For me, sixth grade was a year of awkwardness, braces and an older sister constantly nagging me about using less water when I brushed my teeth. I may have been focused on my self-esteem, but everyone around me seemed to be focused on this new “green” initiative. Environmental scientists had started to explain what direction the world was heading in and how important it was to conserve it. The public began to march, recycle and protest. Momentum grew as more and more people started to back the movement. Soon, the world was trying to convince political leaders to change.
Unfortunately, if you want a progressive movement to stick, you have to bring cash. Only with a sound economic policy can progressives be taken seriously and actually implement something new.
The problem is that New is risky. New could lower a politician’s approval ratings. New is unknown. Leaders never want to jeopardize their own positions by supporting a new policy that could be disliked. But how do they know if the public will like something? If money is included, it is almost a guarantee that people will accept a policy. Traditionally, people like more money. Tradition is comfortable and safe. In general, the public will only be upset if something is changed—if the Perfect American Equilibrium is threatened.
We are embarrassing ourselves if we think that the United States is perfect just the way it is.
Many issues have enough moral support to be changed, but do not have enough economic incentives to be backed by politicians. Same sex couples cannot get married. Men who have had sex with other men (MSM) are banned from donating blood. Laws that are obviously discriminatory are entangled in the United States political system. If same sex marriage were to be politically supported, citizens would be equal. If the MSM blood donor ban was lifted, 2 million additional lives could be saved per year. Clearly, the moral argument of progressives is sound; no one can deny that equality and human life are pretty important topics. But the moral argument is not enough. Crazily, the financial component is enough. And this is what progressives are lacking.
Leaders did not care about the environmental movement when it was a social issue. People were outraged when shown a picture of a polar bear in a melting arctic, but nothing significant was done to stop it. Al Gore, once the leader in climate reform, became an unreliable source—hitting rock bottom when he premiered in South Park as ManBearPig. Luckily, the environmental movement moved away from its inactive reputation and is now on the rise again.
Progressives have started to talk about economic growth that will result from clean industries and environmental changes. Better Growth, Better Climate is a group that calculates fixing the infrastructure in cities will save $3 trillion over the next 15 years, and will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5 billion tons per year. “Green” policies may have been temporarily shoved aside, but the greenness of the dollar bills seems to have brought them back into the minds of political leaders.
Suddenly, there has been an influx of politicians making a mad dash for spots on the environmental change bandwagon. Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York City, recently hopped aboard when he proposed his policy to increase energy-efficiency in the world’s biggest urban playground. His proposal conveniently fit right into play with his focus on income inequality. An added bonus is that we still get to reap all of the benefits of protecting the environment.
Politicians were not overwhelmed by the legalization of marijuana at first either. They did seem to pay special attention to Colorado and Washington, however, when they learned that marijuana would become a new cash crop. When they heard that the projected tax revenue would increase by $33.5 million within the first six months, Amendment 64 was passed and stoners everywhere rejoiced. Yet, when Colorado’s actual revenue was $21.5 million less than expected, politicians seemed to put the issue on the back burner. Now, the legalization of marijuana has gone back to the same, unsupported, passive issue as before.
A part of me is relieved that climate change is finally getting sufficient recognition. It is a small victory that the government is supporting a progressive idea at all. It is like we have finally found the key to unlocking the minds of stubborn politicians: money was the answer all along. At the same time, it is frustrating to know that progressives are only being supported on the financial front, while the actual morality of issues is deprioritized. Sure, there is satisfaction that a progressive issue is taking action, but is it too much to ask for this action to be taken with human rights in mind? An “it’s better than nothing” mindset does not seem appropriate when people’s lives and equality are at stake. Progressives may have gained a few steps in their uphill battle, but they have a long way to go until the right issues are being supported for the right reasons.