Re: [asa] Wilson's "The Creation"

From: Randy Isaac <>
Date: Wed Sep 06 2006 - 15:54:34 EDT

    Superficially these principles sound great and can be used to great effect rhetorically. Much depends on how the principles are implemented and what is actually meant by many of the terms.
    However, the last part of No. III is very specifically in grave error and if the rest of the statements are interpreted in that vein, then I can see why there is a great polarization on this topic.

    "Markets reward efficiency, which is environmentally good, while minimizing the harm done by unwise actions. In the market, successes are spread by example, and since costs are not subsidized but are borne privately, unwise actions are on a smaller scale and of a shorter duration. As a result, such actions are on a smaller scale and of a shorter duration. We must work to decouple conservation policies from regulation or government ownership. In aggregate, markets not mandates, most accurately reflect what people value and therefore choose for their environment."

    There are at least two very specific reasons why this is fundamentally wrong:
1) The time scale of the environmental impact is usually much longer than that of the market impact.
2) The scope of environmental impact is usually much broader and different than that of the market impact.

    In simple terms, an individual or corporation can take an action which adversely pollutes a neighboring individual or corporation. That effect may not be felt for many years while the financial gain to the offending party is usually more short term. For the market dynamics to reward that which is environmentally good requires a longer time frame than is affordable. In other words, the irreversible damage is done long before the financial implications will correct the situation.

    In engineering jargon, the feedback time constant is different for environmental factors than for market implications.

    I could also cite many examples from the semiconductor industry where environmental factors would not have been corrected through market forces alone. Or if they were, not nearly soon enough to avoid damage. By the time the damage forces financial implications that drive change in behavior, the damage is usually too great.



  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Janice Matchett
  To: George Murphy ; Randy Isaac ;
  Sent: Wednesday, September 06, 2006 1:32 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Wilson's "The Creation"

  At 05:13 PM 9/5/2006, George Murphy wrote:

    But as Wilson notes, the opposition to sound environmental policy from some on the religious right continues to be a problem - & that's especially the case since some people with those views are in positions to influence or make policy in the current administration.

  @ Really? Which of the principles below do you and the religious left reject / consider to be unsound, and why specifically?:

  I. People are the most important resource.

  All environmental policy should be based on the idea that people are the most important resource. The inherent value of each individual is greater than the inherent value of any other resource. Accordingly, the foremost measure of quality of our environment is human health, safety and well-being. A policy cannot be good for the environment if it is bad for people. The best judge of what is or is not desirable is the affected individual.

  Human intellect and accumulated knowledge are the only means by which the environment can be willfully improved or modified. Environmental policies should inspire people to be good stewards. Within the framework of equity and liability individuals carry out deeds that create incremental benefits in the quality or quantity of a resource or improve some aspect of the environment. Cumulatively these deeds result in progress and provide direct and indirect environmental benefits to society.

   II. Renewable natural resources are resilient and dynamic and respond positively to wise management.

  Renewable natural resources trees, plants, soil, air, water, fish and wildlife and collections thereof wetlands, deserts, forests and prairies are the resources we are dependent upon for food, clothing, medicine, shelter and to meet innumerable other human needs. Human life depends upon their use and conservation. Such resources are continually regenerated through growth, reproduction or other naturally occurring processes which cleanse, cycle or otherwise create them anew. While all living organisms and activities produce byproducts, nature has a profound ability to carry, recycle, recover and cleanse. These characteristics make it possible for us to wisely use renewable resources now while ensuring they are conserved for future generations. As Teddy Roosevelt, a founding father of conservation, recognized: "A Nation treats its resources well if it turns them over to the next generation improved and not impaired in value."

  III. The most promising new opportunities for environmental improvements lie in extending the protection of private property and unleashing the creative powers of the free market.

  Ownership inspires stewardship. Private property stewards have the incentive to enhance their resources and the incentive to protect them. Polluting another's property is to trespass or to cause injury. Polluters, not those most vulnerable in the political process, should pay for damages done to others. Good stewardship is the wise use or conservation of nature's bounty, based on our needs. With some exception, where property rights are absent, we must seek to extend them. If this proves elusive, we must seek to bring the forces of the market to bear to the greatest extent possible. There is a direct and positive relationship between modern market economies and a clean, healthy and safe environment. There is also a direct and positive relationship between the complexity of a situation and the need for freedom. Markets reward efficiency, which is environmentally good, while minimizing the harm done by unwise actions. In the market, successes are spread by example, and since costs are not subsidized but are borne privately, unwise actions are on a smaller scale and of a shorter duration. As a result, such actions are on a smaller scale and of a shorter duration. We must work to decouple conservation policies from regulation or government ownership. In aggregate, markets not mandates, most accurately reflect what people value and therefore choose for their environment.

  IV. Our efforts to reduce, control and remediate pollution should achieve real environmental benefits.

  The term pollution is applied to a vast array of substances and conditions that vary greatly in their effect on man. It is used to describe fatal threats to human health, as well as to describe physically harmless conditions that fall short of someone's aesthetic ideal. Pollutants occur naturally or can be a by-product of technology. Their origin does not determine their degree of threat. Most carcinogens, for example, occur naturally but do not engender popular fear to the same degree that man-made carcinogens do. Microbiological pollutants, bacteria and viruses, though natural, are by far the most injurious form of pollution. Technology and its byproducts must be respected but not feared. Science is an invaluable tool for rationally weighing risks to human health or assessing and measuring other environmental impacts. Health and well-being are our primary environmental measures. Science also provides a means of considering the costs and benefits of actions designed to reduce, control and remediate pollution or other environmental impacts so that we may have a cleaner, healthier and safer environment.

  V. The Learning Curve is Green.

  As we accumulate additional knowledge we learn how to get more output from less input. The more scientific, technical and artistic knowledge we have, the more efficient we are in meeting our needs. As we gain knowledge, we are able to conserve by substituting information for other resources. We get more miles per gallon, more board-feet per acre of timber, a higher agricultural yield per cultivated acre, more GNP per unit of energy. Technological advancement confers environmental benefits. Progress made it possible for the American farmer of today to feed and clothe a population more than two and a half times the size of the one we had in 1910 and triple exports over the same time frame while lowering the total acreage in production from 325 million to 297 million acres. That is 28 million acres less, an area larger than the state of Louisiana that is now available for other uses such as wildlife habitat. American agriculture has demonstrated that as an unintended consequence of seeking efficiencies, there are environmental benefits. As Warren Brookes used to put it simply , "The learning curve is green." This phenomenon has a tremendous positive effect on our environment and progress along the learning curve is best advanced by the relentless competition in the market to find the best or wisest use of a resource.

  VI. Management of natural resources should be conducted on a site and situation specific basis.

  Resource management should allow for variation of conditions from location to location and time to time. A site and situation specific approach takes advantage of the fact that those closest to a resource are best able to manage it. Such practices allow us to set priorities and break problems down into manageable units. Natural resource managers, on site and familiar with the situation, whether tending to the backyard garden or the back forty pasture, are best able to determine what to do, how to do it and when to do it. They are able to adapt management strategies to account for feedback and changes. A site and situation specific management scheme fits the particulars as no government mandate or standard can. Additionally, a site and situation specific approach is more consistent with policies carried out at lesser political levels. The closer the management of natural resources is to the affected parties, the more likely it is to reflect their needs and desires. The more centralized management is, the more likely it is to be arbitrary, ineffectual or even counterproductive. A site and situation specific approach avoids the institutional power and ideological concerns that dominate politicized central planning.

  VII. Science should be employed as a tool to guide public policy.

  Societal decisions rely upon science but ultimately are the product of ethics, beliefs, consensus and many other processes outside the domain of science. Understanding science for what it is and is not is central to developing intelligent environmental polices. Science is the product of the scientific method, the process of asking questions and finding answers in an objective manner. It is a powerful tool for understanding our environment and measuring the consequences of various courses of action. Through science we can assess risks, as well as weigh costs against benefits. While science cannot be substituted for public policy, public policy on scientific subjects should reflect scientific knowledge. A law is a determination to force compliance with a code of conduct. Laws go beyond that which can be established with scientific certainty. Laws are based upon normative values and beliefs and are a commitment to use force. Commitments to use the force of law should be made with great caution and demand a high degree of scientific certainty. To do otherwise is likely to result in environmental laws based upon scientific opinions rather than scientific facts. Such laws are likely to be wasteful, disruptive or even counterproductive, as scientific opinions change profoundly and often at a faster pace than public policy. The notion behind the Hippocratic oath first do no harm should govern the enactment of public policy.

  VIII. Environmental policies which emanate from liberty are the most successful.

  Our chosen environment is liberty, and liberty is the central organizing principle of America. To be consistent with our most cherished principle, our environmental policies must be consistent with liberty. Restricting liberty not only denies Americans their chosen environment, but also constrains environmental progress.

  Liberty has powerful environmental benefits. Freedom unleashes forces most needed to make our environment cleaner, healthier and safer for the future. It fosters scientific inquiry, technological innovation, entrepreneurship, rapid information exchange, accuracy and flexibility. Free people work to improve the environment, and liberty is the energy behind environmental progress.

  More: Principles of the American Conservation Ethic

  ~ Janice

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Wed Sep 6 15:55:36 2006

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Wed Sep 06 2006 - 15:55:36 EDT