As we enter the season of Presidential politics, we can expect the discourse to become more partisan, less objective and at times downright silly. There are very serious and far reaching issues that the country must come to grips with and there are arguments that should be heard on both sides. It is not productive, therefore, to hide the issues in an avalanche of rhetoric, misinformation and ignorance. One particularly important and divisive element of the debate is one of the oldest in our country, the role of the States and the role of the Federal Government. It is a legitimate question. Certainly, there are grounds to be concerned about the intrusion of the Federal Government into our daily lives and to worry about excessive regulation and its impact on economic growth. But, to carry on this debate, as if we were still living in the 18th century, is not very productive for dealing with today's global problems.
Some of the problems we will have to deal with over the next fifty years will not stop at our borders, either those of our home states or of our nation. States acting on their own or even in coordination with one another are not sufficient to the task. Similarly, the United States cannot hope to meet some potential and actual foreseeable threats to the well being of our people without international cooperation that involves US leadership. It is a pipe dream to think we can go it alone, and it is a nightmare to contemplate the results if we try to do so. Not only does it not make sense in these circumstances to speak of “states rights,” it also makes no sense to speak of “fortress America.”
Governor Perry of Texas questioned whether human activity is causing global warming even though up to 98% of climate scientists believe that the linkage is clear. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say he is right: human activity is not causing global warming. However, even he cannot deny that ice caps are melting and temperature measurements over time seem to indicate a warming trend. Whatever the cause of this trend, whether it is human activity or cyclical patterns, the effect of warming on us will be the same. If the world is getting warmer, that will have an impact on growing seasons, food supply, disease transmission, flooding, weather patterns, and so on. Furthermore, the impact will be unevenly distributed within our country and globally.
There are at least three ways to deal with this: 1. Kick the can down the road, ignore it, stick our heads in the sand - the Perry solution - and hope it all turns out OK; 2. try to slow the process down by adjusting human behavior so that we are not adding to the problem by speeding up and intensifying the cyclical process of warming – the EPA solution of curtailing CO2 among other steps (Now taken off the table by President Obama in the face of industry opposition.); or 3. Start planning and acting now to prepare ourselves to live with a warmer world and begin to take steps toward environmental remediation.
Steps to adjust current behavior was the direction the EPA and the President were taking, but it was blocked by well funded business and political interests who beat the drums of jobs and recession leading Obama to cave in. Realistically, so long as adjustment will lead to reduced profitability, nothing will happen, at least until after the 2012 election and only with difficulty thereafter given the composition of our Congress, the Supreme Court, and our campaign financing laws (or lack thereof).
Steps toward remediation will also incur costs now, and while it might well actually create jobs in the short term, it would be pilloried by the Tea Party as yet another government hand out and expansion of Federal encroachment on our American way of life. Thus, the temptation at all levels of government and certainly among the bulk of conservative voters, will be to put off today what can be done tomorrow. It is easier to question the science and to blame the scientists for feathering their own nest than the wealthy who have feathers in abundance. The easy path is the Perry path.
Given our annual budget process based on annual expenditures, and in the absence of a separate national investment budget for the long term, it does not appear that our two party system will be able to embrace short term sacrifice to gain long term benefits. Look at how wrenching and inconclusive our recent debt debate was. There was a plethora of rhetoric about saddling future generations with our present debt. But, God forbid we should equalize the current burden to solve the longer term problem. Tax the wealthy, cut farm subsidies, extend the age of social security? Or none of the above. The effects of the debt burden on future generations seems to be a concept that people can understand only in terms of placing the burden of sacrifice on others. So we do nothing and hope for the best. The Perry solution is the easiest. And, guess who will have to pay the ultimate price?