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Weis: Mourning In America

(Host) As political rhetoric heats up, environmental educator and commentator Russ Weis considers how presidential politics can have a big impact on our ever-warming planet.

(Weis) Now that Fall is here, I'm thinking back to the scorching temperatures that afflicted much of the nation this past summer - especially our central and western states. And it's occurred to me that the term global warming shares the initials of our first president: George Washington. Mourning in America.mp3

Like George, I try not to lie - especially when I teach my students about the climatological circumstances we find ourselves in these days. And I'm afraid it's no accident that the cherry trees in DC bloomed extremely early this year. So I wish this fact would give pause to anyone who would aspire to the same lofty position as George Washington once held. However, these days environmental issues don't seem to command the serious attention in our national political discourse that they should.

I was perplexed when Mitt Romney said at his party's convention that President Obama heal the planet. My promise is to help...your family. I can't see that these two pledges are mutually exclusive. I don't know about Romney's family, but mine lives on this Earth.

I agree more with statements made by President Obama at the Democratic Convention when he said ...climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They are a threat to our children's future. But if that's the case, where's the current action plan for dealing with it all?

I once taught a course about the 1960s in which I showed episodes of a popular TV series from a decade ago called American Dreams. The show followed a fictional family from Philadelphia as it negotiated the turmoil of the Kennedy years. One scene I remember depicted the budding environmentalism of that early era. In it, the precocious younger daughter of the family timed everyone's showers, to make a point about saving water.

In the 70s, President Jimmy Carter's visionary approach to ecological issues included White House solar panels, and an alternative energy program. But the next president, Ronald Reagan, had the panels removed, gutted the energy program and even rolled back automobile fuel efficiency standards.

In 1984, Reagan ran on the theme Morning in America. The slogan implied that we hardworking Americans deserved to have everything we desired. And as a result, conservation came to be seen as directly opposing the abundance that fossil fuels provided.

Today presidential candidates should be engaging in the healthy political exercise of updating our definition of the American Dream, but no dreams will be reached by anyone unless the planet they live on is itself healthy. Adopting a shortsighted approach to our current predicament may lead to the dreams of our children going up in smoke - literally - as global warming continues to spiral out of control.

Should that happen, I'm afraid the slogan of future presidential candidates might sound a lot like Reagan's - but with a slight twist in the spelling.

Add a u in there and it becomes Mourning in America - a lament for the America that was, and the America that might have been.

Russ Weis advises first-year students at Northern Vermont University in Johnson, where he also teaches writing and works closely with two student environmental groups.
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