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Roe's status quo on climate change hurts job growth

Jennie Young, Community Voices Columnist • Apr 14, 2019 at 7:45 AM

Having to toss most plastic packaging into trash bins after years of recycling sure doesn’t feel like progress.

As consumers, we’ve become undiscriminating about packaging in general and too willing to ignore massive evidence of collateral damage and safety issues, both on land and in our oceans. We must at minimum reduce consumption. I suspect we knew all along that bottled water was an astute marketing scam, which ought to be the easiest habit to break. But more than breaking old and creating new habits as individuals, organized political effort and courage is urgent.

Thanks to the Press for challenging Tennessee’s governor and Republican legislators who have just outlawed our local prerogative to ban or limit plastic shopping bags, straws, or other petroleum-based products. I’ve little doubt the petroleum-rich Koch Brothers’ front group, Americans for Prosperity, whispered in their ears. Change won’t come easy, but there’s compelling argument for separating oil producers from the manufacture of plastics. As long as they provide the basic stock, they’re not likely to support reducing volume or technologies which already exist, improving our abilities to manufacture biodegradable plastic in new ways and from other basic stock. But this is about more than being inundated with more plastic refuse than the environment can bear. Which brings me to HR109, called The Green New Deal.

Rep. Phil Roe devoted his Feb. 9 newsletter to it, titled “The ‘Green New Deal’ is a Green Disaster,” and followed with four mocking paragraphs. A summary sentence states: “It’s not about climate change, it’s about centralizing control of our economy with the government.”

He mocks the cow flatulence reference from an early version of the final text, as have others who bemoan “No more hamburgers!” He could have told us, but didn’t, that this resolution is about aspiration and necessary priority changes, one of the most important of which is about regenerative agriculture. It means working with family farmers and ranchers to reduce carbon footprints with rethought approaches to cropping, fertilizing, waste management and irrigation. Many are already on board because good environmental policy is economically beneficial for farming and ranching. Maybe Roe doesn’t know that developing healthy, organic pasture soil with perennial grass and legume root systems, which, along with soil bacteria, forms a living biomass that remains alive, one of nature’s best carbon sinks, storing carbon underground, helping create carbon-neutral balances between pasture and the animals who feed on it. This approach is, and should be, a threat to large, industrially oriented big Ag and carbon-heavy feedlot-based systems. Even there, changing cows’ diets can significantly reduce methane. Roe could already have studied this if he didn’t support the status quo. His words come of reading for ammunition rather than understanding. Like we need politicians making political hay off sincere efforts for change

Of course the resolution is about climate change. It wouldn’t have been created if climate scientists hadn’t warned of the urgency for transforming our economy away from carbon fuels, in 12 short years. Roe’s not comfortable apparently because the Green New Deal dares to stray from the usual emphasis on controlling pollution, for which he has a pocketful of pat answers. It also means accepting that to protect the future into which our kids are going, and to protect the vulnerable who suffer the most from climate upheaval, will mean a shifting of social and economic models, for which we had better prepare. It’s fitting the GND was introduced by a smart 29-year-old congresswoman.

The best analysis of this I’ve found is a New York Times op-ed by Columbia law professor, Jedediah Britton-Purdy, titled “The Green New Deal Is What Realistic Environmental Policy Looks Like.” He says that in the 21st century, environmental policy is economic policy, and it’s an anachronism to insist they be treated separately.

Britton-Purdy says carbon emissions are not mainly about the price of gas and electricity. It’s about infrastructure, the technological exoskeleton for the species: roads, buildings, power plants, cars, trains, long-haul trucks, etc., etc. You can’t change the climate impact of Americans without changing the built American landscape, which is what the Green New Deal is about.

Consider this: “You might say that producing the disaster of global climate change has taken a lot of economic policy and produced a lot of jobs programs. Reversing direction will take the same. Since environmental policy can happen only through economic policy, there is no avoiding decisions about what sorts of work there will be, and in which industries. It’s unsettling, but maybe a little less so when you consider that we’ve been doing that all along, usually without owning up to it.” The GND is a model of good sense rediscovered.

Phil Roe says he is “all for solutions that will leave our children and grandchildren a healthier planet.” No, as a legislator he isn’t. First, he would have to accept science that tells us we must have visionary environmental lawmakers and a business community and citizenry steeled to reverse course for feasibly reaching that end. He is correct, though, to say “elections matter.”

We recyclers and carriers of reusable bags understand why any setback at this point threatens the big picture.

Jennie Young of Elizabethton is a retired language arts teacher.

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