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03 June, 2011

It's the Environment, Stupid

If history via film documentary is to be believed, ragin' Cajun James Carville's mantra lifted Clinton to victory in 1992, back when votes were counted in presidential elections. "It's the Economy, Stupid." Clinton hammered the GOP on their mismanagement of the economy, reminded voters of how poorly they'd fared after being trickled on, and swept into office.

In 2008, I suggested that things had changed a bit, and that now It's the War, Stupid. I was wrong, people don't actually care that much as long as the dead are foreigners or the poor and working class who fill our military's ranks. Not just that, but I was hilariously wrong in suggesting that the Mayday action by longshoremen--shutting down ports as a war protest--represented an awakening of the Boston Tea Party spirit, completely unaware that a couple of years later the Tea Party would have been hijacked by bitter, rusted wing-nuts.

2012 election coverage is heating up, with Great White Hope Mit Romney (a German phrase meaning "with gypsies") declaring his candidacy today, but I find it hard to get excited. I'll vote for the lesser of evils, sure, but to call me an Obama supporter when he has embraced Republican policy on the economy and wars would be an exaggeration.

The problem is more fundamental than US politics will ever manage to address, unless I am being blind again to a radical change just around the corner. It's the Environment, Stupid.

As I write this, the morning news is focusing on the economy. The Dow slipped 2% yesterday, the conventional wisdom being that this is due to the weakness of our recovery from the Great Recession. 

Look deeper, though. Why so weak? One factor is the weather. Violent storms lay waste to places, places where there had been jobs. Floods drown other jobs and stall even more as supply chains become clogged on riverways shut down while the Army Corps flounders amid disasters it created. I just heard from family in Virginia that temps climbed well into the 90s during May, reminding us all that summer will bring the kind of heat that slows everyone down, evaporates water supplies, and spawns hurricanes and tornadoes. We may get lucky again, and dodge a year of major storms hitting the Atlantic and Gulf seaboards, but if they do, look forward to more economic stall-outs.

Deeper still, the Japan earthquake and tsunami disrupted a major economy, one of the aftershocks being stilled production lines at American plants. The spectre of nuclear accidents is bound to dampen investment in more such plants here (despite generous corporate welfare having the Obama boost), and Germany has already made the choice--characterized in US media as an economic drag--to abandon that path in favor of more difficult routes to energy production (and, in a move utterly foreign to us, energy conservation as well). Meanwhile, Icelandic vulcanism disrupts air travel even of the leader of the free world again and again. 

Meanwhile, glaciers melt and sea level rises into our neighborhoods. Considering the portion of the global population residing and working in coastal areas, this has implications too enormous for us to want to consider, and so by and large we do nothing, waiting until a disaster forces action, by which time the remedies will cost far more. There will be casualties, human and economic. At the same time, the ocean grows more acidic as it ameliorates our pollution of the atmosphere. So acid that fish stocks are affected (not to mention krill, sweet sweet krill), and shipping firms must spend more time and money maintaining hulls. Many eyes are on the arctic, where the melting may finally open the Northwest Passage that Europeans searched for forever, but that will not eliminate the adversities wrought by stormier acidic oceans and drowned waterfronts. 

Sea and air trade has spread bugs and pathogens worldwide, causing damage to timber, agriculture, and other means of extracting GDP from the earth. Climate change, too, is not likely to be a positive in natural resource economies. The northwest has dodged firestorms for years now, but as the beetle-killed forests expand, we can be sure that La Nina or whatever has spared us thus far will not hold out forever, and vast tracts of timber will go up in smoke before they can provide jobs. Droughts do not just have it in for the former Communist lands, and will visit us in their own sweet time. 

In the meantime, the political minions of our corporate overlords work ceaselessly to avert any legislative or regulatory attempt to stop them from dumping toxins into the biosphere, and to thwart the lawsuits now required to enforce rules already on the books. Every year, more drinking water supplies are found to be contaminated, and the brownfields expand, often irreversibly poisoned--more land and water subtracted from our base for sustained human survival and culture. And it ain't gonna get cleaned up at this rate: the same politicians who prevent sensible regulation cite economic hardship to prevent funds from being used for environmental clean-up, or for jump-starting clean energy industry.

Increasingly desperate, we double down on all bets, hoping that technology will rescue us, that science will go messianic on us and bear miracles. Sounds crazy, right? Not so much to the hucksters hawking genetically engineered snake oil and fracking the hell out of mother earth; they'll make their money, spend lavishly, and die seven months into pacemaker number two,...before the cosmic repo man comes. Weeds in the field? Just buy this herbicide immune soybean seed and spray the hell out of your field. Water no good? Try our bottled water, we swear it's safe, and stats show that you'll never be able to pin your cancer on us. Drought stricken, fish all gone, locusts swarming? No prob, try new Soylent Green, made with sweet sweet krill,...sorta.

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