“We should demand more of them,” author and historian David McCullough lamented as he reflected on the 2012 campaign last weekend on CBS.
No matter what your political persuasion, the barrages of negative ads, abrasive sound bites and wild accusations made the last month a most unpleasant one.
The collective costs of this year’s political campaign could be $6 billion according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Yet for all we had to tolerate and all that was spent, the environment was, for all practical purposes, ignored. Only energy was discussed to any notable degree, and it usually only arose when it could be used as a partisan wedge.
There is little doubt that we would be better served as a nation if we followed McCullough’s advice and zealously demanded more of those running for public office. While many issues were cast aside, the environment was surely one that was overlooked as much as any other.
On the domestic environmental front, energy, water resources, environmental infrastructure, air quality, climate change, transportation, agricultural policy, urban decay and suburban sprawl should all be part of our national political dialog. Even if you don’t care about the ecological implications of those issues, each has profound social and economic ramifications as well. Many impact our daily lives.
On the issues beyond our borders, we seldom heard candidates talk about the social injustices and genocide (many of which are related to control of land and resources) that make life a living hell in places like Darfur. Nor did we talk nearly enough about how our insatiable thirst for oil drives our foreign policy to places we would be better off not going. The plight of island and coastal nations, whose very existence are endangered by rising sea levels, are similarly discounted.
Almost all these issues were ignored on Election Day. While economic struggles have rightfully been a focus of attention, these environmental issues are, ironically, often connected to those economic woes.
Our energy costs are higher when we use it inefficiently. Disease and health problems caused by poor air quality or exposure to industrial pollutants cost us billions in health care and treatment every year. We spend countless dollars cleaning up polluted water so it’s fit to drink. Our auto-based transportation system brings us congested highways that cost us time, money, energy and aggravation. The related sprawl has driven people and business from our cities while paving over agricultural land and open space that is both beautiful and valuable. Perhaps just as importantly, they are connected to our quality of life.
The bigger, planet-wide challenges affect people and places far from home and often in much more crucial, even life-threatening ways. From the security of our stable, relatively safe and mostly peaceful society, we forget what torment, conflict and lack of basic needs many of the world’s people struggle through every day of their lives.
Yes, there is unquestionably much to talk about on the environmental front and the issues are attached to many other challenges that confront us. As McCullough has implored us, let’s really demand more and bring things like the environment back to their rightful place in the American political conversation.