Spending the Planet
I’m not a big fan of most conservatives. Historically speaking, they are – to put it bluntly – too often on the wrong side of history.
And humanity. And reality.
For example, the Earth is not flat, women deserve the right to vote, and people of color are human.
But despite their long and notorious record of social, cultural, and scientific follies, conservatives do occasionally come up with some good ideas and offer some lessons worth learning, especially in the realm of economics.
Fiscal conservatism is a good idea. Fiscal conservatives spend prudently and buy fewer goods and services on credit. They save a lot and are typically prepared for accidents and emergencies. They believe in preparing for the worst because it’s better to be safe than sorry.
This is one reason they find our current economic crisis and the methods being employed to address it so alarming. They believe we can’t spend our way back to prosperity. They believe that the mountainous deficits we’re building will amount to a tax on generations to come.
I think there is something to their concerns, but spending measures may also have been the only way to save our economy. Successful, wealthy conservatives benefited from these measures just like everyone else and maybe more so.
If our economy had collapsed, it would have leveled the economic playing field, bringing most of the haves and the have-nots much closer together. Salvaging the economy was about saving good old-fashioned conservative capitalism. So perils notwithstanding, bold stimulus measures had to be taken.
But again, I understand their concern. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Arguably, however, the true currency of our existence is not money. It’s natural resources. For all their economic wisdom, most conservatives steadfastly insist on being environmental dolts. The economic price tag that our children and grandchildren are facing is peanuts compared to the unpayable environmental debts piling up all around us. And the logic that applies to preserving our ecosystem and ensuring environmental stability is the same logic conservatives use in their efforts to achieve economic well-being.
Take fresh water. As a society we constantly ignore rule number one of conservative economics. We typically expend more than is coming in – not a sustainable system. Like devil-may-care deadbeats, we are perpetually living beyond our means, not to mention the planet’s. And besides failing to conserve our water sources, we are also neglecting to protect them and keep them clean. Since 1985, Centers for Disease Control studies reveal that polluted drinking water has led to more than 300 separate disease outbreaks and over half a million cases of waterborne illnesses.
Consider the air we breathe. In too many places (including Fort Worth), our air is plagued by smog and other pollution, leading to respiratory problems and cancer. And that’s just in humans.
Examine the oceans. Due to humans, of course, the oceans now include more than 405 dead zones, places where no marine life can survive. The largest lies where the Mississippi River empties into the Gulf of Mexico. It is the size of New Jersey. And the Pacific Garbage Patch is now twice the size of Texas.
It gets worse. Increased carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere, caused by growing fossil-fuel usage, are being absorbed by our oceans, making seawater more acidic. Coral reefs are dying. Marine life is waning. And what pollution doesn’t kill or mutate, industrialized fishing has left over-exploited, depreciated, or on the verge of extinction or collapse.
Oh, and did I mention ozone depletion, shrinking ice caps, acid rain, hazardous waste, rain forest destruction, or overpopulation?
At the rate we are going, financial hardship will be the least of our children’s and grandchildren’s worries. Environmentally speaking, we are not preparing for (much less guarding against) the worst or working to be more safe than sorry. Our environmental deficit dwarfs any potential financial catastrophe. But many conservatives, nonetheless, are acting like free-spending liberals when it comes to our environment – our irreplaceable Earth. They flaunt their material indulgences as if the currency of life just grew on trees – the same trees that global-warming deniers have no problems chopping down for a buck.
Protecting our environment will no doubt be costly, but it’s time to really think conservatively. A planet saved is a planet earned.
E.R. Bills is a local freelance writer whose work has appeared in numerous publications.