It was a crazy week for the environment, and one that shows that our political leaders have a shallow--if not absent--appreciation for conservation and sustainability. On the bright side, the Obama administration approved stricter fuel efficiency rules for automobiles, requiring all vehicles to reach a 54.5 miles per gallon standard by the year 2025. The rule is expected to significantly cut fossil fuel demand (by millions of barrels of oil, per day!) and save car owners money over the long-term. This is a significant step in reducing carbon emissions.
But in the same week, political leaders on both sides of the aisle raced to one-up the other on support to fossil fuels. The Obama administration approved plans by the Department of Interior to lease lands in Wyoming for the mining of nearly 438 million tons of coal, and then issued a much-opposed permit to Shell Oil to begin drilling operations in Arctic water, where environmentalists fear the company will not be able to manage an oil spill. Candidate Romney this same week announced his position that our energy future should focus on the continued exploitation of fossil fuels -- coal, oil, and natural gas -- more of the same energy dependencies that have left us with destroyed landscapes and dirty air. One candidate outright dismisses the deleterious effects of human-induced climate change, and the other candidate refuses to address climate change directly in speeches -- it's a third rail powerfully charged by ignorance.
Also this week, the Obama administration removed the Wyoming population of gray wolves from the endangered species list, which will essentially allow the animal to be shot on sight throughout 80% of the state. The move probably was politically motivated, since the species' recovery probably cannot be sustained under Wyoming's plans to allow for such widespread hunting. This is a species that used to range across the United States -- including in the mountains in present day Mojave National Preserve. After a relatively brief and limited recovery, we have apparently decided that we would rather decimate this animal than restore its role as a critical piece of so many ecosystems.
This is a country where political leaders applaud the destruction of wildlands for "green energy" and then turn around and sell millions of tons of coal. Instituting policies that support rooftop solar installations requires too much "heavy lifting" for political leaders, but providing billions of dollars in subsidies to industries that destroy our public lands (both fossil fuels and large-scale solar/wind) is business as usual. We make our cars more fuel efficient, then start destroying Arctic sea life to supply the oil we still need. Our decisions on the recovery of endangered wildlife are motivated by politics and state boundaries rather than science.
There is no true appreciation for sustainability in this cycle. We are locked in a game where the rules are decided by Washington -- political horse-trading and compromises that promise, but never deliver a more sustainable path. Until decisions are made by people interested in the proper stewardship of our planet, the conservation of dwindling wildlands and wildlife, and the protection of air and water, we will always be locked in this perpetual war with ourselves.