When did the Environment become a Partisan Issue?

Recently I read an obituary of a “Tax Court Judge turned Environmental Activist” in the Washington Post which offered a striking commentary on the current state of affairs on environmental policy.  This tax court judge turned environmentalist was Russell Train, Republican.  As the director of the Environmental Protection Agency from 1970 through 1977, he led the agency through some of its toughest early years (the EPA was launched in 1970 – its first director left after a short stint).  As noted in the article above, “Mr. Train embodied an earlier era in which conservatives embraced the label ‘environmentalist'”.

So the question I posit is, When did the Environment become a partisan issue?

Political Parties

We all want clean air, clean water, safe products, and a world that is sustainable (whether WE know it or not – ecosystem collapse would be devastating, even for the richest among us).  The real questions are, have the environmentalists on the left pushed for standards that are unreasonable and unjustified on economic or other grounds?  Or have those on the right ignored an earlier era of bi-partisan environmentalism and abandoned environmental values for profit or other values?  Possibly encouraged by incentives created by campaign contributions from the companies that are the largest polluters and cause the most environmental damage?

As a good friend of mine likes to say, “we need to get down to causes and conditions”, and I would like to get to the causes and conditions of the current partisan divide on environmental policy.  I have some thoughts on answers to these questions, but will save them for future posts.  For now, I ask you, When did the Environment become a partisan issue? and should it be???



Graphic Source: http://environment.yale.edu/climate/files/Political%20Parties.jpg

Environmental Alarmism?

On the flight back from Montreal (which is a great city BTW) I read a somewhat scary essay in the July/August edition of  Foreign Affairs Magazine titled, “Environmental Alarmism, Then and Now” by Bjorn Lomborg.

The author sought to discredit the Club of Rome report completed 40 years ago that predicted potential environmental collapse due to human activity, but did not bother to cite ANY current Literature on Sustainability.  He described paper recycling as unnecessary because some countries have sustainable forests and that organic farming is “killing tens of thousands of people”.  Because a scientist made an incorrect prediction 40 years ago does not release us from our current situation: we need to change the way the economy functions – its is unsustainably using finite resources. There may be some factual truth to his arguments on some issues, but regardless of some errors in the report or some environmental successes, sustainability needs to be a priority as we look forward. Yes we can extract more resources from the earth, but at what cost?  What are the long run implications of loss of habitat, ecosystem destruction, climate change, aquifer poisoning, fishery destruction, loss of rain forests,…?

I do agree with the author in some of his criticism, I think it can be counterproductive to ONLY have a doomsday scenario scripted.  I believe in people and their ingenuity – if properly harnessed I believe WE can create a sustainable economy in which we all can prosper (and have clean air to breath, clean water to drink, and clean food to eat).  I believe is starts with good policy, politics, and economics.