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The single-issue voter: A birder’s look at Barack Obama – D

September 25, 2007

It’s that time again. As civic-minded individuals do, I’m oft interested in how the platforms of those running for president affect my life, that’s as a birder naturally. With so many candidates and elections still more than a year off I decided to do the work so you, dear reader(s), don’t have to. So here’s what I hope will be a regular look as those who would be birder-in-chief. Starting with the long-shots and working my way up so that you all will be prepared when the time comes to cast your ballot. The thirteenth part of The Drinking Bird’s sixteen part series.

Illinois Senator Barack Obama, once the saving grace of the Democratic Party, is falling behind in the race for his party’s presidential nomination, a race that is quickly losing horses to the Hillary Clinton juggernaut we’ll look at next week. It may be perhaps early to write Obama off though, he’s a charismatic and idealistic candidate and an appealing choice to those of us uncomfortable with the “presidency by birthright” implications of a Bush-Clinton- Bush-Clinton succession. Didn’t we fight a whole war 250 years ago to avoid that sort of thing? Just lazy democracy all around in my mind.

In his short political career he’s proven to have a fairly decent bird-friendly record dating back to his time as a Illinois state Senator. He worked closely with the state’s Sierra Club chapter showing a true ability to understand complex environmental issues and making positive policy decisions. He fought against urban sprawl and the destruction of Illinois wetlands, and perhaps most impressively, mobilized residents in Chicago’s lowest incomes neighborhoods to fight against toxic-dumping in their communities. One of the environmental movement’s greatest challenges has been trying to remove itself from the perception that it is primarily a white upper-middle-class issue, and with Obama as the face of that movement perhaps more people from all walks of life could realize that protecting and preserving our natural spaces is an issue that should be important for every American.

As a US Senator, Obama has continued that trend to some extent. He’s fought drilling in ANWR, the only environmental legislation of real importance since his arrival as a Senator but he did vote for the Bush administration’s 2005 Energy Policy Act because of its encouragement of ethanol/biodiesel technology despite its more pressing and obvious oil exploration impacts. To that end, his presidential platform encourages American automakers to produce more hybrid and ethanol fueled vehicles, with the habitat-loss implications that we’ve discussed over and over and over among his presidential candidate peers. It simply makes his statements supporting increased efficiency in power plants more ironic. It’s late in this series but perhaps I should step back and explain cause I harp on this a lot, but ethanol is a scam. It makes your auto less efficient, takes as much fossil fuel to produce as ethanol created, and increases dramatically the cost of your food at the grocery store. Not to mention that millions of acres of wildlife habitat protect by private citizens in the form of conservation easements will now be converted to farmland to fuel the nation’s energy needs, you can see why it’s a sticking point for me. The watchword is conservation of natural resources for both wildlife and for humans. Ethanol is like the heroin addict moving to cocaine and saying, “no worries, I’m off the smack now so it’s cool”. (rant over)

Obama does support restoring the nearly $2 billion in cuts made in conservation policies by the current White House occupant, including the conservation reserve and wetland reserve programs. He claims he will do more to encourage private citizens to protect the undeveloped spaces they own and says he will set aside new government wilderness areas, establish policies to deter international deforestation (again, not consistent with a energy in any way dependent on increased biofuel use, why do you think they’re cutting forest down in many cases?) and encourage communities to enhance local greenspace and wildlife conservation areas, all very bird and birder friendly.

Despite my distrust of Obama’s ethanol and biofuel policies, which are not in any way unique to him, he actually has a pretty fair platform. The positives outweigh the negatives, and he should be considered to be in the top tier of the Dems in the field in my view. He has a history of working with people outside the typical enviro mold and that’s going to be what has to be done if we’re going to find a solution to the issues plagueing bird populations in the United States.

Next: Hooray for Hollywood, and Fred Thompson

One Comment
  1. Mary Helen permalink
    September 25, 2007 1:08 pm

    Nice ethanol argument. You are right, of course, but few really seem to get it.

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