One of the great protest songs to come out of the Viet Nam war was “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” by Pete Seeger. It has the haunting, repetitive line “When Will They Ever Learn?” that I want to modify slightly and borrow for a quite different purpose. I want to protest our unwillingness to pay attention to an environmental crisis that threatens to dwarf the Viet Nam War altogether. And it is made all the more disturbing by virtue of the fact that those who are in a position to do something are paying no attention whatever.
There are folks in this society, of course, who care deeply about the fact that in our blind pursuit of filthy lucre we seem hell-bent on our own destruction as an animal species. I have touched on this in previous blogs and mentioned heroes like Danny DeVito who are doing something about it. There are hundreds like him, people who really care and are doing their best to stem the tide. But the tide will not be turned back until the majority of those with large pocketbooks start to pay attention. And right now, they are looking the other way — as are most of us.
Consider the fact that as we enter a presidential election year, there is little or no talk about the environment — from either political party. In polls the environment ranks fairly high in the concerns voters have expressed. But the politicians stay away from the topic as though it were poison. It’s upsetting and not likely to get them elected no matter where they stand on the issue. The reason, of course, is that the issue has been juxtaposed to jobs by the media, and especially by the special interests. The claim is that we cannot take serious steps to save the environment without “costing” the nation hundreds if not thousands of jobs. This is pure bollocks, as the English would say.
The economy will continue to take center stage, as well it should. But the notion that we cannot try to save the environment and create jobs at the same time is nonsense. That fiction may eventually be written on our gravestones. Jobs can be created within the renewable energy industry which at present suffers from lack of adequate funding. Without adequate funding, those who seek to take steps to become energy independent must pay through the nose and few can afford it. Without major tax credits and government subsidies, the small industries that produce wind and solar alternatives, for example, cannot possibly bring the prices of their products down to the levels where they are affordable by more than the very few.
The environment has gotten bad press, and “environmentalism” has become a pejorative term. Together they are seen as the villains in a political game of shuttlecock where there is some talk and even some real concern, but no one really wants to do anything about the problem. That is, no one who can do something about it. The shuttlecock just keeps getting batted back and forth. Or it is ignored altogether as we turn our attention elsewhere.
There are dozens of things each of us can do, of course, from trying to get those few politicians elected who are willing to take on the tough issues, to turning down our thermostats in the Winter, to recycling, to driving economical cars (or better yet, walking, cycling, car-pooling, or taking public transportation). And we can support “green” companies. Such steps may not take us far enough fast enough, however. Unless there is profit in it for the fat-cat corporations, or until the government (which is largely supported by the fat cats) wakes up and gets seriously involved, or until enough people get pissed off and lean hard on the politicians, little more will be done. And at this point, the fat cats are too preoccupied with short-term profits to see any real potential in earth-saving industries. And the government is too worried about what the fat cats want to do. And the majority of Americans simply don’t care. My guess is that we will sputter along ignoring the problem, and accusing people like me of being nay-sayers and Chicken-Littles, until the problem becomes so big it can no longer be ignored. To quote another environmental hero, Naomi Davis, president and founder of Blacks in Green, “We can either all rise up or all go down together.”