Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
There are two conflicting phenomena rising to the forefront of politics. On the one hand, the urgency of climate change has created a more pressing need to deal with environmental issues, with dangers ranging from more severe weather and rising sea levels to the extinction of many plant and animal species. On the other hand, some politicians, spurred by growing partisanship, are attempting to capitalize on voters’ frustrations by calling for compromise and level-headed pragmatism.
As I’ve written in the past, bipartisanship legitimizes the rightward shift of American politics. Both parties have drifted to the right since the mid-20th century; when Democrats “reach across the aisle” to Republicans, they only solidify this trend. A recent political fight in Maryland illustrates, in a more general sense, the pitfalls of typical political rhetoric in the face of severe environmental dangers.
Earlier this year, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation prohibiting oyster harvesting in five designated areas of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Because of overharvesting, warmer winters and other factors, the species is at just 1 percent of its precolonial population. Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed the measure before the legislature overrode him.
In an attempt to seem like the adult in the room, Hogan wrote in his veto letter that the measure “demonstrates outright contempt for those who were asked to work together to arrive at a consensus solution.” Of course, there is a broad consensus in favor of oyster sanctuaries — a 2017 poll found that 88 percent of Maryland voters support existing ones — but that’s beside the point.
Oysters are integral to the health of the bay. They filter the water, making it more easily habitable for other organisms, and they’re a major source of food for animals in the Chesapeake Bay area, such as the blue crab and flatworm. A declining oyster population has greatly strained these species and the rest of the ecosystem — this is no time for the routine political appeals to consensus and working together.
Hogan cites the concerns of watermen, who stand to benefit from overharvesting, against the public interest. Their concerns aren’t unwarranted, but clearly the focus should be on providing those workers with the resources necessary to maintain financial stability without exploiting the bay.
Cherry-picking “stakeholders” who have an active interest against the public good won’t do Marylanders any favors. Industries can be restructured with the help of the government to benefit the public, but there’s no negotiating with nature.
As the stakes get higher for environmental issues, it’s becoming even more clear that the supposed pragmatism of politicians like Hogan is incongruous with the problems of our time.
The inadequacy of “centrist” politics isn’t limited to Republicans. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) made headlines earlier this year when she was confronted by a group of young people urging her to support the Green New Deal. Though it did appear to be an ambush, she got some negative press from the incident, thanks to her somewhat imprudent strategy of arguing with children.
More important was Feinstein’s response to the Green New Deal itself: Instead of endorsing its more ambitious proposals, she said she planned on writing a “responsible resolution” to address climate change. This is consistent with a prominent part of the climate debate in this country: Despite the overwhelming scientific consensus that we must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and environmental hazards, political elites often dismiss any effort that actually matches the magnitude of the problem.
Don’t be fooled by politicians who stake out what they would call more reasonable positions. The only reasonable course of action when confronted with the environmental problems we face today is far-reaching reform, whether that be saving the oysters of the Chesapeake Bay or passing a major overhaul of federal climate policy. Anything else is insufficient.
Zachary Jablow, opinion editor, is a sophomore economics and government and politics major. He can be reached at email@example.com.