Friday, February 20, 2009

Drought Fuels Thirst for Change

If you are following the headlines, and keeping an eye on President Obama's first 100 days in office, you know that he has a lot on his plate. Not only must he address the current issues the nation is facing, but he must not forget the many promises he made during his almost two year campaign for the presidency. One of those vows being to address the issue of climate change and the environment, one that California, who cast it's 55 electoral votes in Obama's favor, will be watching closely.

Currently, the state produces 50 percent of our nation's fruits, vegetables, nuts, and a majority of the nation's salad, strawberries and premium wine grapes. It comes as no surprise then, that a drought in California affects everyone between both coasts, and for the past three years, water has been more than scarce out west. Obviously, without precious H2O, crops can't thrive, and without crops farms fail, and the nation risks losing a crucial portion of its food supply.

The cost to the nation however seems immeasurable. If California is unable to produce food at the levels it normally does, it threatens our ability to feed ourselves and increases our need to depend on foreign nations for our most basic needs, and with China already buying massive portions of the national debt, increased foreign dependence does not seem like a desirable stop on the road to recovery.

It is logical then to say that the purportedly climate-change-induced drought in California, although contained within the state itself, is an issue of national security, thus posing a constitutional conundrum. According to Article IV of the Constitution, states have the power to legislate laws that other states may not agree with, as long as they do not preempt any existing law made at the federal level. What happens though if the affairs of one state affect the well being of all the others?

Isn't the drought in California an issue facing the entire nation? How do we solve a national issue on the state level? In the interest of securing the future of the American food supply, should the U.S. government have the ability to intervene in matters of climate change, instead of deferring to individual states to make their own decisions that could potentially cause a national catastrophe?

This issue is an ideal launching pad to foray into a dialogue with your students about an array of constitutional topics. Should climate change and the environment be regulated on a federal level, rather than on a state one? What is the law of preemption, and how does it work? Examine Article V of the constitution to review the process in which the document could be amended to grant the federal government the right to intervene in such matters.

The National Constitution Center has begun this dialogue by asking the question: "Should a clean and healthy environment be a constitutional right ?" in its sixth installment of The Exchange to take place on Earth Day, Wednesday April 22nd from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. EDT. Students from across the nation will gather together via Internet 2 video conferencing technology to have a round table discussion on the issue.

Any school interested in watching the live broadcast may do so on the day and time by logging onto In preparation for the webcast, students may also contribute to The Exchange by visiting participate in a forum where they can provide their opinions on the topic and join the conversation, allowing them to take ownership of what they learn in your classroom.

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