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Environment Now in Crisis

by Gaylord Nelson

Every industrial nation is consuming its capital and counting on the profit side of the ledger. This is not a sustainable situation over the long term. Our natural capital is our forests, wildlife habitat, fresh water lakes, rivers, oceans, soil, scenic beauty, biodiversity, minerals, etc. We are not just toying with nature, we are compromising the capacity of natural systems to do what they need to do to preserve a livable world. It has finally dawned on informed political establishments around the world that environmental deterioration threatens both economic and political stability.

President Eisenhower commented on this situation in his farewell address to the nation:

"As we peer into society's future, we - you and I - must avoid the 'live only for today' attitude, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow."

On Jan. 10, 1990, Pope John Paul II delivered a message on peace and the environment. A few words describe his concern about what is happening to the natural world around us.

"Faced with the widespread destruction of the environment, people everywhere are coming to understand that we cannot continue to use the goods of the earth as we have in the past. ... The ecological crisis is a moral issue."

In 1992, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society of London, two of the world's leading scientific bodies, addressed the state of the planet in the following words:

"If current predictions of population growth prove accurate and patterns of human activity on the planet remain unchanged, science and technology may not be able to prevent either the irreversible degradation of the environment or continued poverty of much of the world. ..."

The Bush administration should start listening to the voices of reason instead of dancing to whatever tune the special interests play.

Almost every aspect of environmental policy has been neglected, delayed or actively undermined by this administration.

Toxic emissions from power plants are increasing air and water pollution. Mercury is showing up more and more in fish. Our national forests and other public lands are being offered up to private interests, our national parks are neglected and in danger of being turned into overcrowded theme parks.

These trends are clear in Wisconsin, my home state. I worry about the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest under the new administration guidelines. The entire Midwest worries about the future of our Great Lakes and the rivers that flow into them.

Where President Bush has taken action on environmental issues, he has used empty slogans to dress up or deliberately misrepresent his proposals.

When he says we must reduce our dependence on foreign oil, he is really talking about turning the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge into an oil field. When he offers a "Clear Skies Act," it turns out to be a slowdown of the timetable for cleaning up industrial pollution.

This administration is allowing the degradation of Yellowstone National Park and many other special places that belong to all Americans. This is an estate of more than 600 million acres, almost a million square miles of mountains, valleys, seashores, deserts, rivers, lakes and forests.

These treasures are not the administration's to give away. They belong to all of the people in America. When administration spokesmen say "officials in Washington" should not have authority over these lands, that is code language for turning them over to state and local political pressures.

The Bush administration has failed to lead, and actually sabotaged progress, on crucial environmental issues.

Four more years of this kind of administration could lead to an environmental tragedy. Those four years could upset 40 years of progress toward cleaner air, cleaner water, resource protection and a new environmental ethic.

The entire world suffers from the lack of American leadership on the environment. Bush ridicules American cooperation on worldwide concerns, such as global warming, just as he ridicules the concern of other nations over unilateral military actions.

That go-it-alone bravado may make him look tough, but it only weakens the world's effort to confront its most urgent problems.

Gaylord Nelson is a former governor and U.S. senator for Wisconsin and the founder of Earth Day.

© 2004 Capital Times - Published on Monday, October 25, 2004 by the Madison Capital Times (Wisconsin)

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