Sunday, December 25, 2005

Greens Stump for a Treeless Christmas

Some environmentalists are expressing angst during the Christmas season instead of joy, worried about what they view as the negative environmental impact of both real and artificial Christmas trees. The Sierra Club, in its publication Sierra Magazine, recommends that people look for "a storm-felled branch, or a piece of driftwood" to decorate in their homes, instead of the traditional Christmas tree. Eric Antebi, the Sierra Club's national secretary, also suggested that people consider celebrating Hanukah instead of Christmas because Hanukah is a more earth-friendly celebration.

Environmental activists also appear to be struggling over which type of Christmas tree to condemn the most. "The choice between real and not real is especially painful for some environmentalists. Either they desecrate the Earth and chop down a tree or buy a fake one that's full of landfill-clogging polyvinyl chloride, which is kryptonite to greenies," stated an article in the San Francisco Chronicle on Dec. 15, titled "Choosing a Christmas tree can be an ethical quagmire for environmentalists."

But critics of the environmental movement ridiculed what they saw as an unwarranted attack on Christmas trees. "Having tried to shame us for our 4th of July barbecues and fireworks because of air pollution, and our Thanksgiving turkeys because of hunting and farm issues, it's no surprise that some of our more egg-nogged environmentalist friends have now come a-carolin' over the outrage of Christmas trees," said David Rothbard, president of the Washington-based Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) in an interview with Cybercast News Service. "As for the Sierra Club's idea that we make our own trees out of storm-downed branches or driftwood, I think someone's been standing alone under the mistletoe for too long. I can't imagine what waking up to presents under that kind of tree would look like, but I think I'd rather try the mangy, forlorn tree from Charlie Brown's Christmas first." Rothbard said.

Rothbard's sarcasm notwithstanding, some environmentalists see a genuine ethical dilemma involving Christmas trees. San Francisco forest activist Kristi Chester Vance summed up her environmental concerns when she described how she had to warn her eco-friendly friends that there would be a "dead tree" at her Christmas party. "I'm a forest activist and there's a dead tree in the middle of my house," Vance told the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this month. "Geez, if I have a tree, why not nail the last snow leopard to the wall, too?" she said, referring to her concern for endangered species. Vance complained that there was a lack of earth friendly farming methods to grow Christmas trees. "It's kind of like corn," she told the Chronicle. "It would be best to get an organic one, of course."

To counter these negative consequences, the Sierra Club's Antebi recommended the celebration of Hanukkah as an alternative to Christmas. "You've got to love a holiday that's all about energy efficiency and eating potato pancakes," Antebi said, "with only the finest organic potatoes, of course."

While drawing attention to the environmental impact of Christmas trees, the Sierra Club, however, risks alienating even some of its own supporters, like Pamela Janas of Pennsylvania, who wrote a letter to the editor of Sierra Magazine. In the letter, Janas noted that the Sierra Club's "negativity about having a Christmas tree seems unrealistic and insensitive." She also scolded the organization for recommending that holiday revelers opt for "a storm-felled branch, or a piece of driftwood" instead of a Christmas tree. That suggestion, Janas wrote, is "ridiculous and insulting."

The city of San Francisco, attempting to show its sensitivity about the environment, is offering potted trees to homes in lieu of the traditional pine trees. Alternatives such as primrose, Brisbane box or fruitless olive trees are being offered for $90. After the holidays, the trees would be planted in cityscapes. The program was deemed a success after 100 alternative trees were scooped up by eco-conscious city residents, according to the Chronicle.

Rothbard of CFACT disagrees that Christmas trees, real or artificial, pose an ecological threat. Instead, he sees the whole debate as part of the environmental left's desire to make Americans feel guilty about their high standard of living. "Since environmentalists believe that artificial plastic trees are verboten because of their petrochemical roots, maybe the best way for us to celebrate a truly earth-friendly Yuletide would be to gather in the chilly corners of our solar-powered huts, feast on a meal of soy figgy pudding, and exchange nothing but resolutions about how we'll do more environmental penance in the year to come," Rothbard said. "Maybe it's no surprise the Grinch was colored green," he added, referring to the villain in children's Christmas classic "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

Noting that an estimated 18 people can live off the amount of oxygen produced by one acre of Christmas trees, Rothbard touted the ecological benefits of the evergreens. "Christmas tree farmers, like virtually all other professional farmers, use agricultural chemicals in a careful and prudent manner and Christmas tree recycling has become the norm in virtually all American communities," Rothbard said. "Even the environmental publications like the San Diego Earth Times have pointed out that mulch from an abundance of recycled Christmas trees 'provide an aromatic ground cover that reduces soil erosion and deters weed growth,'" he added.

It is estimated that about 60 percent of U.S. homes displaying Christmas trees use the artificial variety. About 23 million real trees were sold in 2004, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.


In his new book, Jonathon Porritt dresses up a demand for austerity in the language of environmentalism

Review of Jonathon Porritt: "Capitalism: As If The World Matters", Earthscan, 2005

Porritt argues that humanity faces two conflicting imperatives: a biological imperative to limit consumption growth and a political imperative to raise living standards. But he does not see the two as equally valid. On the contrary, biology is a first order imperative, which is determined by laws of nature and non-negotiable. In contrast, the political imperative is only a 'second order aspiration'. For Porritt the protection of nature is more important than raising human living standards.

Yet as the book draws towards a conclusion it becomes clear why Porritt doesn't explicitly call for lower consumption. From a pragmatic perspective it is far easier to sell his approach, which is essentially austerity-lite, than to explicitly demand lower living standards. 'Rather than "consume less", the thrust of any new debate here is likely to be "consume wisely" for the foreseeable future. That may not be sufficient, but it's all that would appear to be manageable right now in terms of mainstream political responses to capitalist economies.' So he poses the argument in terms of the need for a better quality of growth that, at least implicitly, can mean reducing consumption for all but the poorest.

But is Porritt's initial premise, that there are natural limits on human activity, correct? He proudly proclaims that 'it's the science of sustainability that provides the rock-solid foundations upon which the structures of sustainable development are now being raised' (original emphasis). But the scientific arguments he marshals are far too skimpy to justify such a grandiose claim. They boil down to little more than that the Earth is a relatively small place. As a result, he argues, humans need to limit their activity to avoid using up resources or overloading it with waste.

His most sophisticated attempt to argue the point is based on the work of Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, a Romanian-American twentieth-century economist. Georgescu-Roegen argued that, based on the laws of thermodynamics, the amount of energy in a closed system such as the Earth is finite. Therefore there must be limits on energy use in particular and economic growth in general. But as Porritt later concedes, the Earth is not a closed system since it receives energy from the Sun. In fact, about 10,000 times as much solar energy flows into the Earth every year as the total amount of energy used by the whole of humankind.

What is true of energy is also true of other resources. Humans have barely started to extract resources besides what is easily available in the Earth's crust. Other sources of resources - such as under the seabed or in Antarctica - are hardly touched. Yet Porritt cursorily dismisses the possibility of harnessing such resources as cornucopian optimism.

At root, the problem with Porritt's work is the conception of humanity it embodies. For him human beings are simply part of the natural world. The attempt to control nature is precisely why, in his view, human beings are so destructive. Yet human striving to master nature is a central element of progress. By taking control of the planet it is possible for human beings to reshape the environment in a way that best suits their needs.

Porritt starts with the assumption that there must be natural limits to human development, and then sets out to prove it - dismissing any contrary evidence or arguments as 'denial'. He assumes from the start that there are five types of capital - natural, human, social, manufactured and financial - and that natural capital is somehow primary. He then goes on to develop a theory to prove his premise. So he asserts that: 'The Five Capitals Framework unhesitatingly asserts the primacy (or "preconditionality") of natural capital: after nearly 4 billion years of life on Earth, of which we've been around for just a few tens of thousands of years, that has to be the right way of looking at things.'

But why does it have to be the case that the natural world should be considered primary? It makes no sense to assume that nature must take precedence over human beings just because it has been around for longer. Surely the rise of humanity changes everything. Before humans existed the Earth was essentially a lump of rock with plants and animals living on it. The rise of civilisation means that the environment can be reshaped to benefit humanity. In contrast, living in harmony with nature means in effect making peace with scarcity, disease, hunger and natural disasters.

Porritt pitches the case against the attempt to control nature in a way designed to appeal to as many people as possible. However, the fact that it appears so moderate, with its misanthropic message disguised as much as possible, makes it particularly pernicious.

More here


Post lifted from Philip Stott

Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, seems to be exhausted, and he is currently fighting for his 'legacy' on many fronts, with both Old Europe and New Europe; with the anti-Iraq War brigade, who will never forgive him, whatever else he achieves; with the rumbling Left of his own Labour Party; with his Chancellor, Gordon Brown (whose vaulting ambition may well o'er leap itself); and with the great intractables and bottomless pits of education and the National Health Service (NHS). With respect to climate change, Blair has learned painfully the stark realities of international politics, a politics in which the US, Australia, and a group of fast-developing countries all take a different view from that of his ever-sanctimonious, but largely failing, EU partners. Despite the genial efforts of Margaret Beckett, his Secretary of State, Blair increasingly exhibits declining energy for this issue, and he is delaying, yet again, the vital (and urgent) decision on nuclear power, following a disastrously pusillanimous energy white paper issued during his last administration. Blair's leadership of the G8 and of the EU finish this year, and both are looking bedraggled, although Blair undoubtedly deserves credit for focusing the world's attention on the plight of Africa.

And the longer-term prognosis? I should expect little further of any real significance on climate change. The economics are, at last, receiving serious scrutiny. More importantly, the New Year will be absorbed (and absorbing) with bruising domestic encounters, especially on education, the NHS, civil rights, and a range of other proposals, many bitterly contended by his own Party - and not just by the usual suspects. In addition, Cabinet unity will be strained, John Prescott, his once loyal Deputy, having, only this morning, broken ranks over education policy. As 'President' Blair nears the end, intriguing and manoeuvering with respect to the next 'Court of 10 Downing Street' will become endemic among ministers, Brownites versus Blairites.

Secondly, David Cameron has risen to power in the Conservative Party largely by avoiding spelling-out any detailed policies. He has devolved the initial stages of policy-making to various policy groupings, the environment ('Quality of Life' issues) having been allotted (most short-sightedly many think) to the Kyoto-loving and burger-touting John Selwyn Gummer and to the nuclear-power-loathing 'eye candy', Zac Goldsmith. Superficially, this is depressing, but the party and press are already hinting at dissent. I do not see a Conservative Party opposing a return to nuclear power, and, if they support wind farms, for example, they will enrage much of their rural hinterland. I also think that the harsh truths of international climate-change politics will soon begin to constrain any 'Little Britain' tendencies that might be tempted to surface. Moreover, business, in the past a natural Conservative supporter, will take kindly neither to further carbon taxes, curbs, and red tape nor to a Conservative leader, however young and dynamic, who starts to espouse authoritarian, socialistic, 'command-and-control' measures.

Moreover, Cameron has already been caught out on air over the shallowness of his climate-change politics, and by Today's big beast, John Humphrys, too. When asked what kind of action he would support, Cameron limply came up with biofuels. Humphrys was swift to make a jibe about this, noting, quite correctly, that many environmentalists [including, I might add, souls at the Environment Agency] believe biofuels to be extremely bad for the environment (and for biodiversity). It was not a good start on the details, and Cameron lamely replied that this was why he was setting up a policy group. All this leads one to question Cameron's experience, not to mention the wisdom of basing 'policies' on liberal-elite, metropolitan dinner-table chat and on a rather crass attempt to win over the wetter, 'beards-and-sandals' supporters of the Liberal Democrats (Lib-Dems).

And then, thirdly, we have Charles Kennedy, the leader of the Lib-Dems, a man who appears increasingly to be a lame duck, one badly wounded politically. Inevitably, Kennedy is the burgeoning subject of media speculation and risible commentary and excoriating cartoons. This is not entirely his fault. Kennedy is, somewhat wearisomely one guesses, trying to hold together a 'party' which is visibly splitting between the authoritarian 'Green' lefties, mentioned above, and true Gladstonian liberals. The sense in Westminster is that Kennedy will not remain leader for much longer, and that, for him, it is very much the Season of "Look behind you!" On the environment, the Lib-Dems inhabit Toytown. They are charmingly utopian in their approach to climate change and to energy, but they can't be taken as a serious contender for government. Until the Lib-Dems learn to face up to harsh political facts (like nuclear power), they will make little serious progress. They are even split over issues like wind farms, glibly supporting them nationally, while often opposing them locally. The thought of the Lib-Dems in power is terrifying.

All other parties require no comment, as they mainly add to the gaity of the nation, but little else. The Green Party is rather like the Lib-Dems, but with even more Green wellies and flowers in the hair.

Many people to whom I talk thus feel disenfranchised. The wishy-washy political consensus over climate change is sapping adult, serious debate in the UK, especially with regard to the economics of the issue and to energy. The last thing we want is a cross-party agreement on the subject. We are crying out for some hard-headed politicians to take a tough, realistic look at climate change and energy. Kyoto isn't working, and, in truth, the Protocol has presided over a massive increase in carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. The Montreal conference will make no change to this. There is even evidence that carbon trading is resulting in an increase in emissions. Yet, UK politicians feel bound to continue to mouth the rhetoric of Kyoto. Accordingly, the political gap between fact and rhetoric grows ever wider - a chasm of carbon claptrap. And this is a chasm eagerly exploited by all the big energy companies, who will happily play 'global warming' every which way, chasing the money wherever it politically pops up.

By contrast, in the real world, it is increasingly obvious to any objective observer that the focus of debate has already shifted to adaptation to inevitable climate change, to technological innovation and transfer, and to the countries of the Pacific Rim, from India and Indonesia, through China, to Brazil and Mexico.

Tony Blair knows this, but, perhaps unsurprisingly, he now lacks drive, being hog-tied by domestic battles and EU squabbles. The 'Little Britain Green' stance taken by David Cameron is potentially a disaster, and it does make one wonder about his inexperience and to question whether he is too enmeshed in thirties-year old, Notting Hill agenda-setting. Moreover, how does this stance square with his comments about needing more roads, about making the UK more competitive, and about cutting red tape for business? Meanwhile, back in Toytown, the Lib-Dems are plunging into pantomime, and, if they are not careful, they could well be blown away, along with with their utopian wind farms.

Thus, beyond a world-weary, but still driven, Mr. Blair, climate-change politics in the UK has something of the nursery about it. We are crying out for a brave, senior politician who can openly declare that the Kyoto Protocol is a disaster and that we must put our efforts into maintaining a viable and flexible economy, one that can support technological innovation and transfer, which can sustain economic growth, and which can adapt to climate change, whatever it throws at us [see: the following comment and economic critique, December 19]. We need a politician who can ignore the daily dose of doom served up by 'newspapers' like The Independent, with Britain, at one-and-the-same-time, one might add, turning into an Arctic tundra, a Mediterranean olive grove, a land of flood, a land of drought,and one with more species - er - or fewer species. We need a politician who truly cares for the environment sensu lato (including the urban environment), not one who is blown off course by every environmentalist whim, stunt, and shock-horror.

And the bottom line? We need a politician who will provide us, urgently, with an energy policy that will work and who will energise Britain for the future.


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

Comments? Email me here. My Home Page is here or here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


No comments: