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

October 23, 2008

The seemingly never ending election season is finally drawing to a close. But for those still wondering about the policies of the national candidates as they apply to birds and birders, The Drinking Bird is here for you. Until November, I’ll be looking at the Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates’ bird platforms. Hold your horses, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Next up, the Democratic candidate for President, Senator Barack Obama.

When I wrote about Obama last year he was in a tight race for the nomination with Hillary Clinton. One year on it’s looking increasingly likely that he’s going to be the next President. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, a lot could happen in the next two weeks. My last estimation of Obama’s environmental platform was less than glowing, largely due to the removal from his campaign website of issues of bird and nature related importance. Too often in political campaigns environmental issues are synonymous with energy issues, and while there is no small bit of overlap between the two, there are some conservation issues that even the most thorough energy policy fails to address.

This was my major beef with Obama last year, and I have to say, in the time since then his website has become far more informative and exhaustive, for both energy and environmental policy. There is simply a wealth of information to be had there regarding Obama’s positions, in stark contrast to his opponent.

A short review of his career prior to his presidential run. As an Illinois state senator, he worked closely with the state’s Sierra Club chapter. 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, specifically asbestos and mercury. As a US Senator he’s been typically on the Democratic side of energy issues, though notable is his support of a Bush Administration Energy Bill that was, on the whole, a complete disaster. Obama’s support was largely due to the bill’s ethanol provisions, perhaps understandable from a politician representing Illinois’ corn interests, but still not acceptable from an environmentalist’s perspective.

The important stuff, though, is his presidential platform(.pdf), which is impressive in both scope and specificity, addressing big ticket issues like climate change and clean and water to the less intuitive such as sustainable community design and private land conservation initiatives. It’s nearly overwhelming, but issues of specific interest to birders include:

  • Strengthening the EPA Office of Environmental Justice and expand the Environmental Justice Small Grants Program, which provides non-profit organizations across the nation with valuable resources to address local environmental problems.
  • Preserving our wetlands through a broad range of traditional conservation programs, including the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the Wetland Reserve Program in the Farm Bill.
  • Reducing rates of tropical deforestation to protect the livelihoods of local people and the abundance of biodiversity inextricably linked to those forests by offering incentives to maintain forests and manage them sustainably.
  • Make efforts to acquire and conserve new parks and public lands, focusing on ecosystems such as the Great Plains and Eastern forests which do not yet have the protection they deserve.

There’s obviously more and I encourage you to read it. In doing so you may find yourself taken in by the undercurrent running beneath the platform, and in my opinion, beneath the campaign as a whole. In that there is an accessibility, a real blueprint from the very bottom to the very top that is clear and attainable. This stuff just makes sense, and Obama and certainly his campaign should be praised for appealing to the concerns of nearly every single environmentalist. This document is evidence of that, and it’s a shame there is no similar document from the McCain campaign from which to refer.

Last year I wrote that the most impressive part of Obama’s environmental history was that he has the power to move the environmental movement beyond the perception that it is primarily a white upper-middle-class issue. It’s truly our greatest challenge, and with Obama as the face of the 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, regardless of class, race, or gender.

I’d like to see that happen, and this platform seems as though it has the potential to make that dream a reality.


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