Dear Mr. President . . .
For the first time in eight years, we have a new man in the White
House. George W. Bush presides over a divided nation, but one thing
is clear: Most Americans want the environment protected.
President of Republicans for Environmental Protection
President Bush must lead America away from fossil fuels to a bright future built upon renewable, clean energy. As long as we insist on drilling, digging, and burning fossil fuels, the American people will always be fighting a rear-guard defense of our air and water; the global climate; and our national parks, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, coastlines, and other beloved places. The technology and economics are right for this transformation today. Only the political barriers remain to be cleared away. This is where presidential leadership can make a difference.
Freeing America from its foolhardy dependence on fossil fuels could be President Bush's greatest legacy--a legacy that even Theodore Roosevelt might envy.
Consumer advocate and Green Party presidential candidate
The single most consequential mission that President Bush can undertake is to lead the world in solar-energy research and use. Solar-energy forms have been around for thousands of years. East Africans, Persians, and Greeks used passive solar architecture. Photovoltaic cells and solar thermal systems are now spreading in Asia, Africa, and South America. Solar energy can eventually replace nuclear power, coal, oil, and gas. It will reduce the risk of geopolitical struggles and diminish global warming, ozone depletion, air and water pollution, and dependence on distant supplies controlled by cartels and conglomerates.
The main obstacle to achieving a solar world is opposition by the fossil-fuel and atomic-energy interests. They lobby Washington for subsidies, which create an uneven energy playing field. With minor differences, both Democratic and Republican regimes have responded to this pressure. Bill Clinton and Al Gore had a great opportunity to steer U.S.-government dollars toward solar energy for federal buildings and remote military installations but did not do so. In this time of growing energy crises, Bush could confound his critics by launching a solar mission.
Biologist, author, conservationist, and professor of entomology at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology
Take the moral high ground. The world's natural economy is crumbling, imperiling the market economy. The United States can and should show the way in the global conservation movement. Start with the world's forests. They are disappearing fast, at severe environmental and social cost. We need an international summit on forests, aimed at a protocol that matches the caliber of those on ozone depletion and climate change.
At home, you should work with Congress to gather all forested federal land into the national park system--or at least direct that all of it be administered by the same guidelines. Recreation, hunting, and fishing account for about 90 percent of the national forests' contribution to the gross domestic product; only 10 percent comes from mining and timber extraction.
The American people need their forests protected and available for recreation, research, biodiversity protection, and education. This is also the best long-range source of income for those living around the forests. A more rigorous protection of our own forests will moreover demonstrate to a skeptical world that Americans are serious about the global environment.
Columnist and director of the Sustainability Institute, Dartmouth College
The single most necessary step for the environment is thoroughgoing campaign reform. As long as the government can be bought, those who benefit from environmental destruction will always be able to outbid those who fight for environmental protection. Construction, real estate, and other interests will strangle funding and implementation of the Endangered Species Act. Logging, mining, grazing, and off-road-vehicle companies will fight the protection and restoration of our national lands. Oil, coal, and car companies will block real climate-protecting energy policy. The chemical and manufacturing lobbies will continue to write air and water laws.
For real democracy, we need strict spending caps, so there's a level playing field for all candidates. Public financing, so politicians are indebted only to the public. A short campaign season, so campaigns don't go on endlessly and our public servants can turn their attention to actual governing.
People who have come to office through our present corrupt system can hardly be expected to fix that system on the basis of "suggestions" from people like me. They need very strong pressure, ultimately from the voters. The only way I can see to organize such pressure is for all public-interest organizations--from the Audubon Society to the Children's Defense Fund to the League of Women Voters to the American Red Cross--to band together and insist on it.
Director of natural-resource studies, Cato Institute
The federal government, through industry subsidies and preferences, does more violence to the environment than any particular industry. Ending corporate welfare would be the greenest step you could take. To start:
Take farmers off the dole. Water subsidies for agriculture destroy riparian ecosystems, deplete aquifers, waste a tremendous amount of water, and unnecessarily expand man's footprint upon wild lands without any net economic benefit. Crop price supports keep an unnecessary amount of land under the plow and encourage excessive agrochemical use. Nowhere is this more true than with the sugar program, which is single-handedly responsible for most of the damage to the Florida Everglades.
End federally subsidized flood insurance, which encourages development in ecologically sensitive areas. Let homeowners and businesses pay for their own insurance. If they choose not to or can't afford to, fine--but no more federal disaster relief. That will automatically reduce ill-considered development.
Abolish the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. There's no need for federally subsidized dredging; let the shipping industry pay for dredging itself. Without the corps, there would be far less damage to our riparian ecosystems.
Auction off federally owned dams to the highest bidder. There's good reason to believe that the rivers of the American West are more economically valuable as recreational and aesthetic resources than as power-generation and irrigation resources. Let markets, not political mandates, govern their use.
You should follow the example of Noah, the most righteous of men. God had decided to drown all of humanity because humans were wicked and depraved. Interestingly, though, he wanted to save the rest of creation, and he chose Noah as his agent. When the deluge receded, he made a covenant with Noah and with all the creatures in the ark that he would never again cause a mass extinction. But now another great extinction is happening because human beings are stripping the earth's forests, diverting its waters, and depleting its soils and oceans to feed our mushrooming numbers and to satisfy our unquenchable hunger for energy, goods, and comfort.
As the most powerful leader in the world, Mr. Bush, you must consider whether this nation should continue to spurn God's first covenant with all life on earth. You have a chance to save nature again by calling for restraint on natural-resource exploitation and by supporting the conservation of God's capital.
Global warming is real, and humans have a hand in it. You should appoint a commission of scientists, businesspeople, consumers, and environmentalists to recommend actions to fight climate change. We can take commonsense, economically sound steps now to slow this planetary experiment. That will give us time to improve scientific understanding and define later policies.
Our industry and technology hold the key to solving the climate problem. We must aggressively reduce air pollution, improve energy efficiency, and develop clean, renewable energy sources. The collateral benefits alone--improved public health and reduced dependence on foreign energy sources--justify the cost. This practical approach could create bipartisan and international consensus for addressing climate change.
You have the opportunity to change the course of the human planetary experiment, preserving a healthy environment for posterity. It could be your greatest legacy.
Recent news about ice melting and sea level rising indicates that climate change could soon spiral out of control. We can stabilize climate by restructuring the tax system: reducing income taxes and raising carbon taxes. This will stabilize both oil prices and our climate, by reducing the use of fossil fuels and encouraging the development of alternatives.
Oil is cheap to produce--as little as $2 a barrel--and expensive to buy--$25 a barrel as of late January. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) knows that if it pushes the price of oil too high, it will trigger a global recession. That is not in its interest.
So who gets the difference between the two prices? If the United States and other countries push the price of gasoline, fuel oil, jet fuel, and other oil products close to the limit by imposing stiff taxes, then OPEC has less room to raise prices. If we take the initiative and raise gasoline taxes while lowering income taxes, the tax increase will end up in our treasury, and individuals will benefit from lower income taxes. But if we let OPEC keep increasing the price of oil, and hence of gasoline, the equivalent of the gasoline-tax increase will end up in OPEC treasuries. We will pay the same higher price for gasoline, but we won't get the income-tax reduction.
Ornithologist and director of science, National Audubon Society
Mr. Bush should make birds a primary indicator of the health of our nation's wildlife--and, by proxy, the environment we pass on to our children. Historically, birds have provided the first or most visible indication of wider problems: unregulated hunting and fishing, pesticide contamination, water pollution, global warming, the spread of new diseases such as the West Nile virus, and the fragmentation and loss of habitat. Our national bird, the bald eagle, declined in numbers when DDT contaminated our land. As our environment becomes cleaner, the eagles are recovering.
Birds also play a lead role in ecological assessment, as symbols of the value of open space and public lands. And the exceptional public appeal of birds has spawned armies of volunteer citizen scientists who accurately monitor the declines and recoveries of our nation's birds.
The British government recently adopted bird populations as one of its top 10 indicators of environmental sustainability. We should follow suit.
Environmental scientists, Center for Conservation Biology, Stanford University
The most important thing that President Bush can do for the environment is to attack simultaneously two of the three most important elements of the assault humanity is launching on its life-support systems: growth in population and growth in per-capita consumption among the rich. Even if people deal much more cleverly with the third cause--the technologies that supply consumer goods and services--ecosystems will deteriorate as long as numbers and affluence skyrocket.
The United States is the most overpopulated nation in the world in this sense. Some think an "information society" can grow forever, but that confused notion neglects that people need to eat, drink, bathe, eliminate, and be housed, transported, and protected from epidemic disease (which becomes more threatening as population grows).
Escalating extinctions, global warming, the ozone hole, the collapse of fisheries, and increased crowding are sending a message to us and our new President. Bush should immediately take steps to establish a national population policy aimed at humanely stopping population growth and beginning a slow decline toward a sustainable size. And he should set up the world's first Governmental Panel on Consumption and the Environment. Hold on to your hats!
Author of Hard Green: Saving the Environment From the Environmentalists and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute
"I believe, as Teddy Roosevelt did, that wilderness and the rugged life of the outdoors build and define the character of the American citizen." So the new President should declare, early in his administration. Bush should affirm that although private land trusts are the most important element of the conservation movement, at some point the vastness of the White Mountains and the Everglades, of river archipelagoes and coral reefs--at some point the sheer scale of the most ambitious conservation objectives requires a reach to match. That means the reach of local, state, and federal governments.
This President isn't going to expand federal acreage indiscriminately, nor should he. The deal that makes both political and ecological sense is this: a loosening of federal control over less fecund acres in the western states and Alaska, in exchange for ambitious new federal initiatives in places like the Everglades. We're going to get energy one way or another; it's better to get it from deep under the desert or the frozen tundra than from temperate marshes and coasts. And by accepting recreational uses of the land, we build political support for conservation.
Director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center, Clark Atlanta University
Under William K. Reilly and the first Bush administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began to promote equal protection and environmental justice for all Americans. The work continued under Carol Browner and the Clinton administration. President George W. Bush should direct his EPA administrator to build on this legacy.
The agency needs to use the best available scientific evidence to address air pollution and the growing asthma epidemic in the nation's urban centers. Air pollution costs Americans $40 billion to $50 billion a year and causes 50,000 to 120,000 premature deaths a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. About 4,000 people a year die of asthma, and many more see their activities restricted on "bad air days." Since asthma and other respiratory illnesses have environmental links, strict enforcement of the Clean Air Act and strategies to reduce air pollution need to be given top priority.
Please, Mr. President, as you prepare our country for peace in the new millennium, remember that peace begins in the womb. Only recently has it been determined that manmade chemicals, widely dispersed in our environment, invade the inner space of the womb. They cross the placental barrier at extremely low concentrations and wage war on the developing child's intelligence and behavior, ability to resist disease, and reproductive success. No longer do infinitesimally small concentrations of natural chemicals--hormones--have complete control over the construction of the embryo, from the moment the sperm enters the egg until an individual is born.
Manmade chemicals undermine the well-being of the child and his or her family, as well as that of the community, the nation, and the world. These substances are depriving society of its thinkers, team players, statesmen, and world leaders.
As leader of the most technologically advanced country in the world, you can encourage research to prevent any more unintentional damage to the unborn and restore a child's birthright to develop to his or her fullest potential. You can make the new millennium the inner-space age of research.
Marine ecologist and founder of the Living Oceans Program, National Audubon Society
The new President has unprecedented opportunities to do good things for the oceans. The most important is to move the National Marine Fisheries Service from the Department of Commerce to the Department of the Interior. No commerce secretary has ever understood stewardship of natural resources, nor likely ever will. Commerce's commodity approach to fisheries has been largely responsible for the fisheries disasters we've had and for our government's inability to recognize fish as wildlife.
In the past decade we've gained a new appreciation of the links between land use and the sea. Midwest farm runoff is causing a spreading dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi River, and North Carolina hog-farm runoff is deteriorating that state's important estuaries. The new administration is rumored to be eyeing oil and gas leases in sensitive coastal waters where they've been prohibited for years, and it is considering rolling back Clinton-administration restrictions on animal-farm runoff into public waterways. President Bush should resist the temptation to increase private profits at public cost.
Oren R. Lyons (Joagquisho)
Faithkeeper of the Onondaga Nation, Haudenosaunee (The Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy)
Responsible leadership requires vision with a world perspective and the will to look into the future.
Responsible leadership requires compassion and respect for all life, for everything that grows, walks, swims, and flies.
A responsible leader must listen to the people. A responsible leader must have compassion, and respect for the common peoples; compassion, love, and respect for the elders; compassion, love, and respect for the children. And there must be a genuine love and respect for the coming generations, unto the seventh generation.
A responsible leader will not profit at the expense of future generations.
A responsible leader will heed the counsel of the women.
A responsible leader must understand the law of the seed--the powerful laws of regeneration--and understand that natural law is spiritual, the ultimate authority, and will prevail over all challenges.
Finally, we must all understand that as long as we make war against Mother Earth, there can be no peace.
We wish you good health and a clear mind for the journey ahead. Peace, you will have to earn.