The Lesser of Two E’s

Written by Firas Suqi ’14

Environmental issues tend to get less attention than the more fashionably debated “E” word of this election, the economy.

While last week we tackled the 1.4 trillion problems facing the economy, this week geologist Katie Adelsberger [The Douglas and Maria Bayer Endowed Chair in Earth Science at Knox] provided us with the debates surrounding the environment, as well as the placement of science (or lack thereof) within each party’s environmental narrative.

Illustration: Climate change

I mention both the environment and the economy in the first sentence, due to the fact that these two issues are practically entwined with one another, with the “engine” of the economy literally being fueled (whether by oil, natural gas, or nuclear energy) through resources found in the environment.

Each presidential candidate faces questions on the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

While originally founded under the Nixon administration in 1970, the EPA is being criticized from both sides of the political spectrum for either not doing enough to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, or as some see it, overly regulating greenhouse gas polluters by restricting industry and more importantly, job growth.

While Professor Adelsberger provided us with the ideological frameworks behind the debates surrounding environmental protection, she placed an emphasis on the objective evidence behind climate change and its contributors.

With strong evidence linking anthropogenic (human-induced) causes to climate change, Professor Adelsberger shared her frustration over the lack of influence scientific evidence has in lobbying politicians. The disposition of the climate change issue, Adelsberger argues, “is not up for scientific debate; the consensus of scientists agree that humans are part of the problem driving climate change.”

Instead, she notes how the general public distorts the topic into an economic or social one, which considerably slows down the process of environmental policy making.

A number of major environmental questions are at play this election, from the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, to putting a cap on carbon dioxide emissions. Voters will most likely take a stance on these issues that reflects a financially sound or morally rectifying attitude towards conserving the environment, and not one that emphasizes the findings of published scientific research.

At the end of the lecture, it seemed as though the only thing that could further the scientists’ argument would be an accurately calculated date of apocalypse, since all the signs seem to be indicating that such a day is soon to come.

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But I Love My Acid Rain and Smoggy Air!

Written by Rana Tahir ’13

Katherine Adelsberger

Katherine Adelsberger conducts fieldwork in Jordan with Lin Shi '11

This week, my section of the class absorbs the environment and the election with Professor Katherine Adelsberger (The Douglas and Maria Bayer Endowed Chair in Earth Science).

I use the word “absorbs” deliberately. Why? Because we looked specifically at the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency, and climate change.  So, somewhere in my mind, “absorbs” is a pun.

Professor Adelsberger gave an overview of the history of the EPA, past environmental problems that highlighted the need for an EPA, such as burning rivers and asphyxiating air.  (For more on that, look up the Donora smog of 1948 and the Cuyahoga river burn of 1969)

She then gave a brief explanation of climate change, that the Earth holds onto UV (ultraviolet) rays at an amount high enough to change the Earth’s average temperature (by about 2 degrees Celsius now).  So there is where my not-so-great pun comes from.

Through this election cycle, the environment hasn’t really been discussed as much as in 2008’s election. So far, the campaigns have focused on jobs rather than the environment — with the brief mentions of President Obama creating “green” jobs, and Mitt Romney’s harping on Solyndra (or was that Fox News?) — and this is not necessarily a bad thing, just a short-sighted thing.

My question throughout the class was: Why is talking about jobs and the environment always pitted as one over the other?

This may sound too much like President Obama, but there is a way to enhance both the safety of our environment and the creation of jobs. This is called “new industries.” Then give economic incentives to companies to create more “green jobs” and the ability for people in less eco-friendly jobs (might I add the scores of jobless people) the opportunity to be trained for these new jobs.

Win-win?  Well, except for our smoggy air lovers out there…

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Money in Elections

Written by Jessica Oakley, a Knox sophomore from Pearland, Texas.

During our second week of class in Election 2012!, Duane Oldfield, associate professor and chair of political science, talked to us about election finance.

Illustration: Money in elections

When comparing all money spent during the election years, the largest amount of spending is during presidential elections. This could seem obvious to some because the president is the head figure of the American government with the most amount of clout, so parties want to be able to be associated with the president.

In our class, we learned that every presidential election year, the spending increases. This year, it is estimated the spending will be around 6 billion dollars. Most years, the parties are fairly equal in the amount they raise; however, the Republicans usually do have a history of raising more money.

Professor Oldfield showed the class a graph illustrating how much candidates raised in the 2008 election. The graph shows how Barack Obama raised exponentially more money than John McCain.

It is clear that Obama has raised much more than (2012 Republican presidential nominee) Mitt Romney, although Romney is funded by more groups. Four out of the top five groups that donate to campaigns support Republican candidates.

The amount of money raised affects how much money can be spent.

In the 2008 election, Obama was the first presidential candidate since the 1970s to opt out of receiving the federal government’s (financial) help in the election.

If Obama had stuck with the grant, he could have only spent $130 million. But because he declined the grant, he was able to spend $800 million. This probably gave him a huge advantage toward the end of the campaign with television ads, etc.

In this election, both candidates have opted out of the grant the U.S. government gives. Even though it is not yet evident who will raise more money, I believe it is more likely to be Obama.

My reasoning behind this is: Because of the last election, I think Romney will be unable to outraise Obama because Romney targets extremely large contributions that only a select few can afford, while Obama gets small donations from a large amount of people.

It will be interesting to see the outcome of this battle, and who will raise more, and if the differences in the amounts raised are evident in the campaign.

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Food for Thought

Written by Rana Tahir ’13

As a foreigner, when U.S. elections come around, my ear is mostly open for the foreign policy issues; it’s my shtick.

But this week in “Elections 2012!” (enthusiastic name, isn’t it?), we discussed the economy with associate professor of economics Carol Scotton.

Rana Tahir

Rana Tahir in Election 2012 class

No, we didn’t talk about “buying gold.” The lecture portion — called “It’s the Stupid Economy, Folks!” — presented an alternative to the regular “big or small government” argument. Why are we expecting supply and demand to fix problems when the market has no critical thinking skills?  Good question, it seems to me.

Markets can’t discriminate, but they can’t be compassionate either. Instead of letting something arbitrarily make decisions for us (whether it is government or the market) without knowing the specific facts in specific places, maybe we should all get together in the messy process of democracy and decide for ourselves.

That’s not so bad, is it?  I really appreciate this new view on the question of the economy and size of the budget. It’s so much more interesting, and seems to have a better ability to move forward than the “big vs. small” argument.

Food for thought is a big part of this class.

What do you think Governor Romney and President Obama should be discussing in terms of the economy?

For the third week of the Elections class, my section will be discussing the environment in the elections!

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Budget Deficit and Government Spending

Firas Suqi

Firas Suqi in Elections 2012 class

Written by Firas Suqi, a junior from Chicago, Illinois, and an anthropology-sociology major at Knox.

Professor Scotton really simplified the issues surrounding the budget deficit and government spending so that an anthropology and sociology major (who has never taken an economics course) like myself could make sense of each candidate’s perspective.

It’s one thing to just stand up in front of class and give a lecture, but Professor Scotton figuratively put each of us in the Oval Office by providing us with the interactive capabilities to design our own budget, making us realize how difficult the decision-making process could be, especially when each decision affects the lives of over 300 million people.

Calling the economy “stupid” was something I definitely wasn’t expecting from an economist.

Professor Scotton argued that when the government adopts economic market strategy such as supply and demand, it begins to lose the deliberative process behind decision-making. This left the market as the sole decision maker, which some argue led to the recession of 2008.

By defining “stupid” as a non-deliberative process, the economy is therefore stupid because the theory of supply and demand calls for the economy to repair itself, instead of actual people making decisions to repair the economy. The economy is stupid because people can’t do anything to participate in a self-regulating economy.

Scotton therefore suggested that perhaps more community participation and reception would be helpful in making the market-driven economy moral and not stupid.

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“It’s the Stupid Economy, Folks!”

Written by Robyn Wright, a senior from Elburn, Illinois, and a biology major at Knox.

“It’s the stupid economy, folks!”

Carol Scotton, professor of economics and business and management, led this week in Election 2012.

Carol Scotton

Our assignment for the week was to contemplate the balance between governmental control, the decentralized decision-making process of the market, and communities. Too much control to one aspect, and the balance is ruined.

In the media, we often hear the phrase that markets are “self-correcting” or “self-regulating,” but we often forget that markets are also amoral. If supply and demand were to work morally, everyone would need to have something to exchange.

This also assumes that consumers have a choice in whether or not to purchase a product. Every human being requires basic necessities for survival, so this “take it or leave it” approach is not feasible.

As a result, 20% of our federal tax dollars go to Social Security and 21% of the budget in 2011 went to Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

This is where Professor Scotton challenged us — by asking how we would spend the federal budget if given the choice? We used an online simulation called “The Budget Hero” to debate how to best decrease our national debt.

The task proved difficult for many students, but in a way also allowed us to face reality. When managing personal finances, the advice is always to prioritize paying off debt first, but as a country we’ve begun to look upon our national debt as something abstract that will just eventually go away.

In the upcoming election, it is of utmost importance to compare candidates on how they wish to combat this debt crisis. Is the candidate toting the idea of tax cuts or are they willing to tackle this problem head-on? Voters will need to look at what is best for the overall nation.

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Introductions Are Fun

Written by Rana Tahir’ 13, a Knox senior from Kuwait who is double-majoring in creative writing and political science.

Welcome to another year at Knox College! My name is Rana, and I am blogging for you out there to follow Knox’s “Elections 2012!” class.

Just a little background on the class and myself, the class is divided into two sections. Each section has about 25 students (I believe, haven’t counted yet) and follows two different patterns.  While Speaker A is in class 1, Speaker B is in class 2, then the next week they switch. So on, so forth until both sections have had all speakers.

Each speaker is a Knox professor from different disciplines to talk about the election from his or her academic point of view. So basically, one week you have a discussion on the economy, another week gay marriage, and on and on.

Now that you know about the class, here’s a little about myself – a.k.a. the boring stuff.

As I said, my name is Rana. I’m Pakistani but grew up in Kuwait. I’ve always kept up with U.S. elections (what happens here has repercussions for everyone else).

And overall, I’m just a political junkie… so this class is perfect for me! Though I’m not American, I’ve lived in the U.S. since I was 16. So I may throw around “we” when I mean Americans, or whatever other group I identify with.

I do hope you stick with me as I navigate this class and all the different aspects of elections presented at Knox.

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