by Rip Rense
There seems to be a concerted, and rather conceited, effort by the Bush-Cheney administration to portray so-called "environmentalists" -- that is, anyone who steadfastly opposes pollution, deforestation, man-induced extinction of animals -- as "extremists."
To wit, President Bush recently referred to "the extremists" who disagree with his environmental policies, in an interview with "Good Morning America." The implication is clear: Disagree with the president's environmental policies, and you're an "extremist."
I don't agree with his policies. There are areas where the president's supporters in Congress clash with his policies. Are we all "extremists"?
This administration is intent on trivializing the so-called environmental movement of the past 30 years -- and to dismantle progress against pollution made during that time if it impedes corporations from easily making money. The president has said as much. Here's a quote: "The idea of placing caps on CO2 does not make economic sense for America."
In other words, money takes precedence over cleaner air. Money uber alles. Imagine a president saying such a thing---well, you don't have to. He did. Call the policy "Profit, With Pollution." Or maybe "Profit Through Pollution." The funny thing is, environmental restrictions haven't exactly hampered fantastically wealthy corporations from becoming fantastically wealthy, now, have they? Ask Vice President Dick Cheney, who pocketed $36 million as CEO of the energy firm, Halliburton.
Cheney, who heads the White House's "energy task force," entered the record books for "Weirdest Remarks by an Elected Official," rivaling President Reagan's characterization of ketchup as a vegetable, with this statement: "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy."
These words dazzle for their peculiarity. Cheney is saying that energy conservation just makes you feel good -- that it does little or nothing to help conserve energy. In other words, to rephrase him: "Conservation of energy doesn't conserve energy."
Of course it does. Conservation is always a good idea, but I don't recall anyone proposing it as the sole "basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy." In California, thanks entirely to deregulation -- and the ensuing Enron conspiracy to drive energy prices up -- conservation has become urgent necessity. Yet the vice president is patronizingly suggesting that conserving electricity just makes people feel "virtuous." Tell that to a quadraplegic on a hospital respirator that switches to an emergency generator during the next rolling blackout. Tell that to the low-income family that can't pay its $93 power bill because it won't benefit from the president's tax cut for the wealthy.
Mr. Cheney has actually gone to the extreme of dismissing those who would conserve, strictly in the interests of representing his own interests: profiteering energy and oil companies. Yet proof of the value of conservation and efficiency abounds. Consider this tiny fact, as reported by the Rocky Mountain Institute: From 1979 through 1985, new lighter weight vehicles gained an estimated 0.4 mpg every five months. That progress ended when President Reagan lowered efficiency standards. Had it continued (instead of the rise of SUV's that average about 24 mpg) the U.S. wouldn't have needed a drop of oil from the Persian Gulf since 1985. Think about that as you purchase that new Escalade. . .
The cynicism of Cheney's remark is a cheap affront to the valiant efforts of oh, Jacques Cousteau, Rachel Carson, Thor Heyerdahl, Edward F. Ricketts, the Sierra Club, and a few million scientists who have dedicated their lives to a cleaner, more ecologically sound, energy-efficient world. Unless I misunderstand the veep, he thinks these people were doing little more than displaying "personal virtue."
It's just a stunning contradiction, when you think about it: A conservative like Cheney belittling conservation. If that doesn't put the iron in ironic, try this on: Maybe Bush and Cheney represent the true "extremist" policy. Their goal of placing profit above pollution restrictions is contrary to prevailing sentiments in the U.S. and Europe dating back decades. It's a grotesque, perverse reversal. Don't believe it? Consider alone the shock and anger in governments around the world at the United States' backing out of the Kyoto Treaty on global warming.
I suggest that the true conservatives of today are those who wish to conserve -- those who would protect, preserve, and defend the constitution of the. . .Earth. How is it that taking care of the forests and oceans has come to be equated with "liberalism"? How is it that avaricious developers are being cast as the good guys, and the likes of Greenpeace -- or housewives protesting hazardous waste in their neighborhood -- as the bad? How is it that government regulation of pollution is seen as an erosion of freedom(!) -- when in fact it is intended to free up the health of the ecosystem in order that humans might continue living freely in it? How is it that "environmentalism" is pooh-poohed as the business of "tree-huggers?" How is it that people sneer and laugh at those who decry the president's recent "common sense"decision to increase highways in forests?
Last week, to mute the uproar over Cheney's remarks about "conservation," President Bush proposed what he calls a "new kind of conservation." (What was wrong with the old one?) The president is suggesting perfectly nice things, such as tax credits for the purchase of gas-electric cars, and campaigning for greater energy efficiency in office buildings. One idea involves adding sensors to buildings that automatically shut off lights when people leave the room. Another is to increase spending from $1.7 million to $20 million for a pilot program to promote alternative fuel vehicles at ten airports. He also plans to offer tax incentives for businesses that use more energy-efficient power plants, and wants to put little stars on products that the government believes to be energy-efficient.
Some are calling this nothing more than "greenwashing" -- an attempt to maintain Republican approval ratings while the administration moves full-steam backward toward more oil-dependency, coal burning, domestic drilling, and new nuclear power plants.
All I can say is, to borrow a sentiment from the vice-president, this "new kind of conservation" may be a sign of Mr. Bush's personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.BACK TO ARTICLES AND ESSAYS
© 2002 Rip Rense. All rights reserved.