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Rationality

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Before lawmakers took to finding cash in their freezers and homosexual dreams in their page pool, a 1990 survey found that only 12 percent of political votes used rational analysis as a key factor.

Take note: not the key factor. A key factor.

Since then, political irrationality has reached new heights. Consider that in the past year California sued all Big Six automakers for selling "public nuisances," Louisiana decided that raising houses three feet was enough to solve hurricane issues in houses 10 feet below sea level, and Virginia excluded higher gasoline taxes — the only proven remedy — as any potential tool for fighting congestion.

And now, Florida tops us all. To assure growth continues in hurricane alley, Florida's legislature voted to lower insurance premiums on coastal properties and promised $32 billion if a hurricane hits South Florida.

Because the state has less than $1 billion set aside for the next catastrophe, and the state insurance agency has twice before run out of money, the plan is, obviously, to bounce the issue to Uncle Sam when the next hurricane arrives. That fits, of course. Uncle Sam, remember, provided $110 billion to rebuild the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina without demanding that houses be built at least above sea level.

Where is it written that all American policies must be stupid?

Why aren't legislators allowed to think beyond the next election?

Whatever happened to the "smell test"?

Every now and then — like now — a country's and a state's leaders must face the truth and use rationality as the primary basis for decisions. Sometimes our leaders must face voters with long-term, thoughtful proposals that do more then pass the buck to the next disaster. If we don't, history shows that disasters inevitably catch up and civilization collapses.

With analysts predicting international oil demand exceeding supply inside of a decade and a sea rise of 20 feet inside of a century, and if we Americans want our grandkids to live in a democracy, the time to act must be now.

Every member of all legislative bodies knows that a city or state can't build its way out of congestion — it's been documented for more than a decade that building more roads makes all problems worse. And every single legislator knows that cars produce not just congestion but America's highest-percentage of greenhouse gas, and burn the most of the ever-dwindling international supplies of oil.

Yet the debate in Washington (in Tallahassee, in Sacramento, in Richmond) goes on as if there's no connection between what they do there and the future.

It goes on as if there's some kind of magic pill that some great worldwide dictator can force down somebody else's throats to solve Peak Oil and Global Warming at the last minute.

American policymakers are simply too scared of voters who drive everywhere at the drop of a hat to actually utter reality.

The bottom line is that American driving uses too much oil and creates too much greenhouse gas. Not dealing with those facts screws the future for our children.

Virginia legislature, please, make rationality the key factor in transportation decisions. You and the governor come up with a plan that reduces driving by taxing gasoline and uses that new income to build exclusively mass transit as a step in decreasing global warming and rising sea levels and easing congestion. The compromise passed in the veto session is clearly inadequate.

And then pass a resolution saying clearly that when the next hurricane comes to South Florida — as it will — that Virginia demands FEMA stay out of the state.

Resolve — it's non-binding anyway — that no dollars from Uncle Sam should go to those poor, clueless people who, if nature had been left to be nature for generations, wouldn't live there to start with. The New Orleans French Quarter survived Katrina intact because the French — who didn't have state legislators or congressmen seeking votes — were smart enough to build solely on high ground.

I know saying upfront that we won't support Florida because Florida won't be rational sounds harsh. And I know that when the hurricane hits, the movies and bloggers will make it sound as if some stupid president or governor is at fault, but I have grandchildren and I can see that sometime soon — unless rationality becomes the factor in all decisions — they won't have a democracy to live in.

Remember the 1930s' Dust Bowl? It was more devastating to Oklahoma, Kansas and the Dakotas than any single storm, yet no one blamed FDR. Instead, we let Hollywood blame the ranchers for "stringing up nesters" in their own barbed wire.

But the ranchers were right. Plowing up the Great Plains created the dust of the dust bowl. Plowing it up again for ever-more ethanol production might save a little oil, but it won't slow global warming or sea-level rise. While doing nothing for congestion, ethanol production will simply quicken the depletion of America's great underground water supply while temperatures are rising rapidly.

Decreasing carbon dioxide emissions by getting drivers out of cars through a meaningful gasoline tax is the only realistic response to Global Warming and Peak Oil, as the Nobel economists explain consistently. But that's rational thought. And rationality has obviously been banned in American politics since at least 1990. S

Randy Salzman is a former journalism teacher at Virginia Union University and a transportation researcher who now lives in Charlottesville.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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