As a recovering politician, I am sometimes asked if I miss being on Kent City Council. Most times I say 'absolutely not,' because, as you can imagine, it can be a pretty thankless job.
Not only does someone always disagree with your decisions, but it is difficult to get much of anything done. Regardless of tales to the contrary, no one runs for election — especially to an office in which you must try to convince many other people of the wisdom of your perspective — with the hope of making any big changes in our community. This is because, as a reflection of the general population, elected officials can be short term thinkers. Having to run for re-election can make some even more so.
Don’t get me wrong, there is much value in short term thinking, and indeed the need to make deliberative, even slow decisions. The public process requires that we take our time and not make major changes without thinking them through. The problem is that thinking long term is barely on the radar screen, and so strategic planning is often replaced with one year budgets with a little tinkering on the edges, and day to day decisions are often made without adequate thought to their long term consequences.
Once in awhile an issue comes up that points out the problem with short term thinking, and right now it's this issue of horizontal hydraulic fracturing for the production of natural gas. We see this new process being used with what appears to some to be reckless abandon with the promise of jobs, cheap gas, jobs, industrial production, and did I say jobs? We are told that we must exploit 200 million year old, or older, resources because they will give us 100 or more years of cheap energy. Never mind that their exploitation will likely result in severe damage to earth's sheltering greenhouse and threaten to contaminate our non-renewable store of fresh water. As if 100 years is a long time.
So how do we get city councils and state legislatures to think long term, especially in the face of the promise of jobs, and at the state and federal levels, campaign donations? It seems to me that we need to demonstrate what it means to think long term in our very own households. If we all reduced our energy consumption by 50 percent we would reduce our carbon footprints by the same, and learn how to replace our ancient fossil fuels with modern day solar source energy. We can demand that our governments create long term strategic plans that set goals to reduce our carbon footprint, reduce our energy use and generate energy by local renewable sources.
Yes, we need to stand up and pass a “bill of human rights” to ban fracking and protect our common wealth. And while we are at it, lets petition our leaders to become long term thinkers, and reward them for doing so.