Scientists have a problem. Average people, politicians, and religious zealots have no problem speaking in absolutes. They will pound their fists and say with unwavering conviction that what they are saying is truth incarnate. Scientists on the other hand have dedicated their careers and their world view to truth, the real thing, not that ‘I believe it, so it is true’ type the rest of us use. They can study the world around them and see the huge impact humanity has on the environment; see the dying species, track the changing climate, and still say only that it looks very likely that we are causing irreparable harm.
It is therefore up to the rest of us to lend additional weight to their warnings. On an individual level we should be conscious of the impact we have on the environment and make an effort to do no harm. We should use our power in the free market to support and labor for only those companies which are environmentally responsible.
Environmental crimes should be prosecuted as strongly, if not more so, than crimes against humanity, if for no other reason then because they are; but who should decide what is ok and what is criminal? Who decides when salmon have been overfished and forests overlogged? Who does the oversight to make sure the crimes aren’t ignored, and the penalties are worse than the benefits? Who has to tell people that their food will be more expensive and their job may be lost?
In a monarchy, a king knows that if he thinks in a shortsighted fashion, he, or perhaps his children will likely have to clean up his mess and take the blame. In our current system as a federal republic our elected officials either serve short terms or are oft up for reelection. In a few years, they may be out of office, maybe even handing it over to a rival party. Whenever the media stirs up the latest circus, the politician needs to look busy if they are going to keep their position. If even every tenth politician sides with jobs over sustainability, or short term economics over long term environment, it still causes permanent damage. The diversity of an ecosystem can take thousands of years become healthy and well established. Government agencies such as the Forest Service (an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture) are only as good as those who pull their strings.
The question remains, who should be the guardian of our environment? I would support an environmental amendment to the constitution. I think the environment is important enough that it needs to be everyone’s responsibility, both individually and collectively. The agencies can provide an important role, but should not be allowed to hinder the efforts of others. If California wants to reduce its pollution, it is not ok for the executive branch to hinder them. We need to care for the environment with the same fervor we claim for protecting our children and loving our country. It is both of these things.