The Greenwash Brigade

Candidate platforms and lost sustainable economic development

Heidi Siegelbaum Jan 1, 2008

Like Janne said, cellulosic ethanol is on the lips of every candidate, particularly after we collectively wiped the corn smudge off our faces when we realized corn-based ethanol provides a mere 18-29% reduction in greenhouse gases compared to cellulosic ethanol’s 85%. Let’s also not forget the food for people vs. food for your SUV quandary implicit in corn-based ethanol.

I also enjoyed Janne’s observation about the absence of real greenwash in any of the Republican’s environmental platforms. I took a closer look at the platforms of Huckabee and McCain. Huckabee’s platform is folksy — well meaning but vague in its particulars on a comprehensive energy plan and McCain, a long time supporter of action on climate change, was vocal in his criticism of the Bush Administration’s stumble and wait approach to the issue. Of note, he did oppose the 2001 Roadless Rule which has implications for the ability to retain forests to sequester climate change gases.

Take a glimpse behind official platforms. What happens when powerful economic interests are poised against community interests and the commons that belong to all of us? We can’t have effective environmental policies if we can’t see the water through the chicken crap. Huckabee’s unseemly, although understandable support of Arkansas’s chronically misbehaving poultry industry led him to oppose Oklahoma’s attempts to protect local water quality in 2005 litigation against 14 Arkansas poultry companies. Arkansas’ one billion chickens deploy you-know-what each year and although good for shareholders, is acutely problematic for worker and water health in the region (Soerens, Fite and Hipp, “Water Quality in the Illinois River- Conflict and Cooperation between Oklahoma and Arkansas.” Diffuse Pollution Conference Paper. 2003).

Clinton and Obama’s platforms are like falling pleasantly into Oz in comparison to the Republican platforms but they too raise a few concerns. Obama is seriously invested in nuclear energy — living in the state with the most polluted nuclear site in the country, I’m not convinced we have the capability to store nuclear waste safely. Sorry Obama and sorry France.

These candidates have very detailed long-term energy policies and I was particularly tickled by programs designed to train and support the next generation of green collar jobs, driven by renewable technology smarts. I like Clinton’s ideas on SEC disclosure regarding climate change impacts and Obama’s emphasis on clean food supplies by incentivizing organic farming and pushing for country of origin and genetically engineered food labeling.

Looking back at the Arkansas poultry issue, it’s emblematic of what’s oddly absent from all the candidate platforms: a plan for sustainable economic development, a restructuring of the values implicit in business decision making, and how to pay for ecosystem services to preserve forests, farmland, wetlands and other valuable forms of landscape.

Driven by the inarticulate push for “growth,” we are paving over America and with that, losing valuable carbon sinks, forcefully contributing to flooding, reducing clean drinking water supply and oh, local food supplies. National security anyone? It’s political suicide of sorts, but I’d like to see more of the same zesty green job thinking applied to Smart Growth and – – – forbid, a commitment to both carbon and impervious surface taxes in addition to cap and trade systems. If the candidates can’t sow that row, then perhaps we can have a note about how we will balance explosive population growth and sprawl with a healthy economy, remembering that people and communities are part of that system.

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