We Know the Problems of Our Society… But Can We Change Our Ways?

From falling bridges to mud slides, washed out roads and floating houses there has been plenty happening in our communities along the Mississippi River. We’ve gone from drought to floods in short order and wonder when it is going to stop.

While many folks are drying out their basements, people to our south are finding life much more difficult. Reminders of the failures of New Orleans bring home the lesson of how we rely on local government and local media when a crisis hits. Both resources are stretched thin these days.

So much we take for granted. And so much we fail to see.

This week I was a guest at the Summer Conference of the Wisconsin Farmers Union. The topic was “Healthy People, Healthy Planet” and combined the two topics of health care for all and global warming.

Three elected officials and several experts came to update the farmers on everything from melting polar ice caps to our Wisconsin plan for health care reform.

I listened to the scientists review the mounting evidence that our planet is changing its climate. They told that storms like we have had this past weekend – the 100-year type – are increasing at an alarming frequency, and human activity contributes to this global climate change.

There is an answer. We are learning what we can do.

California has passed legislation that would bring greenhouse gases down to 1990 level by the year 2020. This seemingly small step has repeatedly failed at a national level, so states are taking up the slack. But passing this legislation is not easy. In fact, sometimes it seems downright impossible.

In Wisconsin, a similar bill will have a public hearing in September in the Senate, but it is very unlikely that the Assembly will take any action. It appears global climate change is not real enough yet for many of my colleagues.

What will it take for our leaders to realize that they have a responsibility to lead?

As leaders, we have an obligation to read the signs of the times and act. Sometimes it takes perseverance to read through all the studies, slick brochures and propaganda to figure out the best course of action. But in many cases, we already know what to do.

During the time we were researching the best course of action for solving our health care crisis, I met with a wise man; a retired UW professor and former Medicaid director. He told me, “Getting the policy of health care reform right is easy. We’ve known for 40 years how to solve the problems in the health care system. Getting the politics right is what’s hard. No one has been able to solve the health care problem because no one has gotten the politics right.”

And why? Why is it so difficult to solve our problems through our political system?

Part of the answer can be found in wisdom that’s been around since the 14th Century. Machiavelli once said that there is nothing more difficult to carry out than a new order of things – for reformers have enemies in all those who profit from the old ways, and only lukewarm defenders among those who would benefit from the new way. This lukewarm response is partly due to the skepticism that comes from those who do not in believe anything new until they have actually experienced it.

And to those who would like to see change – from global warming to health care reform – comes wisdom from the 18th Century – from the British statesman Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

Have an idea you would like to share concerning state government? Let me know. Write: State Capitol; P.O. Box 7882 Madison, WI 53707-7882 or sen.vinehout@legis.wisconsin.gov; call Black River Falls (715) 284-1730; Eau Claire at (715) 838-0448 or Madison at (877) 763-6636 (toll free). Visit my website at http://www.legis.state.wi.us/senate/sen31/news/