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Issue: Healthy Environment → Healthy Economy

by J. Michael Atherton

The recent blow-over of Canadian forest fire smoke could place an economic burden on the US because of time lost from jobs and its health impacts. Forest fire smoke, however, differs from human caused pollution in that we can choose to stop the latter. The operative word is “choose.” Democrats choose to prepare, act, and fight; Republicans choose apathy, indifference, and ignorance.

Photo: Smoke from Canadian Wildfires Covers the New York Skyline/AP

How do we know this? Just look at the NH Republican platform. It states they wish to “remove New Hampshire from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative” (RGGI). Since the RGGI has a strong record of fighting pollution with no negative impact on the economy, their staunch opposition suggests NH Republicans promote pollution.

What is the RGGI they so wish to abandon? It is a market-based approach to reducing pollution through cap and trade. By “cap” they mean an upper level of pollutants set by government scientists. It works this way. A polluting company that fails its civic duty to reduce its pollution below the cap can’t simply continue pumping out pollution as they did in the bad old days. They must suffer for their polluting ways by purchasing pollution credits called allowances from smarter companies that limit their pollution. Less polluting companies receive a cash reward for their efforts and polluters are incentivized to reduce their pollution because they can’t pollute for free. The RGGI periodically conducts pollution permits auctions.

RGGI has a proven track record. Since its inception in 2009, RGGI has reduced CO2 levels by 35% compared to only 12% for non-RGGI regions. While substantially reducing pollution, RGGI has had no negative effect on the region’s economy. None! What’s the problem?

Photo: National Institute of Environmental Sciences

Perhaps it’s a linguistic problem. Maybe Republicans balk at the term “regulations” as though all regulations are bad. But regulations keep us safe and sound. For example, highway regulations protect us from high speed death. What of regulations that govern baby formula or fight internet scams, or enforce safety rules at work? All these areas of life need regulations to protect people from harm. Let’s help Republicans overcome their insecurity by changing the word they so dislike. Instead of calling them “regulations,” call them “protections.” Surely Republicans can’t oppose protecting people from harm.

Perhaps Republicans cling to the benighted idea that a clean environment conflicts with a thriving economy. I recall hearing a Midwestern mayor say, “When I smell pollution, I smell jobs.” Such dopey thinking was false then and is even dopier today. Economists, business councils, and scientists have long ago put this false dichotomy to rest. The conflict exists purely in the ideology driven heads of NH Republicans. The line of argument is straight-forward and simple to understand. So, Republicans, listen up.

Claim: Pollution harms the economy in clear and direct ways. Argument supporting this claim: If you breathe polluted air or drink polluted water long enough, science has determined your health will suffer. People in poor health cannot work. Sick workers make a sick economy. One thing inevitably leads to another.

It’s as simple as: can’t breathe, can’t work. Money spent fighting pollution is money spent guarding our health and a healthy economy requires healthy workers. Therefore, all anti-pollution money is pro-economy money.

Republicans ignore pollution because they must think one of two things: either (1) pollution has no effect on worker health, or (2) worker health has no effect on the economy. Belief in either shows the believer is both ignorant and isolated from reality because both beliefs are counterintuitive, misleading, and demonstrably false.

Does Republican isolation and ignorance mean they don’t know pollution damages people’s health? Does Republican economic zealotry mean they refuse to accept that a healthy economy requires healthy workers? For the good of our environment, health, and economy, Republicans who are divorced from reality should never hold any office whatsoever.

About the author

J. Michael Atherton (Mike) has retired from 30 years of teaching philosophy (after 20 years of teaching a variety of subjects from elementary to graduate school). He spent four years in the Peace Corps in Swaziland (now Eswatini), followed by marriage to Cynthia Walter, the birth of their first child, and a PhD all at the University of Chicago. They moved to Southwest Pennsylvania where Cynthia taught ecology and he taught philosophy while they raised two daughters. They moved to Dover in 2019 to be near their two grandsons in Maine. He has consistently found the Dems to be a group that publicly and privately follows their stated values: compassion, honesty, integrity, respect the dignity of all people, expanded freedom, responsible citizenship, promoting civil society, and protecting our environment. And they are great fun to be around. A winning combination!


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