Today's Republican Party is making a concerted effort to unseat Barack Obama from the White House by appealing to Americans from every walk of life. Well, almost every walk of life. Environmentalists? Not so much.
In fact, the 2012 GOP platform of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan is nothing less than a slap in the face to anyone interested in clean energy, mass transit, global warming, sustainable living -- or, it seems, the continued existence of life on Earth. If you occasionally think about any of those issues, take a moment to look at the latest Republican platform and see why "GOP" now seems to be an acronym for "Greedy Old Plutocrats," especially in terms of the environment.
Republicans and Environmental Stewardship
The Republican Party holds that private property ownership is the basis of a sound environmental policy: "Private ownership has been our best guarantee of conscientious stewardship, while the worst instances of environmental degradation have occurred under government control." The rationale behind this argument is that people who own land will also protect it.
Fine, except there are three obvious problems with this view. The first and most troubling is that it's laughably false. While some people may ensure that the land they own is protected from environmental degradation, history is filled with stories of people -– and more importantly for Romney & Ryan, Inc., corporate donors -– who are quite happy to clear-cut forests, dump toxic wastes and slaughter wildlife on land that they own. That's especially true when there's a profit to be made from that ruin.
The second problem is that -- unlike Vegas -- what happens on private property doesn't stay on private property. Instead, it affects neighboring properties, and usually for a long, long time. If, for example, I burn garbage on my property, they're going to inhale the stench and smoke next door. And when a mining corporation dynamites a mountaintop, then dumps toxic mine wastes into a stream and destroys drinking water for generations, what then, GOP?
Finally, the Republicans have apparently forgotten the many environmental successes that have occurred solely because of government regulation -- some of which were signed into law by Republicans. Our nation's air, water and land are much healthier now than they were 50 years ago, largely due to the existence of the EPA (created by President Richard Nixon), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and regulations like the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and countless others initiatives.
The Republican Platform and Clean Energy
While the 2008 GOP platform called for increased support for clean energy, the 2012 platform seems to ask, "Clean energy? What's that?" Four years ago there was a provision for "a long-term energy tax credit equally applicable to all renewable power sources," but Mitt Romney has instead stated that he would allow tax credits for wind energy to expire.
Their alternate solution? Predictably, the GOP "will let the free market and the public's preferences determine the industry outcomes." This means you can expect a lot more hydrofracking, offshore oil drilling and other risky energy development projects.
A big part of the Republican platform's energy policy is centered on coal: "We look toward the private sector's development of new, state-of-the-art coal-fired plants that will be low-cost, environmentally responsible, and efficient." There's just one problem with that statement: Clean coal doesn't exist. Never has, in fact. The goal of someday capturing and sequestering greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants exists in theory, but has never been tried on any large-scale or long-term basis.
And when it comes to supporting other forms of energy, the Republicans don't hesitate to throw their support behind controversial proposals like the Keystone XL pipeline: "We are committed to approving the Keystone XL Pipeline and to streamlining permitting for the development of other oil and natural gas pipelines."
The GOP Platform and Climate Change
As weak-kneed as the Republicans are at addressing energy issues, their approach to climate change is downright flaccid. In 2008, the Republicans struggled to assert their concerns over climate change and global warming -– while also chanting "Drill, Baby, Drill!" -– but in 2012 they’ve clearly given up the struggle. The threats posed by climate change, even after a summer of record-busting heat and a scorching nationwide drought, are barely mentioned in the GOP platform.
In full retreat from even the pretense of caring about global warming, the party now emphasizes "taking advantage of all our American God-given resources" by doing everything possible to develop coal, oil and other fossil fuel resources. Fully opposed to any cap-and-trade legislation to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, the GOP also demands that Congress emasculate the EPA by prohibiting the agency from enacting any greenhouse gas regulations.
These positions are a mighty lurch to the farthest edge of the GOP right wing, even from the standpoint of the party's (failed) 2008 platform, in which they mentioned "addressing climate change responsibly" and "reducing demand for fossil fuels." When John McCain and Sarah Palin start to look like tree-hugging moderates, things are getting very strange indeed.
'Republican Science': An Oxymoron?
The mere existence of environmental science, or any science, seems to raise the GOP's hackles. They insist that government-funded research -- like that performed by the FDA, the EPA, the CDC and other world-class institutions -- distorts our discussion of environmental problems, since we "must balance economic development and private property rights in the short run with conservation goals over the long run." In other words, the health of the planet can move to the back of the line:
"[T]he advance of science and technology advances environmentalism as well. Science allows us to weigh the costs and benefits of a policy so that we can prudently deal with our resources. This is especially important when the causes and long-range effects of a phenomenon are uncertain. We must restore scientific integrity to our public research institutions and remove political incentives from publicly funded research."
It's ironic to note that the GOP admits above that science and technology are likely to promote an environmental mindset. It's hard to disagree with that. Their response, sadly, is to put shackles on science and force researchers to hew to a corporate agenda that values profits over life.
The Republican Platform and Mass Transit
Every day, millions of people across America use buses, trains, subways and other forms of public transportation to commute to work, travel to see friends and family, and to run errands. This saves a tremendous amount of gas and oil, and greatly reduces our production of air pollution including greenhouse gases. But under Republican "leadership," those millions of people can kiss their transit options goodbye:
The 2012 Republican platform states: "It is long past time for the federal government to get out of the way and allow private ventures to provide passenger service to the Northeast Corridor. The same holds true with regard to high-speed and intercity rail across the country."
So, if you ride BART in San Francisco, take the El in Chicago, commute by subway in Boston or New York City, or ride a bus anywhere in the United States, the GOP has an unmistakable message for you: Take a hike.
Ironically, the Republican party once had an admirable environmental perspective. Recognizing, perhaps, that "conservation" and "conservative" have the same root word, the GOP position was to preserve and protect our natural resources for long-term, sustainable development. This is why Republican presidents like Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush supported dozens of environmental initiatives.
But by sacrificing these once-respected principles for the sake of short-term profits enjoyed by a tiny minority of corporate interests, the 2012 Republican platform has lost any semblance of respectability or integrity. And we will all lose if they succeed in furthering their virulently anti-environmental agenda.