What is the role of local and state governments in combating climate change in the U.S.? And what does a “green” agenda of a State Senator look like? Tricky questions, but we were able to reach out to Chris Steineger, a former State Senator in Kansas, to give us some first-hand impressions on these issues. His involvement with the green movement in the U.S. goes all the way back to his university days when he first discovered photovoltaic cells and solar energy and also recycling. While serving the 6th Senate District as State Senator in Wyandotte County, Kansas, for 13 years, Chris Steineger pursued a “green” agenda – not an easy feat in a conservative state. Chris’s public policy focuses included apart from early childhood education, health care, efficient local government especially sustainable energy resources. In 2013, when Chris was teaching students at Humboldt Universität in Berlin, Germany, about the American government and contemporary politics, we got the change to interview him and get to know more about his personal insights in environmental politics in the U.S. Watch the whole interview here:
During the 2014 "Going Green" project, students took the chance and addressed further questions to our expert Chris Steineger, which he kindly answered in great detail.
You recently taught at Humboldt Uni in Berlin. Was there anything you saw or experienced in Germany concerning environmentalism that you would like to take back to the U.S.?
On the other hand, were you missing anything from the U.S.? Is there something you would like to see being introduced in Germany?
Here is Chris Steineger's take on this:
“Germans are more committed at the individual level to a more sustainable Earth. Germans, Scandinavians, and a few others truly "walk the talk." As individuals, they live a life with a smaller environmental "footprint". Smaller homes, cars, food portions, less energy consumption. Germans also practice trash separation & recycling very thoroughly. My own country has millions of very committed environmentalists as well, but the vast majority of Americans really don't practice living sustainably; reducing material possessions; eating less, driving smaller fuel efficient cars; living in smaller homes, etc. Most Americans "talk the talk" but don't live it.
I would like for Americans to adopt the German people's commitment at the individual level to living with less stuff."
What does sustainability mean to you?
Again, Chris Steineger:
"I use a very broad and liberal definition for sustainability which includes economics, not just environment. Similarly, the phrase; “living within ones means” includes environment, not just economics. For me, they are one and the same. Certainly the human race as a whole is consuming the Earth’s resources faster than they can be naturally replenished. Air, water, organics, then soil are the most important. The human population is growing to 8 billion soon, yet the amount of air, water, and good soil remains the same. You can gain early insight about what will someday come by looking at today’s events in parts of North Africa. Water and food shortages. The trees have all been cut. Even the jungle animals being hunted to extinction. Some parts of the Earth which are quite dry, are already over-populated and so the people there must emigrate. Some make it across the Mediterranean or come through the east to Europe.
Sustainability includes economics. You can “borrow & spend” only so much money. This is true of an individual; a country; and a generation. The Economic bust of 2007-9 is a direct result of too much borrowing in the previous decade. The older generation gets to enjoy the spending and consumption. The future generations must pay off the debt!"
The plastic bag ban in L.A. and other Californian towns in one of the case studies in Going Green. Is there something comparable in Kansas? Any other interesting or curious examples of local policies for green development?
Chris Steineger's answer to this:
"Different regions of the US are better and faster at different things. For environmental issues, the leaders are often found in the Pacific Northwest and the Rocky Mountains. The people that live in areas with much natural beauty always want to keep it that way. Kansas and the Midwest States generally lag behind in environmental commitment, and the southern States typically are the most behind on environmental issues. Kansas does very well with wind energy production. We are blessed with high, average wind speeds, which is what's needed to power any wind farm. Also, the Land Institute in Salina, KS has been doing advanced pioneering development for 40 years of "perennial" wheat which would never need to be replanted, fertilized, or artificially watered. They have now a few test fields of this wheat. WHEN it proves commercially viable, it will make wheat production 50% more economical!"
Complete the following sentence: Eco-tourists in the state of Kansas definitely should…
“…enjoy great beef and pork barbeque while they admire the scenic Flint Hills, are inspired by the Land Institute, and enjoy canoeing on the Kansas River.”
Thank you, State Senator Chris Steineger for engaging in our project and sharing your experience with us!
Janina Schmidt obtained her B.A. in teaching Economics and English as a Second Language (ESL) at Leuphana University Lüneburg in 2014. After earning her Master's degree (expected 09/2017), Janina intends to teach ESL as well as English for Specific Purposes with an economic focus at vocational schools. As a student assistant she supports the educational management of the Teach About US initiative.