Archive for the ‘Environmentalism’ Category

Revkin, Values, and Data

June 8th, 2009

Posted by: admin

Andy Revkin over at his New York Times blog posted last week about the role of values in debates over climate change.  While his ultimate point, that values play a factor even in debates over data, is nothing new here, the lead and title of the post support some old and inaccurate conceptions about the roles values can play in debates that involve scientific data.

Titling a post “Values vs. Data in Environmental Care” is misleading in that it suggests that data comes from a value-free position.  The choice of data, methodology and other factors of experimental design are made for reasons that – intentionally or not  – support particular values.  By asserting data to be value free, you allow the values to sneak in.

The linkage of the discussion to explicitly religious values, while allowing for a good hook to the story, also supports a common assumption that when speaking of values you are speaking of religious values.  That is unnecessarily narrow, and likely inflammatory, if the attempts at discussions over evolution might suggest.

I don’t think Revkin subscribes to these faulty premises.  But I see this kind of thinking all too often not to call it out in places I don’t expect to see it.

A Brief History of Geoengineering

February 2nd, 2009

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My online wanderings brought out this article from the Spring 2007 edition of the Wilson Quarterly (H/T on geoengineering.  It’s a decent, if thin, introduction to past and current plans and schemes to modify global climate for various reasons.  The author, James Fleming of Colby College, suggests that such plans have suffered from a lack of careful thinking through, and is somewhate persuasive on this point.  However, he does not engage a larger question – if these schemes are too big, or their consequences too hard to determine, are there other adaptation measures that could be taken that aren’t quite as broad in scope or fraught with consequence?  The article does indicate that various efforts to try the really big stuff will continue, and it would be nice to have alternatives to consider in the event that the larger ideas are heavily pushed.

Is the “Death of Environmentalism” becoming mainstream environmentalism?

October 23rd, 2008

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James “Gus” Speth just published an article in Yale Environment 360 critical of modern environmentalism. Speth’s argument is particularly notable due to his prominence within mainstream environmentalism. Gus founded the World Resources Institute (WRI), co-founded the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and is currently the dean of Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Speth is careful to highlight the successes of the past, but argues environmentalism must develop a new politics to succeed. Sound familiar?

A specter is haunting American environmentalism — the specter of failure.

All of us who have been part of the environmental movement in the United States must now face up to a deeply troubling paradox: Our environmental organizations have grown in strength and sophistication, but the environment has continued to go downhill, to the point that the prospect of a ruined planet is now very real. How could this have happened?

Before addressing this question and what can be done to correct it, two points must be made. First, one shudders to think what the world would look like today without the efforts of environmental groups and their hard-won victories in recent decades. However serious our environmental challenges, they would be much more so had not these people taken a stand in countless ways. And second, despite their limitations, the approaches of modern-day environmentalism remain essential: Right now, they are the tools readily at hand with which to address many pressing problems, including global warming and climate disruption. Despite the critique of American environmentalism that follows, these points remain valid…


Do environmentalists need a new politics?

October 1st, 2008

Posted by: admin

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger argue in their book Break Through that environmentalists need to transition from a ‘politics of limits’ to a ‘politics of possibilities:’

Through their stories, institutions, and policies, environmentalists constantly reinforce the sense that nature is something separate from, and victimized by, humans. This paradigm defines ecological problems as the inevitable consequences of humans violating nature. Think of the verbs associated with environmentalism and conservation: “stop,” “restrict,” “prevent,” “regulate,” and “constrain.” All of them direct our thinking to stopping the bad, not creating the good.

…we must choose between a resentful narrative of tragedy and a grateful narrative of over coming.

In yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, Nordhaus and Shellenberger illustrate this argument with a practical example of how a politics of possibilities might be more effective than the status quo.

As the election enters its endgame, Democrats and their environmental allies face a political challenge they could hardly have imagined just a few months ago. America’s growing dependence on fossil fuels, once viewed as a Democratic trump card held alongside the Iraq war and the deflating economy, has become a lodestone instead. Republicans stole the energy issue from Democrats by proposing expanded drilling — particularly lifting bans on offshore oil drilling — to bring down gasoline prices. Whereas Barack Obama told Americans to properly inflate their tires, Republicans at their convention gleefully chanted “Drill, baby, drill!” Obama’s point on conservation and efficiency was lost on an electorate eager for a solution to what they perceive as a supply crisis…


Questions for Senator Inhofe

September 25th, 2008

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Today, Senator Inhofe (R-OK) released a report entitled Political Activity of Environmental Groups and Their Supporting Foundations. This document is an expanded version of a document published in 2004. The report’s general argument is that environmental groups are stealth advocates for the Democratic Party despite that environmental organizations claim to serve public interests:

Environmental activism has become a multibillion dollar industry in the U.S. Campaigns to save the whales or stop mining beg average Americans for their support through donation of their hard earned dollars. These environmental campaigns also receive millions from charitable foundations such as the PEW Foundation, Turner Foundation, and Heinz Foundation. But what most don’t know when they donate to a cause to “save the rainforest” or “save the polar bear” is that their money could end up being used for partisan activities that are only tangentially related, if related at all, to the cause for which they are intended…

…Because of the complicated web of 501(c), 527, and PAC organizations, it is clear that individuals who donate to a 501(c)(3) organization intending to contribute to the cause of the organization, have no clear mechanism for verifying that their donation was used for the cause. Unsuspectingly, these donors may be contributing to partisan activities when they originally intended their donation to aide an environmental cause. Additionally, there is not sufficient oversight over these organization to police their political and campaign activities.

Are contributors to environmental groups really so naïve that they do not understand the political implications of the groups they donate to? I doubt it.


A Call to Reinvigorate Environmentalism…

September 23rd, 2008

Posted by: admin

I recently came across an interesting article by Jeffrey St.Clair published in February 2007. St.Clair is a progressive journalist/activist and is an outspoken critic of the effectiveness of environmental NGOs:

A kind of political narcolepsy has settled over the American environmental movement. Call it eco-ennui. You may know the feeling: restlessness, lack of direction, evaporating budgets, diminished expectations, a simmering discontent. The affliction appears acute, possibly systemic…

…this much is clear: the vigor of the environmental movement has been dissipated, drained by the enforced congeniality displayed in our disputes with Clinton and Bush, the Democrats in congress, and the grim, green-suited legions of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Despite the rampages of the Bush administration, the big green groups can’t even rouse themselves into much more than the most reflexive kind of hysteria, fundraising letters printed in bold type…


Will environmentalists miss George Bush?

September 13th, 2008

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No doubt, environmentalists are counting down the days until President Bush leaves office. However, is this parting bittersweet? Consider the following figure on the number of Americans that claim to belong to an environmental organization.

According to this dataset, the number of American’s that belong to an environmental organization correlates with presidential party affiliation; claimed membership is approximately 50% greater during a Republican presidency.


Conservation Nonprofit Revenue

July 3rd, 2008

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This past week, I aggregated IRS tax data for the top 50 revenue producing conservation nonprofit organizations. I documented over $22.5 billion dollars in combined revenue between 1998 and 2005. The combined assets of these organizations were approximately $8 billion in 2005. To help understand where revenue is flowing, I used a simple classification system. The following pie chart breaks down revenue by sector for the eight year period: