Climate Action Inspiration From the Most Unlikely of Places: 1970's Richard M. Nixon
Let me begin by saying that I never thought I would find myself quoting the late Richard M. Nixon (President of the United States 1969-74) on anything.
For those who may not know, it was President Nixon that created the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in 1970. There are those - like myself - who believe that the EPA was actually created by Nixon for nefarious purposes (notice the choice of photo), but for now, please consider the following sentiments and objectives as being wholesome and legitimate...
Special Message to the Congress Outlining the 1972 Environmental Program
February 8, 1972
To the Congress of the United States:
From the very first, the American spirit has been one of self-reliance and confident action. Always we have been a people to say with Henley "I am the master of my fate . . . the captain of my soul" - a people sure that man commands his own destiny. What has dawned dramatically upon us in recent years, though, is a new recognition that to a significant extent man commands as well the very destiny of this planet where he lives, and the destiny of all life upon it. We have even begun to see that these destinies are not many and separate at all--that in fact they are indivisibly one.
This is the environmental awakening. It marks a new sensitivity of the American spirit and a new maturity of American public life. It is working a revolution in values, as commitment to responsible partnership with nature replaces cavalier assumptions that we can play God with our surroundings and survive....
... The new cast of the public mind had to be translated into new legislation. New insights had to have new governmental forms and processes through which to operate. Broadly-based problems -- such as air pollution, water pollution and pesticide hazards had to be dealt with first.
... Now, as we press on with that work..., we must also come to grips with the basic factors which underlie our more obvious environmental problems -- factors like... the impact of incentives or disincentives built into our economic system. We are gaining an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the way economic, institutional, and legal forces shape our surroundings for good or ill; the next step is learning how to turn such forces to environmental benefit.
Primary responsibility for the actions that are needed to protect and enhance our environment rests with State and local government, consumers, industry, and private organizations of various kinds - but the Federal Government must provide leadership. On the first day of this decade I stated that "it is literally now or never" for true quality of life in America. Amid much encouraging evidence that it can and will be "now," we must not slacken our pace but accelerate it. Environmental concern must crystallize into permanent patterns of thought and action. What began as environmental awakening must mature finally into a new and higher environmental way of life. If we flag in our dedication and will, the problems themselves will not go away. Toward keeping the momentum of awareness and action, I pledge my full support and that of this Administration, and I urgently solicit the continuing cooperation of the Congress and the American people [emphasis mine].
The videotape version of Nixon's February 8, 1972 Special Message to the Congress is even more compelling... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qd4LJcSz8Vk
From that 1972 videotaped address:
"[W]e must act, and act decisively. It is literally now or never."
"During the past three years, we have made a good start. We have passed new laws to protect the environment... and we have mobilized the power of public concern."
"These [environmental] problems will not stand still for politics or for partisanship. They demand to be met now."
"The time has come for man to make his peace with nature."
That was the 1970's idea of "climate action" in the United States.
If that speech were delivered today, would it not be wholly applicable to the current state of affairs in climate action and the environment?
These efforts (for good or bad), did in fact result in the creation of the first solely-dedicated federal government environmental regulatory agency - the EPA. Now, fast-forward to 2017...
There is spirited argument regarding the "definition" of climate action. There is the belief that "action" can mean discussions, further debate, and education of the next genertion. There is the argument that "climate action" should not involve the enactment of new laws to protect the environment. There is the suggestion that personal greening behaviors will help alleviate the global climate crisis. Finally, there is the proposition that climate action should involve taxes alone (so-called "carbon pricing") and the destruction of the EPA and its regulatory authority.
I give you 2017's President of the United States on saving the environment...
Dateline: March 28, 2017
Washington Post - Democracy Dies n Darkness - Health & Science Section
Trump signs order at the EPA to dismantle environmental protections
By Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin
The email arrived at lunchtime Tuesday from a top aide to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. “Our Big Day Today” read the subject line of the message, which went to thousands of EPA employees.
It detailed how President Trump would be visiting the agency, whose budget he recently proposed cutting by nearly a third, to sign a sweeping executive order aimed at unraveling efforts... to combat climate change.
... At the EPA, scientists are encountering renewed skepticism of their work, many employees have seen their offices slated for elimination altogether, and regulators are facing the prospect of dismantling environmental rules many of them spent years creating. Trump’s visit to headquarters Tuesday was met with frustration, resignation and varying levels of angst.
... “What an insult,” said one longtime employee, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
“Needless to say, morale is at rock bottom,” said another, who noted that some employees had worn buttons that read “scientific integrity” in quiet protest.
... “We’re not going to allow regulations here at the EPA to pick winners and losers,” Pruitt promised.
The president, who devoted much of his remarks to praising coal miners, pipelines and U.S. manufacturing, declared, “We’re ending the theft of American prosperity and rebuilding our beloved country.”
The far-reaching order he unveiled Tuesday instructs federal regulators to rewrite key Obama-era rules curbing U.S. carbon emissions — namely the Clean Power Plan, which was intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s electric plants. It also seeks to lift a moratorium on federal coal leasing and remove the requirement that federal officials consider the impact of climate change when making decisions.
In sum, it amounts to a wholesale rebuke of [previous administrations'] environmental efforts.
So, considering the above, I ask what could be the reason behind such a radical difference in the ideas of climate justice from the 1970's to today?
Could this difference be in any way related to the modern definition of "climate action" and the radical departure from 1970's views of the necessity of civic involvement in the environmental legislative process?
This I suggest is the danger of dilution of purpose.
Nearly fifty years later, it may really be "now or never" to "act decisively" on the environment.
Imagine that; having to turn to the likes of Richard Nixon for inspiration on climate action.
What is the world coming to?