Environmentalism & the Public Good

Though caring for the environment in a balanced way is a great public good and a heritage many American leaders share, the environmental lobby often appear to act as if the public good does not matter, as this article from New Geography notes.

An excerpt.

“The awful oil spill in the Gulf–as well as the recent coal mine disaster in West Virginia–has added spring to the step of America’s hugely influential environmental lobby. After years of hand-wringing over global warming (aka climate change), the greens now have an issue that will play to legitimate public concerns for weeks and months ahead.

“This is as it should be. Strong support for environmental regulation–starting particularly under our original “green president,” Richard Nixon–has been based on the protection of public health and safety, as well as the preservation of America’s wild spaces. In this respect, environmentalists enjoy widespread support from the public and even more so from the emerging millennial generation.

“Conservatives who fail to address this concern will pay a price, even more so in the future. The Bush administration’s apparent clubbiness with conventional energy interests has undermined the GOP’s once-proud legacy on environmental causes. The oil spill could prove a great campaign issue for Democrats assigning blame for the disaster on lax Republican regulators and their oil company chums.

“But there’s also a danger for Democrats who tilt uncritically toward “green” policies. Instead of following the environmentalists’ party line, they should adopt a balanced approach adding both economic and social needs to their concept of “sustainability.”

“Sadly, many in the administration seem anxious to extend environmental regulation into virtually every aspect of life. Legitimate concerns over pollution and open space preservation, for example, have now been conflated with a renewed drive to strangle suburbia in favor of forced densification.

“The administration’s “livability” agenda, as suggested by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, for example, proposes policies that favor dense urban development over the dispersed living preferred by most Americans. This, notes analyst Ken Orski, represents an unprecedented federal intrusion over traditional local zoning and local decisions.

“This centralizing tendency supports a wide array of interests, notably big city mayors and urban land speculators, and also is eagerly promoted by many architects, the media and planning professors. Not surprisingly, less intrusive ways to reduce energy use, such as telecommuting or the dispersion of worksites closer to people’s homes, have elicited very little administration support.

“Herein lies the Achilles heel of environmentalism–its profound disconnect from public preferences and aspirations. By embracing such a radical social engineering agenda, the greens may end up undermining their own long-term effectiveness.

“The first sign of this pushback, notes analyst Walter Russell Mead, can be seen in growing skepticism about climate change policies both here and in Europe. At a time of severe economic challenges, greens and their political allies need to consider how specific environmental costs threaten an already beleaguered middle and working class.”

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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