By Lance SimmensIn 1993 then Vice-President Al Gore was instrumental in establishing the Federal Government’s first Office of Sustainable Development in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration within the U.S. Department of Commerce. I, along with former New Bedford, Massachusetts Mayor John Bullard, was tapped to turn the concept of the office into a reality.
One of the first tasks we faced under direct orders from Commerce Secretary Ron Brown was to come up with an operational definition of sustainable development. Over the course of several weeks we did our research into contemporary uses and definitions of the concept but in the end went decidedly simple and reported back to the Secretary that sustainable development was little more than a euphemism for long-term planning.
Eureka! That was perfect, it was understandable and could be easily explained to a largely uninitiated public, exclaimed the Secretary. From that moment on we dedicated ourselves to formulating and implementing a series of sustainable development initiatives in the Northeast, Pacific Northwest and Gulf of Mexico that incorporated fisheries management regimes with economic development that would have profound impacts upon the communities and individuals that relied upon the commercial fishing industry.
I have spent nearly 40 years in politics, government and public policy and I use this as an illustrative example of one of the most important precepts that often does not receive appropriate attention but should serve as the foundation for public policies and programs across a wide spectrum of issues. And this is particularly true in the arena of resource issues.
In my just released book entitled “The Evolution of a Revolution: An Attack Upon Reason, Compromise, and the Constitution” I delineate six conceptual criteria for unchaining the current system of government and governance from the dysfunctional shackles that currently render us incapable of addressing issues of any significance, let alone those that critically need action. One of those key criterion is supplanting short-term thinking in our political and governance systems with long-term thinking. This, combined with replacing leadership with statesmanship, which requires vision and wisdom, will go a long way towards resolving our current predicament.
In my estimation there is no more serious long-term problem facing the human species than the issue of climate change. Unless we develop a sustainable approach geared towards curbing our insatiable appetite for activities that pump unsustainable levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere we are dooming future generations. An integral component of any definition for sustainability is to ensure that we leave the earth in at least as good a shape if not better than we found it. If we do not immediately move to shift the predominant economic and energy paradigm governing the world from one based upon fossil fuels to one reliant upon renewable energy sources we have no hope whatsoever of fulfilling even the most basic definition of sustainability.
Yet Democrats and Republicans alike seem to have been hoodwinked by a fossil fuel industrial complex into believing that continued reliance upon this finite, carbon-emitting resource holds the key to our future. The senselessness of that last sentence is mind-boggling in its absurdity yet evidences the current degree of disregard for common sense. That it is often accompanied by wholesale rejection of science or intellectualism only exacerbates the current state of inertia we are witnessing with regard to our reluctance to confront the crisis that stands naked before our very eyes.
If this nation is unwilling to lead on the issue of sustainability despite being the most egregious trespasser upon the commons, the incentive for developing or developed nations to do will melt faster than ice in the Artic.
The current rage is fracking. The United States is in the middle of a fracking frenzy, tapping into shale plays from Pennsylvania to North Dakota, Ohio to Texas, Louisiana to California in search of fool’s gold that until several years ago could not be unearthed in an economically viable way. Technological advances that have made hydraulic fracturing possible effectively crowd out important investments in renewable energy and fatten the coffers of an oil and gas lobby that thrives in a post Citizens United political environment.
This is an industry in which the top five corporations reaped $93 billion in net profits in 2013, a dramatic reduction from years past but still prodigious enough to shape tax and energy policies at will in State Capitols, the Halls of Congress, and the White House. All the while the observable manifestations of such a reckless disregard for the economic and environmental impacts of climate change, both short-term and long-term, continue to mount.
And from a sustainable point of view other issues that are becoming increasingly documented point to the destructive nature of the extractive industry. They include: adverse impacts upon water, both quantity and quality; adverse impacts upon air contamination; adverse impacts upon public health; and an increasingly troublesome cause and effect relationship between drilling, waste disposal and seismic activity. The incidence of earthquakes has increased dramatically in places where they are common and in places where they are relatively unheard of, such as Ohio.
Failure to face the fallacy that fracking for fossil fuels is the future is potentially fatal. The fossil fools perpetrating this inter-generational injustice place profits over people. It is wrong on so many fronts but most of all it is an affront to our sensibilities. It is quite simply unsustainable.
It was brought to my attention several years ago that the planet will survive climate change. When I asked whether the species would survive a famous earth sciences professor explained that that was a very different question.
To quote Carl Sagan, “The Earth is the only world known to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.”
In other words, there is no Planet B.
Lance Simmens has worked for two Presidents, two U.S. Senators, two Governors, and the U.S. Senate Budget Committee. He is currently living in California and actively involved in grassroots efforts opposing fracking. He is the author of “The Evolution of a Revolution”, published by Inkwell Productions. More information is available on his website: lancesimmens.com.