insisted.My cousin's wife opined that she felt that most average Americans are very aware and concerned about environmental issues, but feel disempowered by an unresponsive system where expensively lobbied, special interest political battles seem out of touch with real life.Mulling this I must acknowledge that Mom was right (aren't they always?) as was my cousin-in-law. There is a deep undercurrent of concern, and yes, there are green-leaning Republicans, just as there are brown Donkeys. The present muddling involves old issues and alliances within the two big tents, which no longer obtain.What we clearly need are new tents -- a total realignment of loyalties.In August I urged Al Gore to quit the Democrats and run for the Green Party Presidential nomination in 2000. A facetious suggestion not because it is the wrong thing to do, but because his baggage makes that impossible.The old issues of labor versus business, domestic welfare versus military preparedness, deficit budgets versus fiscal balance, public service versus privatization, and all the rest, obviously remain. But special interest blocs, soft money, high powered lobbying and sound bite attack ads have tossed meaningful differences into a blender.It may be "the economy, stupid," but the economy is embedded in an environment. As physicist cum economist Frederick Soddy wrote in 1940, "the flow of energy should be the primary concern of economics." Picking up that theme forty years later, ecologist Robert Costanza observed, "The required perspective is an ecological or 'systems' view that considers humans to be part of, and not apart from their environment."The central burning question of our day is what approach we will take to the coming era of scarcity and the extinction crisis. I would propose that those who see no cause for concern, who advocate unrestrained energy and resource use and an unregulated world economy belong together. In the other tent would be those who believe we need to act quickly in our common interest to conserve resources, energy and biodiversity. Since the former tend to believe in short term benefit -- the quarterly bottom line -- we can call them the Shorts. Those who seek sustainability are obviously the Longs. Positions on every other political issue facing us will emerge from such fundamental tenets, creating far more homogenous "big tents" than the current Republican/Democrat mishmash.It goes without saying that my inclination would be to take the Long way home. The reaction of many old-guard, old-greed politicos is equally certain: it will get their Shorts in a bunch -- where, I must insist, they belong. Party affiliations will get back to basics, and voter apathy will fade in a new era of meaningful choice.

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