Environmentalism

Stewart Brand Speaks 'Environmental Heresies' At Long Last

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Environmentalist icon Stewart Brand, famously the publisher of the Whole Earth Catalog, speaks "Environmental Heresies" in the current Technology Review. While Brand continues to exaggerate concerns about man-made global warming and invasive species, he now urges his fellow Greens to recognize that the population explosion is a bust and that biotechnology and nuclear power are green technologies.

I can't resist an "I told you so" here since I've been saying the same things about population and biotech and nuclear power for a long time. It's nice that Brand finally agrees.

Call me a crazy optimist, but I think that Brand is right when he says, "Over the next ten years, I predict, the mainstream of the environmental movement will reverse its opinion and activism in four major areas: population growth, urbanization, genetically engineered organisms, and nuclear power."

Hat tip to Wayne Crews for the link.

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  1. You are crazy Ron. The loony left has yet to confront reality on DDT and asbestos. They are married to their Chicken Little causes, and since their fears were never based on actual facts to begin with, no amount of evidence to the contrary can pursued them. At best some few like Mr. Brand see the light, only to be promptly ridiculed and henceforth ignored.

  2. OK, I’ll bite: CRAZY OPTIMIST!

    Warren’s spot-on. When your agenda is driven by blind ideological passion, rather than reality- and fact-dependent knowledge, then it takes nothing short of a miracle (or a massive head injury) to “reverse your opinion”. The facts and reality do not matter—it is the ideology behind the agenda that is the core of the movement. I find it very hard to be as optimistic as you, the slight-turnaround of Brand notwithstanding. Individuals change much easier than entire ideological movements. Call me a crazy pessimist…

  3. Urbanism, huh? Still the obsession with cramming people too many people into too small a space. I moved to a small town about 30 miles from a major metro about a year ago, and I have no plans to return. Living space, as St. Martha might say, is a good thing.

  4. Evan and Warren-

    Brand said:

    “Over the next ten years, I predict, the mainstream of the environmental movement will reverse its opinion and activism in four major areas: population growth, urbanization, genetically engineered organisms, and nuclear power.”

    Now yes, I know, there will undoubtedly be people who will still oppose these things in 10 years. I think his point is that a lot of people will change their minds. No, not everybody, there will always be loons for us to poke fun at and even use as strawmen now and then. But it’s quite reasonable to think that a significant majority of environmentally concerned people (not the same as the wackos) will change their minds on certain issues in response to evidence. For some environmentally concerned people the essential issue is quality of life (what actually makes for a healthier world to live in?) not ideology (modernity bad!).

    But undoubtedly some wackos will always be there, and we’ll have a never-ending supply of straw men to use when needed.

  5. Man, that would be nice. A reversal of opinion on GMO alone would save millions of lives. It will take quite some time, but eventually good science will win out.

    The best “argument” that the enviros have right now is the supposed “consensus” among “scientists”, who will drop out if directly and constantly contradicted by real work. It’s one thing to go along with some bought studies using potential, but still invented, variables that has little hard evidence against (even if there’s less for), but it’s quite another to go against hard facts confirmed from multiple sources.

  6. I agree with Brand (and thoreau) to this extent: many people will change their minds in the next decade about nuclear power, urbanization, etc. Unfortunately, none of those people will be the ones in positions of power in the major NGOs and environmental organizations. These groups have developed immense fundraising, lobbying and legal infrastructures predicated on political and social initiatives formulated in the 1960’s and 70’s, and it’s very difficult for me to forsee them abandoning or even significantly modifying their emphasis in the near future. Coupled to that is a legal/permitting process that has become a true nightmare at both the state and Federal levels.

    So far, there is zero progress in dealing with the nuclear waste issue (which the latest Yucca Mountain scandal does nothing to help), reactor technology of any sort is still anathema to the environmental leadership, and biotechnology is regarded as Satan’s spawn. Even if people start changing their minds about nuclear energy, who would be willing to make the immense capital investments required, especially when it involves a 7-10-year permitting process and non-stop lawsuits from die-hard activist groups? Nice idea, but I just don’t see it happening in 10 years – 20-25 years, maybe.

  7. I didn’t read carefully, and missed that he expects a reversal on urbanism. Whoops.

  8. You’re still not there, Number 6. He expects the current anti-urban, pro-rural stance of “many environmentalists” to be reversed, so that they will become more pro-urban, and less wedded to the absurd anti-urbanism that so many environmentalists share with so many people who define themselves as anti-environmentalist.

    Yes, it will be nice when the city haters catch up with reality.

  9. joe – Speaking as a country mouse myself, I don’t hear a lot of self-identified “environmentalists” talking down cities in and of themselves. Matter of fact, my understanding is many of the most militant’d like to see much greater concentration of human flesh per square block so there’d be more habitat for the mountain lion/prairie panther/backyard puma thingies. It’s SUBurbanization they rant about.

  10. I think clarityiniowa has it right. Most of the rhetoric I hear from enviromentalists condemns sprawl, and calls for greater density. (Pick up Reason from earlier this year for a good article on the phenomenon). If anything, they call for even greater density than what we currently have.

    This does not, of course, mean that the environmentalists themselves don’t want to live on their own version of Walden Pond. They just want everyone else to stay away.

  11. I’ve actually never met a city-hater. Perhaps it’s because of my demographic social circle, but do people really hate cities (in general, not specific ones)? If so, why is it so expensive to live in them? I’m not trying to be a smart-ass, I’m genuinely curious.

  12. i’ve met a few city haters. though to be fair, the ones over 50 tended to be of the white flight variety, so it was like “oh, you live in brooklyn…the italians used to know how to keep their neighborhoods clean.” and stuff of that nature. the under 50s were generally enviro types who liked the outdoors or enjoyed slower-paced living.

    someone has to, i suppose. [sniff]

  13. I’m personally not a city-hater. I go into the city at least twice a week, and have spend the vast majority of my life in metropolitan areas. I just find that a small town is a more pleasant place to live, provided that you have access to the cultural amenities of a city.

    I do know some city-haters, and I think their objection is primarily an aesthetic one. Too many people, too much grime, too much traffic, etc. I spend about 6 months living in a farm house 3 miles from the nearest neighbor, and I must admit that there is a certain attraction to that sort of life. It’s peaceful in a way the city can never be. Also, no one cared if I shot guns off my back porch.

  14. That should say ‘I spent’. Appy-polly-loggies for any other typos I missed.

  15. Nobody want’s to live in the cities. There’s way too many people.

  16. Living space, as St. Martha might say, is a good thing.

    Hitler might have said the same thing. Yikes! 🙂

  17. If “the mainstream of the environmental movement” means “people concerned about the state of the environment” (i.e., basically everybody) then I think that Ron’s right. People will come around.

    But if “mainstream of the environmental movement” is meant to refer to the high-profile environmental groups (like Greenpeace), then I’d say there’s no chance at all Ron’s right. The major environmentalist groups will become pro-nuclear and pro-biotech shortly after the Southern Baptists become pro-gay and pro-abortion. You can’t reason people out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into.

  18. Well, don’t wax too romantic about the countryside, folks. That’s a mistake many enviromaniacs make. My friends have a sheep farm, and I think the majority of us would rather meet our first sheep turning on a spit than face to face in a manure-mined barnyard. They aren’t that pretty or sweet-smelling, and a ewe with new lambs is about the meanest, most treacherous creature you’ll ever meet.

  19. I know some lefty city haters too, who live up in a mountain community (I live in Denver) where they built on virgin forest ground. They had a major falling out with an urban environmentalist I know after the latter told them that living in the mountains was bad for wildlife compared to concentrating population in cities. I’d say one would find extreme views on either end of issue among the environmental leftist ranks. It’s thinking in terms of idealized outcomes rather than processes (and incentives) that most frequently defines leftism, thus they may come to different idealized conclusions on such matters.

    (BTW joe, I recognize that your thinking process is a cut above that of most leftists.)

  20. thoreau,
    I can find no evidence to support your position. While I do agree that the membership (as opposed to the leadership) is not so fanatical, and even movable (if ever prodded with the right lever), they remain under the spell of their wacko leadership. And they continue to select leaders for passion over expertise. I think it quite unlikely that they will “change their minds on certain issues in response to evidence” because evidence is simply nay-sayed and ignored within the movement. I just don’t see any way “a lot of people will change their minds” as they are all adherents to a bizarre Orwellian dogma that states wealth and success, are poverty and failure.

  21. I don’t think the mainstream will reverse its view of nuclear power. Widespread belief in junk science and astrology leads me to conclude that lack of scientific knowledge is too great to be overcome in only ten years.

  22. All they need to do is come up with a new name for nuclear power. Like how rapeseed oil became canola oil. Atomic power won’t work either . . . freedom power?

  23. Nothing is static. It’s only a matter of time before they change their tune on certain issues. They may never admit they’re wrong, but they’ll stop actively fighting for those issues. Of course, they’ll just set up new bugaboos that are based on just as faulty a premise.

    It may takes several decades and the leadership may have to change hands a couple times, but it’s inevitable. Anyone remember global cooling?

  24. While I do agree that the membership (as opposed to the leadership) is not so fanatical, and even movable (if ever prodded with the right lever), they remain under the spell of their wacko leadership. And they continue to select leaders for passion over expertise

    I’m not just talking about card-carrying members of environmental organizations. There are a lot of people who care somewhat about environmental issues but aren’t passionate about it and don’t belong to organizations. I think those people can be persuaded of the benefits of nuclear power and genetically modified food (just keep reminding them that the GM food needs less in the way of pesticides).

  25. I remember global cooling. I guess the next ice age will start any day now.

  26. I have no idea what he means by “the mainstream of the environmental movement.”

    If he means the bulk of the activists, then he is dead wrong that they will change their tune. These activists are driven by an essentially religious anti-materialism that will not change.

    If he means the bulk of the population that, all thing being equal prefer a clean environment to a dirty one, then he is wrong in believing that they are currently opposed to nuclear power, etc.

  27. Thoreau – I agree with your take. When I used to shill for an ag-biotech firm, that’s the audience we tried to reach, and there are more of those reasonable, moderate folks out there – like myself, actually – who appreciate clean air and water, who like animals and plants, but don’t harbor an intrinsic hatred for our own species and realize that we are capable of technological advance while still maintaining good stewardship.

    Problem is, those folks don’t tend to be very vocal, or end up in the press, or start websites and circulate literature. They just quietly and calmly go about their lives and make judicious choices about how they live. Those are the folks who like cars, but may consider investing in a hybrid, like fresh food but don’t panic about GMO corn, and would rather put up with some DDT in the environment than deal with too many disease-carrying mosquitoes.

  28. It’s thinking in terms of idealized outcomes rather than processes (and incentives) that most frequently defines leftism

    For the environmental leftists I would say it is more an issue of attempting to elevate one’s personal preferences to a certain moral status in order to feel smugly superior in one’s positions without at least having to earn that smugness through any kind of debate or analysis. This is evident in the condescending look that accompanies statements I hear all the time such as, “what!? you’re against protecting the environment??” If I suggest that I might just prefer some more housing or a new shopping center, they look truly aghast. It is almost as if they are in the presence of the profane. In this regard, Dan’s analogy is apt – it is essentially a religion with certain “revealed truths” that are not to be questioned and cannot be reasoned to. They are kindred spirits with those on the religious right, and they don’t even know it.

  29. I think the reason we’re having trouble assigning a pro- or anti-city position to either environmentalists or anti-greens is because we’re in the middle of the shift Brand speaks about. The environmental movement was born of a “back to nature” philosophy. In its most extreme form, the belief that people should live in huts in the woods. But there is another school as well, one that is more centered around tangible outcomes than subjective experience. These people are more likely to base their vision of the best life on models like “environmental footprints” or energy consumption per capita – things that mattered to the back-to-nature crowd, but secondarily.

    So we’ve got two somewhat overlapping schools, one that favors rural life and one urban. And of course, their detractors similarly subdivide into those who oppose environmentalism because they see it as anti-modern, and those who oppose it because they see it as anti-traditional.

  30. I’m sure Brian Courts doesn’t give similarly aghast “what, are you against private property?” looks to people who’d prefer not to see a species wiped out by a new development. Revealed truths indeed.

  31. Joe, I would guess it’s more of a shrug and a sigh.

  32. I spend about 6 months living in a farm house 3 miles from the nearest neighbor, and I must admit that there is a certain attraction to that sort of life. It’s peaceful in a way the city can never be. Also, no one cared if I shot guns off my back porch.

    I grew up on a ranch. Used to shoot in my back yard all of the time.

  33. I grew up in Detroit. Same thing. Front yard, back yard, living room, where ever.

    (I didn’t really grow up there.)

  34. I’m sure Brian Courts doesn’t give similarly aghast “what, are you against private property?” looks to people who’d prefer not to see a species wiped out by a new development. Revealed truths indeed.

    Does real estate really count as private property? Seems the gov can regulate any aspect of what you do on your property, all the while charging you rent, err, taxes.

  35. I grew up in Detroit. Same thing. Front yard, back yard, living room, where ever.

    I guess city boy or country boy ain’t that big of difference.

  36. Actually, the small towns of traditionalists’ dreams have a lot more in common with traditional urban neighborhoods than either one has with a contemporary suburb.

    Country mice see suburbanites and think “city folk,” while city mice see the and think “hicks.”

  37. joe,

    Regarding aghast looks, libertarians are more used to encounters with people who think differently. Very used to it, in fact! 🙂

    You may have something with your analysis of the environmentalist split for which I describe anecdotal evidence as the mountain dweller was of the Woodstock generation and the urban environmentalist somewhat younger.

  38. Maybe mainstreaming was part of it, fyodor? Early greenies felt they had to “drop out” of society, which contemporary ones realize they’re changing it?

  39. joe,

    I hesitate to generalize too ardently, but the elder leftist in question was certainly of a “drop-out” frame of mind! He (and his wife) moved to this unincorporated community on formerly wild land when they heard their road in the small mountain town where they previously lived was about to be paved! Of course, this guy works as a school bus driver and drives another ten miles or so most days into that same mountain town to get smokes and a paper. His wife has often lamented that there’s no hope except for help from aliens (yes, I’m serious) because any human solution would cause more problems, ie recycling just uses up more energy, etc. (She’s a little crazier than her husband…) The fallout I described was also caused by the other party telling this woman that she should see a doctor sometime and not just depend on herbs. So yeah, whether your delineation applies quite so universally or not, it certainly applies to the people I was talking about!

  40. Heh, “fallout” s/b “falling out”…

  41. He drives ten miles a day, each way, on account of his environmentally friendly lifestyle.

    That’s just great. Just fucking great.

  42. Joe-In a school bus, no less.

  43. I hardly see the concept of private property as any sort of “revealed truth,” joe, what makes you think otherwise? My “faith,” if you will, in private property being good for society in general is a pragmatic one open to refutation with convincing evidence. Given the weight of evidence supporting that theory, however, your burden in overturning it will be heavy.

    One thing is certain, if you do argue with that conclusion I will not say your very disagreement is immoral or less worthy of consideration because it goes against my conclusions or preferences. This tactic is, however, exactly what many (most?) environmentalists employ, sometimes explicitly, often implicitly (including many “mainstream” environmentalists), if you don’t join them in reciting the litany that recycling is good, cutting trees is bad, etc.

    My point was simply that I might want to throw away that cardboard because I don’t find it worth my time to sort recyclables or I might want to cut down a tree because I want to build a house. Someone else might want to recycle her trash because she calculates costs and benefits differently or wish to leave that tree standing because she finds it aesthetically pleasing – either way we have different preferences but neither carries any more moral weight than the other.

  44. Ha-ha, well Number 6, no, I didn’t make myself clear as I crammed info into my post if I gave you that impression. He works driving a school bus (ironic in light of his moving away from pavement), but he drives to town in his Subaru.

    joe, yeah, ironic, eh? Y’know, I was going to say oh well, there’s not many like him, but thinking about it more I realize there’s lots of people who live in the foothills west of Boulder to be out of the city yet commute much further because of it. To be fair though, many or all of them may admit that their choice of where to live is not actually the best thing for the environment, even as it helps them enjoy the environment. That’s a paradox that anyone who drives to a mountain trailhead has to face, including me. Ah, I long for the days when I walked to work at the Hotel Boulderado…(leaving out that I hated the job!)

  45. This reminds me of the conversations I have with one of my oldest and dearest friends. She’s a Whole Earth catalog, vegan/organic, left-leaning type who complains about suburbanization destroying the environment and how the War in Iraq is all about oil and everyone should boycott gasoline.

    Meanwhile she spends 2x what it costs me to eat a diet that includes plenty of protein, lives in a huge, drafty Victorian house that requires 3x the energy to heat or cool, and drives an aging SUV to soccer mom her kids around town that drinks more gas in a week than my Honda del Sol does in a month. (Ok, I recently bought a big pickup truck, but still…)

    The moral of the story? There isn’t one beyond the fact that people choose different lifestyles based on a wide variety of factors and that they rarely base their politics similarly. And they NEVER let their politics get in the way of living in whatever fashion they choose – even if it’s a manner that they decry for others.

    No way are people changing their positions on nuclear energy, etc. just because they benefit from it… They just get less vocal about it when you point out that their electrical bills are cheaper because of the nuke plant.

  46. Fyodor-Perhaps I misread. Somehow, I pictured a clapped out surplus bus, perhaps with the word “further” written across the front.

  47. You guys crack me up.

    US Nuclear power plants are now operated almost exclusively by companies that bought plants for ten cents on a dollar from the bankrupt utilities that squandered rate payer money building them. The industy has had all their R & D federally subsidized – 250 billion dollars plus. All their waste disposal is handled by the federal government. All but a tiny fraction of their liability insurance is covered by the federal government (Price Andersen Act). Yet they still can’t compete economically………But they are asking for more handouts. And you “libertarians” are all here arguing we squander our tax dollars that way.

    I say they can build all the plants they want as long as Price Andersen is repealed and the owners of plants have to provide full insurance for any potential damage they cause, just like any other business. No insurer in the world is willing to buy the industry propaganda. Only their bought and paid for representatives in government and naive ideologs of all stripes support such foolish, dangerous and wasteful technology.

    The industry will be shut down soon after the first terrorist attact on one of the hundred or so waste storage ponds or the first big melt down. So keep doing the “libertarian” thing arguing for the most heavily government subsidized industry in history, but don’t invest your own money in the industry because it is going to be a huge loser for sure.

  48. Interesting bit on waste storage: the nuclear industry pays a mandatory tax to the government, and in return the government is supposed to take the waste. The utilities are now suing, because the government has now received $20 billion in taxes without taking one gram of waste.

  49. No one here is arguing that the nuclear power industry is good because it’s subsidized by the federal gov’t. Where do you get that? The question is whether or not the enviros have overstated, perhaps vastly, or even outright fabricated the idea that nuclear power is a terrible threat to the environment.

    You seem to have some knowledge on the subject. Maybe nuclear tech is extremely dangerous, but we’ve already had accidents at plants and the industry hasn’t shut down. If you have something worthwhile to say on the environmental dangers of nuclear power, do so, but I don’t think you’ll get much argument for gov’t subsidy. That’s like saying because I think getting mail is a good thing, that I must endorse the USPS.

  50. The fact is, nuclear has trouble competing with fossil fuel power plants. The market choice is fossil fuel due to low cost, although one might argue that the fossil fuel plants externalize costs via pollution, and if this is considered nuclear looks good. For example, if we wanted to comply with Kyoto, we would want to go nuclear.

    In any case, if fossil fuel prices continue to rise, the attractiveness of nuclear will rise as well. It’s the only serious option currently on the table.

    Personally, I think we should go with breeder reactors, to minimize waste. But weapons grade material results, and the gov don’t like that.

  51. Gee, Warren and Evan Williams, too bad environmentalists aren’t steely-eyed empiricists like you two, who are impressively able to discern the mental states of millions of people you’ve never met. “They are married to their Chicken Little causes, and since their fears were never based on actual facts to begin with, no amount of evidence to the contrary can pursued them.
    (Warren) and “your agenda is driven by blind ideological passion, rather than reality- and fact-dependent knowledge” (Evan) Care to present some empircal evidence for this characterization of the “mainstream of the environmental movement”? You guys certainly sound as ideologically driven as the people you deride.

    I also question Evan’s argument that “it takes nothing short of a miracle (or a massive head injury) to reverse your opinion” when the ideology behind the agenda is the core of the movement. Opinions exclusively driven by ideology can sometimes shift more easily than those based on facts. The latter are only likely to change when the facts themsevles–or our understanding of them–change. The former can be easily tailored to support the demands of the ideology.

    For example, if the mainstream of the environmental movement suddenly became ardent supporters of favored libertarian causes, I bet Warren and Evan would abandon their contention that the opinions expressed by such people was unshaped by underlying facts.

  52. 1) Nuclear Materials and Safety – inhaling a dust grain size of plutonium will cause cancer. Plutonium 239 has a half life of 24,000 years. A few pounds make a nuclear weapon. Al Quida probably already has some and is surely seeking to get some.

    2) Nuclear Waste and safety – all the other waste is also dangerously radioactive. It is sitting in pools just outside major urban areas all over the world just waiting for a plane or conventional bomb to create an aerosol, radioactive weapon from locally available resources. There are over 100 such waste pools in the US alone. Al Quida already knows how to use planes and bombs.

    3) A half life of 24,000 years means that this shit stays basically untouchable for at least four times that long. Jesus was walking around talking to folks only 2,000 years ago. Agriculture was invented something like 10,000 years ago. Writing was invented somewhere around a similar time. I wonder how well folks will be able to read the warning signs we put up 100,000 years from now.

    4) Just imagine the friendly society in which materials like this are even more abundant than they are now. Think about what freedoms will be compromised or abridged to protect society from these materials getting into the wrong hands.

    Perhaps using a thermonuclear reaction to boil water to run a turbine just isn’t the most rational long term plan for a free, safe, efficient, peaceful and healthy society.

    Again, the best test of how much sense this technology makes is to repeal the Price Andersen Act and see how many plants get built if the owners have to pay their own liability insurance rather than having the tax payers foot the bill. The insurance companies aren’t nearly as stupid and corrupt as our leaders in Washington. The industry willing to cover virutally every other risk in the world has already provided the answer very clearly on how much sense this technology makes by refusing to take on the risk.

  53. A half life of 24,000 years means that this shit stays basically untouchable for at least four times that long.

    The shorter the half life, the more radioactive. The real deadly stuff has half-lives of like 35 years — long enough to exist for a while, short enough to lethal on approach. Plutonium isn’t “untouchable” at all — I’d hold some in gloved hands for you, as many, many others have done.

    Inhaling plutonium causes cancer because it is toxic — not because it is radioactive. The stuff spewed out by your local coal plant kills thousands all over the world each year the same way. Nuclear plants don’t throw their plutonium up into the air, however.

    I’d argue your other points, but I want to make sure you at least understand what plutonium is first.

  54. A few pounds make a nuclear weapon.

    Yeah. If you have the right multi-million $$$ machine shop and the skilled workers to go with it. It just ain’t easy to make a nuke weapon. There is a reason these are weapons produced by states, not rich individuals, and the basis is economics, not legal restrictions.

    Again, the best test of how much sense this technology makes is to repeal the Price Andersen Act and see how many plants get built . . .

    Yeah, and end the stupid gov regs that control the industry. Let the market decide–but that isn’t just about cutting corp welfare, it’s about cutting regulations as well.

  55. Libby Enviro makes a good point about Price Anderson, one I first ran across in a reason article sometime around 1978. The U.S. could have set up a regulation regime based on a few or even a single standard design. Instead, each plant was “custom made” for its site, which meant that the power industry kept having new and different regulatory demands imposed on it every time a new reactor went through the approval process. At some point, the economics of financing and planning a new nuclear plant became too unpredictable for investors. The vagaries of the rise and fall of the prices of other fuels, especially oil, natural gas and coal certainly affected the ability of utilities to make money from nuclear generation.

    Kevin
    (used to live in Shoreham NY, where we told reactor jokes all the time. Damn thing was never built, and LILCO went belly-up.)

  56. Actually, Brian, the fact that you would only calculate the costs and benefits to yourself as you make a decision about recycling, whereas your more responsible neighbor would incorporate the consequences of her actions on others, puts her on a much higher moral plane than you.

  57. Actually, expecting that people will do what’s in their best interest rather than expecting them to be on a “much higher moral plane” is exactly what makes our system of economics and governance the best in the world.

    Expecting other people to “incorporate the consequences of her actions on others” just isn’t human nature and hasn’t never been for the vast majority of humanity and its history.

    Attempting to require such behavior through legislation/regulation eventually gets you into utopian fantasies.

    I suspect that like any form of tyranny, utopian fantasies eventually lead to the gulags and the killing fields to get rid of all the people who aren’t on the same “higher moral plane.”

    That’s why groups who are anti-abortion always have some loons who are willing to kill people in their 360th trimester to “protect life,” and people who want to save the animals or the environment join ALF/ELF and commit terrorist acts. Maybe they’re the advance troops for the REALLY bad craziness that follows a “national mandate.”

    By means of a pre-emptive strike… Obviously, I’m not trying to make the argument that everyone who wants to save the fetuses/animals/environment are crazy loons who want to fire up the gas chambers again.

    But claiming someone is on a higher moral plane because they recycle is the sort of thing that makes me wary because it starts to set up the “you’re a not a good person” routine that people who ARE loons often take as a reasonable excuse for unreasonable violence.

    (The Tim McVeigh rationale that anyone who worked in a federal building was fair game because they were like the janitors and service personnel on the Death Star, for example.)

  58. ‘Expecting other people to “incorporate the consequences of her actions on others” just isn’t human nature and hasn’t never been for the vast majority of humanity and its history.

    Attempting to require such behavior through legislation/regulation eventually gets you into utopian fantasies.

    I suspect that like any form of tyranny, utopian fantasies eventually lead to the gulags and the killing fields to get rid of all the people who aren’t on the same “higher moral plane.”‘

    That must explain why the laws against theft intruded so starkly on people’s human nature, resulted in the creation of the concentration camp system, and were swiftly repealed.

    And wouldnl’t the application of your “precautionary principle” towards poltical speech, applied to McVeigh, make you look askance at anyone who criticized the federal government?

  59. Overall, recycling costs more than not, at least according to the last study I’ve seen. Makes sense: having three trash trucks, three sets of trash men, etc. make the rounds instead of just one . . . then the items to be recycled must be resorted (much of what goes into the recycle bin is trash . . . .) and so on . . .

    But, on the plus side, people like joe get to feel so good and so moral recycling. And that is really what it’s all about.

  60. That must explain why the laws against theft intruded so starkly on people’s human nature, resulted in the creation of the concentration camp system, and were swiftly repealed.

    Theft is a crime against another individual; not recycling is an economic choice, that should be based upon economic calculations (you can add in you feelings of moral superiority in this calcuation joe, just don’t expect me to respect that).

    Granted, I don’t really expect joe to grasp anthing involving property rights, economic decisons, or the moral difference between theft & utalizing one’s rightful property.

  61. Nor do I expect Don to grasp that costs imposed on others through your actions have economic implications.

    OK, I expect that he’ll grasp it, just not that he’ll give a damn.

  62. I like to recycle newspapers and also cardboard when it’s convenient cause I value trees in their natural setting for their aesthetic value (both directly and indirectly for the part they play for wildlife), plus I value trees in general for their production of oxygen.

    Would I condemn someone for not recycling as much as I and for not sharing those values? Well, there’s a part of me that thinks those who don’t share my aesthtics and values are ignorant philistines. But then, I also recognize that accepting those differences, both in terms of the law as well as plain accepting that it’s “okay” for people to think differently from me, is kinda important for us to all do the Rodney King and “get along.”

  63. joe,

    You are imposing costs by recycling just as you are imposing costs by not recycling. The correct answer should be to let the market decide, based upon the costs of each (including transportation, paychecks, land usage, the physical cost to recycle, etc). Instead, we recycle because we have been brainwashed into thinking that it’s morally superior. It isn’t, and it is only the better choice if the economics add up.

    Of course, joe could have a valid point bringing up external costs, “tragady of the commons” and all that.

    fyodor, which trees are you saving by recycling?

  64. 1 – If you can’t see the difference between laws against theft and laws requiring people to recycle because it puts them on a “higher moral plane” I don’t think I’m going to be the guy who helps you to understand it. But maybe it will help to think of it like this… Imposing “morality” onto trivia should remain the demesne of outfits like the Taliban who take Islamic tradition WAY too seriously.

    2 – If you can’t figure out that that extremists who buy into claims that one set of people are superior (racially, morally, etc) to another and use it as a rationale for violence and as a path to power are bad, again, I can’t help you.

    3 – I haven’t advocated a precautinoary principle of any kind. (Nice attempted straw man maneuver, tho.) It’s clear from what I’ve written that I’m against rationalizing violence based on BS, not preventing people from speaking freely. (I DO look askance at people who advocate violence because they have a problem with the federal gov’t, tho – as I do anyone who advocates violence for dubious reasons. Are you claiming that you don’t?)

  65. Actually, Brian, the fact that you would only calculate the costs and benefits to yourself as you make a decision about recycling, whereas your more responsible neighbor would incorporate the consequences of her actions on others, puts her on a much higher moral plane than you.

    Heh. Thanks for proving my point about environmentalists moral smugness and their blind faith in recycling joe… I see that my enjoyment of the unintentional irony of your posts has not been diminished.

    But just to play your game – why do you assume that I am not also taking into account the consequences of my actions on others? And why do you assume that someone who recycles obviously is? What was it I said (and you tried to mock) about “revealed truths?”

    My decision not to recycle doesn’t waste time that I am now free to use doing something that I feel is more valuable to society. So I am doing more for other people than she is with her devotional act of recycling. You might disagree about that calculation, but again such disagreement is not a moral issue, but an empirical one at best.

    However, even if you really want to play the “much higher moral plane” card – if she is so concerned with the consequences of her actions on others it ought to be immoral for her to waste time that could be spent in ways which are even more beneficial to them. Or is it enough that she is simply “concerned” so she can feel good about herself. She doesn’t really need to worry about whether recycling actually does any good or whether it just wastes more time and energy than it saves. Such questions are not to be tolerated when discussing the catechism of the environmentalists. So don’t let empirical evidence, debate and difference of opinion, get in the way of your moral condemnation of the unclean.

  66. Don,

    lol, I haven’t identified the specific trees!!! But I think it only makes sense that recycling tree products creates less incentive for cutting down more trees. I’ll agree that forcing people’s hands and public subsidies distort the market such that they likely lead to a net loss of energy and economic efficiency compared to leaving the market alone. But that doesn’t mean I’m creating costs to throw my recycled newspapers into a bin that’s going to be picked up by a truck that’s going to come by my house anyway instead of a different truck that’s going to come by my house anyway!

  67. Penn and Teller did a “Bullshit!” episdoe where they panned recycling pretty hardily…

  68. “Nor do I expect Don to grasp that costs imposed on others through your actions have economic implications.”

    What exactly is the cost to others? I pay to have my garbage picked up and hauled away, I don’t spread that expense to other people. The garbage company I pay to haul away my trash owns the landfill property that my garbage is hauled to. Whether I recycle or not, pay more or less to have my trash recycled, how does this affect someone else?

    It’s not saving the forests, because the people who harvest the trees from tree farms are still going to harvest trees the same way farmers plant and harvest wheat. Besides, the property where the landfill is located is not the forest you’re trying to save, is it?

    So please explain how not recycling is a cost spread to those virtuous, highly moral people who do…

  69. lol, I haven’t identified the specific trees!!! But I think it only makes sense that recycling tree products creates less incentive for cutting down more trees.

    I suspect that the trees cut for paper are grown specfically for that purpose, and that they are not exactly giant redwoods or impressive oaks.

    But that doesn’t mean I’m creating costs to throw my recycled newspapers into a bin that’s going to be picked up by a truck that’s going to come by my house anyway instead of a different truck that’s going to come by my house anyway!

    Yes, although some of the morally superior types I know are adding costs by throwing way to much stuff into the recycle bin without a lot of consideration of whether recycling the item makes sense.

    In any case, you are correct that once the system is in place and we are paying for it, from an economic point we might as well make use of it. Fine, but that doesn’t answer the question of whether the truck in question should be showing up in front of your house in the first place.

  70. Don,

    Yeah, I thought you were going to make the tree farm argument after I posted, and that’s a good point. And y’know, if logging companies lost all interest in relatively natural forests (choosing my wording carefully here!), that reason for recycling would disappear. But they do still seem to want to log in those places, and I’d like to give them less reason to. I also don’t like the idea of taking up more space with landfills, even if they’re not about to crowd us off the planet anytime soon.

    How do you know when your nemeses recycle too much?

    On your last point, yes, I was setting aside that question.

  71. And y’know, if logging companies lost all interest in relatively natural forests (choosing my wording carefully here!), that reason for recycling would disappear. But they do still seem to want to log in those places,

    I suspect that sort of logging is for timber, not paper. Seems stupid to waste a big tree for phone books. Maybe it makes sense for you to make your next house one of those made from steel studs, as opposed to wood studs.

    How do you know when your nemeses recycle too much?

    My in-laws tend to recycle. They throw as much as possbile in the recycle bin, often washing it out first (& Southern Cal has typically been short on water!). They put stuff in the bins that can’t be economically recycled.

    Contrary to what joe might think, I actually do give a damn, and that has included removing things from the recycle bin that shouldn’t have been there–even though I question the whole process, given the lack of market feedback.

    I also have a ranch with quite a bit of scrap steel. I’ve hauled off about three tons of steel, cleaning the ranch and getting a bit of cash in return. Knowing the value of the steel, I can say that my mother-in-law’s efforts at washing and recycling steel cans (mixed in with paper, plastic, etc.) is economically insane.

  72. That’s an interesting point that the use of different origins of trees might be so clearly delineated, but I would need to know from empirical data if that’s really the case. It could very well be that many more trees are cut from natural areas (which might not all be big old growth trees) than are needed for lumber.

  73. I was thinking in terms of economics; I don’t think the guy making paper cares how tall & strait the tree is, but tall & strait trees are probably a big deal for those who want construction lumber, particularly the big beams.

    About a week ago I visited Boston and “Old Ironsides”. When built, the fine lady made use of very large timbers that you can’t get today. Replacements were made using plywood fabrications that are supposed to be almost as strong as the original timbers. Economics dictates that any such timbers, if they can be found, be used for something other than paper.

  74. Fyodor: a good source is here. Read that page and the one after it. Then read the rest of the essay. Then read the rest of the essay. Then read his other stuff, especially his essay on the future of environmentalism, which is awesome. Patrick Moore is a really interesting guy–founding member of Greenpeace who turned on it when he decided they were doing more harm than good.

  75. 1) The reason we have so many pools of nuclear waste products sitting around is because heros like Libertarian Environmentalist have been fighting tooth and nail against every underground repository site for 20+ years. If you’re going to rail against a mess, accept your share of responsibility for perpetuating it.

    2) 95% of the volume of “nuclear” waste is extremely low-level (old furniture, uniforms, etc.) yet it is treated in much the same way as high-level, resulting in exhorbitant costs for no real reason.

    3) The reason libability insurance rates are so high is because any proposed operation is guaranteed to face decades of legal challenges, permitting snarls and unlimited financial risk on the part of the operator. If you want to repeal Price-Anderson, fine, as long as you accept limits on damage awards and citizen suits.

    4) What, exactly are the energy alternatives? Conventionally-produced energy is increasingly costly and considered a source of global warming. Hydro power is wonderfully cheap, but dams are Evil according to the environmentalist playbook. Solar and wind, which have been hyped to the skies, have kWh costs that are astronomical. I got a real laugh out of Libertarian Environmentalist’s rant about “subsidized” nuclear energy – take a look at the subsidization of solar and wind sometime. Without massive Federal and state aid, those two technologies would have been dumped 30 years ago as utterly impractical for power generation.

  76. Windfarms have another problem. The giant high-tech turbines they use are a hazard to birds. The dumb little ex-dinos sometimes fly right into the spinning blades and shred!! If these were just an invasive species like sparrows, I’d say “boo-hoo”, but when protected native flocks get clobbered, you’ve set up an enviro-on-enviro slobbernocker.

    Kevin

  77. “enviro-on-enviro slobbernocker”

    Mwuhahahahahah! That was so funny I’m going to use it in a sentence as soon as the opportunity presents itself!

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