Opposites Repel

In an earlier blog I mentioned an editorial by Michael Brune in the Sierra Magazine who expressed his optimism about the possibility of bipartisan cooperation in Washington, D.C. on climate change. He mentioned his meetings with several political big-wigs on both sides of the aisle, one of whom indicated that “on climate change there’s really not much separating us.” He was speaking for the Republicans with whom he is identified and to whom his loyalties lie — to the point where he fears possible repercussions from his colleagues should he speak his mind. As he himself went on to say “there’s no way I can say that publicly.” He spoke to Mr. Brune “off the record.”

What we have here is a politician — described by Brune as a “prominent Republican” — who is unable to speak publicly about his concerns over one of the most pressing issues facing this nation if not humankind because of party loyalty. Think about that. Washington politics is no longer about what is good for the country — if it ever was — it is about what is good for the party (and the folks who have bought the party and now run the show).

In the era of what the editors of Sierra magazine called “The Worst Congress” ever it is not possible for the two sides to come together to hammer out some sort of compromise on energy and climate change. The “Worst Congress” — even worse than Newt Gingrich’s  104th Congress — has passed 247 anti-environmental measures and voted 77 times to undermine Clean Air protections. 94% of the Republican members of this Congress have cast anti-environmental votes and there have been 37 votes to block any action whatever on climate change.

This is why one of the more powerful members of that political party cannot speak publicly about his own concerns regarding one of the major issues of the day: he might be ostracized by his fellow party members and once outside he may never get back in. What we have is people on both sides of the aisle who are apparently concerned about climate change and the damage we are doing to the environment but who cannot get together for fear the they will be called “disloyal” — not to their country, but to their political party.

This impasse is not peculiar to environmental issues, of course, and it may well be the reason the confidence of voters around the country in the political system has fallen to new lows and Barack Obama has recently sounded like the great mediator, promising to work “with both sides” in the coming years if re-elected. Even the dullest person in the local bar complaining to his buddies can see that this system is broken. If the two sides cannot come together to work some sort of compromise on issues such as climate change, the repercussions will be heard around the world. This is not hyperbole or exaggeration. The system seems to be broken, and if it is then the American experiment in democracy must be deemed a failure.

I couch these dire pronouncements in the conditional mode because there is always the possibility that even the dullest politician whose loyalties are deep and true to his or her political party may at some point realize that there are larger issues at stake and that party loyalty is not worth beans if the experiment does indeed fail. At some point, let us hope, a strong voice will be heard in the Congress that rises above the din of party loyalties and rallies colleagues on both sides of the political aisle to the deeper cause — which is to save the country, if not the planet.

In the meantime, thank goodness, small but encouraging steps are being taken by bright, innovative, and caring individuals and small groups — even some state legislatures — that give us hope that even without a national environmental policy which makes sense, we will somehow turn the tide.