I just got back from the Connecticut Forum on Our Fragile Earth. The panel was a great: Dan Esty, Michael Pollan, and Majora Carter. John Dankosky did a fantastic job as moderator. All three of the panelists were pro-environment and as a result I think that the discussion lost a little bit of flavor it could have had if someone was there advocating for the interests of business. I’m sure it could not have been difficult to find a construction worker or factory owner that was overburdened by environmental regulation. Though as Mr. Esty noted, many times there are places where the interests of business and the environment align and that’s the best and easiest way to create positive environmental change.
The one large point of contention had to do with the issue of hydrofracking. Mr. Esty noted that New York was moving to regulate it and that hydrofracking could be fairly safe if done properly. Ms. Carter felt that leaving regulation to local governments would cause poorer areas to disproportionately host hydrofracking. While Ms. Carter’s concerns are real, I think she failed to consider that the people in these areas still have choices and can regulate hydrofracking in the same manner as the wealthy areas. Mr. Esty also raised the idea that the risk of polluted water in some areas might be worth the benefit of cleaner air that would result from the switchover to natural gas from coal. I was surprised to learn that Connecticut is a big pollution importer. Mr. Esty noted that with the pollution coming in from New Jersey and New York we already exceed emission standards without contributing our own.
When it came to tackling the policy issues the panel identified corporate contributions and influence as a major barrier to implementing effective policy. One panelist noted that it was the large agricultural firms receiving the best subsidies. I think that as a state we are still hurting from the Rowland era and Citizens’ United still sits in the back of our minds. I wonder if the cheers would have been as loud had the audience been from New York or New Jersey. If so, it is surprising that there is not an appetite in the United States Congress to tackle that issue.
Mr. Pollan focused on the issue of food. He laid out the principle that you should eat food with few ingredients and never eat anything your grandmother would not recognize. There was also some discussion of food deserts and agriculture policy. It was not clear to me how these tangents on food topics tied in to the environment until Mr. Pollan described some kind of enclosed greenhouse system where food was grown and fish swam. This greenhouse was warmed by compost and was designed to be a sustainable self-contained system. Though maybe the point of the food discussion circled back to the beginning where Mr. Dankosky noted that the Earth itself is not that fragile, but we are the fragile ones, and so it is important that we think about caring for ourselves as much as we think about caring for the Earth.
Overall the three-hour discussion generated many interesting ideas. At the end the panelists suggested if we want to do something then we should read more about the topic (I will add the book recommendations when I find them later), change something in our community, and change something in our own lives. By doing that we can take some small steps to protecting our fragile Earth.