28 June 2006

misplaced priorities

This morning, I read that House Republicans are developing an agenda to vote on "priority issues" this summer. What do you suppose those priorities are? The costly war that is dragging on and on? Global warming? Alternative, renewable energy sources? The millions of children without health insurance? Here's a surprise: the issues I (and many other Americans) consider priorities are not in line with the GOP.*

No, the "American Values Agenda" tackles the really important issues, such as gay marriage, protecting the Pledge of Allegiance from "activist judges", prohibiting "human" (ie, stem cell) cloning, and protecting certain right of gun owners. According to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert:

"The American Values Agenda will defend America's founding principles. Through this agenda, we will work to protect the faith of our people, the sanctity of life and freedoms outlined by our founding fathers. Radical courts have attempted to gut our religious freedom and redefine the value system on which America was built. We hope to restore some of those basic values through passing this legislative agenda and renewing our country's commitment to faith, freedom and life."

Well, thank goodness. Don't let the inconsistencies get to you though -- like, for instance, that the "sanctity of life" applies more to embryos than to actually living people with diseases that stem-cell research could potentially help cure. Or that an agenda ostensibly working toward freedom seeks to deny certain Americans the freedom to marry. (Speaking of protecting freedoms, I wonder if Mr Hastert is a member of the ACLU? Something tells me... no.) The value system used by the founding fathers is still good enough for us -- surely we haven't learned anything in 230 years that might prompt us to update it!

The idea of prioritizing has been on my mind lately, particularly when it comes to the environment. My book club is about to begin reading Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, and one of our members sent us a link to a review of the book. Now, I'm sure I'll better be able to comment on this once I've actually read the book, but this blurb from the review is interesting:

"He identifies five factors that contribute to collapse: climate change, hostile neighbors, trade partners (that is, alternative sources of essential goods), environmental problems, and, finally, a society's response to its environmental
problems. The first four may or may not prove significant in each society's demise, Diamond claims, but the fifth always does. The salient point, of course, is that a society's response to environmental problems is completely within its control, which is not always true of the other factors. In other words, as his subtitle puts it, a society can "choose to fail.""

On top of this, I've just finished reading Scott Weidensaul's Return to Wild America, which talks largely about ecology, and wildlife preservation and management, but also looks critically at a few of the Bush administration's environmental policies, including those related to water distribution (diverting water sources away from ecosystems dependent on that water, for agricultural use), fire management, and logging, among other things. To one one's great surprise, I'm sure, the Bush adminstration has a history of favoring humans over wildlife and the environment; the policies described in the book are misguided at best, and downright destructive, in environmental terms, at worst. Add to this that the administration and Republicans in general still have their heads in the sand about global warming, and it's not a pretty picture. The environmental policies of the Bush administration, when looked at from an ecological perspective and in the context of Diamond's theory, could be seen as leading our society to its downfall.

Maybe that's a bit pessimistic of me, but the current government doesn't give me much cause for optimism when it comes to preserving the planet. I do hold out hope that things will change in the near future -- maybe there will be a political turn-around for environmentalism after the elections this fall; maybe Al Gore's movie will change some minds, if anyone actually sees it. I don't believe that things necessarily have to get worse before they get better. And I think I have to be hopeful, for my kids' sake. They're also the reason I need to be pro-active. This planet is the home we're leaving to the next generation, and all the generations that follow.

So when the Republicans get up in arms about gay marriage, or Internet gambling, or the Pledge of Allegiance, I do get discouraged. I understand the worry about the moral state of society -- I may disagree, but I do understand -- but I think that these things are secondary to preserving a healthy environment in which to have a society in the first place. If we can't properly manage our land and our resources, the eventual competition over these things will accelerate the decline of traditional morality in some ways, I think. I think it's likely that we'll wipe out the human race before we destroy the planet, but I would love for the two of us to peacefully coexist for quite a while longer.

*To be fair, I do think a few of their proposals are sensible -- the regulations on Internet gambling, ensuring the freedom to fly the American flag, and prohibiting the government from confiscating legal guns during a national emergency. I just don't think that any of these issues are "priorities" by any stretch of the imagination.

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