For Donald Hornstein, the environment must be considered in the same light as historic struggles for social equality, such as those of women or African Americans.
“Some of the great struggles of our time are making these ethical claims to something counting,” said Hornstein, a UNC law professor.
“We are in the middle of one of these moments — when trying to decide to what extent the environment counts.”
Hornstein spoke along with four other panelists at a discussion Tuesday night titled “Defending Our Environment.” The event was hosted by UNC’s Sierra Student Coalition, the Young Democrats and the Roosevelt Institute.
The discussion, which was part of Earth Week, featured five speakers, ranging from a student to a state legislator.
Hornstein said the recent move from a Democrat- to Republican-controlled Congress reduces support for environmental initiatives.
Republicans took over both chambers of North Carolina legislature for the first time in over 100 years, a change that hindered any environmental efforts from Democrats, said Will Morgan, director of government affairs for the N.C. Sierra Club.
“There was a lot of pent-up frustration, bills that (Republicans) had wanted to pass the past couple of years and haven’t been able to do.”
Derb Carter, Carolinas office director of the Southern Environmental Law Center, said Republicans are actively opposing these efforts.
“Republicans are coming in with this aggressive anti-environmental agenda and they make headway,” Carter said.
Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, a state legislator since 2004, said the current political environment is the worst she can envision.
Harrison said that she has supported bills calling for renewable energy, green schools and an end to mountaintop removal.
“Every time you flip on a light switch, you’re blowing up a mountaintop,” Harrison said.
The panelists agreed such environmental issues continue a narrative that began more than 40 years ago with the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
“This is a story, the story of the Earth, the story of these ethical commitments that need the sort of energy that the Tea Party now has,” Hornstein said.
Carter said activists can continue the discussion by highlighting that environmental problems connect to public health concerns, which gain more attention.
Morgan encouraged students to vote or contact governmental officials and business leaders. He said the message must focus on creating jobs and economic development, instead of the global warming platform environmentalists have been connected to.
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