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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Environment

I can tell you honestly that the environment has a friend in me.

This isn’t to say that environmental activists have friend in me, because they just plain don’t. Not that I don’t believe that they want a good thing, because it is. Who in their right mind wouldn’t want a cleaner, healthier environment? I just disagree with they way they want to do it.

What most environmental activists don’t know is that they are being duped by people whose agenda really has nothing to do whatsoever with cleaning up the environment. Just listen to the rhetoric. BIG BUSINESS is cutting down our forests. BIG BUSINESS is destroying the rainforests. BIG BUSINESS is polluting our waterways. Big business this, big business that, it’s just not as true as most environmentalists believe.

Big businesses are doing very little to harm the rainforests. It’s small farmers and ranchers trying desperately to feed their families who are clear cutting it all. These people are hardly big businesses at all, just small enterprises and personal use farms. You could eradicate every big business in the world and it would have little to no effect on the rain forests.

Big business is cutting down our forests, and it isn’t. Yes certain forested areas are open to logging, and some of those areas do get clear cut. But clear cut does not mean stripped of all life. Even in a clear cut some trees are typically left behind to act as old growth and seed trees. Also, there is a practice called restore and replant that is mandatory in most logging zones, and voluntarily done in most of the logging zones where it’s not mandatory. Trees are a renewable resource, meaning you can generate at least as many as you use and in time it will be as though no trees were ever cut. Loggers realize that in order to have a business at all they must renew the resource they are using. So when trees are cut in the thousands, they planted in even greater numbers than they were cut. The damaged soil is also restored, and if erosion is your worry you can relax. It is illegal to clear cut within a certain distance of running waters. Admittedly there are some very irresponsible loggers out there. My own Grandfather has been selling the wood on his land to one such creep for years. He has violated the law by clear cutting clean up to the river, and left the land I was later willed so rutted that it became a swamp. Men like that need to be run out of business. Fortunately, such men are few and far between.

Big business has the potential to put some seriously nasty stuff in our waters. Fortunately, thanks to existing laws, they generally don’t, and most of what they do put in is the result of an accident. Truthfully, the vast majority of water pollution in America is caused by ordinary folks going about our daily business of washing, cleaning, and eliminating waste. Human waste puts so much filth in the water that treatment facilities go to extremes to kill off the bacteria, and remove the sludge from the water. But the sludge can’t be all bad. Farmers buy it and use it as fertilizer, and sewage sludge is supposed to be just about the best fertilizer around. Apparently it’s loaded with trace elements that plants need to be their healthiest, real healthy stuff like copper, molybdenum, and barium. Toxic to most life in excess, but essential to health in trace amounts.

Sewage treatment’s most important function is removing the excess nutrients from the waste water to prevent nutrient loading in the ecosystem and causing damaging algal blooms. Unfortunately, runoff from farms puts a lot of fertilizer into the waterways, and can cause damaging algal blooms. Organic farms appear to cause far less of this than chemical farms. Understand though, that it would be silly to try to force all farms to go organic. There is a strong movement among the farmers already to engage in conservation farming, which includes many organic techniques that prevent soil erosion and therefore water pollution. On top of that, our farmers are the backbone of America. Without them we will fall, as will many other countries worldwide. America feeds the world.

So, I think I have established that big business is not the primary enemy to the environment. By far the worst damage I see is done by private parties. Irresponsible individuals who fail to realize the impact of the individual on the environment. Litterbugs, wasters of water, people who let their cars warm up for half hour every morning in the winter, and people who keep their houses heated and cooled to extremes. Don’t believe me? Go to the aftermath of an environmental rally. The tremendous volume of pollution (litter) left behind will blow your mind.

16 Comments:

  • i work in environmental policy so thank you for that post...

    By Blogger Nunzia, at 7:32 AM  

  • great post, daniel!! interesting and a lot of things i never knew!!

    By Blogger Libby, at 9:36 AM  

  • Da Raver said:
    “I think I have established that big business is not the primary enemy to the environment.”

    Actually, no, you haven’t. You offered some opinions that are not entirely wrong, but that is not the same as establishing your point.

    I’ll let you know, though, that mostly I agree with the point, albeit for perhaps different reasons.

    I agree with you a bit because:

    1. As Wendell Berry has said, “There are not enough rich and powerful people to consume the whole world; for that, the rich and powerful need the help of countless ordinary people.”

    Corporations are doing what they are doing because we consume what they offer and entice us with. Should we choose to stop being enticed and buying – or refuse to buy from the companies with poor environmental or labor practices, then companies would have to be more responsible or perish.

    The power is in our hands.

    2. One large source of damage is a billion motorists all driving everywhere they go. All those motorists require roads, which are impervious, which contribute to run-off of all sorts of mean nasty car offal and garbage and fertilizers from our lawns, etc.

    3. It is our policies which allow and encourage pollution. If rainforest farmers are starving, then they may begin the process of denuding their land (where they have lived in balance for millennia). If we (the global “we”) didn’t have policies that contributed to their starving, they wouldn’t be forced to desperate measures.

    What goes for the poor rainforest management, goes also for my Eastern Kentucky strip miners and the agri-industry in the US and, yes, bad factory policies.

    We are fortunate that we have had the insight and wisdom to outlaw and regulate the worst of the pollution practices (thanks to the hard work of many environmentalists) and we must be careful not to let some undo our progress.

    Are we in agreement?

    By Blogger Dan Trabue, at 1:04 PM  

  • Dan T,

    I want to discuss your point on the rainforest farmers. The primary reason farmers in th erainforests have to deforest such huage swaths of lad on a continual basis has nothing to do with world practice and policy, and everything to do with rainforest soils.

    The soil under the rainforests is virually nutrient-free, thin, and dries into adobe brick that can nevr be used for agriculture. Any patch of farmland in the rainforests will only produce crops for a few years before the soil is completely dead and more forest must be cleared. The local plants have adapte to this environment, but crop plants comon to agriculture are not, and massive amounts of fertilizer must be applied every year to keep the soil fertile. Most of the nutrients that are applied are not lost to plant growth, but are actualy leached beyond the reach of plant roots by the abundant rains of the area, which are also why the soil is naturally infertile in the first place.

    Once the soil is expose it must not be allowed to dry out. If it does it permanently sets into adobe brick and cannot be plowed, planted, or used in any way other than to cut bricks from it and use it to build.

    The first year of farming a deforested rain forest is very productive because of an exccedingly thin layer of nutrient rich soil, only a few millimeters thick. It is the surface deposition of the rain forest itself, and it never builds depthe because the rainforest reabsorba and reuses this layer constantly. One year of farming is enough to completely wipe this out.

    This has nothing to do with the policies of foreign governments, and everything to do with people just trying to feed themselves in an area where the population has exceeded sustainable food production. The foreign practice of importing food to these countries and providing free relief to starving peoples actually reduces the need for further wanton destruction of the rainforests. That means foriegners are the good guys in this situation.

    By Blogger Daniel Levesque, at 4:35 PM  

  • I know all of that info, DL. The question is, though, why have the folk living there relatively suddenly had to make a change in the way they farm and live?

    And beyond that debate, are we in agreement that our lifestyles and support of corporate products are large reasons that individual behavior is a large portion of the pollution equation?

    (As to your original point - that pollution is not the fault of corporations, it seems that I've read that, at least here locally when talking about watersheds, the damage is about equal parts corporate policy and personal behavior.

    When talking about US air pollution, I think I've read a similar point - that responsibility falls about equally on individual and corporations...but those are both working from my poor memory and I could be wrong.)

    By Blogger Dan Trabue, at 6:08 PM  

  • "Organic farms appear to cause far less of this than chemical farms."

    I knew that, but my husband and I farm organically. We also have a huge greenhouse. All organic. No chemicals are used, ever. Nor do I use them in my lawns. We weed by hand. We don't get them all, but we do the best we can.

    Organic food tasts so much better than food that has had chemicals thrown on it. There is just no comparison.

    So the environment has a friend in us as well. But the environmental activists don't! I also disagree with the way they want to do it.

    Excellent post! :)

    By Blogger Gayle, at 8:21 PM  

  • Dan T,

    We probably agree on th eprinciple that we must be responsible stewards of the environment and cause as little pollution as possible. Where we differ is the fact while you advocate eliminating the widespread use of beneficial technologies, or limiting them to emergency roles as you have suggested in previous comments regarding automobiles, I want to take what we have and improve it at a pace we can afford until we have managed to minimize or eliminate waste and pollution through a combination of technology and sound conservation practices. My way takes time, patience, and money, but does not force someone to pay for an ambulance to carry him to the doctor in the middle of winter because he now must ride a bike everywhere he goes and he just can't pedal for 30 miles in the ice and snow to see the doc as sick as he is.

    The difference is not our ultimate goals, but the way we wish to go about doing them. Also, we appear to have a different way of viewing the same data. for example. I told you the established fact about why farmers in South America continually cut large swaths of rainforest to make new farmland. It is to stay fed in an area where the population has outpaced all posible food production. You then ask why their lifestyles changed to require such farming. Well, thier population grew. That's what changed. Why did their population grow? Reproduction outpaced mortality. Why? Mostly because they get a lot of lifesaving medical relief from countires like the US. THAT, my friend, is the root cause of their overpopulation in relation to potential food production. We could easily save most of what remains of the rainforests simply by cutting all foreign medical aid to South America. Poor people would die by the millions, and with their deaths would come a masive relief of native farming needs. So, if you are willing to go that route to save th erainforest, well . . . being willing to go that route would make you a monster actually. You blame the devoloped world for causing the destruction of the rainforests that the native are engaging in, but it is a direct result of the humanitarian efforts of the modern world. We cannot, in good conscince, just undo all the good we ave done regarding medicine to these countries. I think we agree on that, in fact, I believe you have caled for expanding such aid to developing countries in the past. This would, of course, increase food demand, causing further destruction of the rain forests, and, yes, fiurther dependence on food imports from countries like the US.

    How utterly evil of us. Saving all those lives and feeding so many people. (Sarcasm, in a big way.)

    By Blogger Daniel Levesque, at 9:23 PM  

  • Gee, why can't all of those nice little forest people stop trying to advance their cultures and remain in the same rut they've been in for centuries? Why do they have to want something more for themselves than running through the jungle in loincloths trying to kill enough food to feed their families?

    How elitist of you Dan Trabue. Heaven forbid that other societies seek to climb up the evolutionary ladder. Heaven forbid they actually create and maintain enough farmland to feed their people and perhaps make some money at the same time.

    By Blogger Nightcrawler, at 10:59 PM  

  • It is elitist to expect some people to live in poverty and others luxuriously. I haven't suggested anything different.

    We must all live lives in smaller circles and more lightly on the land. And the onus ought to be on those from the wealthier nations first - not the poor Amazonian farmers.

    That's my point about policy - the Amazonian farmers are doing what they're doing to support our lifestyle. Don't be so fast with that elitist tag.

    My larger point is that I'm for living in a personally responsible way. Period.

    I wouldn't throw my garbage in your yard, I expect you not to throw your garbage in mine.

    One problem is, this planet cannot support an infinite number of people at the rate we currently live. If everyone drove cars at the rate that the US does, for instance, we'd run out of affordable gas next year, not 10 years from now.

    As a matter of personal responsibility and responsibility to future generations, we must simplify the way we live.

    By Blogger Dan Trabue, at 2:38 AM  

  • And Nightcrawler, we're just some folk who are all concerned about right living here, no need for name-calling. Daniel here made the same point you made without inferring any bad opinions of me. Fair enough?

    One other thought, Daniel. You said:
    "I want to take what we have and improve it at a pace we can afford..."

    We don't disagree here. Where we may disagree is on what pace we can afford. I'm thinking you're thinking at a pace we can afford economically and I'm thinking at a pace we can afford morally and ecologically as well as economically.

    Some have pointed out that modern policy and practice treats the environment as a subset of the economy ("We grow the economy as much as we can and then we can begin to think about living responsibly in regards to the environment"), but in reality, it is economics that is a subset of the environment.

    If anyone is interested in reading more on this topic, I could recommend Lester Brown's book, Eco-economy (ecology-economy), which can be reviewed free online:

    http://www.earth-policy.org/Books/
    Eco/EEch1_intro.htm

    By Blogger Dan Trabue, at 3:00 AM  

  • Consider this:

    Ten people are castaway on a small island with no means of escape. The resources are plentiful, but limited.

    After doing some calculations, the castaways decide that they have plenty of resources as long as they are used responsibly, conservatively.

    For instance, they have enough wood that each person can use four logs a day for fire-making. Enough to cook meals and have a warm bath.

    One person decides, however, that he’d like to use eight logs a day, because he wants a warm bath in the morning and at night, let’s say. “After all, there is enough wood here for me to do so, as long as it averages out to four logs a day,” Mr. Howell says. “Right?”

    And he is right. If someone else will do with less, there is enough for him to do so.

    But what if someone doesn’t want to let Mr. Howell continue to use more than average? Or, what if all ten want to use eight logs a day? Well, on this little island, that is just not an option.

    Tell me: What is the moral and logical response to Mr. Howell’s consumerism? His selfishness? His greed?

    By Blogger Dan Trabue, at 5:00 AM  

  • Th e best way to take care of forcasted wood shortages is start farming trees as acrop. By planting a large number of trees, enough to replenish what is used, the sustainable wood use would be increased to a more comfortable capacity. The real problem arises is this community does not take the meaures neccessary to make it happen.

    Trees are a renewable resource, and there are current, very well developed logging practices in use today that allow us to get thelumber we need without wiping out entire forests. These logging practices are a big part of the reason the US now has more forestland than we did 50 years ago, and our forests are still expanding. To the credit of the old environmentalists, a group in many ways far removed from the so-called environmentalists of today, these practices were developed and implemented as a result of their efforts.

    Perhaps you should have used a non-renewable, non-improvable reosurce in your story. Maybe one like oil.

    By Blogger Daniel Levesque, at 9:10 AM  

  • Trees are a renewable resource given many years and few people. On a small island over a few years, it would be easy for a group of individuals to deplete them.

    You're not addressing the point. Isn't it selfish and foolish to use resources beyond our means?

    By Blogger Dan Trabue, at 10:28 AM  

  • I reject the notion that there isn't enough resources to go around. When looking at the planet as a whole, only a small percentage, a fraction really, has been developed. Most of the planet is still wilderness or undeveloped territory.

    Dan T, are you suggesting that our society become less developed, perhaps meeting the development of the Amazonians halfway? It's a great theory but the reality is that it is impractical.

    When it comes to civilizations, it is the survival of the most developed and the most advanced. Historically, the lesser developed societies get swept aside by the more advanced ones. Our society and our culture, with our values of individual freedom and limited government, is one that I'd rather not see swept aside.

    Like you, I pine for simpler times when people actually worked for a living and it took families to survive. If you want to join me in lamenting the rise of technology, I'm glad to have you aboard. Unfortunately, it is here and it is not going away.

    By Blogger Nightcrawler, at 4:20 AM  

  • Night Crawler said:
    "I reject the notion that there isn't enough resources to go around."

    You believe we live in an infinite world? Go ahead and believe that all you want, it won't make it true.

    So, we can easily support 6 billion, let's say. Can we just as easily support 12 billion? 100 billion?

    There is a limit in the natural world. In my example, they were on an island of limited resources. That is the case on this globe. It is indeed a world of plenty, but not infinite amounts and people who act and consume as if it were are making a horrible mistake.

    By Blogger Dan Trabue, at 3:26 AM  

  • I am a chemical/environmental engineer from south africa.

    Firstly bunny huggers and what they say??? I don't believe!!

    What we do is we take any sewage sludge, kill off all pathogens, viruses, bacteria and endocryne disruptors. Chelate the micro-nutrients and sell it as organic fertilizer. Thus, making sewage sludge save and recyclable for human, animal and the environment.

    By Blogger Carl Nieuwmeijer, at 4:59 AM  

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