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Stephen Gottlieb: Environment Needs A Moral Revolution

I commented last week about the need to deal with global warming, population growth and protecting the lands and forests that produce the oxygen we depend on. Those problems are interrelated, and if the rising seas aren’t bad enough, the loss of atmospheric oxygen will suffocate us all. I confess that puts a different perspective on other issues. Can we improve people’s health and job prospects if we have to hold down the impact on the environment? Well yes, but the question is whether we are willing to share in the sandbox we call earth?

Unlimited increase in production of all sorts of things at the cost of more and more energy is clearly unsustainable for the planet. I don’t believe it is difficult to outline what would make our economy grow. John Maynard Keynes figured that out and most of the rest is “voodoo economics,” to quote the first President Bush. But there is a responsible objection to Keynesian economics because of the environmental effects of growth.

The conservative objection to Keynes claims to be pro-growth but conservative budget cutting would shrink, not grow, the economy. That would have an environmentally beneficial impact, although their focus on increasing the production of oil and gas would be environmentally damaging. The conservative approach, however, is designed without thought about the human costs. Their notion is that every man, woman and child should take care of themselves and the devil take the hindmost. When government turns around and tries to protect people from the hunger, homelessness, disease, dislocation and death that results from harsh conservative medicine, conservatives fight liberal efforts as unconstitutional, unsustainable, and too much of a burden.

If we are not willing to share the burdens, however, we will not be able to deal with the real and overriding problems we have, our very survival as a human race, as a people, and as trustees for the future of our children and grandchildren. Cutbacks without shared burdens will lead to violence, a war of all against all.

We need a major moral rebirth, a rebirth of citizenship, of brotherly love, of decency and the willingness to shoulder responsibility and not just let George or someone else do it – we all have to share. Democracy doesn’t work well when we ignore each other. And of course dictators would ignore us all. To protect ourselves and our children, we must share and protect each other.

Right now, conservatives are digging in about taxes. No new taxes. No old taxes. They want smaller governments that do less with less money. We can make taxes the great issue of our time, but while we are awash in a few extra bucks in the short run, and ignore the real human needs of food, clothing, shelter, education, medical care, jobs and an income to support ourselves and our families, we destroy the unity necessary to deal with the inevitable and deadly crisis. We can keep our taxes low and we can all drown and suffocate together.

Equally important, it is simply immoral, as all our great faiths teach, to ignore the impact on our fellow men, women and children. We need a great revival in the cause of humanity.

Steve Gottlieb is Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor of Law at Albany Law School and author of Morality Imposed: The Rehnquist Court and Liberty in America. He has served on the Board of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and in the US Peace Corps in Iran.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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