Health News Digest

July 18, 2005

Enviro Politics, Enviro Hysteria, Or Enviro Science?

By  Michael D. Shaw

A couple of months ago, a young woman appeared at my door with a petition. “Will you support us in our fight against Bush’s efforts to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?” I responded with my own question: “Have you really thought this thing through?”

Displaying that less-than-endearing Leftist quality of never being able to engage in a dialogue, but only being able to preach in one direction, her reply was, “So I guess you’re not with us, then?”

“What does it mean to be ‘with you’?,” I answered. “What about the average working guy who has to buy gas at $2.50/gallon or whatever it will rise to? What about the people who actually live around ANWR? How about THEIR environment? Wouldn’t it be nice if they could get high-paying jobs? Would it matter to you one little bit to know that the people who live up there are in favor of this drilling? Or, would you rather that they killed seals, maybe?”

“Well, I guess you’re not with us, then,” she murmured as she walked away.

The current political divide surrounding the environment, or at least the way it is portrayed in the media, does not make much sense. It was a Republican president, Richard Nixon, who founded the EPA, and old notions of conservation and resource management, that predated this by decades, were traditionally identified with conservative political figures. The National Park System was founded by Theodore Roosevelt, another Republican. It is no secret that the state of the environment in Euro-Communist countries was an unmitigated disaster.

So, what gives?

Politics is nothing more than a method for determining how tax money will be spent, and who will have the power. In an ideal world, it would have no place in environmental science—or any kind of science—but, as you may have heard, this is not an ideal world. Emotion drives politics and few topics are as emotional as the environment. Thus, TALKING about it becomes great political theater. DOING something about it is another matter entirely.

If you’re old enough, you might remember a bumper sticker sentiment that appeared right after the first Earth Day in April, 1970. It read “Ecology: Man’s last fad.”

Ecology is simply that branch of science concerned with the interrelationship of organisms and their environments. Please note that it is not limited to any sophomoric notion of “protecting” this or that organism from man, any more that it would champion the artificial prolonging of a particular species from inevitable extinction. Moreover, it is foolish in the extreme to attempt to remove economic issues from human ecology.

As to ANWR drilling, there is little doubt that the lives of those who live in that environment would be improved, should this occur. But, more than that, how we in the lower 48 marshal the resources of our country at large is also part of how we deal with our environment.

That is not to say that we should not examine other ways to better use our fossil fuels. These old friends are unique, after all, as convenient storage mechanisms for ancient solar energy. Any alternative source, however promising, will never be quite as simplistic as unleashing stored solar energy by simply burning it.

Bearing this in mind, employers should be much more open to telecommuting. It is quite foolhardy for a person to get into his car every day, and burn gasoline, just so he can arrive at his office, and log on to the same server he could access from home. Imagine how much fuel would be saved, and traffic congestion eased if only 10-20% of workers did this.

There are obstacles to achieving this, but they are all readily solvable. Security issues can be addressed. After all, the records of financial institutions are now accessed via the Internet millions of times per day with little fraud. (The highly publicized fraud that does occur is usually an inside job, and has nothing to do with the Internet.) More difficult will be the ego problems of management not being able to directly lord it over their employees, and the fall in real estate prices that might ensue as corporate and government centers are partially vacated.

These, too, are all part of human ecology. Let’s hope is will be more than a fad.