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Intelligent, civil debate more critical now than ever

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Every four years at about this time, I make a plea, not just for civil political discourse, but a recognition that the environment should be part of that dialog. While prompted by the quadrennial presidential election, this challenge confronts us perennially from coast to coast.

The COVID-19 pandemic has overwhelmed so many parts of our lives, we might be tempted to downplay the environment even more this year. Yet ironically, COVID-19 has also called attention to some parallel problems on the environmental front.

Perhaps most notably, the COVID-19 pandemic and our environmental struggles have shown that the poorest among us that are most vulnerable and least equipped to handle this adversity. The people, countries or companies with the most resources, money or clout have options. They have ways out of difficult situations.

Too often we have ignored the most vulnerable: their struggles, their environmental calamities, their health, their education and, ultimately, their happiness. To that point, studies by UCLA and the American Medical Association showed poor people died from the coronavirus at a nine times higher rate than average.

Similarly, more polluted and unhealthy places (both in America and around the world) experience poorer health and shorter life spans. While there are many complex reasons for this disparity in addition to the environment, one fact is indisputable: Poorer people have been dealt a lousy hand and find themselves at higher risk from both a health and environmental perspective.

In the same way, poorer people, with fewer options to relocate or improve their living situations, find themselves disproportionately affected by earthquakes, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes. And these last three maladies are only likely to get worse as the climate warms.

The comparison between rich and poor countries is even more astounding. Many agricultural, extractive, clothing and other manufacturing jobs, (in Asia and Latin America, especially) pay pennies on the dollar compared to industrialized countries like the United States and Western Europe. Many work under horrible environmental and safety conditions — and those cheap goods, incidentally, are often sold to American corporations.)

Meanwhile, those with the power and influence, those with vested interests in maintaining the status quo, wield disproportionate political influence. It is at this time of year particularly we can see this all around us.

As political ads spout sound-bites intended to flatter the candidate or inflame the opposition, the campaigns distract us from some of the most pressing issues confronting us. Special interests of all sorts (usually with deep pockets and self-serving motivation) attempt to subtly twist the facts and discredit the other side.

Rather than an intelligent debate about environmental (or other important) policy, we have shouting matches and accuse the other side of “wanting to destroy the country.”

I’m not advocating that you vote for one candidate or the other. I’m asking you to help turn the tide of divisiveness that leads to yelling at those who disagree with us.

From an environmental perspective, spend the time to educate yourself with facts from reputable and reliable sources (not some wild Facebook post or website). Spread that knowledge when the opportunity presents itself. And let all the powers-that-be, from your local municipal council to the White House, know that the environment and everyone’s quality of life should always be part of our political discussions.

John Frederick (www.johnjfrederick.com) writes about the environment the first and third weekends each month.

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