Monday, December 26, 2005

Capitalism and Environmentalism

Political outlooks rarely get put into practice completely, without many compromises made in their principles. Even Soviet style socialism had a lot of free market elements interspersed with it when nearly 40% of farming was done on the black market. And there is no such thing as capitalism in America or anywhere else, not full blown, no-holds-barred laissez-faire capitalism.

Still these political visions can be test by way of thought experiments and some careful history, to see which would be best to try to achieve in practice. And one of the major challenges put before champions of a fully free, capitalist political economy comes from those worried about environmental degradation.

Often the worry is put in terms of "What about all the negative externalities that capitalism would create?" Which means, what about such things as pollution of the air mass, water ways, and so forth. The idea that's put forth in criticism of capitalism is that if we had full scale private property rights respected and protected, people could do whatever they wanted with what belongs to them and this would involve dumping all kinds of harmful stuff around their property-thus, negative externalities.

But the picture is utterly misconceived. Precisely because private property rights would have to be respected and would gain full, uncompromising legal protection, negative or harmful externalities would be prohibited. (Of course, if I dump a bunch of dollar bills on your property, you probably will not protest a lot, so positive externalities would probably not be widely criticized.) The widespread respect for private property implies that what is mine is under my jurisdiction but
beyond my borders it is those who are in charge of those realms who get to call the shots. And no one at all gets to have the authority to invade other people's property.

Bringing this off in practice has its challenges of course-exactly where does one's property end, say, looking upward or on a beach front? Does property include ideas, such as a novel or computer software or musical arrangement? And what about images, such as photographs and paintings? These and similar issues would need to be hashed out in theory, as they arise, and sometimes even in the courts-where they would, supposedly, be debated in a civilized, orderly fashion and a sensible resolution-or as close to it as humanly possible-reached and then implemented.

Still, the idea of a system of political economy in which the institution of private property is of primary significance would by no means encourage environmental degradation, waste, lack of conservation and so forth, quite the opposite. As Aristotle already knew, when people need to heed their own stuff, they are more careful than when they deal with commonly owned resources. As he put the point, "That all persons call the same thing mine in the sense in which each does so may be a fine thing, but it is impracticable; or if the words are taken in the other sense, such a unity in no way conduces to harmony. And there is another objection to the proposal. For that which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it. Every one thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all of the common interest; and only when he is himself concerned as an individual. For besides other considerations, everybody is more inclined to neglect the duty which he expects another to fulfill; as in families many attendants are often less useful than a few." (Politics, 1262a30-37). The ancient historian Thucydides also observed that "[People] devote a very small fraction of the time to the consideration of any public object, most of it to the prosecution of their own objects. Meanwhile, each fancies that no harm will come to his neglect, that it is the business of somebody else to look after this or that for him; and so, by the same notion being entertained by all separately, the common cause imperceptibly decays." (The History of the Peloponnesian War, bk. I, sec. 141).

And, of course, history bears out these reflections-near-enough-to-capitalist societies are cleaner, preserve and conserve resources more vigilantly than do near-enough-to-socialist ones where-like in the old USSR and even contemporary China-pollution and waste have been immense. So both on the basis of history and careful reflection, it makes much better sense of trust a free market, private property rights based political economy when it comes to environmental values than those that let the state manage it all


Why I Am Not an Environmentalist

A bit of insight from the Left:

Growing up in East Los Angeles as the son of Guatemalan immigrants, the everyday challenges faced by the people of my neighborhood seemed far removed from the American dream: the lack of good housing and jobs, money for groceries, failing schools and all-too-common police brutality. If you had asked us, we would have told you we were concerned about the days when the air pollution was especially thick, or when the smells coming from the incinerator directly south of our housing complex were particularly bad.

We would have told you we were concerned, but that these were not the greatest challenges facing us. That's not to say they were not important problems, but any agenda that did not speak to our economic and social needs seemed irrelevant.

For communities like mine, environmentalism has seemed to be about preserving places most of us will never see. Even when environmentalism has focused on problems that affect urban communities, such as air pollution or lead poisoning, it has pointedly avoided addressing our desperate need for economic development. Environmentalists do not talk about the importance of a living wage or affordable housing because, we are told, those are not environmental problems. Foundations feed this problem by failing to recognize minorities and urban city residents as prominent stakeholders in the environmental arena.

While many leaders of the environmental movement have a deep and abiding interest in social and economic equity, that concern is largely absent from their work because it is "not their job." The same mistake is made by every other progressive movement, including the civil-rights movement. We have become trapped in narrow categorical definitions of ourselves rather than a comprehensive understanding of what values we stand for in the world.

I experienced firsthand these narrow definitions when, in the late 1990s, my organization tried to pass legislation to make it easier to revitalize "brownfields" -- the thousands of idle and polluted lots in inner cities. Our legislation would have encouraged the development of brownfields by clarifying clean-up standards so that developers would know what was required of them, and then limiting liability for current owners when environmental pollution had occurred under previous owners. It also would have given cities and counties more power to go after owners of abandoned and potentially polluted inner-city sites.

Our legislation should have been an important priority for environmentalists because developing brownfields would take pressure off expanding construction to California's rapidly dwindling green spaces, farmlands and wilderness. And yet the Sierra Club opposed the bill, claiming that the legislation's flexibility could be abused by unscrupulous developers. We felt there were adequate safeguards, and that together, civil-rights and environmental groups would be able to protect inner-city residents from new risks while accelerating economic development.

We eventually compromised on a watered-down version of the bill that was signed into law. But because the new standards remained so inflexible, we haven't seen the kind of economic redevelopment of urban brownfields that low- income and mostly communities of color desperately need. Contaminated urban sites remain contaminated, economic development and affordable housing in the inner city hasn't occurred, and California's green spaces continue to be developed. The brownfields bill failed because we have failed to construct a vision for community and economic development that speaks to our shared aspirations -- from having more urban parks for kids to play in to having jobs that pay a livable wage to protecting California's natural beauty. Civil- rights groups, economic development advocates and environmentalists today find themselves divided by technical policy when we should be united by a common vision.

After last November's election, an essay called "The Death of Environmentalism" ignited a wide-ranging debate within the entire nonprofit community. Its East Bay authors, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, accused the environmental movement of failing to offer a compelling vision for America. Instead, they said, environmentalists give "I Have a Nightmare" speeches and offer technical proposals far removed from the lives of ordinary Americans.

Their essay was important not only for those of us who care about the environment, but also for those who care about any social progress. Consider this quote: "The environmental movement's incuriosity about the interests of potential allies depends on it never challenging the most basic assumptions about what does and does not get counted as environmental. Because we define environmental problems so narrowly, environmental leaders come up with very narrow solutions."

Remove the word "environmental" from the sentence and replace it with "civil rights," "women's rights," "environmental justice" or "social justice" and it makes just as much sense. For too long, progressives have created their identities according to the very specific problems we hope to solve. While I don't consider myself an environmentalist, I do care about many of the things that environmentalists work to protect and preserve. I care more deeply, however, about creating good jobs and affordable housing for my community. This means that the environmental or post-environmental movement that will speak to my community must first and foremost promise economic development and better quality of life.

While many feel sadness and anger that environmentalism is dead, I am optimistic that in dying, environmentalism might give birth to a new politics that offers a better future. Those environmentalists who are ready to be reborn will find many new allies like me ready to join them in building a new and more expansive movement on the other side.


Editorial from The Calgary Sun

Heads I win, tails you lose. That was a line a childhood friend of mine used on me a couple of times when I was about six or seven years old before I clued in to how it was a no-win scenario for me and a win-win for her.

I tried it on one of my eight-year-old twin boys more than a year ago and he figured it out within about 10 seconds. Somehow, much of the adult world has fallen for the ruse being used by so-called environmentalists with regard to the global warming debate.

During the 10-day United Nations Climate Change Conference that wrapped up on Friday in Montreal, a Greenpeace staffer said something so idiotic and implausible that not one of the 10,000 delegates called him on.

"Global warming can mean colder, it can mean drier, it can mean wetter, that's what we're dealing with," said Steven Guilbeault, the director of the Greenpeace movement for Quebec.

So now that colder means warmer basically, anything goes. These folks can't lose their argument because they've covered all scenarios. If an ice age cometh -- blame global warming. If a glaciers melt, global warming is the cause. If droughts akin to the ones mentioned in the Bible happen, blame global warming.

The Dec. 3 Canadian Press story that quoted Guilbeault started with this ironic lead: "Tens of thousands of people ignored frigid temperatures ... to lead a worldwide day of protest against global warming" while chanting "it's hot in here," to the beat of drummers.

The quote by the Greenpeace director reminded me of a quote I read that was sent to me by Benny Peiser, a British university researcher and the editor of CCNet, a scholarly electronic newsletter on the pseudo-science behind global warming.

"By invoking the possibility of 'global warming causing an ice age,' the industry are now in the position of being able to point to each and every weather event, whether hot or cold, as being evidence of global warming," wrote John Daly, a renowned global warming skeptic, in the summer of 2004 just months before he died.

"Heads we win, tails you lose. It has become a closed logical system where the theory is now impervious to any external evidence that may contradict it."

Besides the fact that a growing number of the world's top climatologists disagree with the premise that human activity is the primary cause -- or even a significant cause -- of global warming, the science was not debated at all at the 11th annual UN gab fest that contributes enormous amounts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to the atmosphere owing to all of the jetting about done by the delegates.

Many of them remained warm in four-star hotels for the duration of the conference, thanks exclusively to fossil fuels.

Speaking of fossil fuels -- you know the stuff Alberta has plenty of and that came from the corpses of dinosaurs -- well, consider this.

Dinosaurs are cold blooded, oversized reptiles. Back in the time of the dinosaurs, Alberta had a tropical climate. Who knew SUVs existed so long ago?

The international treaty -- the Kyoto protocol -- which former Prime Minister Jean Chretien committed Canada to in 1997 and which came into effect in February 2005, requires Canada to reduce GHG emissions to six percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12.

Last Wednesday, Prime Minister Paul Martin lambasted the United States for not having a "global conscience" by not signing onto the Kyoto protocol, which ticked off the Americans, but undoubtedly helped Martin in the polls by pandering to Canadians' inferiority complex with our biggest trading partner.

The only problem is, according to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change report titled: Key GHG Data, Canada's GHG emissions have gone up 24% over 1990 levels -- a whopping 30% above target. At the same time, U.S. emissions have increased at half the rate -- by just 13%, by using their made in the U.S. program to reduce emissions.

According to the feds' so-called plan to reduce emissions, called Moving Forward on Climate Change, our emissions in 1990 were 596 megatonnes. (A megatonne is one million tonnes.) That means we have to reduce our emissions to 560 megatonnes.

The feds claim that their plan could reduce emissions by 270 megatonnes annually by 2012. Martin claimed last Wednesday that "we're going to hit our Kyoto targets." But consider these numbers from Environment Canada. In 2002, Canada's entire manufacturing sector spewed out 62.9 megatonnes.

Then comes the transportation sector, which includes all those planes, trains and automobiles, pipelines and Paul Martin's tax-exempt Canada Steamship Lines freighters. Ground, park and dock them all and we would remove 190 mt of GHGs.

Combine those two sectors -- manufacturing and transportation -- and that adds up to 252.9 megatonnes, leaving us short by 17.1 megatonnes.

The only way Canada can meet its Kyoto target is by either shutting down our economy or buying carbon credits from places like Russia, that only met its targets because they weren't very ambitious to begin with.

Then, with the fall of the iron curtain and the dismantling of the former Soviet Union, all of those highly polluting and inefficient factories and plants were shut down. In other words, the corrupt Liberal government plans to send billions of your hard-earned money to a government even more corrupt than our own.

With this plan Canada's commitment to Kyoto is heads I lose, tails I lose. It will, of course, be spun the other way around.


Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

Global warming has taken the place of Communism as an absurdity that "liberals" will defend to the death regardless of the evidence showing its folly. Evidence never has mattered to real Leftists

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