Saturday, January 22, 2011

On my declining faith in government

I was at the EPA National Vehicle Emissions Testing Facility the other day when it was announced that there would be a new "public-private" partnership between the EPA and Chrysler to develop hydraulic hybrid technology for light duty vehicles such as minivans. The EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, was there along with Chrysler Chairman Sergio Marchionne introducing a "new model relationship" between the government and corporations - one in which the government and industry will work hand-in-hand. I was particularly surprised at how many times Jackson called residents of the US "consumers." The newly elected Lieutenant Governor, Brian Calley, was there as well, speaking about how his "family of five consumers" would benefit greatly with this new product. I got the feeling, along with my friends who agreed, that the tone of the government, represented through Jackson and the EPA, was markedly subservient to Chrysler and "other corporate partners." That seemed to rub us the wrong way, given that the EPA is a regulatory agency, whose job it is not to compromise and work with industry, but to set "acceptable" (yes, a loaded word that I will talk about in another post) standards within which industry can operate. Jackson also said the following: "Hydraulic hybrid vehicles represent the cutting edge of fuel-efficiency technology and are one of many approaches we’re taking to save money for drivers, clean up the air we breathe and cut the greenhouse gases that jeopardize our health and prosperity. The EPA and Chrysler are working together to explore the possibilities for making this technology affordable and accessible to drivers everywhere. This partnership is further proof that we can preserve our climate, protect our health and strengthen our economy all at the same time.” (emphasis added by me)

President Obama, in his weekly radio address to the nation, today declared that the United States can "outcompete any other nation on Earth," in what The New York Times called a "pro-growth, pro-trade message that is likely to be at the heart of the State of the Union speech he gives to the Congress on Tuesday." Obama went on the say (with emphases added by me), "We’re living in a new and challenging time, in which technology has made competition easier and fiercer than ever before. Countries around the world are upping their game and giving their workers and companies every advantage possible. But that shouldn’t discourage us, because I know we can win that competition. I know we can outcompete any other nation on earth. We just have to make sure we’re doing everything we can to unlock the productivity of American workers, unleash the ingenuity of American businesses and harness the dynamism of America’s economy." He went on to say, about his trip to Schenectady's GE steam-turbine plant, “This plant is manufacturing steam turbines and generators for a big project in India that resulted from a deal we announced around that trip — a project that’s helping support more than 1,200 manufacturing jobs and more than 400 engineering jobs in Schenectady,” Mr. Obama said. “Good jobs at good wages, producing American products for the world.”

(I will stop short and not talk about new Michigan Governor Rick Snyder's announcement during his State of the State speech this past week about the new bridge between Canada and the US.) I have written at length in other posts about how the government has been as complicit in environmental harm and degradation in the past; these recent announcements do not change my viewpoint, but rather lend evidence that indeed, the government is as short-sighted as corporations are. The government views us, people, people with thoughts, emotions and feelings, as consumers. We are viewed as consumers that only do our rightful duty when we consume and produce and grow, not thoughts, emotions and ethics, but physical products whose presence almost inevitably degrades the Earth's capacity to sustain those very governments. We are at a point in time when simplicity of thought and rhetoric and broad brush strokes cannot allow us to comprehend the full impacts of our actions. More fuel-efficient cars do not mean lesser environmental impact. The economy, the way it is currently defined, cannot protect our health and climate if it grows. There may have been a time when we could have used simple equations such as "more = good." Unfortunately, ecology, the environment, people, emotions and spirit cannot be reduced to an equation.

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