Yesterday I went to see Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. If you haven't seen it, you just have to go see it. On the one hand he doesn't hide his distaste for his political opponents, so if you are a fan of the current administration, you might be a little turned off. (Readers of my posts beyond the math posts know that I am no fan of W., and that the first clause of this sentence is a serious understatement.)
But Bill O'Reilly himself has praised the movie, and the facts presented (in what is about 70% just a video of one of Gore's lectures) are ridiculously convincing. The only doubters of the existence of global warming and its human cause are obviously people who have money to lose when (not if, since it's really inevitable) we abandon the oil economy. The images of retreating glaciers, the charts comparing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to those of the past, the history of the movement, they all point so clearly to massive climate changes that it's hard to come out of that movie cheerful or feeling good about driving home.
So, my wife and I are inspired enough to be a little more serious about making our house greener (timed thermostat, insulated water heater, better windows and attic insulation). And you should be, too.
But the only way to change things on a massive scale is to make conservation and energy efficiency simply be the norm, putting (as Gore did in the movie) wasteful practices in the same category of 'unacceptable' as smoking, slavery, and women's not having the vote. He presents it as a moral decision that has to be implemented in policy. And lest you think that wonky policy decisions can't have any real impact, take a look at this satellite picture of the border between Haiti (which has few restrictions on logging) and the Dominican Republic (which has more).
This is another place that the current administration has just failed miserably. Whoever is going to be the next Democratic candidate for president has a huge opening here. Just like Bush (or maybe Rove and Cheney) has defined political opposition to be unpatriotic, the Democrats have an obvious parallel strategy. The "Green is Patriotic" strategy:
Put people to work in a huge new industry of conservation (building solar and wind generators, creating infrastructure for alternative fuels, retrofitting homes to be more efficient, etc.). Become financially unlinked to the world oil market. Take some pride in cleaning this country up. Renew our image as the innovative and benevolent caretakers of the world. Leave wilderness for future generations to enjoy. How are any of these unpatriotic?
No Republican (except maybe Christine Whitman, who resigned as the head of the EPA when Bush wouldn't give her the resources to strike any kind of balance between industrial and environmental concerns, and who should be welcomed into the Democratic party with a cabinet or vice-presidential position) can lay serious claim to any kind of mantle of environmentalism. Which means the Democrats have the moral, political, and factual high ground here.
I know I didn't invent the phrase "Green is Patriotic", but I haven't seen it enough, and it certainly hasn't been picked up by any national-level politicians that I've seen (although I'd be delighted to be proven wrong on this). So that's my message to Clinton, Obama, Clark, Edwards, Richardson, or any other presidential possibility. Please use the phrase often in your speeches.
Gore makes the convincing argument that this is a moral choice we have to make. Let's take the right side of this, make the choice early, and hammer away at the wrong answer. Maybe I'm naively optimistic, but I think that Americans are ready to take a stand on this. There simply aren't many issues as important as this one.