How much environmentalism can we afford?

Many cases from the past several decades could be cited of how environmentalist-promoted schemes—deceit, coercion, laws, regulations and lawsuits—have resulted in social grief and economic damage to Americans. Under the current federal administration these activities accelerate and proliferate.

The continued assaults on our economic freedom result in unnecessary cost increases to nearly everything we buy and job losses—much of it insidious and unnoticed by most people. Environmentalism saps our earnings and enriches nonprofits, lawyers and bureaucrats. I wonder how long we can afford to ignore the activists that gnaw away, undermining our well-being.

Most Americans believe in the concept of “conservation.” We have supported well-intended laws to reduce pollution. We’ve even, largely, bought into the vague and undefined propaganda that insists (usually unjustifiably) that we “protect” the natural environment without concern for what it may cost. We’ve been fooled into believing that people who process natural resources “exploit” them. It all sounds so good and reasonable. It even allows us to feel morally superior—supporting “conservation”— that we do our part to “save the planet.”

When I was studying and working in science fields related to natural resources in the 1950s and ‘60s, the word “conservation” meant the “wise use” and “stewardship” of soil, water and plant resources within reality—we need to cultivate, mine, process, convert, store and harvest them to improve the quality of our lives. The word “conservation” has been co-opted by radical environmentalists to mean “preservation” at any cost—preventing the use of resources by banning commercial land uses, usually with no valid reasons provided, and no economic analysis to determine if benefits justify costs.

Too often preservation proposals are presumed on faith, not rooted in the reality of need. Worse, our federal and state government agencies have become tools of environmentalists, adding massive costs to all land development; and unnecessarily disrupting and regulating our lives.

Our prosperity and improved quality of life historically came from using natural resources (defined as: “The total means available for economic and political development,” including physical wealth and labor.) Without capital and labor (and political will) to convert natural resources the potential wealth they hold is unavailable—the goal of anti-development radicals.

Paradoxically, the great wealth we have derived from land development has allowed us the means and methods to dramatically reduce pollution and wasteful practices—virtually impossible in Third World countries. For example, sewage and chemicals in rivers and streams, commonly accepted practice up to the 1970s, now makes national news if only a small, localized and short-term spill occurs.

Tragically, we have allowed radical environmentalists and bureaucratic enablers to virtually shut down entire industrial segments of our economy based on phony and concocted schemes. A pathetic, unconscionable example is the attacks on the timber industry in the Pacific Northwest.

Sixteen years ago environmental groups and enabling federal bureaucrats (and feckless politicians) succeeded in reducing timber harvesting on national forests west of the Cascade and Sierra mountains in the states of Washington, Oregon and northern California by more than 80 percent. Within a ten-year period nearly half the lumber mills in Oregon went out of business.

Radicals concocted a scheme to convince politicians that the spotted owl, a small, demure feathered creature, could live only in old growth forests. Logging was said to reduce owl habitat, thus logging had to cease. Regulations were imposed to dramatically reduce harvesting; mills closed, people lost jobs, lives were disrupted and local economies were devastated.

But now we learn, that despite harvesting restrictions, spotted owl populations continued to decline. It has been discovered that a more aggressive species, the barred owl, competes better in these woods than its more timid cousin. But wait. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has the solution. It will spend millions of dollars over six years to shoot 3,600 barred owls—to “save” the spotted owls. President Theodore Roosevelt would be thumping a big stick in his grave if he knew about this.

Roosevelt, although not one of my favorite presidents, was an original conservationist. He loved nature. But he liked to hunt and he owned two ranches in North Dakota. Roosevelt protested waste and supported creating federal forests, but he was no preservationist. In his arguments for forest “reserves” he said:
“Wise forest protection does not mean the withdrawal of forest resources, whether of wood, water, or grass, from contributing their full share to the welfare of the people…Forest protection is not an end in itself; it is a means to increase and sustain the resources of our country and the industries which depend on them.”

Pres. Roosevelt understood that people would only support land designated as “national forest reserves”—now known as national forests— if they had “practical usefulness” ; needed for “mining, grazing, irrigation, and other interests.” He believed that these reserves “will inevitably be of still greater use in the future than in the past.” But he was wrong.

Our federal and state lands are being rapidly converted to preserves. Their use as natural resource reserves subverts to the will of a small number of people whose selfishness demands that the general public cannot benefit from the wealth they hold.

How much longer can we afford to allow these radicals to control the wealth of our nation?

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About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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