Friday, May 2, 2014

The Reverse New Deal: Breathing free market air pollution

(CCC boys planting trees and shrubs along route 120, near Pottsville, Pennsylvania, 1933. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.)

In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). According to the History Channel, "The CCC reflected FDR's deep commitment to environmental conservation. He waxed poetic when lobbying for its passage, declaring 'the forests are the lungs of our land [which] purify our air and give fresh strength to our people.'" The CCC fought forest fires, developed state & national parks, planted three billion trees across the country, and more.

There were other New Deal activities to protect and restore the environment. For example, WPA workers built fish hatcheries, cleaned waterways, and sealed old mines. The National Youth Administration planted trees and engaged in erosion control projects. Though not a perfect endeavor, the New Deal did point us in the right direction with respect to environmental conservation.

(A man working on a WPA fish hatchery project, near Lewistown, Maryland, 1937. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

Today, the situation is quite different. Many on the political right deny that man has played a role in global warming, or deny the existence of global warming in the first place, despite the fact that "Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position" (see NASA, "Consensus: 97% of climate scientists agree").

Additionally, "Nearly half of all Americans live in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution, according to an American Lung Association (ALA) report," and "A growing body of research over the last decade has connected air pollution to increased deaths from heart disease and respiratory illnesses. The World Health Organisation said last autumn that particulate pollution causes lung cancer." To pour salt into the wound, climate change will make these problems worse. (See Suzanne Goldenberg, "Almost Half of Americans Live With Unhealthy Levels of Air Pollution")

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

Despite the scientific consensus, and despite the cancer causing pollution, many people simply aren't that worried about environmental problems (see, e.g., Gallup survey here). This may be due to news organizations and talk radio hosts that routinely manipulate or disregard facts in service a rigid political ideology that says "free markets" and billionaires always know what's best for us. For example, Fox News allegedly told a guest speaker not to talk about climate change on air

Utah has perhaps the worst air quality in the the U.S. and its residents are sometimes advised to stay indoors (see, e.g., "Toxic fog hits Utah: Pregnant women and children urged to stay indoors as pollution goes 'off the charts' in freezing weather"). Other areas of the world have similar pollution problems (see, e.g., "China's toxic air pollution resembles nuclear winter, say scientists: Air pollution now impeding photosynthesis and potentially wreaking havoc on country's food supply, experts warn").

The fact that so many people are unconcerned (or not overly concerned) about global warming, climate change, and air pollution is really remarkable. It's as if we have a collective death wish. Or maybe we're just willing to breathe poison, if that's what it takes to fulfill our fantasy that the "free market" always brings about the best result and that government action to keep our air clean and breathable is nothing short of "godless communism!!" intended to enslave us all to government  bureaucrats. 

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