Five Reasons It’s So Daggone Hard to Talk about Environmental Issues in This Election

Number One: There’s just so much else! Between ferreting out and correcting lies, determining the relevance of sexual impropriety and serial bankruptcy, judging emails the nefarious contents of which still elude the best sleuths, the American Way vis-à-vis immigration, and ISIS oh ISIS,… who can talk about anything so multi-faceted and complex as the environment? Any edgewise that might exist barely lets another syllable slip in, much less the battery of words that a full treatment of environmental issues demands.

Number Two: Who’s really talking (i.e., listening), anyway? Yet now more than ever, we need to focus, to consider with all the best faculties we can bring – intellectual and ethical – which candidate has the best, most concrete, and forward-thinking plan to lead us into a healthy and sustainable future. Who has articulated and applies sensible reckoning to our need to curb fossil fuel emissions and protect wild and open land? mountains VA picYet no sooner do we begin to buckle down to the hard work of parsing available information and thinking for ourselves as citizens, each of us with a vote in the most powerful nation on earth, than some new expose (valid or not) sets us off, all guns-blazing, spittle-flying, monosyllabic again.

Number Three: That complicated, multi-faceted business I mentioned above. For one thing, environmental issues bear on all other matters of national concern. But spelling that out – from the economy to immigration to defense to health care – takes sustained attention the likes of which, well, see Numbers 1 and 2. What’s more, by definition, this is a global issue with countless site-specific effects. In other words, it’s mighty hard to get a handle on or one’s arms around, pick your metaphor. word-cloud-environmental-issuesAs an issue, it’s irregularly shaped and slippery, unlike growing jobs or dealing with Syria, say. Ironically, that’s why the next president’s leadership is especially crucial – to acknowledge existing environmental destruction and courageously proffer alternatives to our fossil-fuel-driven-business-as-usual, natural-resources-are-free M.O.

Number Four: It doesn’t seem all that time-sensitive to most of us. What’s a degree or two rise in temperature, here and there (never mind we’re talking Celsius)? I like it warm. Most of us in a position to read this at all experience little or none of the large-scale effects of our activities on the nonhuman natural world, not immediately, anyway. Sure, I might note seeing fewer monarch butterflies this summer (hmmm, none, come to think of it) or that it took longer for the leaves to change than I remember being normal. But there’s no grungy smoke out of my tailpipe, and the grocery store has just as much diverse bounty as ever. The compromised environment is a slow burn, so to speak. Literally, too. That doesn’t make it any less urgent. The people who know this stuff best (hello, scientists) have been telling us for years that just because we don’t personally feel the effects, doesn’t mean they’re not there. That things seem pretty normal in the backyard doesn’t mean we’re not careening toward a chaotic and devastating future.

Which brings me to Number Five: It’s a buzz-kill, with a dauntingly apocalyptic flair, to boot. Sheesh. Who wants to talk about mass extinctions; increasing droughts, wildfires, floods, and hurricanes; the catastrophic prospect of losing our volunteer pollinators; or the mass population displacements climate change promises to bring? That’s not an invitation. Because I sure don’t, and all evidence suggests that no one else wants to talk about this stuff, either. We’re so averse even to considering the deleterious effects of our actions on the nonhuman natural world that many still deny it. Hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, anyone? But as one of the most sand-headed ostriches ever, I’m here to say, we’ve got to grow up. We’ve got to own up and grow up so that others can, too inbees-pollinating-fruit a world as beautiful and delicious, as diverse and full of possibility as the one we’ve inherited. Your vote matters. Make it count.

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