Is President Obama’s Recovery Act actually “recovering” our values?


TODAY, we welcome back Dr. Allan Schnaiberg
a friend and scholar in environmental economics and sociology.
He wrote a series in December on global warming and the rapid cooling of our American economy.
Since then, Allan has been working hard on new projects to help alert Americans to the environmental challenges we face. PLEASE, tell us what you think about today’s story …


P
resident Obama’s Recovery Act is very important. His administration has
revitalized me and many other Americans.
    One example of the new approach this act represents: To make the new regime more
accountable and transparent, the day the president signed the act he created a new Web page for citizens to ask questions and make comments (I did so,
but Barack has not been on the phone or the Internet with me in the
past week, alas
).

    The Recovery Act highlights issues in the series I wrote for OurValues.org in December, tying
economic recession and global warming to social solutions. Crucial in those solutions is investing more of our lives — and not primarily our money — in
expanding our activities and relationships close to our homes. The
heroic model of “jet setter” needs to be replaced by “porch sitter” or
“dog walker,” I think.

    I am not alone in this: Over the past year, a number of new magazines (such
as “Yes!”) have begun to work along parallel lines. Even
traditional scholars have begun to sit up and take notice of
communities and shops near their homes.
    Many years ago when Reagan ruled the
land, I had just published my first “progressive” book: “The Environment: From Surplus to Scarcity” (Oxford, 1980). In that book, I argued that the distribution of social goods (money, things, services) was almost exactly the mirror image of the distribution of social “bads” (polluted air/water, toxic waste dumps, and low income).

 No trespassing Love Canal
    This was the heyday of Love Canal, Times Beach and other stories
(and books and movies) demonstrating that some form of corporate greed had
suppressed ecological science — and endangered our health. In my 1980 book, I was writing about concepts that today we describe as environmental justice.
    Unfortunately over many years, the suffering of people and wildlife from pollution had little influence on public policies, on scientific organizations, on political leaders. I believe that situation dominated in the U.S. from Reagan’s election in
1980 until Bush’s retirement in January 2009.
    Now, President Obama has come into office with a different agenda. He certainly understands that the President
and  Congress are supported by corporate profits and taxes, which is
why the Recovery Act includes extensive financial support for banks and
even auto companies. It offers little direct redistribution through
improved public services or welfare. And yet — Obama is the
most progressive president we have had since FDR.
    A major problem he faces — and we face — is the terrible debt incurred in the Bush years
through actions at home (reduced tax rates for the wealthy) and abroad
(not paying as we have gone in Iraq and Afghanistan).

    One of Obama’s first announcements was that he was going to restore the
previously high standing of science/scientists and not continue to let religious and political zealots dominate. Perhaps “centrist” scientists finally are being given a prominent new voice.

    What I’m arguing here is that the Recovery Act is not only fiscal. It’s also an act to recover our
values, our insights, and our good sense.
    But what do you think?

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