Where’s Obama’s Environmental Agenda?

We are a very polarized nation when it comes to environmental issues. These days, it seems as if Democrats MUST embrace any environmental cause, no matter how small, and that Republicans MUST eschew any environmental issue, regardless of its merits. It is hard to convince people that once upon a time, Republicans and Democrats worked together on environmental issues. In fact, one could argue that Teddy Roosevelt and Richard Nixon did more for the environment than any Democratic Administrations.

The Obama Administration has been a huge disappointment to environmentalists, in that it apparently has no environmental agenda–there simply has been no list of issues or priorities. There have been some initiatives, like the President’s Oceans Plan, but no real strategy. Employees at the Department of the Interior say they have never seen an Administration without a specific agenda.

1Sky Campaign Director Gillian Caldwell calls on the Obama administration to increase its efforts to curb climate change during the Copenhagen climate talks during a rally in front of the White House December 4, 2009 in Washington, DC. Photo by Chip Somodevilla

Many environmentalists had looked to the Obama Administration to counter the lax policies of the Bush Administration. Instead, they are left with no federal consistency and thus, have had to turn up their rhetoric to the point that many otherwise reasonable issues have now become unreasonable causes for opponents to lampoon. The real danger of an Administration with no defined strategy is that environmentalists that shout the loudest, stand the best chance of being heard–not because they make the best case, but because of political considerations.

Environmentalists are known for their passion. Faced with a human population explosion, mounting loss of habitat, and a host of climactic and other ecological problems, their passions are certainly warranted. However, where they shoot themselves in the foot is their lack of compromise on the issues. Some prime examples: entire residential communities are threatened with destruction because one subspecies (Puritan Tiger Beetle) of an otherwise prolific beetle species makes its home beneath cliffs, where it needs beach erosion to properly breed; or where a glacial relict snail species (Iowa Pleistocene Snail) that is not found anywhere else in the world except in a precarious microclimate, needs protected status. Are the environmentalists not fighting for some causes that nature itself is setting up for failure?

With over 312 million people and growing, the United States is rapidly running out of space. If environmentalists hope to maintain the remarkable environmental record of this country, they will need to make compromises. This is where the Obama Administration needs to step up, step in, and play the role of honest broker to all sides. Selectively picking environmental causes for political purposes only baffles environmentalists, enrages their opponents, and puts any reasonable chance for future discourse and compromise out of reach.