RUDGLEY: Finding the greener path

Federal, state and local governments must take action to address climate change

The biggest public policy crisis facing our generation is climate change. Public opinion polls and demagogic politicians will say otherwise, but even economic downturns as bad as the Great Recession are temporary and cyclical; the daily disappearance of rare species is permanent.

One of the things I treasure most about this country, even after only two years here, is the beauty, diversity and majesty of its landscape. It saddens me that the federal government — and the majority of the country — is far too apathetic to support legislation that would preserve this truly unique environment. For a country born out of a reverence for freedom and natural rights, there has been far too little done to protect Americans’ basic rights to clean water and to air free of cancerous carcinogens, and to preserve the country’s fragile ecosystems.

The time we have for aggressive legislative and executive action to stem the tide (literally) of global warming is running out. Even the liberal wing of the Democratic Party is out of touch with scientific realities and understates the magnitude and immediacy of environmental crises: the EPA’s recent efforts to curb air pollution are laughably insignificant in the face of the magnitude of the problem.

There are four main reasons for the failure of the American government to address climate change — the environmental issue most in need of immediate and aggressive action. First, the way the problem of climate change is framed is misguided and rhetorically impotent. So long as we associate global warming with polar bears and faraway icebergs, the human impact of the issue will be overlooked. Major American cities — such as Miami, San Francisco, and New York — are at risk from rising sea levels; simultaneously, natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy that ravaged the nation’s infrastructure are increasingly going to be an everyday reality of American life. The human cost of climate change cannot be overstated: not only will thousands more die each year from extreme weather, but the American landscape and way of life are under grave threat.

Second, as Secretary of State John Kerry recently claimed, climate change, not terrorism, is a “most fearsome” threat to national security. Yet American foreign policy does not reflect this accurate assessment. Rising sea levels and increasingly frequent extreme weather destabilizes the geopolitical landscape. Climate-related water shortages, droughts and diminishing natural resources, for example, precipitate economic calamity and thus conflict in the world’s driest regions — like the Middle East. A proactive foreign policy would put tackling climate change at a global level at its forefront.

Third, the very Americans who should have the greatest obligations to their ideology and faith to be environmentalists are, in fact, some of the most rabid opponents of green efforts. Conservative evangelical Christians are betraying not only conservative principles but also their religion. What could be more conservative than acting to conserve the American way of life and natural environment for future generations in a responsible way? Furthermore, what could be more Christian than taking seriously the sacred duty we have, as stewards of nature, to protect all living things — present and future — out of love for God and the world He has created? Unfortunately, these “Christians” and “conservatives” prioritize restricting the rights of the LGBTQ community, ending unemployment benefits and building ever more aircraft carriers over protecting the American landscape and way of life by tackling climate change in a meaningful and substantive way.

Fourth, too much of mainstream discourse surrounding environmentalism obsesses over individual habits and green living which, even when applied by all, are insufficient solutions that disrespect the magnitude of the problem. Buying a Prius and taking the time to recycle, while noble, do little to tackle climate change. Mankind’s greatest challenge — to save our planet — demands far more than taking individual action or enacting cultural change; it requires state, federal and international institutions to pass laws and regulations that aim to end fossil fuel usage and actively promote conservation efforts.

Let us do now what Americans have always done and take leadership in the public policy arena by preserving the natural environment both here and abroad. The federal government must start by ending big oil subsidies, tightening environmental regulations, blocking corporate efforts — like the Keystone pipeline — to ravage the environment, and investing in the energy sources of the future. Local governments have an important role to play too by fostering environmentally sustainable practices — by easing access to recycling, increasing gasoline taxes and road tolls, while at the same time funding and innovating the public transport sector. Government regulations of this kind are critical, but these must precipitate market forces and entrepreneurial innovation to guide us towards a greener, more sustainable economy.

Protecting the natural world around us will not undermine free-market ideals or hurt job creation or stunt economic growth. In reality, making this capitalist macroeconomy sustainable for future generations will breathe longevity into the American environment, the American way of life and the American dream.

If we fail to act now and act boldly, oceans of ink will decry our impotence in the centuries to come. It is right and necessary to take action if we want our grandchildren to live healthily and happily on this planet. One of this country’s greatest presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, articulated this more eloquently than I can thus: “A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself.”

Ben Rudgley is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at

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