(And I'll abuse the word "pragmatic" all I want, thank you very much!)
I have a hard time pigeonholing my politics. I've spent my entire adult life being opposed to political parties (or, at the very least, our two-party system as it now stands), but I'm starting to dislike the labels of "liberal" and "conservative" as well. I just don't feel like I fit in with any of these groups, and I don't see how any thinking person really can.
For example, deep in my heart of hearts (and I'm sure this is on this blog somewhere), I'm a passionate, pre-World-War isolationist: I just wanna hole up and leave the rest of the world alone. But it's a pipe dream, right? I can't wrap my head around any way that's even remotely possible, given the last 70 or 80 years of world history. Similarly, I'm all for a legislative rewinding to get closer to the Constitution, but I just don't think it's feasible: what are we going to do, fire everybody who works in Social Security and MediCare and NASA and National Security etc? Sounds like a terrible idea to me. As a last example, I'm infatuated (as wholeheartedly and ignorantly as the word connotes) with the idea of a completely free market--laissez faire and the invisible hand and all that. I love thinking that the market will always sort itself out. But the truth is, the market is frightfully amoral, and I honestly believe that bad guys always win in a truly free economy. It just seems obvious to me that, in a system where competition is everything, those who are willing to cheat will most likely pull ahead. Scum rises to the top etc. etc. So even though my deep Idaho roots call out for the government to leave me t'heck alone, I kinda like having Big Brother trying to level the playing field.
So there's a crash course in Schmetterlingism, which might just look like apathetic moderatism but feels more like a liberal leaning conservatism.
But there's one area that I'm straight-up liberal (not hard-core or bleeding-hard but fairly radical all the same), and that's environmentalism. I'm all for the privatization of a lot of things (education, for instance), but I feel like the environment is one thing that's big enough to warrant a government stewardship. It's just so hard to get a big-picture view as an individual. And it's the sort of thing that requires big actions on a regular basis because so many little actions are constantly screwing it up. So I'm all for the government regulating emissions and protecting species and (dare I say it?) angering farmers by making up rules. Here again, I might be mistaken as passionately apathetic (I often say that I don't care whether man-caused climate change is real and that I think minimizing the stuff we pump into the air is worthwhile even if it doesn't save the polar bears because it might save some asthmatic kindergartener in New York), but I am not. I consider myself a pragmatic environmentalist.
My most recent environmental stance has evolved over the course of the past few months, and its evolution started when I read an article in (*GASP!*) Mother Jones, which I now have a subscription to, thanks to a brother of mine (our mother was mortified when she found out!). The article ("Jet Blue" by Christie Aschwanden, located on the last page of the May + June 2010 issue, which was the borrowed hook that reeled me in) talked about how bad for the environment jumbo jets are. It says that a family of 4 living in western Colorado can replace an old fridge with an efficient model, replace 10 75-watt lightbulbs with 20-watt compact florescents, recycle all their paper and glass and metal and plastic waste, switch to using a bus or train for a daily 12-mile commute, and replace the family sedan for a Prius, and if they live that way for a year, they still won't have done as much to help the environment as they do to hurt it if they fly to Boston for Christmas at the end of that year. Lots of environmentally-minded people justify flying because it's public transportation, and they all assume that, when it comes to transportation, public=environmental, but the truth is that flying is the most environmentally destructive per-capita mode of transportation.
I was thinking about this as my wife and I flew out to Florida for Christmas. The facts seemed to say that we would've been better off driving that whole long way, and I felt a little guilty as I watched the SLC tarmac disappear below us. But the flight gave me time to think, and Pragmatic Environmentalism was born.
Let's imagine a hypothetical couple living just outside of Salt Lake City somewhere--in Provo, we'll say--and let's name this hypothetical couple Kyle and Katie. Now let's say that Kyle and Katie have been invited to spend Christmas in DisneyWorld with Katie's family. There are essentially three options to them: 1) they can fly (the traditional solution); 2) they can drive (the more environmentally friendly solution); 3) they can stay in Provo (the Mother Jones solution).
Solution 1: The fly out of SLC int'l and go to Orlando with a layover in DC and then come back the same way. Nearly 15,000 lbs of CO2 are emitted into the atmosphere, "high in the atmosphere, magnifying the ill effects" (that's from that article, btw).
Solution 2: They drive for a couple of days each direction. Nearly 4,000 lbs of CO2 are emitted by their car in addition to the 15,000 lbs being emitted by their airplane
, which incidentally has to make its connections even if nobody's on it.
Solution 3: They stay home. 15,000 lbs of CO2 are still emitted by that airplane!
Moral of the story: Solutions 1 & 3 are equally damaging to the environment; solution 2 is more damaging.
The thing is, I do care about the environment, and so I wish that there weren't so many airplane cruising around up there, but I was looking at the maps in the seatback pocket in front of me, and it looks like they run in circuits. So even if I could get everyone in Utah to refrain from flying to DC, the Utah plane would still have to fly to DC to pick up all the people there who are headed to Orlando, and if I could talk all of them out of their trip, there's still people in Orlando who need to get to--I dunno--Kentucky. The thing is, to get even one plane grounded, I have to stop at least three and perhaps four or five plane's worth of travelers from flying anywhere.
So the plane flies, regardless of what I do. If I'm on it or if I stay home, it doesn't make any difference. But if I drive to Florida, I only make things worse.
And that's pragmatic environmentalism, which sounds an awful lot like environmental fatalism, but isn't exactly.