Wednesday, February 5, 2014

New Deal environmentalism vs. the free-market fantasies that are poisoning our environment

(WPA poster promoting cleanliness. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

During the New Deal, there were strong efforts to conserve and improve our environment. For example, the Civilian Conservation Corps planted 3 billion trees and the WPA helped build scientific research facilities. Today, on the other hand, there are those on the political right who are unconcerned about environmental pollution, even if it happens on a massive scale. In 2010, Republican Congressman Joe Barton apologized to BP, after BP let loose millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Apparently, he felt is was wrong to hold BP accountable for BP's oil spill. 

More recently, after a massive spill of poison into West Virginia's drinking water, and a question as to whether containers of dangerous chemicals should be inspected more rigorously, Republican House Speaker John Boehner said dismissively, "We have enough regulations." (Subsequent to Boehner's flippant response, "Democrats and Republicans on a Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee agreed at a hearing Tuesday that the federal government needs to do more to protect the water supply from toxic chemicals." Article here.)

And, of course, we know that many on the political right deny man-made climate change, despise the Environmental Protection Agency, and think the Endangered Species Act is an unnecessary obstacle to "economic growth" (two words that have become code for: "The 1% wants more money"). Nothing fazes these people. Not record levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, not unsafe levels of mercury in fish, not flotillas of trash in the Pacific Ocean, not species extinction (like the beautiful Carolina Parakeet). And many of those who provide massive funding to the political right have polluted the environment themselves (see, e.g., "Koch Industries has pattern of violating ethics, environmental laws" & "BP Oil Refinery Waste Stored At Koch Brothers-Owned Site Polluting Nearby Chicago Neighborhoods"). 

 (WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

The political right demands that government "get out of the way," leave business alone, and let the "free-market" flourish--and then business pollutes our water, either intentionally or through incompetence. Then, to add to the insanity, the political right looks at the polluted water, stares back at us with a blank expression, and repeats their political mantra: "We don't need regulations, get government out of the way." What is the future of a world where a significant percentage of the population can look at poisoned drinking water and say, "hey, no big deal, don't worry about it"?

All of this foolishness comes from the rigid right-wing ideology that the "market" always knows best. That somehow, magically & miraculously, if we just get government out of the way, the wondrous & holy free-market will handle all of society's ills. It is an ideology that does not recognize the existence of market failures and denies (or is completely oblivious to) the extensive historical evidence of man's willingness to harm others for profit. So, when it comes to the air I breathe and the water I drink, the Free-Market Utopians will have to forgive me, because I'd prefer New Deal environmentalism to wide-eyed free-market fantasies.

 (WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

 (WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

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