Caring for the Planet is NOT a Partisan Issue

Today we continue our series of the winning essays submitted to Dean of Freshmen, Fred Siegel. These freshman were selected from over 300 of their peers to attend a dinner with Dean Siegel and author, Thomas Friedman.

Our featured essay of the day is by freshman, Katie Giordano.

My reactions in general to the Freshman Summer Reading Assignment, Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded have been mixed; I agreed with many of the points and disagreed with many others. However I know this book had a strong effect on me because it sparked a rather complicated train of thought and I was forced to rethink my opinions regarding climate change and the best way to tackle this undeniable problem. But like Friedman, I see this troubling situation as less of a desperate crisis and more of a challenge: one of the great challenges that face our time. The following statements are among those which took up the most space in my mind and were most prevalent in my thoughts and conversations (or arguments) in the past few weeks.

Among the things that I had a problem with in this book is that Friedman frequently puts blame for the lack of environmental initiatives in this country on republicans, specifically Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, which is not necessarily an authoritative statement. Back in the 1980’s the country was in a different place than it is now. We were still nationally focused on winning the Cold War, as Freidman noted, and there was limited knowledge about the damage to the environment. Taking that into consideration, I believe it unfair to criticize Reagan for removing the solar panels from the White House and reversing all of the positive environmental initiatives Carter had taken due to the fuel crisis in the 1970s. None of these things seemed necessary at the time and while the mistake may be evident in retrospect, without the knowledge we have today it is unfair to judge. As for President Bush, Friedman suggests the best response to the 9/11 attacks would be a gas tax to discourage driving and hurt the Middle Eastern oil industry. He claims Americans would rally around this idea despite the sacrifice. However, while noting recent events, Americans rarely rally around new taxes and cutting down on driving is only feasible to an extent. Many of Friedman’s suggested plans that have been successful in small less industrialized European countries would never work in the US because of our lifestyles and sheer size of our country.

I, for example grew up in a small town fifteen miles from the grocery store and twenty from my high school. Highway driving has just been part of life. Everyone in my neighborhood is used to taking a 20 minute drive to get anywhere. With the rising price of oil cutting back as much as possible has become a way of life. Though obviously, not everyone in this country combines trips or tries to drive slower whenever possible, such actions have been present in my community for years. That being said, extremely high gas prices of nine dollars per gallon like those in Denmark or excessive gas taxes that would cause a raise in prices would without a doubt socially engineer us to drive as little as possible, but would put such a strain on communities like mine. Such residents don’t have same options that people in Europe or urban areas do, who can take a ten minute bike ride to wherever they need to go, though should be encouraged to anyone who has such an option.

The best, though most difficult alternative is clean energy. If the United States leads the way with wind and solar power and even controversial nuclear energy, then it will not only help the economy here, by creating jobs (as long as such industries are encouraged to produce in the country) while reducing our dependence on oil and paving the way for a cleaner future.

Another issue that has been plaguing me for some time is that taking care of our planet should not be a partisan issue. No political party should be only supportive or only antagonistic in taking action to improve the environment. There is constant talk about the need for bipartisanship in our government especially due to the increasing polarization on hot topics like health reform and of course green legislation. In regards to the environment, though certainly each individual has a different opinion on the best way to solve the problem of climate change, there shouldn’t be debate to the extent that no one is willing to compromise. In this century compromise is necessary to get things done and not make everyone too angry. Regardless, wanting to live in a clean and beautiful world should be something everyone agrees upon.

The idea of having the United States lead the “green revolution” to restore our place in the global community is an excellent idea. I love my country, the ideals that which we value so strongly, and the American way of life, and despite any official data that says otherwise, I truly believe this country is the best in the world. But the world unfortunately seldom respects or even considers the opinions of a seventeen year old college freshman. Generally the “quality of life” and economic stability ratings are more valued than my relatively naïve perspective. This is why I am distraught when I hear that my country isn’t the best from someone who thinks they know better. The United States is no longer considered the Cold War superpower that fights on the side of good but is instead described as being plagued by inefficient policies and the strong resistance to change. But maybe, change for the sake of change isn’t the answer. I don’t believe the glory days of the United States have passed but are yet to come. There is nothing I desire more for this country than seeing immensely talented and innovative Americans using their infinite potential to improve the lives of people at home and abroad while restoring our good name. By leading the way in research in alternative energy and moderate green legislature, we can reassert ourselves as the super power I know we are in terms that everyone understands.

Next semester in my Honors Proseminar Science class I look forward to tackling problems that face the environment and I know everything I have learned from reading Hot, Flat, and Crowded will help me tremendously. I generally try not to form strong opinions on topics of which I have limited knowledge, and this summer I was able to acquire an immense amount of information, which at times was overwhelming and tedious, but allowed me to fill in many of the blanks that prevented me from having an educated and well-supported opinion. Now I can confidently defend and promote the need for clean energy, the restoration of American power and worldwide respect, and moderate compromise to make these dreams a reality.

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