by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist.
Another Earth Day has come and gone. Despite an energetic celebration at Peace Park and thousands of dollars spent by environmental groups in 2005, no real progress is being made to conserve the planet’s resources.
Public lands are being put up for sale, we’re more dependent on oil than ever, and the clean air and water acts have been effectively gutted by funding cuts and executive order. Carbon dioxide levels are rising, the planet’s climate is destabilizing and deforestation is not slowing — except where there are no more forests.
The problem isn’t that the public doesn’t care about the environment or the consequences of our unsustainable economy. Survey after survey shows conservation and environmental concerns are a priority for an overwhelming majority of Americans. The problem is our state and federal governments are not responsive to the public’s interest in the environment, no matter how earnest.
The Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Fund and hundreds of other such groups are spinning their wheels. Frankly, what is the point of giving money to the Sierra Club so it can lobby President George W. Bush or Gov. Matt Blunt on water quality issues? It might as well be lobbying a rock to fly. It is simply not in the rock’s nature to fly, and it is not in Blunt’s or Bush’s nature to run counter to his corporate backers and instead act on what the people want.
The sad fact is that until we break the grip of corporate lobbyists and drive the money out of our political system, environmental concerns will not be heard.
The first step in making the government responsive to the people is to start publicly financing campaigns. A “clean elections” law like the ones in Arizona and Maine would allow Missouri officeholders to get off the fundraising treadmill and spend time listening to their constituents.
Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona was one of the first officeholders to be elected in that state using public financing. “The difference between being able to go out and spend your time talking with voters, meeting with groups, doing things like traveling to communities that have been underrepresented in the past as opposed to being on the phone selling tickets to a $250-a-plate fundraiser — that’s the real, practical difference,” the governor said.