Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Earth Day Milestones to celebrate?

Happy Earth Day. By now you've probably heard that President Obama has been reported to claim that Senator Warren is just plain wrong about the facts of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Of course, as Huffington Post and others note, it's hard to be sure since the Obama administration has classified the the negotiations and related documents. As one who believes that the strategy to "Trust, but verify" was one of the few worthwhile things to come from the Reagan administration, I can only reply to President Obama "say what?"

prairie flowers at Wild River State Park
prairie flowers at Wild River State Park
Photo by J. Harrington

I'm still disappointed that the Clinton administration brought us the North American Free Trade Agreement, which I continue to believe did major disservice to two of the democrat's longest-standing constituencies, environmentalists and labor unions. The "side agreements" on protecting the environment and labor rights seem to have substantially less effectiveness than the jurisdiction exercised by the World Trade Organization. Minnesota's Iron Range claims to be suffering from unfair trade practices in the international steel industry, compounded by claims that it takes too long and is too difficult to get redress from the damage of "steel dumping." I haven't yet seen an analysis that would support those assertions either, but Public Citizen has published a 20 years of NAFTA report, with data, that states
"The data show that NAFTA proponents’ projections of broad economic benefits from the deal have failed to materialize. Instead, millions have suffered job loss, wage stagnation, and economic instability from NAFTA. Scores of environmental, health and other public interest policies have been challenged. Consumer safeguards, including key food safety protections, have been rolled back...."
The Economics Policy Institute also has criticized NAFTA's "benefits." It's a contentious issue and one of my biggest critiques is that the basis on which the anticipated wins and losses for these kinds of agreements are rarely (never?) documented. To paraphrase Jerry Maguire, "show me the jobs." I don't expect any projections to be absolutely correct, but at least we could judge future realities against well-defined expectations and, perhaps, limit the debate to more productive lines. All of which brings us to one of my wishes for future Earth Days in Minnesota.

great blue heron at Carlos Avery WMA
great blue heron at Carlos Avery WMA
Photo by J. Harrington

Once upon a time, Minnesota had a set of broadly agreed upon and formally adopted goals called "Minnesota Milestones." They were goals and indicators of progress, or lack thereof, toward attaining those goals. For this Earth Day and future ones, I'd like to see Minnesota bring back Milestones and measure how we're doing against them. Maybe it might help bring some modicum of civility to our political discourse. I don't know about you, but I'm fed up with bickering along the lines of "she said, he said" that are focused on scoring points, not progress. These are the Environmental goals (in bold) and indicators (numbered) in the last (1998) version of Milestones I could find:

Minnesotans will conserve natural resources to give future generations a healthy environment and a strong economy.
     55 Energy use per person
     56 Renewable energy sources
     57 Vehicle miles
     58 Air pollutants
     59 Water use
     60 Timber harvest
     61 Solid waste and recycling
     62 Toxic chemicals

Minnesotans will improve the quality of the air, water and earth.
     63 Urban air pollution
     64 Water quality in lakes and rivers
     65 Nitrate in ground water
     66 Erosion of cropland

Minnesotans will restore and maintain healthy ecosystems that support diverse plants and wildlife.
     67 Wildlife habitat
     68 Changes in land use

Minnesotans will have opportunities to enjoy the state’s natural resources.
     69 Parkland and open space
     70 Recreational trails

cottontail under bird feeder
cottontail under bird feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

I think most of the goals and indicators would still be worth measuring today and into the future. I find it much easier to trust when it's also easier to verify. Don't you? Maybe next Earth Day we can celebrate the return of Minnesota's Milestones and some progress toward attaining them.

UPDATE: A major step in the right correct direction:
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's DashBoard

National Poetry Month

Shall earth no more inspire thee

By Emily Brontë 

Shall earth no more inspire thee,
Thou lonely dreamer now?
Since passion may not fire thee
Shall Nature cease to bow?

Thy mind is ever moving
In regions dark to thee;
Recall its useless roving—
Come back and dwell with me.

I know my mountain breezes
Enchant and soothe thee still—
I know my sunshine pleases
Despite thy wayward will.

When day with evening blending
Sinks from the summer sky,
I’ve seen thy spirit bending
In fond idolatry.

I’ve watched thee every hour;
I know my mighty sway,
I know my magic power
To drive thy griefs away.

Few hearts to mortals given
On earth so wildly pine;
Yet none would ask a heaven
More like this earth than thine.

Then let my winds caress thee;
Thy comrade let me be—
Since nought beside can bless thee,
Return and dwell with me.