Status Quo, Gordon challenges the common environmental worldview
Pendleton, Ore. – In the words of the Heritage Foundation’s Senior Advisor for Strategic Outreach Rob Gordon, Heritage is a “political think-tank in Washington, D.C. that champions individual freedoms, limited government, free markets, strong national defense and traditional values.”
“Those are a lot of things not popular in Washington right now, but I’m hoping they’ll make a comeback,” said Gordon at the September meeting of the Public Lands Council in Pendleton, Ore. “Washington is a small city surrounded on all sides by reality.”
Gordon said, in his view, the debate between environmental worldviews is “profound.”
“In the environmental arena, I picture a logger, rancher or farmer standing in the middle of a coliseum, waiting for the gate to open to see what type of federal policies will be released on them – national monuments, global warming, open space. And the audience is increasingly suburban and mis-informed, thinking electricity comes from a wall socket, lumber comes from Home Depot and hamburger comes from Safeway. They’re not on the side of those producing food and fiber – the materials needed for our existence. It’s a scary image,” he said.
“We’re told climate change, loss of biodiversity and dwindling fuel supplies are urgent dilemmas with nothing less than our future hanging in the balance,” said Gordon, noting that notion comes from the idea that natural resources are finite and fragile.
He said today’s common environmental worldview is this: “Even renewable natural resources are under threat, given the rate at which they’re depleted, and not only depleted, but degraded from the pressure that disrupts the delicate ecological balance – the web of life and living, breathing entities. As the human population grows, so does the depletion and degradation of these resources, and more population leads to more consumption, and human consumption drives the degradation.
“The destruction of the natural world is the result of humans exceeding the earth’s carrying capacity, and technological advances powered by reliable and affordable energy increase the rate and the degree of depletion, and the net effect of an unchecked population and unfettered technological growth is clearly environmental danger.
“Free markets, made functional by private property and the search for profits, create and perpetuate a vicious cycle where demand accelerated by technology and fueled by affordable and reliable energy lead to increasingly detrimental impacts.
“The pressure is so great we’re approaching points of no return. We reach a tipping point for the acceleration of global warming, cross the line where extinction makes ecological damage irrevocable, or the injury to water or air threatens nature’s very ability to renew itself.
“The threats we face compel us to take action, even if it’s taken on insufficient information about the threat, or possible threat, and even if the costs of the action are quantifiable and significant.
“Such dilemmas force hard choices for our own survival, to ensure humans return to living in a sustainable manner, with sustainable development and a society more in harmony with the earth. The action must come from the highest levels of government, and guided by officials, driven by science and equipped with law and regulation. There’s a thin green line between consumption and the resources, and the obvious course is increased government regulation and ownership.”
“What do all those ideas have in common?” asked Gordon after he outlined the theory. “I’d say the single, unifying thing those have in common is that they’re wrong. We hear those things all the time, but I would say they’re dead wrong. We have accumulated enough science and knowledge to know that. This environmental vision I just outlined is wrong, because some of its most fundamental assumptions are wrong. It’s wrong, because the ethical paths to which it guides us are hazy and improper, and because this worldview is based upon such a flawed foundation that the policy prescriptions generated from it are often wrong, and the marketed exaggeration and false dilemma are deceiving.
“Rejection of this status quo environmental philosophy does not equate with rejection of being good environmentalists, conservationists or being a good steward. It’s only rejecting a set of misguided ideas,” he explained.
In place of the status quo, Gordon put forth another idea. “It’s grounded in truth, which leads to better policy, discussed without code words like ‘sustainable development’ and misdirection, and one that lays the foundation for well-grounded hope for the future.”
Gordon’s idea has eight principles. “Without a doubt, the first and foremost important principle is that people are the most important,” he said. “It’s the recognition that people are unique and, in some instances, apart from natural world, in that people have value that no thing could have. From this perspective, an environmental policy not good for people is not a good environmental policy.”
He said the most important resource to meet environmental challenges is human creativity. “The most important resource is not fixed tangible things, but the human mind. This is an idea antithetical to the modern environmental movement.”
Second, he said liberty is our chosen environment. “The point is we’ve chosen this, and it’s been a central organizing principle of our society since its inception, and it’s a good one. Liberty is a better framework for the environment – freedom unleashes the 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 have the access to do it,” he explained.
“Renewable natural resources are generally not fragile and static, but resilient and dynamic,” said Gordon in his third point. “Renewable natural resources – trees, plants, soil, air, water, fish, wildlife and collections thereof, wetlands, deserts, forests, prairies, open space – are the resources we’re dependent on for food, clothing, medicine and shelter. They’re continually generated through growth and production, and other naturally occurring processes. All living organisms and activities produce byproducts, and nature has the profound ability to take care of them, and allow us to wisely use natural resources while ensuring they’re conserved for future generations. This idea has been lost.”
“Fourthly, the learning curve is green,” said Gordon. “As we accumulate additional knowledge, we learn how to get more output through less input. The more knowledge we have, the more efficient we are in meeting our needs. As we gain knowledge we can conserve by substituting information for resources: more miles per gallon, more feet per acre of timber, higher ag yield per cultivated acre.
“Technological advancement can confer real environmental benefits, and one of my favorite examples is American agriculture. Technological progress made it possible for the American farmer of the mid-‘90s to feed and clothe a population more than two and a half times that of the previous century, and tripled exports while reducing the total acreage in production by 28 million acres.”
Gordon quickly summarized his remaining four points, including that science should be employed as a tool to guide public policy, but can’t be substituted. He also said efforts to control pollution and manage natural resources should achieve real environmental benefits, and that policy should be implemented on site situations, specifically. “Another guy doesn’t need to come from Washington and tell you how to do things best on your ranch or allotment,” stated Gordon.
Lastly, he said, “The application of market forces and the protection and extension of property rights are the absolute converse of what’s going on in Washington policies today, but they offer the most promising new opportunities in environmental protection.”
“I think there’s an opening, a chance to begin challenging these ideas,” said Gordon to the Public Lands Council. “To do so, you must be able to understand them, and articulate why you reject them, and be able to lead with your own.”