“Comprehensive climate change legislation.” How many times have we heard that phrase lately? It has been used for months, if not years, to describe what we need, and it has been used in the past few weeks to describe the Waxman-Markey bill. But, in its current form, Waxman-Markey has been weakened so much that it is no longer comprehensive. That is because of compromises. The Democrats practically run the government right now, and they could pass almost any item on the progressive agenda. They will probably pass Waxman-Markey. But in order to secure the votes of Conservadems, the environmentally-minded Congressmen made compromises. We like the word “compromise.” It implies that our leaders are engaging in rational discussions to decide what is best for our country. However, not everyone is concerned about our country. Or our species, or our planet.
In many countries, the government owns the industries. Some people in the U.S. are afraid we’re heading that way and think it’s a bad idea. For the present, though, the government-business relationship is the other way around: Big Business owns the government. Lobbyists for oil, coal, and other dirty industries essentially buy stock in Congress to secure votes. These industries are so powerful that anyone seeking to pass environmental legislation must compromise with them and their supporters. As I have said earlier, we cannot solve our climate and energy crisis by appeasing the people responsible for that crisis. When dealing with a scientific issue, why should we compromise with people who ignore or reject science?
Nevertheless, compromise is part of politics. If you want someone’s vote, you have to make them like what they’re voting for. If you want someone’s money, you can’t pass laws that take it away. Government is a game of tug of war. For every movement in one direction, there will be a corresponding movement in the opposite direction, and the result is compromise. In most issues this is a very good phenomenon, since both the far right and the far left have some crazy ideas. Maybe it’s even good in environmental issues; after all, a number of well-meaning politicians have been misinformed over the years. As essential as compromise is, though, it embodies the limits of government action. There is an agreement among scientists (those that aren’t funded by ExxonMobil) that we must act quickly and boldly to avoid the worst effects of climate change. National legislation is unlikely to be both prompt and bold; it will possibly be neither.
So, beyond complaining via the Internet, what can we, as concerned individuals, do? We can beg our Congressmen for action or change (depending on their leanings) and receive polite form letters in return.
Or, we can take action ourselves.
When we take personal actions to lead environmentally friendly lives, we don’t have to compromise. We can make the decision to be aware and active. Once we designate personal sustainability as our goal, we can pursue that goal as quickly and boldly as we want to. Cleaner, greener lifestyles are healthier for us and kinder to our planet. You can be sure that, whatever effort you are making, you will find an opportunity to do more. Everything makes a difference.
We still need major legislation to combat climate change. Just remember that government action has its limits, and don’t ignore the impact of individuals. In order to create a sustainable society, we need a collective effort. When it comes to the future of our planet and the life it holds, we don’t need to compromise.