Michigan school kids can be grateful that only a quarter of the bills introduced in the state Legislature each session get enacted. The odds are thus against a proposed law that would have them abandon their books to caulk windows, inflate bus tires and dust refrigerator coils in pursuit of energy savings and a "Green School" designation. That a Republican lawmaker from Livingston County conceived of this eco-instruction calls into question the environmental platform of the Grand Old Party.
Republicans have been routinely vilified by environmental activists as nemeses of Nature. But the "Green School" legislation and similar tree-hugging measures elsewhere expose an eagerness among some GOP lawmakers to secure green credentials.
The "Green School" proposal lays out 19 eligibility criteria that span the spectrum of environmental angst, including recycling paper, magazines, newspapers, batteries, ink cartridges and cellular telephones; protecting rain forests, native plants and endangered species; and, of course, reducing energy use to cure our "addiction" to oil and to curtail global warming. For good measure, "Green School" activity also includes classroom visits by the Sierra Club, as well as school observances of Earth Day.
Republican state Rep. Joe Hune, sponsor of the Green School bill, told the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, "It's something that would help kids get acclimated to the political arena." Or as Lenin said, "Give me four years to teach the children, and the seed I have sown will not be uprooted."
Whether Hune's legislation will become law remains to be seen. The bill passed the Michigan House on March 23 and was sent to the state Senate. Just last month, Republican majorities in the Michigan House and Senate overwhelmingly approved a new regime of groundwater regulation advocated by Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm and her environmental allies.
GOP lawmakers in Michigan aren't alone among their brethren in turning over a green leaf. New York Gov. George Pataki has mandated the use of "green" cleaning products in schools, and he has called for converting every school bus in New York, all 50,000, to operate on "clean fuel," at an estimated cost of $150 million.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the self-styled "smart growth governor," signed legislation allocating $7 million to develop a curriculum that makes environmental principles "an integral part" of primary and secondary education.
Against this backdrop, it's less surprising that President George W. Bush recently complained of America's "addiction to oil." But in so doing, the President has invited fellow Republicans everywhere to engage in environmental hyperbole.
Ironically, Republicans may have largely missed the opportunity to reap much of the supposed political benefit from ceding environmental policy to statists. Compared to national security, the economy and health care, the environment just doesn't worry voters that much anymore. The enormous progress that has been achieved undoubtedly is a factor.
There is an alternative to embracing Green Orthodoxy. Few states or school districts have actually evaluated the veracity and impartiality of environmental curricula. That's a principled cause that any Republican (or Democrat) could proudly promote.
There's no shortage of science-based materials that avoid doomsday scenarios and instead document dramatic improvements in environmental quality and explain the role of property rights and markets in maximizing environmental protection. After all, the greatest environmental gains have been achieved by free-enterprise nations, rich ones, in other words, that can actually afford to worry about wetlands and tree frogs.
Republicans should indeed take up the environmental mantle - by advocating truth and balance in the classroom and in the regulatory labyrinth. Otherwise, our children not only will be tutored in tire inflation, but will be taught that humanity is cruel; consumption, selfish; technology, dangerous; capitalism, destructive; and government supreme.
Diane S. Katz is director of science, environment and technology policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.