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27.8.03

Bill Moyers Speaks His Mind On Bush-Brand Environmental Destruction And More

We had Devra Davis, a scientist at Carnegie Mellon, on the show ["NOW" on PBS] recently. She described how Laura and George Bush designed their ranch at Crawford to be environmentally efficient, with solar paneling and lots of new technology. She pointed out that they seem to understand these issues somewhat on an individual level, and yet they don't understand that the personal is not enough. It takes policy to translate. There is a disconnect between how they live privately and how they act publicly.


On the surface, Davis' point seems strange -- environmentalists are used to seeing Bush as anti-environment, nearly to the point of being willfully destructive of the environment as an end in itself. But on further reflection I think it does match well with Bush's overall attitude toward the environment.

I think that on some level Bush really does care about nature and want a clean environment -- at least that much of his midwestern conservatism is sincere. But those feelings stand alongside another important element of that very same midwestern conservatism -- its self-reliant individualism. This means a confidence in "regular folks" as trustworthy and capable of taking care of themselves. Libertarian-influenced economics, with its praise of private enterprise, allows him to transfer this sort of attitude to corporations. Trust of the people tends to translate into a deep suspicion of regulations that would constrain the people and their corporations, regulations that send the message that the people don't know how to take care of themselves. The same goes for "elitist" scientific proclamations about the state of the environment coming from academics who presumably sit in their ivory towers rather than live directly on the soil, perhaps indicating that it's more populism than religion that is at the root of Bush's anti-science attitude (though interestingly a similar idea of the superiority of the knowledge held by "people on the ground" is popular among leftist academics). Surveys have shown that conservatives tend to trust corporations but distrust government, whereas liberals distrust both -- perhaps because liberals see both as external institutions, whereas conservatives see private enterprise as continuous with the people.

All this manifests in Bush's commitment to voluntariness as a centerpiece of environmental stewardship. Bush can see his eco-friendly ranch as a demonstration of the ability of a private individual to do right by the earth without being forced by law. Protecting the environment ought to be good for those with influence over environmental management, as in the case of the rancher who doesn't want his pasture ruined -- and if not, it's not the government's business to butt in.

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