Monday, February 21, 2005

Environmentalism and the Skeptical Mind, Part 1

Here in California, a little environmentalism goes a long way. Our state quarter shows John Muir, founder fo the Sierra Club, standing in Yosemite Valley. We pay more for gasoline than residents of other states, not just because we want cleaner-burning fuels, but because regulations make impossible the expansion or building of refineries. Julia Butterfly makes news, as does the Earth Liberation Front (I saw their work on a vandalized SUV just yesterday).

Environmental education is built into California's education code. Sections 8700-8707 outline the Legislature's intent in very broad terms. Key phrases that jump out at me are:
1) Section 8700: "provide students with educational materials that are balanced and objective in their coverage"
2) Section 8702: "build necessary attitudes of stewardship"
3) Section 8705: "conservaton education...that will help each student develop a healthy attitude of personal responsibility toward his environment"

I can live with these. They seem entirely reasonable.

There are, however, two P words--politics and propaganda--that take environmentalism to absurd extremes. Al Gore's book Earth In The Balance was discussed in the 1992 election, and the movie The Day After Tomorrow was touted in the 2004 election season. It doesn't matter that Republican President Lincoln freed the slaves, that Republican President Eisenhower sent federal soldiers to Central High in Little Rock, or that Republican President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency; everyone knows that Republicans are racists and hate the environment. President Bush's Clean Skies Initiative is derided and his rejection of the Kyoto Protocols assailed.

National defense is a Republican issue and the environment is a Democrat issue. Environmentalism is now so politicized as to make true progress next to impossible. The issue is so important that some middle ground must be found. But we can't find that middle ground unless we hear from the other side of the debate.

By "the other side" I don't mean major polluters and despoilers. No, I mean we must hear from rational environmentalists who view problems and solutions through the lens of science and not shrill emotionalism. Over the course of my next couple posts I'll introduce you to two such men: Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace, and Bjorn Lomborg, a self-described liberal vegetarian Danish academic.

I hope you'll find these men, and the posts about them, interesting.


Anonymous said...

While I do agree that common ground must be found, and soon, between Republicans and Democrats, the Clean Skies Initiative is not your best defense for Bush. This bill will actually allow twice as much mercury to be emitted over the next four years. You may find this site interesting

Darren said...

Thank you for commenting.

Spencer, you make my point for me. Throw a claim out there, it sounds horrible, but there's nothing to back it up. Reminds me of the last days of the Clinton administration, when President Clinton signed some regulation that significantly lowered levels of arsenic that could be released into water, air, heck, I don't remember. Levels had never been so regulated in history, and the prior levels had been considered fine throughout Clinton's 8 years in office. But let President Bush overturn it and all the enviros went wacko!

I don't know much about mercury emissions, do you? Twice as mercury to be emitted as what? Is this considered seriously unhealthy? Is this the *only* part of the Clean Skies Initiative that is bad, or should the whole thing be renamed the Sewers In The Sky Initiative?

Few laws satisfy everyone. In our system of government, many are the result of "compromise". Reminds me of a political science lesson I had at West Point. We had to write a law limiting the pollution that could be caused by dry cleaners. The enviro side wanted 10 pounds a day, whatever that meant. The companies wanted 100 pounds. The current pollution was 50 pounds. The compromise solution was to limit future pollution to 40-50 pounds a day, tops. JUST BECAUSE I COULD, I held up passage of the bill and made some bogus arguments about population growth, the fact that there were no studies presented showing that any such pollution was harmful, etc. In other words, I became a blowhard--but it sounded really good. I had enough votes to derail the whole thing unless there was a compromise. The final vote was for 70 pounds a day!

Ideally, there would be *no* pollution. But as you'll read in my later posts on this subject, there's no reason to go that far. I'll mention the concept of ecological sustainability, which is the peaceful coexistence of man and environment without a return to living in caves.

I'm glad you read Part 1. Please come back and read the later ones! Thank you again for leaving a comment.

Colin said...

Mr. Miller,
I completely agree with your post, even though there is still much more to come. I think the liberal faction of this issue has several people that need to "calm down" about the environmental issues and stop making ultimatums. There needs to be a rational decision that will not drain military defensive spending. Also, about the clean skies initiative, I agree with no law will have 100% support, and like you said, few laws satisfy everyone, then again, the word compromise comes to mind. I had a great time at USAFA with my Dad this Tuesday and Wednesday, and I will have some great stories for you.

mary bishop said...

I have the misfortune of being a family member of a scientist who has devoted his life to air-pollution control. I say misfortune, because knowing someone with 40 years of experience in the business, makes all other folk's opinions seem puerile, including my own.

If this man knows anything, then I have to say Clear Skies Act sucks.

I certainly hope that "we" left and right, coast or political bent, can improve upon this "initiative."

Darren speaks of compromise...I agree, we must do this before we are compromised - completely different connotation.

We can blame Suv's, smokers or hair spray for the condition of our air, but, my scientist relative says, as long as power plants can pollute and get away with offs, etc...we will have to learn how to sing as we will soon be the canaries in the mine.

Important subject to pursue...thanks Darren for bringing it up.

Darren said...

Mary, you keep coming back. Thank you!

As for power plant pollution, I'll stick with nuclear power. And here in California, there's absolutely no excuse for a lack of solar.

mary bishop said...

You bring up a very good point, Darren-- what ever happened to solar power? Wasn't it going to be the wave of the future?

Darren said...

Solar is still the wave of the future--because it isn't the wave of the present yet!

Now here's a smart idea. At the California State Fairgrounds, there's a parking lot covered by solar panels. You park your car under the panels and your car stays in the shade while the panels are generating electricity for the fairgrounds. Win-win!