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March 18, 2006

The Larger Picture: Global Well-Being

Last night I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Wangari Maathai, 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the Green Belt Network, an organization that pays women to plant trees in Africa to conserve the environment and improve their quality of life.  She was speaking as part of the Foolproof series at Benaroya Hall.  Dr. Maathai is articulate, persistent in the face of overwhelming resistance from her own Kenyan government, and generous of heart. 

It was her focus on the large picture that brought tears to my eyes.  She said, “You can’t have peace if you don’t take care of the environment.”  She talked about the importance of managing resources more equitably in order to preempt conflict.  When the environment is degraded, as it has been terribly in her country over a very short period of time, the competition for resources leads to conflict.  She said that she thinks of the three pillars that make for a good life for people: 1) managing resources well, 2) doing what is right for the people – making certain that everyone has the basics of clean water, sufficient food and proper healthcare, and 3) maintaining peace. 

I love that we have been making some gains in Washington State as a result of a well-organized environmental organization and a Democratic legislature and governor.  Read this latest missive from the coalition group, Priorities for a Healthy Washington to see what was accomplished this last session.   We made progress in moving toward cleaning up Puget Sound, developing a biofuel industry here in the state and requiring some use of biofuels instead of oil, recycling electronic waste, and continued to defend land use protections.

But I sometimes feel that as a nation we are forced to focus on the short-term in place of the longer-term, possisbly even the longer-term survival of the planet.  In the end, it’s this that I detest the Republicans for the most.

I often feel as if the political world has been churned with a large egg beater, it is so different from anything anytime prior to 2000.  I knew after the 1994 election, that we were in for some less civil and less caring times but with Clinton in the White House, we were largely protected.  Or so I thought at the time.

I remember reading somewhere about a conversation someone had with Robert Rubin, then Secretary of the Treasury, and arguably the most important person in the Clinton administration outside the President, on the evening of August 17th, 1998.  That was the night when the entire country was glued to the television set watching President Clinton acknowledge his marital indiscretion and the lies he’d concocted to cover his tracks.  Rubin turned to a companion and said something to the effect of, “The real issue of lasting impact that occurred today is the devaluation of the ruble by a Russian government in collapse”. 

The world survived the impact of Russia’s financial near-collapse (although it threw Russia into a time far worse than our Great Depression that they have not yet fully recovered from) but there was a lot else that fell away as Clinton’s presidency was sidelined by Republican concern about Clinton’s sex life.  Among other things, the Clinton administration was unable to put the attention on tracking Al Queda and Bin Laden that they might have been able to otherwise deal with.  They were also unable to prevent the development of the Republican corruption machine that we’ve seen flower in the Bush years and the implementation of environmental safeguards and proactive global resource management.

Five years after the election of George Bush, there is so much bad stuff happening it becomes mind-numbing and I get concerned that once again the Republicans are forcing us to focus on the wrong things. 

This time it’s not a distraction.  We really do have to figure out how to take control and address issues of massive voter fraud in several states, of corruption that boggles the imagination, of a mid-East that is on fire, of national debt that is larger than that of every other President combined, and of a political class that is unable to provide a counter-balance to this administration and a media that looks the other way. 

In the meantime we have little attention for something of importance to the possible survival of the planet: both ice-caps are melting (see photos here) and the ice in the arctic is not re-forming after the summer melt-offs.  We are facing the possibility of massive climate changes unlike anything we have seen in recorded history.  And it may not be gradual.  The changes of the last few years have been incredibly quick in geologic terms.

Joel Connelly wrote recently in the PI about the drought that is has settled into the Southwest and having horrendous consequences for the environment.  In the article he says, that “the World Meteorological Organization reported Tuesday that greenhouse gases, blamed for global warming, have reached their highest-ever levels in the atmosphere.”

Dr. Matthai said last night that Dr. Eileen Collins, leader of the last trip into space, reported seeing a layer of dust over Africa and brown, silt-filled rivers throughout the continent.

We have become so accustomed to being beat back by the Republican Noise Machine about important issues that we have learned to take refuge in the smaller, more possible fights.  I applaud that we are still doing something, us in this state, Dr. Maathai in Kenya and many others.  But I fear for our planet.  I fear for our ability to maintain any measure of peace in a time of resource depletion and competition for the very basics of survival.  I fear for our ability to focus on the measures that might beat back a global catastrophe of unimaginable proportions that we are causing by our complacence.

I guess that's one big reason I spend so much time working toward electing Democrats.  It's a start.

Nicole Brodeur of the Seattle Times has a nice article about Dr. Maathai's talk as well.

Posted by Lynn Allen on March 18, 2006 at 09:52 AM in National and International Politics | Permalink

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