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Wendy Lawton is a science writer and climate activist who lives in Fairview. She's calling for Americans to embrace progressive new ideas that benefit the economy and the environment.

WENDY LAWTONMay the new coronavirus kill off the political scourge of our time: toxic nostalgia.

Until a few short weeks ago, Oregon and the rest of America was gripped by the desperate, dangerous belief that our future must look like our past.

Republicans were hard at work tossing aside financial reform, Obamacare, environmental regulations. Conservatives even proposed that federal buildings be constructed in the classical style of ancient Greece and Rome. Apparently, if we make America look like Europe, it will be great again.

These efforts seem foolish in the harsh light of the coronavirus pandemic. Yesterday gave us today — a vulnerable, quarrelsome country that in just six weeks has lost more than 28,000 lives, 700,000 jobs and $2 trillion in tax dollars.

America, the world's wealthiest country, is experiencing dangerous shortages of testing supplies, protective gear and medical equipment. The integrity of our national election is in question. Our postal service is on the verge of collapse. Wealth does not equate with competence.

We're in this mess because of a failure of political will by voters, and a lack of vision and courage by elected leaders.

We're also here thanks to toxic nostalgia. We've been poisoning ourselves with the past since Ronald Reagan. Donald Trump is merely serving as a super-spreader with his catchy #MAGA hashtag and red-meat marketing rallies.

In Oregon, Trump troops torpedoed our legislative session. Just three weeks before a national emergency was declared due to COVID-19, 21 Republicans walked out of the Capitol rather than vote on a bill to limit the state's greenhouse gas emissions, the driving cause of climate change. Timber Unity supporters were back at their big-rig barricades, cheering them on.

This despite the alarming impact of climate change here in Oregon. Our ocean is oxygen-starved and acidic, our rivers and lakes are choked by toxic algae blooms, and we suffered a record-breaking drought from 2011 to 2017. In 2018, Oregon's wildfire costs reached an all-time high of $514 million.

Timber Unity protesters voice fears about losing jobs — and that's fair. Over the last generation, Democrats and Republicans alike have utterly failed Americans who make things, grow things, and log and mine and drill.

Urban factory workers and rural workers making a living off the land have watched family businesses and living-wage jobs disappear, and rather than be replaced with new industries and new jobs, often got poverty, drug addiction and bitterness instead.

The irony, of course, is that by standing in the way of climate progress, Republicans are guaranteeing economic disaster for working-class Oregonians. Climate change threatens the timber, ranching and farming industries, and particularly, the fishing industry. Salmon, Dungeness crab, and other ocean species are showing major signs of stress, so much so that the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Association in 2018 filed a lawsuit against fossil fuel producers.

Republicans (and a couple of Democrats) in Salem would do better if they stopped fighting for yesterday's jobs and using the same tired complaints about taxes and government interference.

As this pandemic makes clear, we need taxes. We need government interference. And yesterday's jobs? Gone. On this eve of Earth Day, we should be fighting for progressive climate laws — and a progressive, future-minded economic vision to go with it.


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