Tuesday, March 2, 2010


"Root, stem, limb, leaf,
the glow and hue of flower and fruit-
one rain extends to them
and all are able to become fresh and glossy."~The Lotus Sutra

While the motivations of advocates for eco-friendly policies and practices seem fairly straightforward - being "friendly" toward earth's often fragile ecologies - those of their opponents appear murky at best. What, we might reasonably ask, could be the harm in looking after this, our only planet, our only home? Increasingly, it is difficult to come to anything but the unfortunate conclusion that the goal most highly prized among the "eco-belligerent" or the "eco-indifferent" is the immense pleasure derived from obstructing those with the unmitigated temerity to care for the planet which sustains our life.

The conflict between the aforementioned camps stretches back at least to the 1970's when it centered on high profile issues such as the detrimental effects of pesticides like DDT. Lately the issue serving as a lightening rod for liberals and conservatives is global warming, or under it's more technical name, anthropogenic global warming (AGW). The bone of contention between the opponents being the extent to which human activity may be leading the planet down the road to ruin. In other words, emphasis is placed on the predictability (or lack thereof) of an imminent ecological catastrophe.

I'll resist adding my voice to the armies of scientists, politicos, and hangers on parroting the talking points of their respective sides. For me, obssessing on the future is too speculative to be of practical help, and throws little useful light on our situation. More relevant is the track record of our species on this planet which is documented and thus is not in doubt. I am more concerned with what might be called anthropogenic trashing (AGT), which has caused, and is causing degradation, illness and ecological strain on our still beautiful planet. In this light, microcosm is macrocosm. Past is prologue. Greenhouse gases and garbage may be different in magnitude, but not in kind. Trashing the air arises from the same mentality as littering the streets.

One facile argument on the right regarding human activity and ecological degradation is the idea that we haven't been around long enough to do any serious damage. Such obtuseness dangerously underestimates the human capacity for exponential population growth and its predictable strain on resources. Such a notion ignores the many ecological disasters already on record which have threatened or destroyed natural habitats like coastal wetlands, and even claimed human lives. To listen to the minions of the eco-unfriendly these days is to witness a variant of mass selective memory. Its as though history has been expunged from their minds.

But in the reality based community, we know that the Great Pacific Trash Gyre exists. One estimate puts the size of this floating trash island caused by vortex-like currents in the ocean at around that of the United States. With a ratio of plastic to plankton of 48 to 1 this buoyant dump site is quite a testament to the proliferation of waste carelessly discarded by humans the world over. Do the eco-belligerent consider this to be a good thing for the oceans?

Another ecological nightmare seemingly forgotten by know nothing commentators on all things environmental is the October 2000 Coal Sludge Spill in which some 300 billion gallons of arsenic laced coal slurry deluged a significant portion of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. In classic right wing form, the lone official who attempted to investigate the incident was silenced. The Massey Energy Company whose breached reservoir was responsible for the spill, received a slap on the wrist by the Bush administration. Much of the slurry still lines the streams that feed the Ohio River.

Nor do the eco-indifferent recall the spectacular disasters of the distant and recent past which must be laid squarely at the feet of our species: The Libby Montana Asbestos contamination, Union Carbide's 1984 Bhopal India gas disaster (20,000 dead), Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Love Canal,  Picher Oklahoma's lead contamination incident, The Exxon-Valdez Oil Spill. In light of our well documented tendency to foul our lands and waterways, can anyone seriously doubt our capacity for visiting environmental armaggedon upon the atmosphere?

In the end this is not about dire predictions of the future of global warming, but remaining cognizant of humankind's environmentally dubious past and present. The question becomes is it possible to care too much for the tiny raft of the earth set adrift in the vast infinitude of the cosmos. A helpful hint in answering the question: It has nothing whatsoever to do with politics, and everything to do with survival.


  1. Its shocking to me, after reading the column you are responding to in the L-View news journal, that we are still forced to have this conversation. Anyone with eyes can see the trash on the highway people through out their window and do the math.

    My father recalls what the water around ET looked like before the oil companys were required to be eco-sensitive. How there was this rainbowy film that covered the streams and rivers and the extreme lack of wildlife. This was 2o years ago, and now that film is gone. Last week he came home to the family farm to 20 deer in his yard. The wild pigs are back and someone we know swears they saw a black bear last summer. So you can't tell me there is something to paying attention to the enviroment and giving a damn about it.

  2. JP

    It's good to hear from you. Since I too rambled all around the woods in our small community, I can attest to that "rainbowy" film on the water in creeks and streams.

    It's not my thesis in the piece that people "intend" to ravage the environment. It's just obvious that it occurs as a matter of course due to our ever-increasing numbers. What's needed is a strong intention (not) to devastate the earth. It's the least we could do for this beautiful place that makes our lives possible to begin with. Trashing it is just plain rude.


  3. Hello Durren,

    I hope you'll welcome my offer of a clarification for you and your readers.

    It was never contained as part of my thesis to suggest that irresponsibly polluting the earth was forgivable, yet that seems to have been the main thrust of your piece. My column was specifically about AGW. You seemed to rebut points that had not been challenged, nor even raised. A gentle breeze could have knocked over that straw man. The "bone of contention" between the two camps isn't at all about protecting the earth from environmental ruin, but about man-made global warming, the very argument at hand. You didn't blur the line, you paved over it and drew another one.

    But if we're to tilt at rhetorical windmills in fields far distant, I'll happily concede that the streams and rivers fouled by chemical and petro dumping were demonstrably in need of rescue and reclamation. On this point we were never in disagreement. Humans should be (and I believe largely are, today) much more responsible stewards of the earth than in years passed. These same streams and rivers, as you mentioned, are much cleaner now, and for this we may celebrate.

    Because of our growing ecological awareness, I believe we have far more to fear from naturally occurring environmental disasters than the rare crude oil spill or factory explosion. The survivors of massive earthquakes in Chile and Haiti would likely agree. Ditto those who survived countless other natural disasters over the centuries, including the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 and the hurricanes of the eastern seaboard in recent years. These are nothing new.

    Mother Nature, for all her beauty, throws a spectacular temper tantrum. I just don't think we pissed her off.

    AGW, for all its vaunted horror by the left, has been rendered a moot point by other man-made factors. They're called lies, deceit, and politics.

    Congratulations on a fun weblog. I look forward to your insightful and honest assessment of the flailing Obama administration and non-representational Democratic Congress in an upcoming post.



  4. Brian,

    Welcome to the ETLR blog. I always appreciate and encourage the input of engaged, articulate people. As for your clarification, I'm not sure why you felt the need to offer one, given that I referenced neither you nor any specific point from your column here or in the newspaper. So your assertion that I was rebutting anything in your piece is a tad wide of the mark. As you no doubt noticed in this post, I intentionally steered clear of the rancorous back and forth on the specific issue of global warming, preferring instead to give readers a timely reminder of modern man's numerous egregious outrages toward the environment that are a matter of record. I guess what I'm trying to say, to use the vernacular, "It ain't always about you, man."

    Since you raise some points in the context of the blog, please allow me to offer a clarification of my own, and point out what to me are inconsistencies in what you write. I stand by my assertion that the point of contention is whether human activity may be leading to environmental disaster. That is the subtext behind the work that leaders like Al Gore and others are doing. And when it comes to opponents like Senator Inhofe, refuting these claims is clearly of paramount importance. It's the political argument, at least in this particular piece, that I chose to sidestep. (Not that I might not join the fray in the future).

    I agree that humans are significantly more responsible regarding the environment than in times past, a fact for which the EPA and environmentalists groups deserve the lion's share of the credit. However, let's not rest on our laurels here. If I have a primary complaint about your column, it would be the impression it leaves with the reader that humans have been unfairly maligned on this issue, and should not be put upon to feel any sense of responsibility whatsoever.

    I am glad to see that we agree that humans should always strive to achieve and maintain good stewardship regarding the planet. However I cannot see the relevance of discussing natural disasters like tsunamis, earthquakes and the like. They have been and will certainly always be with us. But when it comes to disasters arising from the skies, global warming can and should be given special scrutiny. Many respected scientists assert that an intensification of weather events such as hurricanes, other wind storms and harsher winters can be seen as a direct result of a buildup in greenhouse gas emissions. That is the issue at hand, and scientists, not politicians should carry the day when it comes to decisions about what should be done about it.

    A myopic focus on the politics surrounding the issue, takes our eyes off the ball. With all due respect, AGW cannot be rendered moot by cynically pointing at the shenanigans of politicians. Whether it is real or not should not be determined in the realm of politics, but in that of science. Let's try to keep the focus where it belongs. The environment depends on it.

    "Congratulations on a fun weblog. I look forward to your insightful and honest assessment of the flailing Obama administration and non-representational Democratic Congress in an upcoming post."

    All I can say to this is that since I carry no brief for the Obama administration, I fear you will be disappointed waiting for any full-throated defense of it from these quarters. As for the Democratic Congress, last I heard, they were each duly elected and installed into office in accordance with our laws. What does "representation" mean, if not that?

    At any rate, thanks for contributing to a much needed discussion.


  5. Forgive the delayed response. Two sick kids, one of them gushing vomit like a derrick, have kept us busy here. With any luck, I won’t catch it just in time for spring break. With MY luck, I will.

    One could be forgiven for believing your column referenced my own. Since the topic of my last piece was AGW, which you also wrote about to a lesser degree, it could be just a matter of incredible coincidence or fortuitous timing. Secondly, given that an earlier comment from a blog reader spoke to the same reference, which went uncorrected aside from an explanation of your thesis, it just seemed a natural deduction.

    As you declared, the point of contention is whether or not human activity is causing environmental disaster. Such was the point made in my own column, and I averred in the negative, given the propensity of evidence seeming to corroborate the falsity of AGW, which has been blamed for so much. Perhaps we crossed ideological wires in our conversation on that point. You sidestepped the political argument, but that was the hub of my piece, as it applied to AGW, only.

    The fault you find in my column, that the impression is given that mankind bears no responsibility for past harms upon the planet, is an opinion derived, I believe, not by dispassionate examination of my thesis, but by flawed inference leading to incorrect assumption. Perhaps you saw a message where none existed. My old journalism teacher had a famous admonition against assumptions.

    Elsewhere, you question the relevance of any discussion of natural disasters, like earthquakes and tsunamis, as it pertains to anthropogenic ecological disaster. It has long been the charge from histrionic environmental medeas who put sentiment over reason and science (and indeed suppress them) that such disasters are exacerbated, if not caused, by human activity. The data simply does not support the claims.

    To that end, it does not follow that developed nations should surrender an onerous portion of their GDP to developing nations, per Kyoto and Copenhagen. It would be economic self-sabotage on our part and robbery by fiat.

    AGW wasn’t made a joke by the malfeasance of politicians, only, but by the chicanery of so-called scientists with a political agenda. Politics need not be confined to marble buildings in state capitols and Washington D.C., but seeps into every place that should be shielded from it, from universities to churches.

    “Whether it (AGW) is real or not should not be determined in the realm of politics, but in that of science.” Again we agree.

    As for the representational nature of our Congress, I have to wonder how they define the trustee vs. delegate models of representation, as conceived by Burke and Madison, respectively. Ideally, we enjoy a mixture of both. Presently, we have neither, hence the reverberations of dissatisfaction thundering from all quarters.

    Apologies for the lengthy response. I’m never as succinct as I’d like to be. I’ll try not to haunt these pages too often. It might damage your liberal bona fides to be seen consorting with a known conservative.

    Warmest regards to you and your readers,


  6. Brian,

    Your admonitions about "flawed inferences" and reference to the threadbare bromide regarding "assumptions" notwithstanding, I have no reason to doubt my initial negative impression of your column. I've been at this reading and writing thing for a while now, and I have developed a good bit of confidence in my ability to divine an author's intentions based on the text laid out before me. I know the uses of sarcasm, ridicule and an overall dismissive tone. Thus my critique stands.

    Just one example from your piece is your reference to George Carlin's quote as "....perhaps the best distillation of environmental crisis skepticism." I quote it verbatim. "The planet has been here four and a half billion years...We've been engaged in heavy industry for a little over two hundred years. And we have the conceit to think that somehow we're a threat?"

    If the point here was to instill a sense of remorse for past environmental outrages and responsibility for preventing future ones, I think you missed the mark. At least with this reader.

    You mention a "propensity of evidence seeming to corroborate the falsity of AGW" without producing said evidence. So I'll take that statement with a grain of salt. But at least we are getting back to the primacy of scientific evidence in clearing up this issue rather than the blather of politicians whose motives are questionable.

    Your apparent dismissal of all scientists whose conclusions you don't like based on the so called "climate-gate" scandal seems to me unwise and unfair. Your inability to see scientific data without a political filter seems to take you down a dead end that is futile and dangerous. I tend to trust scientists as people without political axes to grind. I have no reason to disbelieve that the majority of them are guided by the Holy Grail of their field, "The Scientific Process."

    If scientists who reach conclusions that favor policies you disagree with can be politically tainted, then obviously those scientists with whom you agree can be as well. That is a situation that leads nowhere, and puts the good that science can do out of reach. So, despite your cynicism about these people, I choose to give them the benefit of the doubt, no matter how much politicians attempt to poison the waters regarding their important work.

    As for future communications, feel free to post comments here as long as they are respectful. Other options might be conversing on back channels such as e-mail. My number is in the phone book if you'd like to exchange e-mail addresses. My wife and I would even be open to discussions over coffee or dinner. Let us know.