Friday, August 24, 2007

Ron Paul's green record is outstanding

When I first heard about Ron Paul, I was skeptical. As a registered Democrat and a social liberal, I thought immediately, what can a conservative Republican from Texas possibly offer? I didn't realize, at that time, in May 2007, how much my eyes were about to be opened. I thought, they're all just politicians, they say whatever they have to, it's going to be the lesser of two evils, and at least the Democrats have a shot.

How wrong I was. Little did I know that a few short months later, I would be re-registering as a Republican to vote for this very candidate. Little did I know that everything I believed about the connotations of the word "conservative" was about to be shaken.

Let me start by naming my major issue: the environment. Are any Republicans associated with pro-environmental policies anymore? Furthermore, has anyone connected good environmental practice with Ron Paul? I am about to do just that.

Ron Paul has been criticized by some prominent environmental advocates, including Leonardo DiCaprio, whose environmental documentary film The Eleventh Hour comes to theaters this month. Ron Paul is quoted as saying global warming may not be manmade. Make no mistake, I have great respect for DiCaprio for making such a film, but I think he's off the mark when it comes to criticizing Ron Paul.

In relation to Ron Paul, even if he is skeptical about the causes of global warming, he has the right idea when it comes to striking at the heart of pollution: property rights and making sure polluters are held accountable for their pollution.

Global warming is by no means the *single* environmental issue facing us. It is one of them, one of many, and definitely the one with the most press coverage currently. It has many implications for natural disasters... just a slight change in ocean temperatures can be (and has already been) disastrous for storms, floods, and marine ecosystems. The ocean level rising is no small matter for island inhabitants or those of low-lying countries. And the ocean is rising bit by bit, and becoming more acidic. It's risen 3 cm in the last decade, faster than predicted. The temperature is also rising. I think it is a high priority, but not the only one.

By attacking Ron Paul for merely considering the possibility that global warming is not entirely manmade, one fails to consider how much his economic policy could help our environment.

In a truly free market, there would be no governmental protectionism to grant immunity to certain interests and powers. Ron Paul has consistently spoken out against subsidies, particularly oil and energy, understanding that the market, based on resource availability, would actually prevent businesses from being as unsustainable as they are today. Under Paul, they would no longer be able to sell their products at artificially cheap prices and will be forced into more efficient, environmentally sound practices to stay in business. In global warming terms, better practices translates into greater fuel efficiency, meaning less pollution for the same amount of energy.

It's positive that global warming and energy efficiency are getting some attention... it means people are starting to consider the long-term effects of a lot of pollution and continued carbon-based fuel. On the other, it's negative in that, for one thing, the campaign is mainly targeted at individuals, who aren't doing the bulk of the polluting/usage (that honor goes to agriculture, industry, and the military), and for another, it blindsides other environmental campaigns which are equally important and perhaps even more urgent.

I dislike that many candidates use global warming as a talking point to slam other candidates, without even addressing the majority of the world’s most pressing environmental issues.

These issues include deforestation, overpopulation, food waste, landfills running out of capacity,
water usage, unsustainable packaging, and more.

To criticize a candidate on their "weak global warming stance" seems meaningless when viewed in these terms. What about their everything-else stance?

It is worth mentioning that Ron Paul, although he does not make the environment his major point, is more environmentally-friendly due to his private-property and economic stances than any other candidate I’ve seen. In a Dennis Miller interview on June 3, 2007, Ron Paul stated, “... the environment is better protected under private property rights... We as property owners can't violate our neighbors' property. We can't pollute their air or their water. We can't dump our garbage on their property.... Too often, conservatives and libertarians fall short on defending environmental concerns, and they resort to saying, 'Well, let's turn it over to the EPA. The EPA will take care of us.... We can divvy up the permits that allow you to pollute.' So I don't particularly like that method."

Here is further interesting commentary about how private property rights encourage more sustainable usage.

And if that weren’t enough, I don't think people can even begin to address ANY environmental issue while they are worried about Terrorism and their phone lines being tapped. And none of the other candidates hint at a real departure from that.

Furthermore, let's all contemplate, for a moment, the disastrous environmental implications of the Iraq war. And let's also consider that Ron Paul is the only Republican presidential candidate to have voted against the Iraq war, and one of the only candidates from either party who consistently proposes a full removal of American troops from the area.

So what'll it be, my fellow Americans? A vote for a candidate who vows to "stop global warming"? (How?) Or a vote for a candidate who has already demonstrated a commitment to sustainable usage of resources?

Ron Paul is a candidate who actually recognizes that, in the words of esteemed environmental/business author Paul Hawken (interestingly enough, interviewed in Leonardo DiCaprio's film): "... what hurts the transition to sustainable and restorative business more than any other single factor is artificially low prices that do not fully incorporate the true costs of a product or service, especially when those low prices are the result of cost internalization, subsidies, or tax breaks." ( The Ecology of Commerce, 138)

Ron Paul stands for a truly free market, one that reflects the true costs of resources, so that we do not waste them. So that we realize when something precious beyond measure, such as clean water or oil, is running low and needs to be conserved. A vote for Ron Paul is a vote for a greener, more sustainable America.

If he wins, I know I'll be sleeping better at night.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Ron Paul and the Environment

I've been a longtime admirer and supporter of presidential candidate Ron Paul. My initial interest in him was a result of his well-known opposition to the war. However, I believe that he has much more to offer than merely a saner foreign policy.

With the exception of global warming, environmental issues have often been under the political radar in this age of open-ended wars, hyped-up “terror alerts” and eroding civil liberties. But these problems have hardly gone away. I recently had an e-mail discussion with thegoldencompass which prompted me to really think about what effect a Ron Paul presidency, or, more generally speaking, a more truly free-market economic policy might have on the environment.

When I look at the range of environmental problems, one theme keeps jumping out: subsidies.

Overfishing, one of today’s gravest environmental threats, is heavily subsidized by governments. Without subsidies, fishermen would face the natural result of hunting their prey to collapse: they would be out of a job and have to find something else to do. Instead, governments finance ship construction, deploy diplomats to open up Third World waters to Western fishing, and pay for fishermen to keep their boats and equipment in the absence of any fish. The result: huge fleets of fishing boats prowling the globe or lying in wait, ready to sail forth at the first sign of a fish recovery and immediately wipe out said recovery.

I picked up a National Geographic the other day and started reading about the Tongass forest in Alaska. These ancient trees were said to be under threat, having lost a large percentage of old growth in the last several decades. Why would loggers travel all the way to a remote, unpopulated area to get these particular trees? Because the government subsidizes this otherwise uneconomical venture. Back in the 1940s, the government decided that in the interests of ‘national security’ it needed to have people (i.e. loggers) in these remote Alaskan wilderness areas, so it built roads and paid timber companies to go in and establish that presence. Government paying for companies and people to do things which they otherwise would not do (or would do less of) is the cause of environmental degradation in one case after another.

Whatever one thinks of global warming, there’s no question that coal, oil and other fossil fuels are heavily subsidized. Mining is subsidized, undercutting recycling efforts. Inefficient agriculture is subsidized, allowing them to waste huge amounts of water and run unsustainable fertilization and pesticide schemes instead of taking care of the land. Heck, even at the local level, garbage collection is free in many places. If people don’t have to pay, what is their incentive to reduce waste, and thereby to pressure companies to produce less waste? Or roads: it hardly matters how fuel-efficient your car is if you’re sitting in traffic for two hours a day. Again, the roads are “free” but in fact it’s a perverse subsidy that results in unmanageable overuse.

I honestly think that we could address many of the most serious environmental issues by ending these special handouts to industry on the one hand, and ending various “Tragedies of the Commons” on the other. I don’t believe it’s so much a lack of government control that’s the problem as the fact that government is in the pocket of big business; it is not simply a case of letting businesses do as they please, but of politicians actively assisting their favored contributors to avoid the costs and gain an unfair advantage over the alternatives to some of their most destructive activities.

So I think Ron Paul has the right idea:

What would you do about the environment, especially on public lands? Would you sell off Yellowstone and other national parks to the highest bidder, even if it meant the land would be drilled for oil?

This is a multi-faceted question. As a medical doctor, I took an oath to do no harm. Similarly, I have worked with the Green Scissors coalition to eliminate harmful government spending and regularly rate or near the top of Congressmen on their scorecard. Obviously, I would never to go war over oil. Also, I would end special interest favors and subsidies that harm the environment; I have opposed programs to subsidize development in environmentally fragile areas with taxpayer-subsidized flood insurance, etc. One of the lessons of Katrina is that oil exploration and development have progressed in ways that environmental concerns are mitigated even under severe natural disasters.