Every American wants clean water, clean air and beautiful forests, lakes, mountains and oceans to enjoy. Most people believe, however, that they should not be held responsible for the effects of their behavior on the environment outside of their own sphere. The net result is that we have polluted our air and water, there are enormous gyres of plastic in the oceans, mountains of toxic waste buried underground and extraordinary weather patterns that defy scientific explanation without factoring in human behavior.
Governments and businesses either ignore environmental advocates or try to listen to all of them at once, even when they espouse contradictory policies. Even projects with net positive environmental effects can be delayed for years by claims that some other, less material, environmental damage might occur. Net environmental good therefore remains an elusive goal.
Our economic system developed with little regard for the adverse impact of the conduct of individuals and businesses on the broader environment. The waste we generate and leave in the soil, the water and the air was always thought to be someone else’s problem or, nowadays, the government’s problem. There are few meaningful financial incentives for any of us, businesses or individuals, to act in an environmentally neutral way. Our feeble attempts at individual environmental responsibility, such as recycling paper and plastics, composting and our rhetoric about sustainability, have had no material effect on the ever expanding mountain of waste that will eventually bury us The cost of cleaning up the mess we have already made outstrips the resources available to do the cleanup, much less to do so without creating further environmental damage in the process.
Of course, it really doesn’t matter who or what caused the pollution and other damages to our environment. We just need to fix it. We especially need to correct the excess carbon dioxide and methane in our atmosphere that is changing the world’s climate every day, for the worse. Our squabbling politicians and self-interested business leaders do nothing but argue about it. They point fingers at each other like little children while the situation continues to worsen. Like so many other issues, we need the people to formulate pragmatic solutions for climate change, pollution and unchecked environmental damage. Then we need the people to impose the best nonpartisan ideas on our leadership. This one can’t wait.