Round Three: Concluding Remarks - September 20, 2000
As I was preparing my next response for this forum, a couple of news stories flashed across my computer screen. First was a report that Friends of the Earth is considering legal action -- akin to the lawsuits that have forced change upon the tobacco industry -- to gain judgments against industrialized countries and private industries that oppose implementation of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. The second report was out of Lyon, France, where two weeks of international talks on rules for implementing the Kyoto Protocol ended without breakthroughs on the key issues that divide nations.
Judging from the remarks so far, I think all the panelists agree on the need for a fresh approach, strong leadership, and an all-out effort to tackle these politically difficult environmental problems.
A fresh approach. I agree with Eileen Claussen that environmental progress in the twenty-first century will depend on the "development of nontraditional systems of governance -- as opposed to the traditional systems embodied in institutions, treaties, and governmental mandates." Governmental institutions are by their very nature too slow and cautious to respond nimbly and creatively to the changing global marketplace. Corporations will have a greater role and responsibility for achieving environmental protection. Nongovernmental organizations and universities are already changing roles, partnering with industry and government to meet environmental goals. We need a fresh approach that emphasizes real results -- not political rhetoric. We need to improve the types and amount of information that citizens and governments can access to understand environmental problems on a local and global scale. And we need participation from governments, corporations, and citizens -- not fighting each other in court, but putting their time, effort, and money toward solutions that will achieve the blissful setting that Gregg Easterbrook envisions in 2100. The time for playing environmental politics is past. The time for working together to improve our environment is now.
Leadership. While much of the debate here has focused on international, next-generation environmental issues, it's equally important that we continue to address stubborn environmental problems at home. During his two terms in office, Governor Bush has pursued new approaches that will be necessary to achieve environmental results on the broader stage. The governor's programs rely upon high standards and vigorous private-sector initiatives to produce results. For example, last year Governor Bush, as part of Texas's competitive restructuring of its utility industry, supported legislation to reduce smog and acid-rain-producing emissions by older coal-fired plants. Environmental Defense calls the Texas law the "strongest in the nation" for squarely addressing emissions from these plants, which previously had been "grandfathered" from such requirements under federal law -- a law Al Gore voted for when he was in the U.S. Senate. Paired with a voluntary program for other industries, Texas will reduce formerly grandfathered air emissions by more than 250,000 tons each year. The same kind of flexible but results-oriented approach works on the conservation front. With the state's assistance, nearly 10 million acres of privately owned land in Texas are under wildlife-management plans. Under Governor Bush, Texas also has authorized more than $70 million to restore state parks and became the first state to establish a permanent endowment fund for each and every state park. This stands in contrast to the state of the national parks, which has declined dramatically over the past eight years. Governor Bush's willingness to form partnerships and try new results-oriented approaches should prove particularly effective in the international arena.
An all-out effort. I agree with Bill McKibben's assertion that addressing these problems will not be easy. However, I think he undersells our ability to overcome the obstacles. Consider for a moment the advances in public health and engineering we enjoyed in the twentieth century. In 1900, 30 percent of all deaths in the United States occurred among children under five years old. By 1997, the rate had fallen to 1.4 percent. In 1900, the three leading causes of death in our country were pneumonia, tuberculosis, and diarrhea and enteritis -- making up one-third of all deaths. Public-health programs have minimized, though not eliminated these risks, which are still substantial in much of the world. During the twentieth century, inventors and engineers electrified the countryside, produced the automobile and airplane, and created safe methods to supply fresh water and treat sewage. Today we take for granted such technologies as electronics, refrigeration, radio, television, computers, copy machines, and telephones. In 1900, these innovations could not even have been imagined.
Now, some might argue that some of these advances are to blame for the environmental problems we face today. But few would claim that our lives aren't better because of them. Fewer still would advocate a return to the pre-industrial age. And let's remember that we didn't achieve most of these advances because a prescriptive government was telling American scientists and businesses what to do and how to do it. We achieved them because individuals, as voters and as consumers, sparked a search for better transportation, safer water, and better health care. Why can't we achieve the same success in the twenty-first century in terms of addressing global environmental problems? Why do we insist that we must make a choice between economic health and environmental progress? We need an entrepreneurial government that encourages ingenuity and creativity to improve our twenty-first-century environment. We don't need tired bureaucratic programs clinging cautiously to top-down, government-driven mandates that stifle creativity and thwart the environmental excellence that we must achieve. We put men on the moon and brought them safely home again. Surely we can save the ecology of this earth for the people and creatures that depend on it for life. It's time to stop the debate and get to work.
Round Three: Concluding Remarks -- September 20, 2000
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