Ecological and Economic Debt
By Jiana Gates
The national debt crisis has had an enormous impact on our environment. As of 2012, only 25% of our nation is now forests and different types of vital ecosystems. We are depleting these natural resources and have been consuming far more than we can even start to replant or replenish. Our nation is in debt to the tune of $15 trillion – an explosion of debt built on development.
In order for the U.S. to develop cities and everything that comes with them, infrastructure, it needs resources. Using Olympia as an example, the City of Olympia now faces a dilemma of how to pay for extensive repairs to the Washington Center for the Performing Arts. Built in 1985, the Center has had to dip into its operating budget for several years in a row to make repairs. Now what? The new Olympia City Hall cost taxpayers $35 million for starters, but an environmental cleanup under the site reached $7 million and the costs are still growing. The Port of Olympia has undertaken a massive redevelopment of the shoreline on Budd Inlet, but it is still contaminated to an extent that has not been determined, and yet, they, along with the City of Olympia, have built the Hands On Children Museum on an area known to flood during a typical rainy season. This area is also prone to sea-level rise according to studies conducted by the City of Olympia Water Resources Department.
Foreign and domestic markets also distract us, keeping us stocked with products, and so-called necessities. With each new generation, more technical appliances and gadgets are being produced that so many people now believe that these things are a necessity to life. I'm guilty of this myself. Just the other day, I was in Target with my mom to get a new purse, and came out with a new pink "Hello Kitty" t-shirt made in China. It cost $15 for me, but how much did it really cost? Environmentally, to our planet, much, much more. The wages paid to the worker and management of the production factories, the marketing, shipping across an ocean that disturbs whales and other sea-life, and the land transportation of goods to a Big Box store in Olympia that used to be forested as recently as 1970's all play into the purchasing of this one t-shirt. Many U.S citizens are living such a life of excess that it will be impossible to sustain our forests and produce these endless amounts of products. The planet provides us carbon, timber, and water and most of the time , we forget what our basic necessities are.
The cost of our resources, environmentally as well as economic, is growing. According to the Global Footprint Network in 2010, we collectively – worldwide - used 150% of the earth's resources that it can produce in one year. We are developing our nation's fertile soil with money that we already do not have. Even if the U.S. government took out all of the money in all of the banks to put toward our nation's debt, it would still be in severe debt. This means that every new development is basically being built on debt. We are digging ourselves a hole. We cannot afford how the U.S. is living, nor can our planet sustain this either.
So what can we do about it? The Obama administration recently created the Debt-For-Nature program that will help curb deforestation all over the world. It is not helping the U.S. debt, but it is helping to protect our rainforests all over the world, which in turn will create a better future for the planet.
For example, on February 17th, 2012, the Obama Administration announced that it will subtract $21 million off of Brazil's debt to the U.S. in order to protect the Amazon rainforest. Brazil will still have to pay off the remaining debt at some point in the future, but it is now lowered considerably. The Obama Administration has already provided this forest protection program to numerous other countries, such as, Colombia, Guatemala, Bangladesh, Peru, and Indonesia.
In Indonesia, people's lives rely on the rainforests. It is their main and sometimes only source of building materials, food, water, and medicine. As of right now 90% of Indonesia's rainforests have been destroyed. This Debt-For-Nature program will help with better planning on where development should be located in order to help protect vital sources of living. The government of Indonesia, the U.S. government and The Nature Conservancy have all worked together to improve conservation and sustainable economic development. Indonesia experiences carbon pollution from deforestation and with the U.S.'s help, it will improve the current situation. With this plan in motion it has the possibility of reducing two million tons a year of carbon pollution - the equivalent of taking 400,000 cars off the roads each year. A portion of Indonesia's debt towards the U.S. - $28.5 million - will be put toward improving their rainforests and the communities that rely on them.
As much as the nation is in debt, we still must remember to look at it from an environmental standpoint because they are directly related. Our nation and world will be destroyed if we continue to keep up with these patterns of degradation. We must be conscious of what is being done around us – and what we are doing. We can be more mindful of our own personal financial choices and ask our local governments to question projects and spending that ultimately adds to our national debt.
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