Saturday, February 03, 2007

For the BWCAW, global warming is the fight that counts the most Cook County

By Marshall Helmberger, Editor of the Tower-Ely Timberjay, February 3, 2007

Are environmentalists winning the battles but losing the war? That is certainly one message that can be drawn from our story this week on the impact of environmental lawsuits on the Superior National Forest and its funding for wilderness management.

In the case of the Boundary Waters, environmental groups have spent much time and political capital pursuing litigation that can be argued to be of questionable value. While environmentalists can point to some legal victories as a result, those victories have come at significant cost— both to the Superior’s wilderness budget and the broader goal of protecting the environment.

Many have wondered in recent years, whether environmental groups have allowed a focus on narrow, often legalistic concerns, to undermine their efforts to regain the political initiative on the truly big issues. It’s easy to forget these days that the environmental movement was once very powerful politically. In its heyday in the 1960s and 70s it was successful in passing sweeping legislation, like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Wilderness Act.

But times have changed, and a movement that once had incredible political muscle has become like the 98-pound weakling at the beach who gets sand kicked in his face. On what is clearly the biggest environmental challenge of this century— global warming— environmentalists in the U.S. have achieved virtually nothing. Europeans, on the other hand, are making huge strides in reducing their emissions of greenhouse gases, and have committed themselves to impressive long term goals. Holland, for example, has committed to cut greenhouse gases by 80 percent within 40 years, and Britain will reduce its emissions by 60 within 50 years.

Even developing nations, like China, have now enacted tougher automobile fuel economy standards than in the U.S. Far from an environmental leader, the U.S. is now widely considered the world’s biggest environmental outlaw when it comes to climate change. And blaming the situation on President Bush only goes so far. Even under the Clinton/Gore administration, environmentalists lost political fights over global warming every time.
It’s not that environmentalists haven’t tried to make progress on the issue. But the movement seems so stuck in old ways of operating, and is so damaged by its own miscalculations, that it has become largely ineffective on the political front. A movement that once enjoyed tremendous grassroots support is now seen by many Americans as elitist and dominated by uncompromising attorneys. If progress on cutting greenhouse emissions is eventually achieved in the U.S., it will likely be because corporate America finally joined the case—as is now happening— not because environmentalists got their groove back.

Yet even as global warming threatens to completely reshape the Boundary Waters, we see environmental groups still focused on minor issues that achieve little in the end, other than inciting continued ill will from many residents who live near the Boundary Waters. And there’s a cost to that ill will on the political front.

Take a look at relations between environmentalists and many union workers in our area. If you sit down and actually talk to an environmentalist, you’ll find that 90 percent of them are as progressive as any union leader. They’re pro-union, pro-living wage, and support trade policies that protect workers as well as the environment. They also want single payer, universal health care, good workplace safety rules, and major investment in new, green technologies that promise hundreds of thousands of good-paying union jobs here in America. But ask a local steelworker what environmentalists want, and you’ll hear about nothing but motors in the Boundary Waters. For the chance at a minor, technical victory, environmental groups have burned important political bridges, and they’ve done it time after time.

And for what? If the predictions of forest ecologist Lee Frelich and others come to pass, as now appears increasingly likely, the Boundary Waters that so many of us have known and loved for years, could disappear within many of our lifetimes.

I have a tough time seeing the point of fighting over motor quotas on a handful of lakes, when so much more is clearly at stake. To hear environmentalists tout legal victories on technicalities, while the forests of the Boundary Waters could well turn to dry brushland and its lakes shrivel to ponds within 40 years, hardly inspires confidence.

I’d feel much better knowing that environmentalists had decided to join in coalition with local residents and organizations to mount a full court press at the Legislature to achieve real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in order to save the entire Boundary Waters ecosystem, and the region’s tourism economy at the same time. They could do that by shredding the false “jobs versus the environment” propaganda put out by the oil and coal industries and laying out a bold new initiative aimed at putting the U.S. back in the lead on environmental technologies of the future.

Far from costing jobs, a major push to develop new energy technologies and greater efficiency could reinvigorate America’s industrial sector to a degree we haven’t seen in decades. Converting to a new energy economy is a job creator, not a job destroyer, yet environmentalists have too often inadvertently helped the oil and auto industries stymie progress by alienating potential allies, such as unions, who could help environmentalists start winning again on the issues that really matter.

It’s time for environmental groups to start picking their battles more carefully. Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s time to tackle bigger and more important goals and rebuild the political coalitions to make it happen.

Editors Note- All I can saw about this wonderful editorial by Marshall is- Right on! I could not agree with him more. Ted Young


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