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March 22, 2005

Comments

I don't have time at the moment to read this post in its entirety -- I'll do so later this evening -- but I do want to comment on the following:

It's not good enough just to say that the sky is falling without offering sensible ways to keep the sky propped up. Worse, the scientists in the above article are saying that even if we take some drastic economy-gutting measures, it's not going to help anyway. That's really inspiring.

This remark illustrates to me one of the key problems with anti-environmentalists (i.e. opposed to the current environmentalists, not the environment in general): it presumes that what's real is the politics of the situation rather than the science. That is, your complaint here is aimed at the fact that you think the scientists aren't being inspiring when they're actually trying to relay scientific facts. It's somewhat analogous to critiquing someone's fashion sense when they're screaming that we're about to plunge off a cliff; it may be completely warranted (fuuugly!) but it's also completely irrelevant to the factual matter at hand, which is that we can't survive the fall.

Now it may be true that the scientists in question are wrong on the matters of fact, in which case this needs to be demonstrated, and demonstrated factually. If it's true, however, then all the spin in the world won't palatize it without fundamentally comprising the ugly truth: we're deep, deep in the hole and there isn't a whole lot we can do about it, so what we can do becomes even more important. To say anything else -- no matter how sunny or optimistic -- is to eviscerate the message of the science.

[I note that your citation of MLK, though always welcome, completely and utterly misses this point: the Civil Rights movement was trying to change institutionalized racism, which was an entirely social construct and thus existed only because we granted it license, whereas the environmentalists are trying to limit climatological damage, which is governed by the laws of physics and thus not amenable to us simply changing our minds.]

I happen to agree with you that the environmentalists typically aren't the most perky of speakers and that tends to hurt them somewhat in the US -- although I don't really know why as we as a people are, historically at least, highly susceptible to the rhetoric of fear; I suspect the timeframe is at fault here -- but what you're asking isn't just putting the cart in front of the horse, it's shooting the horse dead in the street and then arresting the cart for loitering. The correct version of this principle, IMO, is to convince people of the gravity of the situation and, in particular, get them to rid themselves of the childish notion that the future will have to be "attractive"; how they manage to do is entirely beyond me, but I suspect it's one of those things that can only happen spontaneously once it's too late.

Myself, I tend to give a wide berth to any report that propagates an easy to check myth as the touchstone of the report. The bozometer pings softly when that silly meme is front and center.

Interesting points but based on a few fallacies that are repeated as gospel for the right wing. First off, the failure to reauthorize environmental laws in the 90's (and the failure to implement the Clean Air Act reauthorization passed under Bush I) was because of the neglect of environmental issues by the Clinton administration. Clinton and Gore may have talked a good game but like Bush and his social conservative base on the environment they were all talk and no action. "Clear Skies" is demonstrably worse than existing law.

As for the third world, American trade agreements have consistently refused to consider labor and environmental standards. Being able to ignore environmental concerns allows offshore manufacturing to compete. This is unacceptable and must stop. Major corporations may talk a good game but ignoring environmental considerations overseas increases their profits.

Interesting essay. I'm not sufficiently educated in the details of the relevant issues to comment on your specific points. Nevertheless, your final paragraph outlines a goal I could get behind (speaking as a liberal supporter of environmentalism).

Minor useful points are made in this post, but it fundamentally misses the point.

The same forces that made environmentalism succesful in the past are still present today -- it did not suddenly morph into something different from what made it a success. It is phony to blame the movement for recent reversals when the answer is looking in your mirror every morning.

To borrow your MLK analogy, what has happened here is as if the enemies of the civil rights movement re-took power and proceded to re-institutionalize racism. If that happened, no one with any sense would blame the civil rights movement but would instead blame the racists. Also, no one with any sense would blame the civil rights movement if it became more heated in response to new racism. Maybe you could criticize a few poor tactics, but like I said above, we are talking about minor points and not the big picture.

The Republican party is profoundly anti-environmentalist; read Christie Todd Whitman's new book if you have any doubts. And the reversals regarding environmental causes are due to that ascendency, not the problems with environmentalists. If you are dismayed by the reversals in environmental policies in recent years blame the people who are advocates for overturning those environmental policies -- don't feed us phony baloney about how the cause is the inadequate advocacy by the environmentalists.

Some do great work, but others can be the left's equivalents of the neocons: brimming with moral clarity and ideological zeal, but empty of nuance.

I thought right-wingers were into moral clarity, no matter what?

To put it politely, I disagree that there's some vast left-wing conspriacy of environmentalist who are standing in the way of "an environmental movement that is strong on science, big on bipartisanship, brimming with ideas for solutions, unafraid of free market economies, aware of costs and benefits, pro on freedom and democracy, committed to pursuing progress in more polluted countries, able to work with conservatives, and that has an attractive vision when portraying the future."

I mean, have you paid any attention at all to this Administration's record on science?

And who do you think controlled Congress when trading of SO2 credits was put into the Clean Air Act?

Who do you think has been trying to get enforceable environmental standards into NAFTA and other our trade agreements?

Oh yeah, and I remember when all those enviros came out against democracy. I'll try and make sure that never happens again.

I agree that not everything has worked out well for enviros, and I think there a lot of factors behind that (some of which you identify), but one of the largest is that enviros have gotten demonized by the Right (I'm sure they deserved it for opposing democracy though), and Republicans have preferred to serve their corporate constituencies rather than take a broader view.

This just basically seems like "blame the victim" to me-- if Frank Luntz has succeeded in propagandizing the word "environmentalist" it must be the Greens' fault for not using the word "conservationist."

A few points of disagreement.

1. The evironmentalists have not won, per se. Nixon envisioned the movement (as outlined in his mission statement and goals for the EPA) as one that was working toward constant improvement, especially as he recognized the need to be on the lookout for pollutants/contaminants we might not be aware of yet. There's plenty of work to be done, despite the progress that's been made.

2. You imply it's the Left's responsibility to both find the solutions AND not hinder business, whereas it's the Rights responsibility only to not pollute past the legal limits until they can change those. Your suggestion that

This is a common problem with the Left, all too often criticizing the current state of affairs but not offering reasonable alternatives.

is laughable in light of the fact that, among other things, Bush suggested it was OK that the US was not signing the Kyoto treaty because he was about to offer a better alternative...the world still waits for that, you know.

3. The phrase "so-called" implies there's a bit of irony to a name, not that the name is actually something else.

4. Nice dream...what's the Right gonna do to facilitate it, now that they're in control of the entire government, that is?

From my perspective, nothing would please me more than to see an environmental movement that is strong on science, big on bipartisanship, brimming with ideas for solutions, unafraid of free market economies, aware of costs and benefits, pro on freedom and democracy, committed to pursuing progress in more polluted countries, able to work with conservatives, and that has an attractive vision when portraying the future.

subpoints:
a. We need a president who's pro-science even when it doesn't fit his political agenda
b. We need a president who cares about bipartisanship
c. We need to stop assuming all the environmentalist responsibility falls to the liberals
d. An attractive vision for the future is relative. This will be a constant battle. I believe there are folks who don't mind the idea of total development. Others are clearly horrified that we'd drill in ANWR. I see no way to get past this difference of opinion so long as industry breaks its promises to use the so-called green technology it suggests it will use once it gets the permission to develop previously protected land.

If the Right will start with building a bit of faith that they'll make industry use this super technology that's become the cornerstone for insisting regulations are too strict, I'd support the Left reconsidering the regulations.

Also, this bit was a cheap shot:

Since it's apparently okay to link to journalistic hacks with questionable credibility on this website

And in much the same way that calling Bush a psychopath leads folks to dismiss the perhaps valid points of one's critique, cutesy digs like this work against your stated goal of bipartisanship. There are times to just rise above it all...this seemed like it should have been one of those times FWIW.

Some minor useful points are made, but the overall thesis of this post does not make sense. The environmental movement has not suddenly morphed into something different from what has made it a success over the years.

To borrow your MLK analogy, what has happened is that the racists have re-taken control and are re-institutionalizing racism. No one would blame the civil rights movement if that happened -- they would blame the racists. Also, no one would fault the civil rights movement if it became more heated in response to such measures. Minor points might be made about the effectiveness of that more shrill response, but the root cause is still the racists who are making policy.

The Republican party is profoundly anti-environmentalist, and its most profound anti-environmentalists are making policy. Go read Christie Todd Whitman's book if you have any uncertainties about this. Therefore, if you are going to ascribe a cause for recent environmental reversals, blame it on the people who are steadfastly and successfully pushing that agenda and not on the degree to which environmentalists are less than perfect advocates.

For example, the global warming issue is not ebbing at the moment because of failings by its advocates. Indeed, the uncertainties regarding the issue is at the root of why there is no clear remedy being advocated -- people are still struggling for better understanding and searching for reasonable solutions. What is preventing more action is that control is in the hands of those who believe that nut-ball Michael Creighton's State of Fear is "truth."

The phrase "so-called" implies there's a bit of irony to a name, not that the name is actually something else.

Like I said, Edward, she bought into the propaganda. Read again the WA Monthly piece. We disagree on pretty everything else, too.

Thank you for this post. I, too, need time to read it carefully--I only really read one section in detail. I think that, unfortuantely, the environmental movement has been successfully defined as a special interest group. We might be seeing a change in this mislabelling, however. The last three issues of Audobon magazine have featured Republican writers or Evangelical Christian environmentalists, for example. The new Democratic governor of Montana got elected by going to the gun groups with the message that Republicans are bad on environmental issues. Obviously hunters have a stake in habitat projection. I do think there is a bit of blame-the victim in your piece, Charles, because there has been an orchestrated effort by extreme rightists to mislabel environmentalists as anti-gun, or even as "ecoterrorists". I wish I could provide concrete evidnce of this, but I'm at work and don't have the time. There is an article about two months back, in Audobon magazine, about misinformation being spread to hunting groups about specific environmental groups, for example.
I do agree that it is time to rethink the delivery of the message, which is why I hope inside-the-beltway Democrats will notice how Montana's governor got into office. (Scheizter? Schweicker? Something like that).
Again, thanks. I'll read your post again this evening.

Sorry for the double post (you can delete the first one) -- my initial attempt resulted in a message that the site was not responding. So I retyped it and resent it, only to discover....

P.S. -- environmentalists viewed the Clear Skies initiative that died in committee as an abomination, and the result a victory. You contrary analysis is unsupportable -- try to find cite to any main-stream environmental organization that believed the measure was acceptable or even tolerable. Whitman is an outlier -- compare the puff piece cited in the post (which is full of unsourced "facts") with this or this. Most egregious is Whitman's general claim that the Bush plan would lower emissions standards -- except it increased them.

Oh, I forgot. The Sierra Club or NRDC are not "main-stream" in your playbook, so they can be ignored.

Charles, I know what you're trying to say with "so-called" but you're not actually saying it:

NPR also bought into the party line, exemplified by Elizabeth Shogren referring to the bill as the "so-called Clear Skies initiative". It isn't "so-called", Lizzy, that is what it's called.

To make your point here more clear, try this instead:

NPR also bought into the party line, exemplified by Elizabeth Shogren referring to the bill as the "so-called Clear Skies initiative". It reveals an unprofessional editorialization to preempt it's real name with "so-called", Lizzy, given that that is what it's called.

Otherwise, you're confusingly arguing one of two things (or both) that are unrelated: 1) that the initiative actually will make skies blue or 2) Lizzy mistakingly used the phrase "so-called" (which you haven't shown that she has).

We disagree on pretty everything else, too.

Not as much as my comment might suggest. I agree that the trend started by Gore and Clinton to ease out regulations where technology advancments have made that more economical (while still protecting the environment) is the way to go, but there's a definite cart/donkey chronology in that that Bush seems to get a**backwards, if you will.

first link fixed

Another interesting link

Well, just to be contrary to those attacking this article, I thought it was pretty well argued. I generally don't find Mr. Bird too persuasive, but I think he makes some good points this time, and the reactions to this article seem to pretty much exactly illustrate the points he is making.

that the initiative actually will make skies blue

Or clear, as it is.

BD:

Saw your post to Edward. I did read the WA Monthly piece, as well as several others. Key point in the WA Monthly article is the claim that Clear Skies would have lowered emissions by 70%. From scienceinpolicy.org:

The Bush administration heralds the Clear Skies Initiative as improving air pollution standards (established under the current Clean Air Act) by decreasing power-plant pollution by 70% through the creation of "national pollutant caps." This statement is both vague and misleading. Rarely are scientific comparisons made at all between the Clean Air Act Standards and the Clear Skies Initiatives and when they are made (or implied), by policy makers they are always vague and usually misleading or invalid. The main difference between the Bush administration's plan and the Clean Air Act is not the inclusion of better national caps but how these caps are calculated. Both Acts set caps on individual air pollutants, most of which are actually less stringent under Bush's plan (see below for specifics), but the two plans calculate the caps very differently. Under the Clean Air Act, pollutant caps are set based on the amount of a single pollutant in the air at a given location over a set amount of time. That means the "cap" is the highest federally acceptable amount of a pollutant to which a person should be exposed to where they actually live and work. Under this system, no matter where you live, you live under the same stringent (if not more stringent, in states with stricter laws) air pollution controls as everyone else in the country. Under the Bush administration's plan, the national caps are averages across the entire country, summing the amount of air pollution caused by specific industries across towns with and without those industries. Thus the level of smog may decrease over the entire country but you personally may experience higher levels of that pollutant if you live in a town with an industry that produces high levels of that pollutant. More accurately, under this plan, air quality is likely to remain the same or improve more slowly in specific locations than under current regulations.

Voila -- less overall emissions, on average. Also, Clear Skies would have pre-empted state laws that were more stringent -- a favorite use of federal power by polluters.

Who is buying into propoganda?

Clear Skies is a lousy piece of legislation. There is nothing wrong with the Clean Air Act that was passed under Bush I other than the big coal using utilities don't like it because it will cut into their profits. They have been trying to dodge the requirements to lower emissions required by the Clean Air Act for 35 years by upgrading plants instead of building new ones. It is time they faced their responsibilities.

Hmmm ... it occurs to me that perhaps the best way to achieve an environmental movement that is "big on bipartisanship" and "able to work with conservatives" would be for more conservatives to join in and become active in said movement. (As opposed to griping about the liberal bias of those already working in the environmental movement.) How about it, C.B., you want to jump in and work for change from the inside?

Of *course* the first article linked under "too many alarmists" doesn't propose any solutions. The authors of the study are climatologists, whose job is to tell us what the climate will do. Figuring out what to do given those climatological facts is the job of social scientists and policy analysts.

Whitman is an outlier -- compare the puff piece cited in the post (which is full of unsourced "facts") with this or this.

Your first link didn't work, and Whitman already answered the very same issues that NRDC raised. If you haven't (and it looks like you haven't), I suggest you actually read what Whitman wrote:

There was only one flaw in the advocates' assault. Clear Skies didn't increase the amount of pollution that can be dumped into the air. A closer look at the leaked EPA document that started the firestorm shows that it was misleading. In their efforts to assuage power industry fears about Clear Skies, EPA officials had been too cute by half—overstating their case and never imagining that their presentation could fall into the hands of environmental critics.
NRDC and mouthpiece RFK Jr. are part of the problem.

From my perspective, nothing would please me more than to see an environmental movement that is strong on science, big on bipartisanship, brimming with ideas for solutions, unafraid of free market economies, aware of costs and benefits, pro on freedom and democracy, committed to pursuing progress in more polluted countries, able to work with conservatives, and that has an attractive vision when portraying the future.

Yeah, let me know when you find Republicans in positions of power that the Democrats can be bipartisan with. Environmental regulation, virtually by definition, is a liberal cause. It limits the the freedom of action of industrial corporations and adds to their costs. It increases the size and cost of government as well. Granted, the choice of regulation has an impact on the size of the costs, but the direction is always the same. In the current political atmosphere, I don't see much pent-up support for environmentalism of any sort within the Republican corporate funding base.

It also turns out that believers in End Times theology are likely to be indifferent if not opposed to environmental regulations. This article by Bill Moyers explores this to some degree. Moyers wears his biases on his sleeve, but I don't think that's reason to dispute his take on the implications of what belief in the Rapture means in this regard. So, another linchpin of the Republican base is also uninterested in any bipartisan efforts.

.. [environmentalists] need to embrace free markets and reach out to the conservative movement.

I’m not at all convinced the conservative movement actually embraces market principles with respect to environmental issues. It is a basic market idea that those who use resources should pay for them. Unaided markets often do a poor of job of implementing this principle with respect to environmental damage. It usually requires government intervention to get it right. Yet I don’t see a big push from conservatives to make companies pay for the damage they cause. Superfund is bankrupt, and the Bush Administration opposes taxing polluters to pay for cleanups, to cite an obvious example.

Perhaps the economic arguments are not all on one side.

My impression from my environmental scientist friends is that the nature of the environmental movement has changed: it has better science these days. "Wilderness" projects are less about preserving a healthy ecosystem to support human life than they are about preserving beautiful landscapes and a incarnated vision of what life before humans looked like: pretty trees, moral lesson. Conservation implies a rear-guard defense: we will save that one, probably doomed species.

Environmentalists have been doing real studies that show how human impact is unpredictable. Here are some examples of things we didn't know in 1964. That pretty forest in the wilderness area is no longer populated by its native fauna because the migration path has been interrupted by suburbs. That beautiful desert area has been invaded by a foreign grass that chokes out the original species, meaning that the native fauna are thrown out of balance. Most of the beautifully conserved Grand Canyon is obscured by smog from LA. A great deal of the carbon-dioxin-sucking properties of a forest are due to delicate fungus and root systems in the topsoil rather than in the more visible leaf systems (suggesting that there's something about undisturbed forests that's more palliative to too much cardon dioxide than new forest). And this is just ecosystem stuff. We're still trying to trace the impact of the chemical revolution on human life.

I agree with you about many points in your post. For example, any environmental action needs to be weighed in a pretty hopeless cost-benefit analysis. Everything we want as humans--and yes, especially as Americans--is pretty harmful to the environment. We want "growth," and as we've "grown," we've poisoned our own ecosystem. There's not a lot we can do to reverse that trend. What we can try to do is make smarter moves about how we're going to "grow" in the future and perhaps to scale back the dimensions of our desires.

This is where you and I diverge somewhat. I see the Star Trek expansion into space as less than ideal. I can't help seeing it as something of an escape into a no longer possible horizon of limitless space, where no man need ever make compromises with necessity. Move on, keep going, keep burning, the next planet will have welcoming natives.

" It is a basic market idea that those who use resources should pay for them. Unaided markets often do a poor of job of implementing this principle with respect to environmental damage. It usually requires government intervention to get it right."

Good point. The economic interests pushing for increased logging of public lands, and mining of public lands, and livestock grazing on public lands, pay a laughable pittance for the privilege of so, nowhere near a "market" price. They also resist efforts to make them pay for the damage they leave behind.

I have to take issue with the paragraph sited above. The environmental movement is strong on science. The Bush admi. pretty consistantly ignores the science it doesn't want to know about. I really don't know how a case could be made that environmentalists are weak on science unless one goes to fringe groups like the Fund for Animals that don't use science as a basis for their goals or appeals anyway. The Audobon Society, the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club, and, yes, the NRDC, are very much tied into genuine quality science.
The vision of the future is clear and positive: reduce fossil fuel dependence, limit population growth and mitigate its effects, save what we have for our children, manage our resources for the longterm benefit of everyone, and not just short term benefit of special interests groups. I honestly can't see how anyone could have even a limited acquaintance with mainstream environmental groups and not know very clearly what the vision is.
The free market is good for some things and not for others. Markets tend to satisfy short term goals, sometimes to the deteriment of longterm well being. For example, the development of sun coffee is good for well established large busnesses but a disaster for small coffee farmers and migrating birds. When the free market has the effect of promoting something which should not be promoted, we need to regulate the market. That's why cocaine isn't legal. Perhaps sun coffee shouldn't be either. My point is that free trade isn't a religion. It won't solve everything and can do harm. It isn't a sin to limit the market when it needs to be limited.
I do not understand at all the suggestion that the environmental movement is lacking in respect for freedom or democracy. I do think the environmental point of view frequently involves limiting the self-centered choices people might want to make and promoting choices for the common good, but that's just what people have to do to get along.
As far as bipartisan appeal: yes. Under the current leadership of the Republican party this will have to happen by Republicans voting Democratic or by a ruthless housecleaning by Republicans of their own leadership. Democrats can poach across party lines on this issue. I gave the example upthread of the Montana Democrat who got elected governor by seeking votes from gun club and hunting organizations.
Thanks again. I'm glad to see environmental issues under discussion here.

As a practioner in the field, my response is phooey . . . mostly.

Given that the Rs control both houses and the presidency, the responsibility for introducing responsible legislation lies entirely in that party. As to the defeat of Clean Skies, the story is much more complicated than Easterbunny makes it out to be.

Most importantly, it is widely conceded that the EPA has totally flunked in enforcing title V of the Clean Air Act. So, the first hard question is "what is the appropriate baseline?" Is it that which actually exists today, or that which should exist today as contemplated by an unenforced Act? The enviros, unsurprisingly, want to use the latter baseline, the Bush admin, the former.

The enviros are on very solid ground here. By allowing the admin to use the former baseline as the basis of discussion, the enviros would be conceding that gross refusal to comply with applicable law, coupled with top-level politicing, is an allowable means for business to establish environmental policy.

I do much more work under the ESA and the Clean Water Act. I'm not aware of any hotly disputed areas of either of those two acts -- be it critical habitat designation, TMDLs or MS4 permits -- where the federal agency has given business such a free ride as in the Clean Air Act toward the big midwest power plants.

Mercury deposition is a serious issue -- as a society we have traded cheap power in the midwest for poisoned fisheries, yet the law was supposed to be the other way! (and due to mercury's weight, it is particularly susceptible to creating hot spots, which makes cap-and-trade programs much more difficult. You end up needing cap-floor-and-trade, which isn't much different than pure command-and-control.)

Besides doing something about emissions from coal-burning plants, the biggest enviro issue which needs a whole new regulatory approach is ocean fisheries. Fishery regulation is, essentially, utterly insane. It's about as bad as the US subsidizing sugar cane growing in Florida, and subsidizing the cleanup of the contamination of, well, most of central Florida. There are way more boats than the fisheries can support, yet there are essentially no barriers to entry. Instead, the fishing regulators limit the season, so as to try to preserve enough of the target population so there'll be another fishing season the next year.

where is the dramatic overhaul of the Magnusson Act, the ESA, NOAA's organic act? [silence.] the CATO papers on creating private markets in fisheries? public debate on ending the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico?

now it's true that many enviro groups are pure nimbys / bananas / nopes (Not In My BackYard / Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anythin / Not On Planet Earth). And many earth firsters are in fact domestic terrorists. but that is not a fair charge to levy against NRDC, The Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club (some of the time).

the real point is that the Rs have gotten tremendous mileage out of demonizing the environmental movement, (along with the ACLU, pro-choicers and those activist judges) and the enviros have largely accepted that accusation, preferring to be in the opposition than to start negotiations with the enemy.

yes, there's plenty of blame to go around and both sides are guilty of it (i'm sure that Sebastian, von and CB would ALL disagree with my view that the most recent culture of demonization is traceable largely to Newt Gingrich.) but if the majority actually wants to pass environmental laws, they're going to have to be the first to stop the rhetoric. and i've seen precious little evidence that the Rs have any interest in doing so.

the problem with winning is you have to lead. where are the hard choices? unbalanced tax cuts, twin deficits as far as the eye can see, blistering rhetoric toward the opposition and a culture of corruption that it took decades for the Ds to develop -- congrats. You'll just have to excuse my desire not to work with the D party and enviro community to start drafting up good amendments to the ESA or CAA. I just don't have the stomach for it.

I agree with the general thrust of this post. We don't live in a dark and sooty world of clear-cut forests and burning rivers these days - many environmental problems are much more subtle (e.g. acid rain) and distant (e.g. global warming).

It seems to me that in these circumstances advocacy for further protection of the environment needs to adopt a patient approach - not in the sense that the efforts need to be limited, but in the sense that it needs to appeal through sound research, education, and an appeal to reason over the long-haul - "The best models we have right now indicate that the pernicious effects of global warming will be (flooding or so many billions of dollars to protect shorelines, shifting agricultural regions and costs associated with moving farmland, receding boreal forests, diseases reaching populations without historical immunity...).

"They also predict some positive effects (more areable land, less severe winters and associated reduction in costs...).

"We think the costs outweigh the benefits, especially if warming happens quickly, because (lay out the costs and benefits evenhandedly)...

"We can't say exactly what will happen exactly when given no change in our behavior and policies, but the subject merits stepped-up study and immediate, if cautious, action simply because the best guesses current research can give us indicate it is potentially so economically and socially important.

"Currently, we should be evaluating (particular alternative sources of energy, carbon sinks, taxation based on conservative estimates of distributed costs, market-based pollution vouchers) as ways to limit any impact of our current behavior and prepare ouselves if it becomes clear that serious action is urgent."

That's the kind of appeal I'd like to see with regard to global warming, and the same applies to other issues that don't hit the average person over the head with their importance.

The obvious question is "what if we don't have time for a patient approach like that?", and my answer is "then we're screwed!", because you won't get people to accept the need for hugely costly reforms if they can't see the damn problem, and you can't get them to see the problem without patience.

As soon as companies start factoring in environmental degradation into their cost/benefit analyses, then we'll be getting somewhere.

Economics is all about the free lunch of not having to be concerned about waste. Out of sight, out of mind.

As posted above, there's a difference between environmentalists and environmental scientists - myself being of latter. However, the current administration has shown zero support for any science that goes against its ideology. I fail to see how this is the problem of scientists and their inability to provide shiny, spun policy that makes everybody feel better.

Fundamentally, to me, there are four major concerns environmentally: global climate change; soil loss; fisheries depletion; and biodiversity & ecosystem destruction.

The problems of environmental degradation are simple: the costs are typically too diffuse to be accurately reflected in most cost/benefit scenarios. Especially when we have a less than accurate understanding of the mechanisms involved.

Blaming environmentalists for their methods of advancing these concerns does not absolve those in positions of power of their responsibility to faithfully address these concerns.

How about it, C.B., you want to jump in and work for change from the inside?

We all use the tools that we have.

We all use the tools that we have.

I have mountaintop clearing deathstars...what you got?

You've got a tool right here -- i mean the blog.

Start a running commentary on fisheries degradation and the various means for addressing it. I bet ChrisS, Katherine and I could gin up a dozen or so topics. Here's a few: permit-based entry into the market; enforceable international commitment to a common rule of law; reduction of non-point (e.g., farm) discharges; by-catch regulation; the merits of species-based vs region-based regulation; elimination of duplicative and inconsistent regulatory agencies; mercury contamination.

You said, after all, "we are called by God to be good stewards, and to be wise custodians of the earth and of animal life for example."

If GOD is calling you to be a good steward, don't you think your obligation goes beyond telling the minority what a lousy job it's doing? Don't you have a GOD-GIVEN mandate to start working with the majority to SERVE GOD'S WILL?

or is it ok with you that a cheap food source -- canned tuna fish -- is unavailable to pregnant women?

and subsidizing the cleanup of the contamination of, well, most of central Florida

If you're talking about mercury contamination of fish, they're still unclear about exactly where the mercury is coming from.

Economics is all about the free lunch of not having to be concerned about waste. Out of sight, out of mind.

Actually it's not, but it is in the form used by opponents of environmental regulation. One of my pet peeves is the notion that getting the benefits of a market economy means letting business do whatever it wants, regardless of social costs. This is absolutely wrong.

Economics is about the use of resources, among other things, and clean air, clean water, etc. are limited resources. A sensible economic system takes these into account, but it requires government action to accomplish this. The market-worshippers don't understand this, and the corporatist Republicans don't care.

The broader point is that markets do not exist in isolation. They operate in the context of political and legal systems. You cannot have markets without defined and protected property rights. You get anarchy, with the powerful taking what they want. Defining and protecting these rights is the job of government. The problem is that in many respects our government has failed to do this, often at the behest of those who prefer the "take what you want" system.

I can't claim that economic approaches will solve all environmental problems. I'm really not familiar enough with all the various issues to say. But I think it would solve some, and I'm tired of so-called "free-market" advocates claiming that making public resources available for free to businesses somehow reflects sound economic principles.

Free-market advocates often ignore distributed costs as though they didn't exist, and advocates for the environment often spurn market-based approaches as if they were tainted by making reference to the inherently evil concept "market". That situation makes reforms of this type difficult.

But I agree, correctly apportioning distributed costs (and distributed benefits, if any) would result in more efficient markets and better standards of living for everyone - even if GDP dropped as a result.

There may also be distributed benefits of certain behaviors, and these should also be reflected.

ChrisS pointed out the inherent difficulty in measuring and reflecting these costs. Can anyone suggest a way to do so?

Morgan--ChrisS pointed out the inherent difficulty in measuring and reflecting these costs. Can anyone suggest a way to do so?

No, but a good start might be to make the BLM start charging something like market value for grazing and mineral rights on public land. There is a term for their current practice. It's called "redistribution of wealth," which, last I checked, was officially A Bad Thing (tm) amongst conservatives whenever it applies to their wealth.

One big problem for all this Free Market rhetoric: we don't have one.

The problem with the free market rhetoric is that people rarely want to apply it consistantly or to themselves. I really don't mind the subsidized use of public resources. My objection is to the subsidized use by special interest groups who accept the subsidy while refusing to accept public interst regulations on their activites.
One of the worst things about the Bush admin. is the effort to install judges who will declare the profits made by special interest groups from the use of public resources to be Constitutionally protected property and rule regulations such as those arising from the Endangered Species Act as unconstitutional.

Slarti:

in Florida, the big problem is nutrient runoff from the cane fields.

I don't really see how the group that is trying to call attention to the problem is the problem. Some of us believe that whoever sees the problem has a moral obligation to address it. Others would rather deny that the problem exists.

We don't live in a dark and sooty world of clear-cut forests and burning rivers these days
When you say we, then, you do not include South East Asia or Africa, do you?

nothing would please me more than to see an environmental movement that is strong on science, big on bipartisanship...

How about an Administration that's strong on science?

This one isn't

And while we're at it, how about an Administration that's big on bipartisanship?

When you say we, then, you do not include South East Asia or Africa, do you?

You know you're in trouble when (last I heard) Thailand is going to have to go out of the logging business because they don't have enough timber left to sustain the industry.

[Disclaimer: no cite for this, just overheard in Burma as the reason why Thai companies are descending like locusts on the forests there.]

in Florida, the big problem is nutrient runoff from the cane fields.

Those typically don't back up into the Central Florida lakes, which is where one of the big mercury mysteries is.

[Disclaimer: no cite for this, just overheard in Burma as the reason why Thai companies are descending like locusts on the forests there.]

There's got to be a decent Burma Shave sequence in there. I'm just far too lazy to make one up.

There's got to be a decent Burma Shave sequence in there.

Good idea, slarti

Thai forests
Have been logged away
That's why
Timber cutters say
Burma-Shave

The Clean Air Act and all of the federal statues have some flaws that could be fixed to the benefit of the environment and the economy alike. But I do not think it wise to amend these statutes when the majority of the House and Senate has shown such as an utter contempt for science as they did over the weekend, and I do not think it wise to amend these statutes when Tom DeLay, a man who has compared the EPA to "the Gestapo", controls the conference committees and forces votes on legislation before it can be read.

And, you don't know much about the NRDC. I worked there last summer.

This says it all, IMO (from The Onion):

Days after unveiling new power-plant pollution regulations that rely on an industry-favored market-trading approach to cutting mercury emissions, EPA Acting Administrator Stephen Johnson announced that the agency will remove the "E" and "P" from its name. "We're not really 'environmental' anymore, and we certainly aren't 'protecting' anything," Johnson said. "'The Agency' is a name that reflects our current agenda and encapsulates our new function as a government-funded body devoted to handling documents, scheduling meetings, and fielding phone calls." The change comes on the heels of the Department of Health and Human Services' January decision to shorten its name to the Department of Services.

Bernard, I agree with every sentence you wrote. Like I wrote in the post, I'm not absolving the Bush administration for its shortcomings. The omission of the Harvard study sounds pretty sleazy, and they should have incorporated the study. However, in the bigger picture, while mercury reductions in the U.S. will be welcome, the real issue is mercury pollution by other nations, especially China. Easterbrook has a fair perspective on the matter. We release about 48 tons a year, while Asia belches out over 2,500 tons a year. Most mercury in the U.S. comes from elsewhere: "Mercury from China and elsewhere drifts on the winds to the United States in larger amounts than the mercury emitted here; increasingly, research shows that smog, acid rain, dust pollution, and toxic air pollution are global, often transiting the oceans." If there is mercury in the tuna, it's not coming from us, since only about 1% of the mercury in the oceans comes from the U.S.

BD, glad you're a Burma Shave lyric fan. Good thread btw.

ObBash - I wouldn't trust Easterbrook farther than I could teleport him.

Good thread btw.

Let me second that.

As for mercury, I think Easterbrook is wrong as mercury is too heavy to travel as far as he suggests, but I need I'd welcome some more informed posters on this. Mercury is particularly nasty, and there's a particular interest for me, in that I live rather close to Minamata.

One of my pet peeves is the notion that getting the benefits of a market economy means letting business do whatever it wants, regardless of social costs.

Absolute agreement. There's work to be done on that. Howard Odom was a pioneer in weaving together ecosystems, economics, and energy... there's still a lot to be learned from him that has yet to make it into mainstream thinking. But people would rather protest movies about volcanoes with references to evolution, let alone try discussing the possible negatives of filling in a swamp for a strip mall.

in Florida, the big problem is nutrient runoff from the cane fields.

Which is being funneled directly into the ocean via manmade channels that bypass the mangroves.

We release about 48 tons a year, while Asia belches out over 2,500 tons a year

I think Easterbrook is wrong as mercury is too heavy to travel as far as he suggests

But it's about right, even though it is coming from Easterbrook. Most of the emissions (and I'm just regurgitating really, this isn't my neck of the woods) are from steel production and coal burning(1). The Hg emissions are not typically in liquid phase, thankfully (imagine a mercury rainstorm!), but are in gaseous form allowing for airborne dispersal. China has very limited oil resources, but sizable coal seams, and they are industrializing rapidly, to the delight of the west. Thus the increasing mercury emissions.

If there is mercury in the tuna, it's not coming from us, since only about 1% of the mercury in the oceans comes from the U.S.

Cite?

And, BD, people have been lobbying for free trade with environmental and labor reforms included and they get slammed as crazies that want to wreck the economy. So, if we can't reduce China's emissions through economic policies what are you suggesting? Military intervention? A mushy treaty that countries will ignore?

Overall, BD has a fatally naive view of the conservative establishment with regards to the environment. I'd be happy to jump on board and help out the conservative environmental movement... but... there isn't one, and the stock and trade of conservative ideologists has been to demonize science to push their agenda. No thank you.

There's a lot of glossing over the facts and mythmaking in your original post, as well, some quibbles before bed:

If there is ever a country that would benefit from global warming, it is our neighbor to the north.

If the earth wasn't spinning and didn't undergo differential heating, well yeah, the frostbacks in St. Johns or Goose Bay might not have to ride their snowmachines as often. However, a rise in global mean temperature doesn't mean the effect is uniform. There's even some research that suggest warm periods in the past tended to "bunch up" thermal bands closer to the equator.

Most of the environmentalist culture would collectively spit out its organically brewed coffee upon hearing that 49 percent approve of Bush's environmental efforts.

It's not organically brewed, no such thing, there's shade grown/fair-trade coffee that 's grown without pesticides using the natural ecosystem. Sure, it costs another 20 cents a cup, but it beats losing the tremendously thin soils in Costa Rica.

"I try to point out the costs and benefits of our different policy choices, and yes, I point out that for the benefit of Kyoto will be to postpone global warming in 2100 by six years, whereas the cost of Kyoto each year will be as great as the one-off cost of giving clean drinking water and sanitation to every single human being, forever." - Lomborg

False dichotomy. There's no decision to be made because no one has actually proposed giving clean drinking water to every person on earth. Lomborg is mess because his book is chock full of errors.

I've got to go to bed... there needs to be smaller posts with more specific topics for decent commentary.

(1)E. G. Pacyna, J. M. Pacyna, Global Emission of Mercury from Anthropogenic Sources in 1995, Water, Air, & Soil Pollution, Volume 137, Issue 1 - 4, Jun 2002, Pages 149 - 165

Cheers program - anyone know if this is a crock?

Btw the above link is a little contentious/partisan/godwined.

If I understand the EPA CHEERS page correctly, no one is being paid to expose their kids to chemicals in this study, rather they are paying the famiy for the right to examine their kids and monitor the existing level of chemical exposure in the home and surroundings over a two year period. It's not as if the EPA is exposing the kids to additional levels of harmful chemicals.

There may be an ethical problem if the study allows harmful exposure to continue after it is discovered, but that doesn't seem to support the level of rhetoric that KOS is aiming at it, IMO.

Just a note (because this always seems to come up) I think that the link that rilkefan gave was to a Kos diary, so it wasn't by kos himself and it didn't appear on the front page (I think) I"m sure nous_athanatos is aware of that, but it's always good to state it so that we don't have some pile on.

I have to admit, the incentives to participate make it seem less like a government study and more like something Ed McMahon might be doing

* You will receive both monetary and non-monetary compensation
* A Study t-shirt
* An official, framed Certificate of Appreciation
* A Study bib for your baby
* A calendar
* A Study Newsletter
* A video camcorder, if you complete all of the study activities over the two-year study period

Call now, you may already be a winner!

Thanks for the disclaimer, LJ. No personal snark at KOS intended or implied.

And, yes, the EPA could sweeten the deal with a year's supply of Rice A Roni.

Except that I now have to take into account that Easterbrook could stumble on being right, a big thanks to ChrisS for the reference. I can't find the full paper online (here is the abstract), but the word 'anthropogenic' opened the google doors.

In studying mercury poisoning in Minamata, I was under the mistaken impression that mercury was a problem for the locality only because of the nature of mercury pollution in this case (dumped into Minamata Bay and worked its way into the food chain). Sadly mistaken, as mercury looks to be a lot nastier than that. First of all, because it is an element, it isn't subject to breaking down. Because of this, mercury can be 're-emitted'. This article points out how the best laid plans may be going a-glay.

Asia apparently accounts for 50% of mercury emissions, and China is responsible for the bulk of anthropogenic mercury currently being released because coal burning power plants are a major culprit. However, a number of reports, including this one, note that mercury can be reduced quite substantially if some steps to deal with exhaust gases from such plants are taken. This is why I don't see the logical foundation of saying that China is pumping so much into the air that any steps we take are really meaningless. In fact, this story has researchers suggesting a link between mercury and autism. (note: I can't get into the New Republic site to read exactly what Easterbrook says)

This link gives some more information on Slart's point about freshwater sources in Florida having problems with mercury and this pdf. Depressing stuff.

However, a rise in global mean temperature doesn't mean the effect is uniform. There's even some research that suggest warm periods in the past tended to "bunch up" thermal bands closer to the equator.

If memory serves, the ill-fated IPCC report from a few years back said that, in fact, the country with the most to gain from global warming was the US, being ideally situated to ride the warmer, temperate thermal bands. It'd be unstable, of course -- we'd last maybe 20-30 years longer than the rest of the world before succumbing to catastrophic weather shifts -- but this might explain some of the discrepancies between the international assessments and the localized American ones.

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