What's the purpose of our government? The preamble of the Constitution of the United States of America sums it up very nicely:
- To form a more perfect Union,
- Establish Justice,
- Insure domestic Tranquility,
- Provide for the common defence,
- Promote the general Welfare,
- Secure the Blessings of Liberty
- To ourselves and our Posterity
Each one of these is key to our past and ongoing success as a country. Today, I'd like to take about a couple of these items: Promote the general Welfare ... to ourselves and our Posterity.
This tells me that our federal government has the responsibility to make this country a better place to live, not just now and for our current citizens, but for all future generations. Sounds like common sense, but I'm glad our founders wrote this down. It means that we want to help people live a good life, but that we can't forget about the long-term consequences.
One set of long-term consequences is often lumped under the umbrella "environmentalism". It includes everything from clean water and air, to recycling, to climate change, to endangered species, to habitat maintenance, to ozone depletion, and many more "tree hugger" issues. What do these have in common? It is a concern with the fact that we have something now -- perhaps less than we used to, but still something good -- and if we are not careful we will have less of it some number of years from now.
What about the disputed science? For example, look at climate change. Among unbiased scientists, I believe there is a consensus that we are witnessing a significant global climate change. As to the cause, there is less consensus, but there is significant weight to the argument that human activities are at least contributing to this change. We don't know all the factors. We don't know how it will end up. However, the prudent thing to do, the responsible one, the one in line with the goal of promoting the general welfare for our posterity, is to take precautions based on the best available information. In the case of climate change, perhaps it means to stop being so selfish, to start thinking about your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and cut down on the amount of carbon you are causing to be emitted into the atmosphere. Just a suggestion.
Why is this the job for government? Shouldn't we be pursuing market-based solutions? Well, certainly there is a role for responsible companies to do well for the environment. However, the goal of a company is to make money for its owners. Yes, many companies have laudable practices in this area, and consumer pressures help. But fundamentally, given a choice, most every company will do what is best for its bottom line, not the welfare of the country's descendents.
Owners of companies have a voice in our democracy (some louder than others), but the environment needs to have an advocate, and that advocate needs to be able to trump the immediate needs of any specific company.
Which brings me to today's issue. President Bush has submitted a budget that continues his past short-sightedness in the environmental area. The President needs to reread the Constitution that he pledged to uphold and contemplate what it really means. Then he needs to think about his and our posterity, and to start working on their
Labels: Bush, climate, Constitution, environment, politics