What’s the Matter with Kansas? Again!

kansas

What’s the matter with Kansas? Much more than Thomas Frank found to write about in his 2004 book of the same name. I discovered that he took the title from an 1986 editorial by William Allen White chastising Kansan Populist leaders for adopting policies that discouraged investors from coming into Kansas. Well, Kansas continues to act against its interests. I came upon a story on the Bloomberg website telling of a recent bill introduced into the state legislature to outlaw any public action connected to sustainable development.

Tom Randall, the article’s author leads off with:

Kansas, I love your sense of humor.

It seems like every time the Sunflower State pops up in my news feed, it’s for something like this: House Bill No. 2366, a proposed law that would make it illegal to use “public funds to promote or implement sustainable development.”

Kansas, the place where I spent my formative years skipping school to go fishing in farm ponds, is populated with thoughtful stewards of the nation’s breadbasket. It also has a habit of turning reason on its head. The state famously dropped evolution from its educational curriculum in 1999, along with the age of the Earth and the history of the universe, for good measure.

Now the state’s “Committee on Energy and Environment” is proposing a law that would prohibit spending on anything that won’t set Kansas on a course to self-destruction. House Bill No. 2366 would ban all state and municipal funds for anything related to “sustainable development,” which it defines as: “development in which resource use aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for generations to come.”

You can find the entire bill here; it’s short, but not sweet. One thrust is to prevent any public action that could conceivably be related to sustainable development, defined according to the Brundtland report. The gist is short enough to quote here:

Section 1. (a) No public funds may be used, either directly or indirectly, to promote, support, mandate, require, order, incentivize, advocate, plan for, participate in or implement sustainable development.

The only thing left out of this section is the prohibition of even thinking about the subject. If this wasn’t enough, the bill added a section on what was explicitly not to be proscribed. I found this as instructive as the section above.

(b) Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit the use of public funds outside the context of sustainable development: … to support, promote, advocate for, plan for, enforce, use, teach, participate in or implement the ideas, principles or practices of planning, conservation, conservationism, fiscal responsibility, free market capitalism, limited government, federalism, national and state sovereignty, individual freedom and liberty, individual responsibility or the protection of personal property rights;

Apparently this bill is not likely to become law soon. The state legislature closed shop before the bill could be heard. For those who wonder why this might have surfaced in Kansas, here is a a short lesson in syllogistic reasoning:

  1. Wichita is in Kansas.
  2. The Koch Brothers headquarters is in Wichita.
  3. The Koch’s are deeply involved in the oil and gas business.
  4. The sponsor of the bill is a geophysicist with strong ties to the oil and gas business.
  5. Therefore …

Coincidentally, the sponsor, Rep. Dennis Hedke, refused to identify the group who asked him to introduce the bill or name their set of concerns.

I am not a fan of sustainable development, but not for whatever reasons Hedke might have with it. I find it too much like all the things that are listed in part (b). If Hedke and his backers would look closely at how sustainable development has been understood and applied, they would find that world business leaders have stood firmly behind this idea. They believe it is a very good idea for business. Unlike Kansas seems to be, these powers are concerned about operating in ways that enable them to sustain themselves.

The tenets of sustainable development are solidly grounded in the capitalistic principles of efficiency. Even the major public energy companies claim to be believers. My brand of sustainability is very different, as those who read this blog would know—based on a vision of flourishing—a vision that has been dimmed by the many excesses in implementing almost every item in the list in part (b). Tom Randall, this all may seem funny to you, but it is a deadly serious matter.

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