Monday, February 20, 2012

Does the Environment Need Protected?

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established in 1970 under President Nixon. According to its website, “The mission of EPA is to protect human health and the environment.” Thanks to the EPA, we are all able to enjoy cleaner air, purer water, and fewer toxic chemicals in our environment than would be the case if there were no such agency.
And yet there are those among us, including some leading politicians, who say that the EPA is not needed. Last year presidential contenders Michelle Bachmann declared that the EPA should be eliminated and Rick Perry said it should be “dismantled.” Herman Cain held a similar position.
Now Ron Paul says on his website that he will “eliminate the ineffective EPA.” Newt Gingrich says that if he is elected president he would abolish the EPA and replace it with something he calls the Environmental Solutions Agency. Campaigning in Colorado earlier this month, Rick Santorum dismissed climate change as “a hoax.” He, too, wants to get rid of the EPA.
Mitt Romney’s position is the only one among Republican presidential hopefuls that doesn’t seem to be strongly against the EPA. In fact, last summer right-wing talk radio host Mark Levin castigated Romney for being a RINO (Republican in name only) who acknowledges that global warming is a fact and holds up for the EPA.
No doubt there are some reforms needed in the EPA. There probably is some money wasted, as is most likely true in all government agencies. There are more than 17,000 employees in the EPA and its budget for 2010 was about 10.5 billion dollars. That’s a lot of money. But to put it into some perspective, in 2008 the U.S. spent 12 billion dollars a month in Iraq.
Six years ago this month, on February 16, 2006, the Kyoto Protocol went into effect for the nations who had signed and ratified that agreement, which was aimed at fighting global warming. That gathering held in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 and sponsored by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, sought ways to prevent “dangerous anthropogenic [human-caused] interference with the climate system.”
To the present, 192 countries have signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol. There are only four countries that have not done so. One is the United States. The others are Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Taiwan. Even with the current Environmental Protection Agency in place, this country doesn’t seem to be doing all it should to protect the environment. And now most Republican presidential contenders even want to do away with the EPA!
Humans can harm, and have harmed, the environment and human health in many ways. Remember DDT? The EPA concluded that it “posed unacceptable risks to the environment and potential harm to human health,” so it was banned at the end of 1972. That, doubtlessly, was a positive thing for people’s health.
The environment definitely does need protected from what we humans can do to it, and to healthy human life, by pollutants discharged into the air or the water cycle—and by excessive emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouses gasses into the atmosphere.

[Note: if you need more information about global warming, check out this article posted on the Internet yesterday: A brief guide to the scientific consensus on climate change.]


  1. Leroy and friends,
    Political rhetoric reflects some powerful trends in public opinion, and the more ominous thing is why do we Americans think we can "fix" the environment by choosing denial? Or do think short term exploitation of resources trumps long term problems for future generations? Or do we think the end of the world is imminent and we don't need to worry beyond 2050?

  2. The coal industry holds a hard grip on its favored position in Kentucky. Its position is so strong that its Democratic governor Beshear strongly opposed the EPA when running for re-election. The problem: the EPA finally had begun positive and practical moves to enforce limits of pollution caused by mining. Coal's strength is seen in its building a new lodge for the University of Kentucky's basketball team (about $7 million). It will be called the Wildcat Coal Lodge with the guarantee of a coal exhibition space in the lodge controlled by coal interests. Wendell Berry, state honored and nationally known writer holds environmental concerns. He withdrew his papers from the university's library in protest. All those speaking against pollution control for whatever end claim they will lose money--the highest value!

  3. As it happens, last night I attended The Great Immensity at the KC Rep. It is a world premiere, still in "previews," of a play about global warming, and about why we collectively refuse to believe in it. Sometimes it touches on history, such as the sad story of the last passenger pigeon, living alone at a zoo. Once darkening the skies in their billions, the birds were mercilessly hunted on the assumption that they were an inexhaustible resource, until suddenly only one was left. And then none. Another story told of nomadic people, who after living for thousands of years as hunters, were moved by Canada into permanent homes near Hudson Bay. Alcoholism and death become their new life style, until a new generation rejects their city, and lead the remnant of the people back to their nomadic life. Throughout the play, scientist wonder, and, improbably, sing, about how to get out the message of our fragile environment, and their frustration at their failure to persuade us.

    It is easy to blame it all on great amoral economic powers, such as the coal industry, and the corrupt politicians in their pay. However, that is only part of the picture. A deeper is why so many people are in their sway. Here, I think the theory of grief probably comes closer than any other to explaining what is happening. The typical list moves from right brain to left brain, from denial to anger, fear, bargaining and finally acceptance. Wherever we see excesses of denial and anger, it is appropriate to ask, What died? Whether it is denial of personal mortality, the holocaust, or global warming, the process is similar. How do we get the environmental deniers through their grief fast enough to save our world? I wish we knew.

  4. Elimination of the EPA is such a backward step to take that it's difficult to imagine. THIS LINK is to a N.Y. Times article written by Chip Jacobs, co-author of the book, " Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles." He suggests that the announcement of ending the EPA be made in Los Angeles where people can remember what it was like before the EPA.

    Another good place for such an announcement would be on the banks of the Cuyahoga River, the river in Northeast Ohio that's famous for being "the river that caught fire" in 1969.