I’m one of those people who can see opportunity in unlikely places. That serves my conservation career in Idaho pretty well. I’m also an incorrigible optimist-another asset in this challenging political environment.
So I’ve not been the one talking about wheels coming off because of the election. Instead, without being blind to the challenges we’re dealing with, I see opportunity to build a more informed and empowered citizenry. I see current challenges as a charge to build new bridges and better articulate the reasons and pathways for protecting the air we breathe, water we drink and lands we love.
While wheels moving America forward might not be flying off, there’s a mighty wobble and in many of the ways our nation provides leadership we seem headed towards a ditch.
Raw partisanship and ideological fire are not new and their impact has been with us a long time. We’ve gotten by, in part, because of how government operates-both the culture of how leaders lead and the formal structures our leaders work within.
I remember a day many years ago when congressional process once again stumbled and the Boulder-White Clouds effort was again shut down. As I expressed frustration in Rep. Mike Simpson’s office, even in the face of seeing his own bill stalled he countered with a spirited defense of the system. "Be thankful it’s so hard to make change," he said. He alluded to ideas that often arose, in his caucus or others, that should never see the light of day-but in a moment of passion could make it through a more greased legislative system. In short, part of the greatness of America came from how hard it was to get something done. But you could get things done over time, through compromise.
I think of this today as the U.S. Senate casts aside the filibuster to approve a Supreme Court nominee. The filibuster is just one example how raw partisanship and ideological fire have taken over. While today it’s gone for the Supreme Court, I’ve heard from many sources that it will ultimately be gone for normal legislation as well. The filibuster frustrated me as much as anyone as it became a frequently wielded tool-but it was a way to give minority views airtime and it forced compromise. Rocky Barker posits that loss of the filibuster is especially bad for smaller states like Idaho.
But the filibuster is just the latest thing that has me concerned about heading into the ditch. As the rhetoric of the presidential candidate turns into policies of our nation, remaining optimism is surely being tested.
It would be one thing if the Environmental Protection Agency and other agency budget cuts were surgically proposed as ways to cut bureaucracy. Instead, the ideological hacking is driven by stated goals of destroying the "administrative state."
Some are pitching EPA cuts-proposed for nearly one third of the nationwide budget-as necessary, claiming states can do the job better. Well, what about the fact that one half of Idaho’s Department of Environmental Quality budget comes from EPA?
How about climate? Simply sweeping climate off federal websites and out of federal policies does not change the ocean’s temperature or the impacts we’ll all be living with, and does cost America its leadership role in alternative energy.
Or how about the scientific inquiry that’s been the hallmark of our nation’s leadership in so many fields? It’s shocking to realize we’re in such a deep downward spiral of not just politicizing science but actually discrediting it wholesale.
What Do We Do?
Clearly, there’s a need to work harder. The Idaho Conservation League has many strategies for this, and we have an extraordinary staff who are at work every day building bridges, informing, inspiring and empowering people.
One way we work harder is to look beyond the moment to boldly imagine the future. You’ve perhaps heard of ICL’s It’s My ID campaign. If not, you should know about it. Two years ago we began a two-pronged effort to build the long-term capacity of ICL to remain Idaho’s leading voice for conservation.
First, the campaign will double our endowment. Our endowment is a permanent fund providing annual unrestricted revenue to advance our mission to protect the air we breathe, water we drink and lands we love. The endowment helps support our wilderness efforts over the long haul. Second, the campaign will create a new fund to support our energy and water work, making possible an Idaho response to the causes and impacts of climate change.
Together, these two efforts make a $4 million campaign. To state the obvious, it’s a wildly ambitious effort for ICL. We’ve been moving forward for two years and are literally in the last months of the effort. We’ve talked to so many people, and as we reach out I’ve been fabulously inspired by the generosity and confidence of our supporters. A $4 million goal-yet we have now raised over $3.9 million! We are only $75,000 short of our goal.
We Need to Pull the Oars Together
I started this by expressing my optimism. I then recounted how current events can wear me down.
When I’m feeling worn down, here’s how I always fix it: I talk to ICL supporters. Yes, we’re in a challenging time. Yes, there are pieces of our nation’s greatness that are being tested. There are values found in our laws, clean air and water, our public land and even our citizens’ health that may be harmed by environmental rollbacks.
But as I plan some time outside this weekend, the hills are greening up and there are buds on the trees. For every outrage, these weeks have been filled with meetings with ICL supporters ready to work harder, just as we are. Just as you are. Thank you for the boost. We’re all going to need to pull on these oars together.