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Wise Land Use

Environmentalism and climate change fall near the bottom of most people’s priorities, according to a Pew Research study done a few months ago.  Fewer and fewer people are calling themselves environmentalist.  That information made me feel a little uneasy, but then I thought about it.  I would not characterize myself as an environmentalist either.    The term has changed, so that now people like me, who love nature and want to conserve it, but also want to use resources wisely, are not really part of the group anymore.

The most ardent and persistent friends of nature are hunters but they were among the first to be banished from the new understanding of the term. As a forest owner, I can stay in the group until someone asks me if I ever plan to harvest the trees and I say yes. I have thought about this topic before and written about it. Responsible stewardship is the responsible way to be. It is hard for me to understand anything else as a logical or moral position. 

I was talking to a friend yesterday who mentioned the debate about whether or not clear cuts should ever be used.   IMO, there is no debate. There is only trying to explain to uniformed but emotionally excited people why some types of forest ecology require clear cuts. But my friend made a good counterpoint.   He said that for some people environmentalism was not really about the environment.  It was a kind of aesthetic. They felt offended by signs of human management, so ironically humans had to manage very carefully to hide the signs.

That’s it.  Environmentalism has become an aesthetic proposition to many of its adherents.  That is why it is so popular among artists and celebrities.  It allows them to satisfy their need for self expressions while seeming simultaneously to stand on the high groups of extreme altruism.  And they can jet around the world attending concerts and events w/o guilt when they claim it is to help the environment. 

I read about a split in the environmental movement.  I don’t know if you can split something that was already in many separate parts. We should probably abandon the word. 

Environmentalist may end up doing significant harm to the environment.  As I read the polls, many people are just sick of the hyperbole.  My observation, and all the measurements back it up, is that the U.S. environment is much cleaner than it was when I was young.  Virtually every kind of pollutant we measure is less prevalent than it was. Yet we keep on getting the scary stories.   Some would argue that you have to frighten people or they won’t listen.  I don’t agree.   We have to be truthful and realistic. 

The environment requires constant protection AND management. I believe that I could grow timber sustainably on my land just about forever. It is not being used up or degraded.  On the contrary, the land and the forest is healthier than it has ever been.   Farmers using modern techniques can also harvest sustainably essentially forever. That doesn’t mean that we won’t use better and different techniques in the future.  Sustainability doesn’t mean you don’t change and adapt.   It means you can keep on going.

The thing that is most crippling for the environmental movement is a precautionary principle.   It sounds prudent. Always be more careful.  But if we had applied the precautionary principle we would never have electricity. It is always possible to ask questions.  It sounds very wise to earnestly intone that we don’t find anything now, but we could find something we don’t know about.   You can use that logic to block anything at all. I can use that as an argument not to take out the garbage. I just don’t know if there is a killer standing near the road.  

The general hysteria in some environmental circles makes it more difficult to address real problems. We have real problems with fisheries. The real problem is overfishing, which can be solved by management and giving people property rights over some of the fishing stocks, as Iceland did. We have trouble with nutrient management, which can be addressed by using biosolids properly, but this is often blocked by environmental regulation.  We face a problem with water availability, but places like Australia have shown the way to manage a scarce resource. 

The true stewards of nature are those that work with it and in it to sustain it now and forever.   Those that want to preserve it in some particular form just don’t understand its dynamism. The artists express themselves with paintings and sculpture. I suppose they can have gardens.


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Comments

Nice post - conservation may have little to do with "environmentalism". 1) In Illinois we are cutting down forests to create prairies, because that's the way the land was 200 years ago. It appears the aesthetic sense in this case translates into preservation, not conservation. 2) Also, I would guess that conservation operates under the assumption that we (humankind) are part of the eco-system, where as environmentalism has come to mean that we operate outside of the eco-system. 3) Are there any web sites that tracks the carbon footprint of "environmentalists?
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JM responds

Thanks for the note. I agree with what you are saying. Conservation is what people who love nature AND people support. Environmentalism is moving in a different direction, unfortunately.

On the plus side, I think that reason will win over. We are seeing some of that.