"Political leaders, no matter the party, often can be barometers for public sentiment." So said former US senator George Mitchell, a Democrat who represented Maine in Washington, DC, from 1980-1995, at the Natural Resources Council of Maine annual meeting last week.
If that's the case, we might be in big trouble — Mitchell himself (who most recently served as President Barack Obama's appointed Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, a job he said validated his view about the importance of energy independence) acknowledged a "strong anti-environment theme rising" in America, led by those who harbor an "anti-science view."
And if Mitchell is right, what does Obama's environmental apathy say about public sentiment? This week, Jeff Goodell wrote an article for Rolling Stone, listing "10 things Obama could do right now — without any say-so from Congress — to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. All it takes is the will — and some political courage."
In one concise piece, Goodell outlines the various ways in which Obama has let down eco-types on everything from the tar sands (see "Into the Pipeline," by Deirdre Fulton, September 2) to carbon emissions and clean-coal to fish conservation. Should we interpret these diverse disappointments indications of public indifference?
No, Mitchell said to the members of NRCM, changing course mid-speech to claim that while the "path to common ground seems out of reach on just about every topic . . . We must and we should do all we can to make reason prevail."
Indeed, Mitchell maintained that "reason and logic and the national interest can once again prevail" (emphasis added), and that this period of environmental backsliding is a natural dip, one of many in "alternating cycles of progress and retrenchment."
"The anti-science view will fade away in coming years," Mitchell promised, although it was unclear, both during his speech and from his answers to follow-up questions afterward, how that would occur.
Keep in mind that the Republican frontrunners to oppose President Obama next year include Rick Perry (The New Republic recently referenced Perry's "campaign against environmental regulation"), Mitt Romney (who has said he "doesn't know" about the causes of climate change), Michelle Bachmann (who is against, among other things, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air and Water acts, and cap-and-trade legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions), and Sarah Palin ("drill, baby, drill" . . . 'nuff said?).
Indirectly referring to what Perry, Bachmann, and the rest of the bunch cite as arguments for anti-environment positions, Mitchell blasted what he described as a "false choice" between the environment and the economy, in which going green acts as "a scapegoat for the nation's ills."
He then called on Obama to "get out and fight" (mirroring Goodell's call for "political courage"), adding that dedicated folks like those at the NRCM meeting must "make the same case over and over because the demands on our attention are so great."
As with Tea Partiers and trickle-downers, enviros' messages must be disciplined and simple. "If [they are] repeated often enough, they will penetrate," Mitchell said to applause.