Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sustainability and Government Involvement

This is a continuation of my last post. Like many of my thoughts, the original post became long and rambling.

There's much talk these days about making things sustainable: agriculture, healthcare, economy, growth, fuel... It seems to be a very popular concept.

My first conscious run-in with sustainability occurred when I lived In Madison, WI. Joe was attending grad school at the University and working almost full time trying to make ends meet. I was home with the, at that time, five kids trying to keep the peace. In the name of maternal sanity, my friend, Beth, and I had a tradition of attending the Dane County Farmer's Market most Saturdays. We'd start our Saturday with a cup of coffee from Starbucks. Then we'd mosey our way around the Capitol Square, examining the wares, and visiting, and solving all the problems in our personal lives and throughout the world. It was great fun!

Many weeks there were other things going on around or near the Capitol, various festivals and promotions and demonstrations and rallies. On one Saturday, the first block of Wisconsin Avenue was cordoned off due to some sort of sustainability display. Beth and I walked through looking at the information and all the while feeling somewhat out of place. We discussed the fact that among people who consider themselves politically conservative, there is no voice for conservation or sustainability. We finally got around to acknowledging that by nature, the goal of most political movements is some sort of governmental involvement; and increased government involvement is anathema to the smaller government ideals of thoughtful conservatives.

Now fast forward to last winter, early 2008, that is. I don't think I ever got a blog post done on this, but I read a book by a Rod Dreher called, Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, Gun-Loving Organic Gardeners, Evangelical Free-Range Farmers, Hip Homeschooling Mamas, Right-Wing Nature Lovers, and Their Diverse Tribe of Countercultural Conservatives Plan to Save America (or At Least the Republican Party). Yeah, it's quite a title. That's what drew me to it originally. I really still have to chuckle every time I read the title.

I really had high hopes for the book. Finally, a voice for conservation minded people within conservatism. And much of what Mr. Dreher said, I applauded. But, alas, what I heard loudest throughout the book, was an underlying idea that the driving principle of conservative thought is the financial bottom line.

I don't want to be distracted into a big review of Dreher's book. Read it yourself if your interested. I also heard Mr Dreher once on public radio, on Speaking of Faith, I think. And the same idea was insidious. "Anyone who espouses the conservatism that is prevalent today is selfish and greedy and only thinking about money and getting ahead." Surprisingly enough, I have a real problem with that notion.

So what is it about the green or crunchy or sustainable idea do I like? What would I like to see? Here's where I really start to ramble. It's hard to frame so many various ideas succinctly. Let me try. And realize that some of these are pipe dreams, not reality.
  • I'd like to grow my own food. Without chemicals. Although this constant battle with quackgrass is really making me want to just spray it with something.
  • I'd like to be able to purchase locally those food items available locally that I can't grow or raise myself.
  • It is hard to understand overproduction in agriculture, which leads to lower prices which leads producers to strive to produce more yet again. Don't get me wrong, I understand the producer's need to break even. I just don't understand the politics and policies that encourage this catch-22 situation.
  • I like green spaces: National, State and Local parks, forests, forest preserves, wildlife refuges. I like the idea of these things, as long as the land was acquired ethically.
  • I like the idea of renewable energy. I don't know whether I ever posted this, but when I was in Denver last summer, my good friend John, who works at the National Renewable Energy Lab, had just found out his team set a new world record for solar cell efficiency. Also there was a somewhat local man just recently written up in the Thief River Falls Northern Watch for inventing a mini wind turbine that he's trying to market to individuals and small businesses. I can't find a link to anything about him, sorry.
  • I am really into re-use. I just don't see the need to buy something new that I can find second-hand.
  • Reduce is good, too. Why do we need to fill a five gallon bucket with junk mail each week. And individually packaged anything drives me nuts. Think 10 separate packages of whatever. I think you get my drift.
  • I hate the consumerism that leads to the demand for constantly new stuff which encourages producers to produce junk.
  • I like the idea of slow foods. I have no proof, but it just makes sense that all the convenience, pre-packaged, artificially colored and artificially flavored and artificially nutrientized foods we eat can't be as healthful as the meals our grandmothers used to cook.
  • I'd like it if the health industry could provide more natural advice instead of so much dependence upon pills. Am I thankful for the medical advances God has allowed mankind to make? Absolutely. But better yet encourage individual and societal choices that discourage chronic disease.
So does all that make me green? I don't think so. And yes, I know many conservative people who desire similar things. So are we all Crunchy Cons? Not if that term implies I think all Republicans or mainstream conservatives are greedy and evil. And certainly not if I expect the government to provide any or all of these desires.

In many cases the government involvement is the problem. Take the food supply for instance. Because of government regulations, it is increasingly difficult for local producers to sell their wares to their neighbors. It's mostly in the name of food safety, I understand. But if I'd prefer to risk my health buying my chicken, for instance, from a neighbor than from the grocery store where the chicken has sat for several days after irradiated to enhance freshness and being shipped in for a few days from some farm somewhere at which I have no idea the conditions under which it was grown or handled, if I choose to make that selection, shouldn't that be allowed to. Ooh, run-on sentence, sorry.

Or fresh milk. I was forwarded this article recently. It is written in a somewhat humorous style, but well points out the frustration of which I am speaking.

Again, I could go on and on. And do I have a point? A summary comment? That one morsel of meaning I want a reader to take with him or her?

Sustainability is not the enemy. But government enforced sustainability is. Freedom will inevitable bring better solutions than bureaucracy can provide.

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