The fact that there is a big partisan divide in America is not news to anyone. But lawyer and environmentalist Frederic Rich says there is more disagreement between Democrats and Republicans about the environment than any other issue.
What he calls "the great estrangement" has resulted in no major environmental legislation passing in the past 25 years.
"We know what the problems are," Rich said. "We also know what the solutions are, it's no mystery what we need to do. But it seemed to me that the thing we didn't understand is, why? Why as a nation, at the national level, can we not seem to muster the will to move ahead and do what needs to be done."
Rich believes the "environmental movement" is a "public health" issue which most people can agree to, and if we are able to get rid of the toxic politics that surround the movement we can begin to move forward on saving the environment.
"The fact is that we have never made progress at the national level on an environmental issue other than on a bipartisan basis," Rich said.
It's hard to imagine a different political landscape — one in which Republicans and Democrats compromise — but history tells us fundamental shifts aren't just possible, they are inevitable, he said.
It wasn't so long ago that civil rights and marriage equality seemed fantastical, Rich said. The key to achieving a similar shift for environmental protection lies in building bridges and reminding Republicans and Democrats of our shared values.
Rich is the author of "Getting to Green. Saving Nature: A Bipartisan Solution."
After Rich's speech, retired MPR host Gary Eichten moderated the question and answer session.
The event was organized by Conservation Minnesota and sponsored by the McKnight Foundation. It was held at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis on October 30, 2017.
To listen to the program, click the audio player above.
MPR News presents offers speeches, documentaries and debates — airing weekdays from noon to 1 p.m.