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Guest Column: As a nation, we’ve lost our moral compass

Does this seem absurd: We’re shipping coal through the Columbia River Gorge in open railcars that allow coal dust to contaminate the land and river just so the coal that makes it to the coast can be sold to Asia to be used in coal-fired power plants whose resultant air pollution then drifts back over Oregon?

And that’s not to mention any environmental damage to the Gorge or the Columbia River from the inevitable train derailments along the way.

And that’s also not to mention the coal’s contribution to global warming. The month of July, 2017, was the hottest month we’ve ever recorded on our planet. And the year 2016 was the hottest year ever recorded. 2015 was the next hottest and 2014 was the third hottest.

Yet, somehow we’ve managed to vote a pack of climate deniers into the oval office and major branches of our government. We’re used to industry lying to us, but now the government is our greatest threat. Mercy! Where’s my Oxycontin?

Because hot air rises and carries a lot of water vapor, and because the Gulf of Mexico is currently hotter than ever recorded, it should be no surprise that Houston just experienced its third 500 year flood in three consecutive years. Any bets on next year? How about later this year? I see that they’ve extended the hurricane season well into November.

You can be sure the insurance industry is running the numbers. And does anyone think that hurricane Harvey is NOT related to climate change and that climate change is not related to human activity?

I mean, if only 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists believe that a hurricane will hit your shore tomorrow, you’re going to pack up the kids and head for the beach, Right?

How about the smoke from forest fires all summer? Could that be related to climate change? I farm here in Eastern Oregon, and the effects of climate change are all around me all the time: Springtime comes earlier, the hotter dryer conditions cause more fires; there’s less snowpack so there’s less water in my wells, etc.

Yet Greg Walden, our congressional representative from this district, has not one word on his website relating to climate change. (You probably remember him as the architect of the Republican health care plan that was going to be cheaper and better than Obamacare but escaped becoming law only because a couple of his fellow Republicans didn’t have the stomach for cutting 22 million people off the plan.)

His avoiding mention of climate change is no accident — the 2016 Republican Party Platform says that concern about climate change is a “triumph of extremism over common sense, and Congress must stop it.”

Well, Walden’s current spin on how to deal with smoke in his eyes is to clearcut our national forests so there isn’t anything left to burn.

I’m talking about the Resilient Federal Forest Act (H.R. 2647), which he thinks will be signed by Trump this year.

It failed to pass in 2015 and 2016 because of environmental concerns (it eviscerates conservation protections and reduces public input) but we’re in a different climate now and Trump will probably love it as much as Walden does.

Also close to home, the Deschutes River is over-heating from the introduction of warm, nitrogen-rich water from above Pelton Dam, which has the effect of ruining the entire lower river’s ecosystem.

This impacts not just the fish but fishing-related tourism as well. The swallows are gone also.

PGE, who owns the dam, says that it’s not under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act so isn’t responsible for the damage. Where’s Walden on this topic? He probably says we don’t need no stinking Clean Water Act anyway.

So, in my opinion, as a nation we’ve lost our moral compass. Our elected officials act like they came from some reality TV show. The Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, which were passed at a time when taking care of our environment was a mission for both political parties, now just get in the way of exploitation of what natural resources remain, consequences be damned.

It used to be that government regulations were called “protections”. Now they’re derisively referred to as “government regulations” or “government overreach.” Sad.

Here’s another sobering thought: The Earth’s population has doubled since 1960 and will reach 10 billion by 2050.

There are concerns there may not be enough food to feed all those mouths.

Meanwhile, the planet’s temperature is expected to rise another degree or so. Do you think there’ll be any more big hurricanes, mega-fires, and dying rivers between now and 2050?

— Bruce Schwartz is a retired orthopedic surgeon who now plays the fiddle, trains hunting dogs and is restoring an old farm to native prairie.

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