States and cities taking the leadNews last week that the bipartisan governors of Washington, Oregon and California are cooperating to confront threats to the health of the Pacific Ocean is a signal of a promising new trend: States and cities taking the lead in environmental stewardship.
It remains to be seen how effective these initiatives will be. But the governors have committed themselves to ongoing assessments and progress reports on their ambitious goals. Twenty-six actions are listed. These include stricter ocean-going vessel emission standards, preventing the introduction of invasive species, exploring the feasibility of offshore alternative ocean energy development, improving ocean research, increasing ocean education and preventing and responding to offshore oil spills, according to the Environmental News Service.
In a forlornly ironic sense, the Bush administration deserves thanks for this and progress on a variety of other local and regional goals. Were it not for this White House's nearly complete abdication of responsibility for the environment, it's safe to assume that governors, legislatures and city councils would have felt little compulsion to take on everything from petroleum conservation to keeping plastics out of the ocean.
Another interesting example is the increasing drive by West Coast cities to curb the use of throw-away grocery bags. This week, Seattle joined by imposing a fee for each bag - plastic or paper - sold in the city. Both consume astonishing quantities of natural resources, foul the land and ocean, and take up space in rapidly filling solid waste landfills.
Though all these actions may invite resistance and ridicule by a few, in a real sense they represent a return to essential American values of frugality, self-reliance and care for the well-being of future generations. Our fundamental obligation is not, as President Bush would have it, to go shopping. It is to turn our nation over to our children in as good or better condition as it was in when our parents bequeathed it to us.
In ways big and small, state and local leaders are coming back around to this point. It's up to each of us to live responsibly, to discard our throw-away ways and formulate new ideals with deep roots in our nation's pioneering past.