Tuesday, November 22, 2005

ENVIRONMENTALISM GONE WILD

I saw or heard a few things last week that got me thinking about environmentalism as a good example of single-issue thinking. It's not, of course, the only example of this mind set.

Bumper sticker: Friends don't let Friends eat Farmed Fish

This sentiment stems, I think, from the fact that many fish farming operations pollute their environments because of feed and fish wastes that are discharged to or accumulate in surface waters. This is a problem. The other side of the coin, however, is the steady stream of scientific and news reports about the depletion of fish resources world-wide resulting from increasing fishing and deteriorating habitat. There is also some concern about the future impacts to fisheries of global climate changes resulting from human-induced impacts to the atmosphere.

Fish and seafood protein is an important source of nourishment for the human population on this planet. It seems obvious that the oceans won't be able to meet the ever increasing demands of our growing population, and farming of fish and seafood species will become an increasingly important component of the food supply. Think about it; humans used to subsist on wild plants and animals, but we now rely mostly on farmed plants and animals for our meals.

So, instead of keeping our friends from eating farmed fish, we should insist that the fish farming industry develop methods that are sustainable and do no further harm to the environment.

Radio and newspaper ads: You Can't "Stand Tall" to Protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge when you Stoop to Vote for Oil Drilling in a Budget Deal

We can thank the Sierra Club for this ridiculous ad campaign against Oregon Senator Gordon Smith. Smith bucked the Republican Party and the White House when he refused to toe the party line that the ANWR should be opened to oil drilling. But in a tough vote last week, he voted for a budget deal that he thought would help protect social service funding, even though a rider was added to allow drilling in the ANWR. Smith explained this decision in an Op Ed piece in the Oregonian, stating that he is not a single-issue representative, and that he has to weigh all the issues and make tough choices. I respect Smith for his integrity and tough calls. But the Sierra Club is a single issue organization, and they are now spending big bucks on these ads. Drilling in the ANWR is not the real issue here. The real issue is the U.S.'s obscene consumption of petroleum and our reliance on foreign oil. I'm sure the Sierra Club is working diligently to change the energy policy of this country, so why are they wasting money on an ad campaign that isn't focused on the real issues?

News Item: Environmental Groups criticize Oregon Department of Environmental Quality for being "bought off" by industry.

Using money provided by industry groups, the Oregon DEQ developed new standards for turbidity in Oregon streams and rivers that will in some situations allow higher turbidity levels resulting from discharges. Environmental groups are claiming that this will allow more pollution of Oregon surface waters, and that industrial dischargers bought themselves a new license to pollute. Well, the truth is a bit different. First, the old turbidity standards for Oregon were unrealistic and could rarely be met.

I've had a number of consulting jobs for which my staff and I monitored turbidity levels and found that the standard could not be met the way it was written. I participated in a meeting with the DEQ in the early 1990's to discuss the standard, and I wrote a short paper examining why the standard needed to be changed so that it could be met by dischargers, including municipalities (yes dear readers, when you flush the toilet, your wastes don't magically disappear). So I, for one, am glad to see a new set of standards that can be realistically met.

But - hang on - industry paid for the studies and the staff, so doesn't that make the new standards bad? I suppose it does, if you believe that everything is a conspiracy. User groups funding government services is not a new concept, it is sometimes the only way to get things done (particularly in Oregon where most of our legislators seem to be stuck in Neanderthal mode). So instread of assuming the worst, and assuming that any change in the status quo must be bad, let's take a critical look at the whole picture and keep our minds open to change.

A final word to environmentalists and all the rest of us "ists" out there: let's try not to be single-issue focused. Let's look at all sides, at the big picture, and make informed decisions. And, last but not least, eat lots of fish - it's good for you (as long as it's not loaded with mercury, pesticides or other toxins)!

1 comment:

Sherry said...

Having just completed the "Environmentalism Gone Wild" blog I sit here in my warm home and wonder how we homo sapiens have not come to understand that we will, of necessity, harm other parts of the ecology as we feed, clothe, and shelter ourselves?

It is incumbent on us to cherish and protect our environment, but this wife of the blogger agrees with him: We need to stop playing politics on all sides of the issue and try to apply a solution that does the best for the entire ecosystem, one that takes into account humans as a part of that system.

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