Cognitive dissonance is name given to the discomfort caused by trying to simultaneously hold two conflicting ideas. Policy dissonance might be the name applied when two conflicting ideas are the basis for government action.
An example: Texas is still in the worst single-year drought in its history and the hottest summer in Texas history just ended (at least in terms of the calendar). Wildfires destroyed an area of Texas as large as the state of Connecticut, another all-time worst.
On August 13th, in the midst of this, Texas’s Republican Governor Rick Perry declared himself a candidate for president. He thinks – or at least says he thinks – global warming is a hoax invented by scientists as a way to get research grants. He has not indicated whether he thinks these scientists are setting his state on fire.
Mr. Perry may be one reason Texas’s wildfires are bigger than everyone else’s. (Texans like to boast about the size of things.) This spring – long after the drought began - he cut 72 percent of the budget for firefighting equipment for volunteer fire departments
Salon quoted state Sen. Mario Gallegos, a Democrat and former firefighter: "Volunteer fire departments are the backbone of fire protection in this state, and they need heavy equipment and other resources to do their job.” On the other hand, Mr. Perry did ask Texans to pray for rain in April. God apparently said no.
The business of cutting nearly three-quarters of funds for volunteer fire companies caught my eye for another reason. In the recent dump of State Department documents by Wikileaks, was a 2003 memo on US-Canada pipelines. One section said: “Pipeline firms say they maintain close relationships with landowners, municipalities, and volunteer fire departments along their routes in order to enhance both monitoring of the pipeline, and emergency response. Company employees help to train local firefighters, and these two groups in combination are the ‘first responders’ to pipeline emergencies.”
Last month, that same U.S. State Department concluded the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry highly corrosive tar sands oil from Canada to Texas, is unlikely to have an adverse environmental impact. Look again, at the paragraphs above. Volunteer firefighters are the “first responders” to pipeline emergencies. Friend of oil companies Rick Perry cut the budget for volunteer firefighters by 72 percent and the State Department whistles past the graveyard of “adverse environmental impact.”
In Wednesday’s New York Times, Terry Cunha, a spokesperson for TransCanada (which proposes the Keystone pipeline) says Keystone will be the safest pipeline in North America. Words are easy and talk is cheap when it’s all just talk. Mr. Cunha should speak to BP Vice President David Rainey, who told the US Senate in November 2009 the “best available and up-to-date scientific information” supports offshore oil drilling and that such drilling is “safe and protective of the environment.” Mr. Rainey’s eaten those words a dozen times over since the disastrous Deepwater Horizon blowout less than six months after his testimony.
(By the way, BP’s oil spew seems to be leaking. Again.)
Talk is cheap for corporate spokespeople, consequences for real people are not.