Why conservatives are skeptical of environmentalism

From Charles Krauthammer:

As Czech President (and economist) Vaclav Klaus once explained, environmentalism is the successor to failed socialism as justification for all-pervasive rule by a politburo of experts. Only now, it acts in the name of not the proletariat but the planet.

That has nothing to do with the environment, of course, but it’s a reason to be wary.

George Will goes so far as to argue that President Obama’s environmental initiatives, heralded in his Second Inaugural Address, will lead to a conservative revival:

He says that “the threat of climate change” is apparent in “raging fires,” “crippling drought” and “more powerful storms.” Are fires raging now more than ever? (There were a third fewer U.S. wildfires in 2012 than in 2006.) Are the number and severity of fires determined by climate change rather than forestry and land-use practices? Is today’s drought worse than, say, that of the Dust Bowl, and was it caused by 1930s global warming? As for “more powerful storms”:

Because Sandy struck New York City, where the nation’s media congregate and participate in the city’s provincialism, this storm was declared more cosmically momentous than the 74 other hurricanes that have hit or come near the city since 1800. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina was called a consequence of global warming and hence a harbinger of increasing numbers of Category 3 or higher hurricanes. Since then, major hurricane activity has plummeted. No Category 3 storm has hit the United States since 2005. Sandy was just a Category 1.

Obama’s vow to adjust Earth’s thermostat followed the report that 2012 was the hottest year on record in the contiguous 48 states. But the Wall Street Journal’s Holman Jenkins, who has concisely posed the actual climate policy choice (“How much should we spend on climate change in order to have no effect on climate change?”), has noted that although 2012 was 2.13 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than 2011, “2008, in the contiguous U.S., was two degrees cooler than 2006.” And “2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 were all cooler than 1998 by a larger margin than 2012 was hotter than 1998.” Such is the rigor of many who preen as devotees of science that they declared the 2012 temperatures in the contiguous states (1.58 percent of the Earth’s surface) proof of catastrophic global warming.

A flourishing American economic sector is fossil fuels — especially oil and natural gas — which the Obama administration seems to regret and often impedes (see: fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline). Yet the natural gas boom is one of the main reasons why, in 2012, U.S. fossil-fuel emissions were the lowest since 1992. Obama’s wariness about the pipeline suggests that he subscribes to some environmentalists’ stupendously weird theory: If the pipeline is not built to carry oil from the (supposedly dangerous) development of Canadian tar sands, Canada will leave those sands undeveloped rather than sell the oil to China.

I’m willing to conceded that there are legitimate environmental issues.  Conservatives have a tradition of wanting to “conserve” nature, as with other elements of our heritage, and so to be “conservationists.”  A good example is  Tolkien’s portrayal of Saruman as mad-scientist industrialist, destroying the forests and blighting Middle Earth so as to manufacture Orcs.

I also recall when I was a child the horrible stench of the oil refineries in Oklahoma and appreciate its absence (for the most part) due to clean air initiatives.

How would you explain the difference between a  “conservationist” and a  “environmentalist”?

Traditionally, conservatives of the Burkean sort would restrain the free market when necessary to protect culture and traditional values.  Today, many who consider themselves conservative embrace the free market as the solution to virtually all social problems.

Are there free market approaches to protecting the environment, or is the free market  inherently destructive to natural resources, thus requiring statist solutions? What are some non-statist solutions?


via Charles Krauthammer: Obama unbound – The Washington Post.

"For me everything in the Creed is logical and falls into place except one phrase ..."

The Lord and Giver of Life
"I'm coming in a bit late Saelma, but two things spring to mind. First, there ..."

Does Vocation Allow a Spy to ..."
"Perhaps the fact that so many children's lives have been violated since 1973 should give ..."

Are Evangelicals Now Dwindling Like Mainline ..."
"Joining the cultural savages, abortionists now murder babies that are living when they are born. ..."

Defending Child-Killing in the Name of ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Both “environmentalist” and “conservationist” carry some baggage. They can be useful terms as long as one is aware of and deals with that baggage.

    “Environmentalism” tends to be overly biocentric, ignoring the valid place of humans in the creation, and the rule of the Creator God over all. At its extreme, humans are viewed as a cancer, or the creation is worshiped.

    “Conservationism” on the other hand, tends to be overly anthropocentric. The value of wildlife and natural resources are only in relation to their usefulness to humans. The Acton Institute is one conservative organization that goes in this direction.

    Neither a biocentric nor a anthropocentric view of nature is adequate in my mind. A theocentric view of nature is one where all of creation is a result of God’s creativity and goodness, and where humans are in the role of a vice-regent, for the benefit of the creation, the good of humanity, and the glory of the Creator. In this view, nature has intrinsic value, in that it was declared to be “good” even before humans were created.

    I don’t think there is going to be a rush back to “conservatism” because of environmental issues. Most of us recognize that there isn’t much in nature that many who call themselves conservatives (I’m thinking of many in the Tea Party) actually want to conserve. Energy? Clean water? Clean air? Wildlife? Habitats? There is lip service given to these, but in the end, the short-term benefit of the economy always wins.

  • tODD

    I think it’s funny that Will mentions the Dust Bowl, mockingly asking, “was it caused by 1930s global warming?”

    Of course not. But I suppose that modern conservatives will tell me that the Dust Bowl was caused only by sunspots, hmm? That it had nothing to do, of course, of course, with farming methods that worked the fields too hard and too fast, etc., etc. It was mostly the product of a sensationalist media hellbent on criticizing agriculture practices? Let’s ask InfoWars.com…

    Because, you see, the Dust Bowl is a pretty great example of a man-made disaster, in which nobody stopped to think about the effects of the way we do things. Then, of course, disaster struck, and, ultimately, lessons were learned. Somewhat.

    But it doesn’t seem like that comparison is one Will is really willing to pursue.

    Anyhow, the obvious rejoinder to Klaus’s criticism is that anti-environmentalism, as it were, is merely the successor to crony capitalism. Which, unfortunately, cannot truly be termed “failed”.

  • SKPeterson

    Todd @ 2 – I think you may have a point there about the problems inherent in both a crony capitalism and a crony environmentalism – both are intimately attached to the notion of an interventionist state to the advantage of their own particular interests. Maybe freeing up both federally-owned lands, allowing for greater resource extraction, and eliminating agricultural subsidies (which go to Big Ag, mostly to the detriment of the environment in many cases), improving the tort system so that enterprises that pollute and destroy other people’s property are held accountable, and some other actions would do better at restoring some sort of competitive balance between the different approaches. Right now we have two sides that desire the benefits of externalities they impose on others to accrue to themselves, while simultaneously limiting their own exposure to externalities imposed upon them by others. So, we have a system where each side imposes costs on the other that redound to their benefit. I want green, open spaces, but I don’t want to actually pay for the land. Make those guys pay for it! I want to extract resources and if a few streams get polluted that’s the price of progress. Make the property holders pay! And on and on.

    I will admit to being more aligned with Acton’s point of view, but I’m not sure that I agree with Kevin @ 1 that it is a purely anthropocentric enterprise as opposed to a theocentric one. A good debate/discussion might be the limits of either the anthropo- or enviro-centric viewpoints and how a theocentric view of creation and stewardship can be manifested. I’m not sure, short of the eschaton, how that would actually come about myself.

  • Tom Hering

    SK @ 3, placing the subject of the environment in the category of stewardship (as the Acton Institute does) is questionable. This reduces the creation to mere resources, i.e., to the view that the creation’s value is in it’s usefulness to man. But as Kevin N pointed out @ 1, God declared His creation good in its own right before He created man. He made it for His pleasure, and it all belongs to Him (Psalm 50:10-11). So, as we use His creation, we rightly give thanks. But we ought to tremble whenever we destroy what exists primarily for His good pleasure.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Kevin is on the money here.

  • SKPeterson

    Tom @ 4 – A good corollary to that argument is that all of creation groans awaiting the resolution of the sin we have brought into the world. However, I think stewardship flows out of the words (granted this is in English from the ESV, but it does get close to the original meanings) “dominion” and “subdue” found in these passages

    26 Then God said, o“Let us make man8 in our image, pafter our likeness. And qlet them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

    28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, s“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.

    Note that we were originally all vegetarians. However, after the Fall, the regenerative powers of the fruits and vegetables was diminished and we found it necessary to kill in order to survive. However, has the command to have dominion and subdue ended, or is it just now just mixed up in our own sinful endeavors and bound to be as flawed as any of us are?

  • To answer the question: as long as manufactured things have more economic value than forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, Yes, unrestrained free markets will inevitably be destructive of the environment.

    I have nothing against manufactured things, mind. I’m just saying that’s the way it is.

    Personally, I feel unbelievably fortunate to be able to take my family to the beautiful state and national parks here in Minnesota. It’s pure luxury, and it’s open to everyone in the state. I’m glad some people a few generations ago decided to try and preserve these areas. I don’t think that’s incompatible with a healthy economy or individual liberty, far from it. It’s a perfect example of how the exercise of democracy in government can achieve a common good. Calling it “statist” is a pretty shallow way of looking at it.

  • Since tODD mentions the Dust Bowl, it should be noted that the chief cause of those poor agricultural practices was government policy going back close to a century. From the building of railroads on the government dime that opened up the Plains to farming to agricultural price supports that flooded the market with grain when the world simply didn’t need it, the Dust Bowl was bound to happen with the first serious drought, and of course it did.

    Come to think of it, with monstrous ethanol mandates and subsidies along with massive grain subsidies, I have to wonder if we’re setting the stage for a similar disaster today. Or, as fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico tell me, maybe it’s already occurring–a conclusion that a quick look at the quality of the soil being plowed each spring tells me as well. I am seeing a lot more yellowish clay on the surface than I used to.

    All of which is a long way of saying that this conservative is not skeptical of most environmentalism simply because of the “watermelon” phenomenon–“green” on the outside and “red” inside–but more importantly because a lot of the things people do “for the environment” are actually hurting it.

  • Kevin was right on the money, till he mentioned “many in the Tea Party.”

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Mike, unfortunately Kevin is right. he follows environmental news items quite closely, and it certainly looks as if many in the right wing of the GOP, because of some sort of knee-jerk reaction, summarily dismiss most of the environmental concerns out there. He has mentioned some quotes in the past – I’m sure he can dig them up again if he desired.

  • A “conservationist” is one who wishes to protect his livelihood by protecting the assets upon which his livelihood depends.

    An “environmentalist” wants to protect someone else’s assets to the point that they are unusable for any livelihood making.

  • Kirk


    Is nature only valuable in that it can be monetized?

  • Steve Bauer

    Kevin is right. I live in Colorado. Driving in the mountains one sees the pernicious results of mining all over the place. On the one hand, important resources were harvested. On the other hand, they were harvested without any concern whatsoever for the long term consequences. The miners didn’t have any idea what those consequences would be–they were just moving rocks from below ground to above ground. What could go wrong? The owners went in, got rich, and moved on–no recognition of their responsibility to the future. Kind of like those Wall Street bankers who whined they needed to be bailed out but then insist they are still “wunderkinds” who don’t need to apologize for anything.

    The same thing is happening now with fracking. No one has any idea what the long term consequences of this technique are, but we’ve got to go whole hog. Make money before the whole thing goes south. That’s the free market for you. Meanwhile, environmentalists are wishing for the extinction of the human race. Government is the only way to try to preserve some kind of balance in the mess. But even Government is but little help. All the drillers have to do is say “Jobs!” and everyone bows down to Baal.

  • Cincinnatus

    In response to Kirk’s inquiry, I think we should discuss this claim:

    Nature has an intrinsic, normative value that cannot be monetized or “used up,” though it can be destroyed. It transcends whatever value humans assign to nature. In fact, humans are subordinate to and participants within this non-monetary natural order. Any environmental standard should start from this point.

  • SKPeterson

    Count me skeptical. Up to and including Krauthammer.

    I am not convinced by any measure that the government can be a neutral party dealing with contending viewpoints in its current configurations. Between (the lack of) environmental law, unexamined land use policies for public lands, and attenuated property rights by bureaucratic fiat, we get the worst of possible outcomes: bureaucratic interference for and by both environmentalist groups and polluters to the detriment of other property holders. I only see neutrality happening when a) the federal government gets out of the land ownership business, 2) it stops protecting polluters, and 3) it compels property owners to incur costs that provide benefits to others who prefer to spend money lobbying bureaucrats than compensating owners.

    Kirk @ 12 – Short answer: yes. You want green forests and trees and open spaces? Put your money where your mouth is and buy it, or donate to an organization like the Nature Conservancy that will pool your money with others to do so.

    Finally, I will ask this: what are the operative principles of the theocentric view? I’m not sure there are any that are not encapsulated within the anthropocentric view. I do not see them as being exclusive, but rather that they have an exceedingly large are of overlap.

  • Cincinnatus

    Tom@4 (and others):

    I don’t know. I think “stewardship” can be a helpful model, as Wendell Berry explores in his essays. It’s difficult to deny, on the one hand, that the environment is an holistic ecosystem that transcends or escapes human mastery–and that it ought not be regarded merely as resources.

    On the other hand, as Christians, we’re not deep ecologists. There is–and plain experience tells us this–something unique about the human being’s relationship to nature, as opposed to the relationship of a monkey or beaver or frog to nature. We do, in fact, and must regard the natural world as in some sense a stock of resources, and there is biblical evidence to suggest that we are, indeed, stewards rather than “equal” participants.

    tl;dr: We have to eat. How can we do it without reducing everything to resources and/or destroying it? Stewardship could be a way of navigating that tension. For example, can’t we say that marking off wilderness areas, in which no development or resource extraction, is permitted a mode of stewardship?

  • Cincinnatus

    I also have to agree with SKP, though. The State/Government is not necessarily–or even likely–the best or most capable instrument for negotiating questions of the environment. Or protecting the environment.

    We shouldn’t forget that our most resource-intensive and environmentally destructive practices usually receive the imprimatur of the government, up to and including direct subsidies: the corn monoculture (and, indeed, everything the USDA does), the oil industry, the coal industry (until recently), the interstate highway, Wal-Mart, the auto industry, the military (biggest users of carbon on the planet!), and so on.

  • Tom Hering

    Cincinnatus @ 16, there are different ideas about stewardship out there, but what’s common to them all is a concern for how resources are used. This may (may) be an appropriate approach for a church to take in its own little environment (of time, money, people, and talents), but I think it’s a mistake to extend it to all of creation. Because the creation doesn’t exist primarily for us or our use (the mistake made in both conservationism and environmental stewardship). Rather (as I said @ 4), it exists for the good pleasure of the God who created it, and loves it, and sustains it. Insofar as we use it, or at least the creatures in it, we are using what God has said belongs to Him. That’s a biblical claim to take very, very seriously (and one reason among others for thanking Him). It should be obvious that this isn’t an ecological view of nature.

  • sg

    There are a lot of contradictions out there. Take the locavore idea. The locavore wants to eat locally grown and produced/processed foods. Okay, but small scale production is more energy intensive than large scale. Cheap food is more environmentally friendly than expensive food because the more $ are spent on food, the more money farmers and distributors have to spend on things that require energy to produce and distribute. There is just so much misunderstanding about what is environmentally friendly and what isn’t. Consider pesticides and fertilizers. If it takes less energy/pollution to make distribute and use them per bushel produced than the energy used to grow an equivalent amount of organic food, then modern high yield farming is actually more eco friendly despite being counter intuitive. I mean, if it takes 50 acres to grow as much corn organically as can be grown on 10 with fertilizer and pesticides, then the organic may be causing more pollution than the modern method. It has to take more energy to plow, plant and harvest 50 acres than 10 regardless of yield.

  • Cincinnatus


    No. Your argument is a massive canard among food industry advocates (lobbyists?). Our industrial food system is about as environmentally destructive as it is possible for a food system to be.

    But now isn’t the time to discuss the finer points of sustainable agriculture, I suppose. The main error in your claim, for the time being, is that small farms are using the same practices of industrial farms but at a smaller scale. This is false. The practices employed by small, organic or semi-organic farms are morally (and, when one takes into account the externalities of industrial farms, economically) superior to industrial practices. Promise. There is no acceptable defense for CAFO’s, for example.

  • SG is onto something there.
    If you’re going to make what you eat into a moral issue, then you have to choose how to prioritize the moral issues relating to food.

    Is it more moral (or “ethical”) to patronize small local growers instead of Big Agri-Business?
    Is it more ethical to eat “free range” or “cage free” chicken & eggs?
    How about “fair-trade” coffee?

    What if the options above are actually more detrimental to the environment or more energy intensive per unit produced because of their relative inefficiencies compared to large scale operations?

    How does the combination Phood Pharisee / Enviro-worshipper resolve the conflict?

  • Cincinnatus

    Also, Mike and sg, industrial agriculture is hugely dependent upon petroleum, with all that entails–not only in the tractors, etc., but in the massive amounts of fertilizer deployed. This doesn’t apply to small farms that are operated sustainably.

  • Steve Billingsley

    A good book in dealing with this topic by Roger Scruton.


    Not to oversimplify the book – but his essential argument is that local, smaller-scale initiatives in protecting natural environments/habitats are usually more effective in actually dealing with problems and also have the virtue of not devolving more power to regulatory schemes and bureaucratic structures. I think political conservatives have good reasons to be skeptical of the environmental movement as a political movement for the same reasons that we should all be skeptical of the desire to concentrate and centralize political power “for our own good”. The historical results of such movements are not pretty.

  • The problem with CAFOs is that people think animals have the same feelings as people and then feel sorry for them for having to live all crowded like that.

  • Kirk

    @15 I do. I pay taxes 😉

    But seriously, there’s more to it than just dollar value. Green spaces effect public well being in that they make people happier and healthier. This improves property values and lowers healthcare cost. The value of the land itself isn’t being maximized, but the aggregate value that leaving the land undeveloped is likely higher than it would have been if you’d put, say, a shopping mall on it. That value is dispersed among the public and does benefit private industry indirectly but can’t really be monetized by a single private industry. Would it be better for that land to be sold off and developed?

    Plus, there’s the issue of protecting the rights of the little guy from the purely profit driven motives of big business. Veith mentioned he was happy about not breathing in emissions from coal plants, which were lowered thanks to environmental regulation. His and his neighbor’s health is probably better for that. Or what about the regulations that protect people that live down river from mines and farms from dealing with polluted run off. Pollution hurts people and destroys property and is limited thanks to environmental regulation. Part of government’s responsibility is to protect citizens from one another (see: the police). But, in order to protect the health and property of certain citizens, it’s necessary to limit the profit potential of others. What’s more important?

    It’s tough to couch nature and the environment in strictly market driven terms because there’s a lot more to interacting with nature than supply and demand. Water flows, air moves, animals migrate and man-kind experiences value from nature intrinsically, as well as fiscally.

  • Tom Hering

    Mike @ 21, you’ve brought up the other big reason conservatives are skeptical about environmentalism, other than the potential for statism: the suspicion that nature worship underlies all environmentalism (as opposed to conservationism). Is it possible that most people with environmental concerns don’t actually worship nature (the creation rather than the Creator)? And is it possible that nature worship isn’t the only view of nature that ignores the biblical God – but that, in view of all the scriptures say about God’s relationship to His creation, the utilitarian view of nature ignores Him as well?

  • Cincinnatus


    Even if you don’t think people should feel sorry for animals–which, by the way, seems like a profoundly unchristian idea (Balaam’s ass and all that)–there are myriad reasons to oppose CAFOs. They cause tremendous air and groundwater pollution. They are basically the reason we worry about food poisoning these days (cows aren’t as likely to carry food-borne diseases when they aren’t standing knee-deep in their own feces all day). Because the cows are fed on a diet of corn, which erodes their stomach lining (they can’t naturally digest corn, so the cow’s stomach produces too much acid, causing ulcers, causing infection), and because they stand in close quarters in a sea of manure, they require intensive doses of antibiotics which are the exclusive reason that we are today worried about the development of “superbugs” (antibiotic resistant bacteria); the chemical residue from these enormously overprescribed antibiotics, by the way, has been traced to genetic abnormalities in both animals and, increasingly, humans.

    I could go on. The point is, CAFOs are basically indefensible, unless your only priority is “cheap” ground beef.

  • Kirk

    @24 You’re right! Animals don’t have the same feelings as humans, so we should totally be unnecessarily cruel to them!

  • Tom Hering

    … people think animals have the same feelings as people and then feel sorry for them for having to live all crowded like that. (Mike @ 24)

    Mike, you’re just being deliberately ignorant of current animal science. (And biblical statements about the animals!) I suppose because it better suits your political philosophy. No, animals don’t have exactly the same feelings as human beings, but they do have feelings that are very much like ours, and these include the physical pain and mental/emotional suffering that mistreatment brings.

  • @28 I never suggested we be intentionally cruel to animals. But people do know what would feel like cruelty to themselves and think that it applies to animals too. Well, that’s how we get wacko groups like pETA, who feel sorry for animals that are destined for human consumption.

    Do the steers stuffed into a feedlot really think they are being treated cruelly? I doubt it. They’re probably happy to have the unlimited food supply.

  • Cincinnatus


    If you don’t think we should be intentionally cruel to animals, then you shouldn’t support CAFOs. How is the following scenario not cruel, if you’re a cow: imagine being stuffed into a pit of mud and manure with no grass to eat and no room even to turn around; every day, you’re fed a diet you hate that is filled with horrible-tasting chemicals and drugs–and not just that, but a diet that gives you horrible indigestion and that literally eats away the lining of your stomach. You’re fattened so much on this diet that you can barely walk. If you fall, you are likely to be trampled. If trampled, your bones are, of course, broken. If your bones are broken, you are not given painkillers; rather, you’re just left to languish in your own feces until someone bothers to come around and slaughter you.

    Sorry, whether cows “think” or not, I have a hard time believing that they enjoy their time in a CAFO.

    Again, though, even if you persist in the absurd notion that they do–or that they just don’t care–there are abundant reasons for a Christian and environmentalist to oppose CAFO practices.

  • Kirk


    If the only things cows do is eat, then yeah, it probably wouldn’t be a terrible life. But, they do like to walk around and stuff like that.

  • Cincy, I think you’ve been watching too many pETA videos on YouTube.
    Are those really the typical conditions of a CAFO? Or just some handpicked examples that fit the narrative?

    I realize that I am not an expert on large-scale animal husbandry and certainly don’t have any experience with feed lots, so maybe you are right and the typical conditions are just horrible. But I’ve seen feed lots, and the ones I’ve seen are just a bunch of cows eating, getting fattened up for the slaughter, not wholesale falling down and getting trampled into the muck, etc.

    As far as the environmental effects go, wouldn’t spreading the animals out also spread out the environmental effects? Is it better to have a lot of environmental effect on a relatively small area, or somewhat lesser effect, but on a whole lot more area? I honestly don’t know the answer to that.

  • Cincinnatus

    Yes, Mike, these are typical conditions at a CAFO. I’ve never laid eyes on a PETA publication; this is standard knowledge for those who study food systems and American agriculture.

    I’m merely describing facts: it’s a fact that cows can’t digest corn and stay healthy, but they are fed corn anyway, which requires antibiotics, etc. It’s a fact that, on CAFOs, cows stand around in their own manure (in fact, to be considered a CAFO, a feedlot must not have vegetation). It’s a fact that CAFOs create enormous levels of air and water pollution. And so on.

    Have a gander: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concentrated_Animal_Feeding_Operation

  • Cincinnatus

    Oh, and as for pollution: Cows on a small grass farm are raised such that their manure participates in the local ecosystem (i.e., the number of cows in a pasture is limited by how much nitrogen the field can absorb without runoff, etc.). They also eat the local grass, minimizing the need for imported grain.

    So (essentially) no pollution vs. tremendous pollution. It’s not really a question to me.

  • Tom Hering

    Mike, can we feel empathy for a rock? Why not? Might it be that a rock doesn’t cry out from blows that would cause you and I pain, the way animals do? Might there be good, simple reasons why most people feel empathy toward animals? Why empathy toward them existed long before PETA came along? Why God has said, “A righteous man cares for the life of his beast”? I’m afraid your thinking on this subject doesn’t go much deeper than a “People for the Eating of Tasty Animals” bumper sticker. But you can change that.

  • Joe

    Cincy – I think you are generally right with regard to your description of large corporate farms but your description of small farms is somewhat simplistic. Lots of grass feed beef producers use chemical fertilizers in an effort to keep the pastures producing enough grass to feed the cows and some of them have pastures that are not much more pleasant that feed lots. (It takes a lot more hay/alfalfa etc than corn to get a cow up to butchering weight – I have personal knowledge on this).

    I’m not a big fan of corporate farming and food production and opt out when possible but when looking at our food system and evaluating the morality of it there is one factor that really cannot be swept aside that weighs in favor of corporate farming. Our system, for all its warts, has created abundant quantities of food at low prices. It may not be the healthiest food, but we live in a society that has pretty much eliminated starvation as a cause of death. Our major public health crises among the poor is not hunger but obesity …

  • DonS

    Good points above, but too many to respond to, so I will go back toward the original post. For Christians, in particular, the issue is stewardship. God gave us the earth and all that is in it (plants, animals, resources) to steward. If we have that attitude, consistently, we will treat the land and animals the right way, and preserve resources for many centuries. Unfortunately, urbanization is one of the biggest causes of environmental abuse. When we began to urbanize, back in the 1800’s during the industrial age, we lost our connection to nature, and thus our appreciation for it. Food, gasoline, and other products of nature, became commodities, monetized by corporate managers who live and work in big cities. When problems with industrialization began to be recognized just after the turn of the 20th Century (Upton Sinclair, et al.) and then mid-century as the environmentalist movement sprang up, big government began to get involved, often in league with big industry. But our government leaders are just as disconnected from nature as our business leaders, and crony environmentalism, driven by rich white environmentalist lobbying groups, in league with big business which wants to keep competition down by over-regulation, has made a huge mess of things. And the victim of all this is usually the small landowner, trying to do things the right way. Other victims are the poor, who are regulated out of good industrial jobs, and forced to pay exorbitant prices for energy.

  • DonS

    Oops. Posted before I was done. What Will is complaining about in his article is bad science. Obama’s assertions about wildfires, big storms, and the like are nonsense. The extent of the problem of climate change, for example, to the extent there is a problem, is unknown. Even more to the point, there is absolutely no evidence that any of the measures that can reasonably be taken to address the alleged problem will have any pertinent effect. That is what those of us on the right complain about — it seems more like an exercise in political power and control than one that is genuinely concerned with solving a real problem. And the poor and middle class are the victims of this crony-environmentalist approach.

    Are there non-statist ways to better steward the environment? Sure. The law of public nuisance is a good start. If someone is doing something with their property that will materially harm the property, life, liberty, or happiness of someone else, then there is a case for a state or federal prosecutor, or other private parties, to bring suit.

  • Cincinnatus


    Sure, you’re right to a point. Obviously, not all–or even many–small farms operate in the “virtuous,” low-impact manner I describe. On the other hand, there aren’t many small farms left, period.

    Moreover, some new studies suggest that industrial food isn’t as cheap as we think it is. Yes, I’m able to buy steak and chicken for much cheaper and much more frequently than could my forebears. But such cheapness has come at tremendous costs in the form of externalities, government subsidies, and reductions in quality of life: the animals suffer, the air and water are polluted, corn can’t be grown without billions in tax-funded subsidies, etc.

    There’s no such thing as a free lunch. We’re more efficient farmers today, perhaps, but the tremendous reductions in the cost of our food isn’t solely a product of efficiency. It’s a result of shifting the costs elsewhere, and some of those costs aren’t recoverable.

  • Tom Hering

    Cincinnatus @ 40 (and DonS), it would seem that “good stewardship” – a mostly utilitarian view of God’s creation – as practiced by our forebears has, with the disappearance of God from our consideration, led to a nakedly utilitarian view of nature, and the creatures that populate it. I think this was inevitable, given man’s desire to do away with a morally demanding God. But it was stewardship’s view of the creation as (primarily) a resource for man that set the stage for this, I think. Which is arguable, I know, but that’s how it seems to me.

  • DonS

    Tom @ 41: Set the stage for what, Tom? Stewardship is a biblical concept, not a utilitarian one, isn’t it? I’m not sure of the point you are making here.

  • fjsteve

    Tom @ 41: I don’t see the correlation. The practice of domestication is, almost by definition, born from a utilitarian view of animals. Yet, domestication has been a part of virtually every civilized society in history–even most vegetarian societies. I think it has more to do with human nature, and the desire of every species to dominate and progress–even at the expense of weaker species–than any theological motivation.

  • sg

    Yeah, I wasn’t talking about livestock ranching, etc. I was talking more about imported food vs. local like within say 100-200 miles from the consumer.

  • Joe

    Tom – your hostility of stewardship models as an option seems to be based solely on your very unique ideas of God’s plan and purpose in creating the planet and everything else. I note that you have read the concept that the creation was created and exists for God’s pleasure whole cloth into Psalm 50. Its just not there. God states he owes all of creation, but no where in that Psalm does he explain why he made it. Neither does he describe why he made it in Genesis. He made it, he owns it but to say that its primary purpose is for his own pleasure actually seems to cut against the entire theme of the Bible – that being that he does what he does out of love for us; not our a desire to please himself. Go back to your Sunday school answers, Tom. Whenever the question is, “Why did God do X?” The correct answer is always, “Because he loves us.” I have yet to find a time when the right answer to that question is “because God wanted to make himself happy.”

  • Cincinnatus

    I’m sympathetic to Tom’s concerns. But unless there’s a formal school of environmental thought out there called “Stewardshipism” or something, then I see no reason why a stewardship model–whether Christian or otherwise–must involve utilitarian reductionism. Indeed, why couldn’t we call protecting (portions of) the environment for its own sake a kind of or part of stewardship?

    The National Park System is good stewardship (actually, not really: grossly mismanaged, but the idea is sound). Outlawing whale hunting could be good stewardship–we didn’t outlaw whale killing so that someday we could start again; we did it because whales are cool, and we shouldn’t kill them all. Creating a registry of endangered species could be considered good stewardship.

    These are all just suggestions. The point is that none of them have anything to do with resources.

  • Joe

    back to the main point of the post — the reason this guy is skeptical of environmentalism is because the modern concept of it requires the gov’t to be placed in charge of the management. The annuls of history, the vast amount of environmental disasters caused by gov’ts really ought to be enough to demonstrate that this is a bad idea.

    A very interesting way to pursue it is by private contract. Mark Nuemann (former ultra conservative congressman from Wisconsin) is a property developer by trade. In the last 10 years or so he has pioneered property developments that include deed restrictions and HOA rules that require a certain percentage of the land to remain undeveloped, require a certain percentage of all energy consumed come from solar technology incorporated into the structures, etc. I forget the ratio but they use but in each development there is a set amount of land preserved in its natural state for each acre that is developed.

  • Another way to think about the “conservationist” and “environmentalist” ways of looking at nature is to ask the question: “Is economics a subset of ecology, or is ecology a subset of economics?” If ecology (or nature) is a subset of economics, then nature exists primarily to provide resources and services for humanity. If, on the other hand, economics is a subset of ecology, then all of nature has value beyond whatever goods and services it provides for people.

    Each person, of course, is different, but those who call themselves “conservationists” tend to look at nature as existing primarily for the sake of people. Forests, for example, should be managed in such a way to maximize timber yield or habitat for deer or other animals humans want to hunt. If that management harms organisms that are less valuable to the human economy (e.g. spotted owls), then the activity is still justified because of human economic needs. Examples of this perspective can be found in the Acton Institute book Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition. One essay in this book states,

    “While forests and swamps are certainly recognized to be part of God’s creation, merely leaving them in their original and pristine condition is ignoring God’s directive to harness the forces of nature for the benefit of the human race.”(p. 24)

    I think it is better to look at the human economy as being embedded in the creation. Ecology is the study of interactions in the natural world. These relationships involve transfer of matter and energy; some of those interactions involve or affect humans directly, others do not. I think this is a more Biblical way of thinking about nature, as it recognizes the Biblical order of creation (nature came before humans), the goodness of creation (it is still described as being good despite Adam’s sin), our embeddedness in the creation (in Genesis 1-2 we are made of the same stuff as the animals), and the idea that dominion in the Bible is not domination, but service to what is under one’s dominion.

    With this ecological way of looking at nature, the “forests and swamps” of the Acton Institute quote take on a new meaning. They are good in and of themselves; if God cares for sparrows, then surely he cares for frogs and squirrels as well. It is not that they are as important as people, but they do have their place in God’s economy, and therefore must be considered as we make decisions that involve their habitat. The swamp becomes something other than a nuisance, and even more than something that provides services to humans such as flood control. It is a marvel because God has made it.

    I could go on, but this is supposed to be a comment on someone else’s blog, not a place for me to post my own essay. I am not condemning “conservationists;” there are many good things in that viewpoint (including in the Acton Institute’s Cornwall Declaration). But this position as incomplete, and open to abuse (which prompted my Tea Party comment earlier).

  • dust

    Neither are “natural” in the sense that what they accomplish is as if nature herself did it.

    Who put out the forest fires that happened before men had the capability to take on such a massive project?

    Where were all the irrigated and cultivated crops before civilization figured it all out?

    Maybe we should go back to the hyped up ideal of many of the Native American Indians?

    Leave Mother Nature alone and trust her to provide…by, definition, her motives are pure 🙂


  • Tom Hering

    Neither does he describe why he made [the creation] in Genesis … The correct answer is always, “Because he loves us.” (Joe @ 45)

    Actually, Joe, Genesis tells us five times that God looked at what He made and saw that it was good. Then it tells us that God looked at everything He made, and saw that it was very good. Does “good” here primarily mean “morally good” or “functionally good”? Or does it primarily mean “pleasing to Him”? And if “pleasing to Him” was God’s final judgment on all He made, isn’t it logical that His pleasure was His motive in making it? Or did He not know the end He was aiming for? Finally, God being love, I don’t see how God creating the world to please Himself excludes or diminishes His love for us.

    (No, I wasn’t using Psalm 50 to make this point. I only referred to it to say that all He’s made still belongs to Him.)

  • Tom Hering

    (Also, Psalm 50 makes it clear that God giving us dominion wasn’t a transfer of ownership, or a granting of carte blanche in the way we relate to the rest of creation.)

  • Joe

    Tom – I never questioned that God still owns all of His creation. I also own all of my house, yet I didn’t buy it to please myself. I bought it to shelter and protect my family and to create a place for them.

    God saying that what he made was “Good” simply does not mean that He created to please himself. You are reading into the text something that is simply not there because it fits with what you believe the answer should be.

    Kevin – your thesis that we can be above nature because we were made from the same stuff as the animals is incorrect. Our creation is qualitatively different from the creation of the animals. God made man in His image and breathed His very breath of life into our nostrils. This clearly sets us apart from the rest of the creation. We are not merely a part of it. Moreover, GOd expressly tells us what our role is toward creation: ” fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

    I don’t see this verse as giving us permission to ruin everything, but to claim that we are merely a part of creation and not set apart from the rest of creation is simply incorrect.

  • Joe

    opps – should be “can’t” be above nature.

  • Joe (#52) — We are above nature and embedded within it. We are above nature, like you said, because we are created in the image of God and given a mandate to rule and subdue. We are like the animals because they too (Gen 7:15, 22; Eccl 3:19-20) are made of the stuff of earth and have the breath of life.We are to fill the earth, but so are the animals (Gen 1:22).

    The command to rule and subdue can obviously be abused, and as sinners that is our natural tendency, whether as socialists or market capitalists. It is easy for us to point to the horrible abuses of nature under the communists (I have lived in eastern Europe and have seen a bit of that), but are quick to forget that the abuse of nature was just as bad in the United States under unrestrained capitalism. Just visit a mining community in the western US, as Steve (comment #13) mentioned. One of the best places to see this is Butte, Montana, which is the largest EPA superfund complex in the US, and a picture of what unregulated “ruling and subduing” can do. Or perhaps you don’t know what the air and water was like in many places before the advent of environmental regulation.

    Rule, yes, but let him who rules be the servant of all.

  • Tom Hering

    God saying that what he made was “Good” simply does not mean that He created to please himself. (Joe @ 52)

    The Hebrew word translated as “good” is tob, meaning “pleasant, agreeable.” Is it such a stretch to say that God’s motive for creating the world matches His conclusion about the world? Jeepers, even His plan of salvation has to do with His pleasure: “Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord GOD, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23). Seems to me that God acting to please Himself is a pretty good assurance that He’s a straightforward, trustworthy kind of God, without deception or hidden motives (things that are part of man pleasing himself, but God is not like man.)

  • Joe

    Kevin – don’t misunderstand me, I fully understand that we can abuse our mandate to rule. Its a vocation of ours as humans and we can and do sin against our vocations.

    And, could you look at what I wrote and find anywhere I have called for unregulated anything? I pointed to a system of completely private regulations. Indeed, what many people seem to what to forget is that in our early industrial years many environmental issues were resolved by private litigation. The cause of action is/was called public/private nuisance. And, it was an extremely useful tool for protecting nature and the impacts of one man’s use of his land on other men. Do you know why this cause of action has been virtually killed off? Because once the gov’t started regulating these activities, the Court’s understood that to mean the gov’t meant to supplant the rights of neighbors to sue the mine or the coal plant. The gov’t substituted its “wisdom” for that of actual stakeholders in the area. And, what happened? Regulatory capture happened. And, now in these days we are trading regulatory capture for crazy eco-nuts running our agencies. Once the gov’t is in charge you almost necessarily lose balance in the system.

    I’d take a system that is regulated by private causes of action because it creates a mechanism that allows the community to weigh the costs and the benefits of supporting or stopping a practice that will impact the environment.

  • Steve Bauer

    And what determines the boundaries of a “community”? What if the benefits something community A has determined to be worth the cost of allowing affects community B in a way that B determines is not worth the cost?

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Cincinnatus @ 17 – I agree that governments make mediocre protectors of the environment. But, like democracy, the other options are worse….

  • Cincinnatus


    Who says? On what grounds do you make that claim? This isn’t a hostile question: I’m more than willing to believe that the state is the best protector of environmental sanctity in certain cases. But I’m also skeptical: I’m far too aware of a) the extent to which the government has been the environment’s greatest enemy (in the United States and elsewhere) and b) the lengths to which the government has gone to obstruct environmentally friendly practices at the private and local level (read one of Joel Salatin’s rants against the USDA sometime). I’m also aware of numerous private and social initiatives that are far superior to anything the government has ever done for the environment.

    So I’d like some evidence.

  • Joe

    Steve @ 57 – the determination is made in degrees. By making it a private enforcement mechanism, community B will be forced to answer the question of is it worth it to me/us to get involved. The answer to that question will be determined by individual or groups of private actors. They will make realistic, reality based decisions. I think this is a superior method.

  • DonS

    As I stated @ 39, I am completely in agreement with Joe that public/private nuisance law is a much better environmental enforcement mechanism than our current one-size fits all scheme of excessive environmental regulation, where big companies with political access get to build their projects, working hand-in-hand with government regulators, while shutting out their smaller competition. Federal preemption of local/private action, and the unwillingness of bureaucrats in our crony-environmentalism system to care about or address the problems of small businessmen and landowners who sometimes lose all productive use of their properties has been disastrous. Moreover, the worse Superfund cleanup sites are governmental ones, such as deactivated military bases. Yet, somehow, we repeatedly delude ourselves into believing that this time, big government will effectively do the job.

    In that delusion, we have also repeatedly proved ourselves to be fools.

  • Tom Hering

    I suppose nuisance law could be effective in local matters. But environmental problems can span large areas. Example: the Wisconsin River that flows through my town. Back in the ’70s, a three-foot wide swath of foot-thick yellow foam lined each bank, with dead fish floating in dark brown water beyond. Today, the water is clear. No foam, and no dead fish. It took state and federal government to clean it up – to deal with all the paper mills and municipal sewer discharges up and down the river. If we had to depend on a local effort in the courts, or a coalition of such efforts from up and down the river, I’m fairly certain we’d still be battling to clean up the river today.

  • DonS

    Tom @ 62: Nuisance suits can be large-scale. Numerous communities and property owners can join the suit against a polluter — it took 20 or more years of government effort to clean up the Wisconsin River and other bodies of water, such as Lake Erie. Nuisance suits can be processed in that kind of timeframe or far faster, particularly if they settle. And state and federal government can also join or bring these suits to provide more muscle, where appropriate.

  • Tom Hering

    Don @ 63, well, that’s different. 😉

  • Joe

    Another aspect of this debate that is often left undiscussed is the fact that the planet does have some amazing regenerative properties of the planet. While this is not an excuse to abuse it and obviously there are limits on it, we also should not be forced into accepting that nothing can ever be fixed if we make a mistake.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Cincinnatus – Private initiatives can work well on private land – willing folks and all that. Good luck if GreenCheck Pty Ltd tries to limit Humongous Industrial Enterprises, especially if it is going to eat into the latter’s profit.

    I’d prefer private entities too. Just that in some cases, the Leviathan over in Ottawa or Regina (my case) would be more effective.

  • Tom Hering

    How do you fix the leveling of mountain tops, the consequent filling-in of valleys, or the extinction of species? How many restoration efforts destroy plant and animal life we stupidly judge to be invasive? Indeed, “we can fix it” has limits, and destructive effects of its own.

  • SKPeterson

    Tom @ 62 – Part of the problem with the waterways you describe are the often severely attenuated property rights associated with those waterways, such that the scope of action for any property holder along that waterway is restricted considerably, leaving only the state and federal governments to be the legal claimants. In such cases they have used regulatory and bureaucratic fiat to usurp the controls and recourses available under common law.

  • DonS

    Klasie @ 66 brings up a very good point. We have far too much government-owned land. It is well established that the government is the worst steward of land.

  • Tom Hering

    Which private interests would have or could have given us the equivalent of the state and national parks, or established and protected the wilderness areas??

  • DonS

    Tom @ 70, who is talking about doing away with national or state parks? Why is it that when people raise legitimate concerns about over-regulation, they are painted as extremists who think the only alternative is NO regulation?

    We’re talking about chokingly oppressive environmental regulation, often having little or no genuine scientific underpinning as to the nature of the problem being addressed or whether the regulatory solution will have any real effect, which affects the ability of private parties to use their land, run their businesses, and employ fellow citizens.

  • Cincinnatus


    Red herring. First, the national park service–and national parks in general–are some of the worst managed land in America. Look into the recent history of forest fires in Yellowstone, for example. Meanwhile–I grew up surrounded by wilderness areas in Appalachia–some of the best managed land I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy was owned by private institutions. In this case, the owner was–get this–a paper company. Why? Probably because the paper company had an incentive to tend its land well, because the trees on that land, when responsibly harvested, were the company source of income. That’s just my guess though.

    Of course, several years ago, the new corporate rubes who took over after the paper company was bought out sold all the land to an absentee landlord. Now it’s managed terribly, and, as in Yellowstone, forest fires, among other depredations, have been the result.

    Second, even if the National Forest Service or the National Park Service turned out to be the world’s best environmental managers–which, I remind you, they’re not–national parks still wouldn’t serve as good evidence of state stewardship. Think about it: Yellowstone Park is really great and all, but fencing off a few hundred square miles of land that is economically undesirable anyway while allowing everything else to be mercilessly exploited is hardly an admirable model.

    Example: mountaintop strip mining, a peculiar evil where I’m from. You know these mines aren’t just the sinister actions of evil private corporations, right? They’re produced via an official process: they get official state permits, tax exemptions, regulatory loopholes, economic development grants, infrastructure support, and so on. As in most of the “market” evils progressives like to excoriate, the government is always right there, intimately involved. Mountaintop strip mining would likely be impossible without government assistance.

  • Cincinnatus

    Although, yeah, as DonS points out, no one in this thread is arguing that we should eliminate government-managed parks. The Cato Institute and other market-oriented think tanks have published some interesting studies looking into the feasibility of privatizing national parks (i.e., contracting them out to private ownership and management), but not eliminating them. And such proposals are unlikely to be taken up in any serious way.

    My point is that the national parks aren’t sufficient evidence to show that state involvement in environmental protection is either necessary or preferable to alternatives. And they sure aren’t evidence that our government is a currently effective agent in environmental stewardship.

  • Tom Hering

    Tom @ 70, who is talking about doing away with national or state parks? (Don @ 71)

    Not me. I asked which private interests would have or could have established them in the first place.

  • DonS

    Tom @ 74:

    OK, so essentially you were starting a new thread, since that question has nothing whatsoever to do with this one.

    I think that’s Dr. Veith’s job. 😉

  • Tom Hering

    Don, are you going all Grace on me now???

  • DonS

    Tom @ 76: ???????

  • Cincinnatus

    Actually, DonS raises a good question, Tom. Who cares whether private institutions would have established national parks? National parks aren’t synonymous with good ecology/environmental management. They’re tourist destinations.

  • Tom Hering

    In response, Cincinnatus, I’d say the state and national parks might not be the best managed lands in America (debatable), but who cares about that point, as no one else would have or could have established them? Better a poor manager than nothing to manage.

  • Cincinnatus


    You’re honestly confusing me now. What do you mean “nothing” to manage? Does the land just disappear if the government doesn’t own it?

    And did you miss my example of the privately-managed lands I grew up on and around? It’s anecdotal of course, but those thousands (actually, millions–literally) of acres of forest were far more pristine than any national or state park I’ve visited. And remember: this land was owned specifically for industrial purposes.

  • Tom Hering

    Cincinnatus, it’s my calling to confuse you. I’ll just note that government has done a pretty good job of protecting the parks and wilderness areas from private exploitation/destruction – as well as from those in government itself who would destroy these lands. You pointed out in your own example of private stewardship that protection ultimately failed.

  • dust

    how could the American Indians have lived here for over 7000 years (or so) and kept it pretty much like a paradise?

    perhaps our modern scientific geniuses can learn something from them 🙂


  • Tom Hering

    Dust @ 82, I’d recommend Charles C. Mann’s book 1491 for an examination of ecological disasters caused by the Indian civilizations of North, Central, and South America.

  • Cincinnatus


    1) No. The government has done an absolutely terrible job of managing national parklands. Again, research the recent forest fires in Yellowstone. They were caused by (mis)management, and some foresters and ecologists predict that those forests will effectively never recover.

    2) Apparently you misread my anecdote? Here’s the takeaway, crystal clear: private corporations did a better job at managing the land than any government land I’ve ever been on. More details: when I was a kid, the paper company Westvaco was vertically integrated, so it owned about one million acres of completely undeveloped forest land around my house. This land was managed, in my opinion, extremely well: good managed burns, accessible and open to the public for certain recreational purposes (hunting, fishing, hiking, etc.), and was, in general, a great place to go be outdoors. Yes, obviously, Westvaco from time to time harvested trees to make paper–that was the point in owning the land, after all. But they did so in moderation–again, of necessity: any given plot of forest can only be harvested once every generation (about forty years). They planted two trees for every tree they cut, and they made sure to curb erosion and other problems associated with logging. In case it isn’t entirely obvious, they had an incentive to do so. If the future viability of your company (it was a family company at the time) depends upon one million acres of delicate ecosystem, you’d best manage it well.

    And they did. Arguably better than the government-managed “wilderness areas” and “national forests” around it.

    3) If you’re implying @83 that the modern state manages the environment better than the Amerindians, or that good environmental stewardship wasn’t even possible until the advent of the modern consolidated state, then I have two words for you: “ha” and “ha.” Yeah, sure, some historians (like Mann) speculate that Amerindians caused one or more ecological catastrophes–burning off the prairie’s being one that is now called into question by scholars.

    But I promise you that the modern state is one of the worst things to happen to the environment since the creation of man himself. From France’s disastrous forestry projects in the 1700s and 1800s to China’s consolidation of agriculture, Russia’s literal destruction of the Aral Sea, and America’s subsidization of an industrial monoculture in the 1900’s and 2000s. I could spend all night listing the environmental depredations of the modern state. Again, yay Yellowstone. But there’s more to it than that.

  • fjsteve

    Dust @ 82, there are plenty of examples of native American groups who depleted natural resources to the point that they either had to move or died out. Take a look at the Anasazis and the affects of deforestation on their culture.

  • Tom Hering

    Cincinnatus, it never ceases to amaze me how you read things into my comments that never even occurred to me. I’m flattered, actually.

  • Phil

    Cincinnatus @81
    I think I disagree with you about the management of government and private industrial forests. The goals for these two forests are very different. The primary goal of industrial forests is to make a profit, and this is mainly through timber harvests (I know that some lease out hunting grounds as well). In recent years, many companies have sold their lands to real estate investment companies, and they can sell the standing timber and then parcel out the land to different buyers for development. This might not be in the best long-term interest of the timber companies.
    The management goals of Forest service lands include wood, water, wildlife and recreation. I am not sure if the USFS is doing a good job at management right now, but that is mainly due to lengthy planning process and lawsuits. Most wilderness areas in the west are in areas that are not feasible for harvesting (high elevations and alpine areas).
    I think that government forests play a role as extensively managed forests and reserve areas while the industrial forests are more intensively managed.

  • SKPeterson

    I’m not so sure that the land management practices of the Amerindians were some sort of unmitigated disaster. I certainly didn’t get that impression from Mann’s book. The big problem wasn’t the land management practiced by the natives, but that European diseases so eviscerated the natives that their land management system died along with the millions ravaged by small pox. Another good view is the book Lewis and Clark Through Indian Eyes where we see the effects of European diseases on tribes like the Shoshone. The whole reason there is a Yellowstone National Park is that the Shoshone clan that owned that land and was responsible for it died. Read about it here: http://books.google.com/books?id=A5dij5BsgP4C&pg=PA54&lpg=PA54&dq=lewis+and+clark+through+indian+eyes+shoshone&source=bl&ots=voQYHMAgVZ&sig=X_F4MxDh64WgLk4lyPt5KGrH3U0&hl=en&sa=X&ei=vHcIUdr0EIq8qgH6_IGACQ&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=lewis%20and%20clark%20through%20indian%20eyes%20shoshone&f=false

  • Tom Hering

    I’m not so sure that the land management practices of the Amerindians were some sort of unmitigated disaster. I certainly didn’t get that impression from Mann’s book. (SK @ 88)

    I didn’t get that impression either. And the ecological disasters I’m thinking of, that Mann discusses, were pre-Columbian, so I don’t think European diseases played a part.

  • SKPeterson

    The other thing is that there were varying Amerindian land management practices and systems coupled with a variety of religious, cultural and political systems. It would be a big mistake to look at the Anasazi collapse as being a direct result of their land management practices, without looking at the effects of a long-term drought situation. We could also look at the small-scale shifting agriculture practiced by the early Slavs in what is now Poland and the Ukraine over against the agricultural practices of the Romans. Was the collapse of Rome due to its bad land management or were there other factors? If we want to look at the Maya, there are indications of drought impacts on the collapse of their civilization, but also extensive and persistent warfare that made settled agriculture and trade virtually impossible across much of what is now the Yucatan, Guatemala and Belize.

    Phil @ 87 – I’ve lived in the Intermountain West and you’d be impressed by where a logging road can go and what terrain it will traverse. High elevations are not insurmountable nor are alpine conditions, especially in environments where trees will grow 12 – 18 inches per year. The big problem with national forest land is with their fire control policies and their management of disease spread especially with the pine bark beetle infestation.

  • SKPeterson

    Tom @ 89 – I don’t have Mann’s book at home. Can you remind me of what the Pre-Columbian disasters were? I’m not trying to trap you or anything, I just honestly don’t remember. But, I do recall the litany of disease-related collapse disasters he relates from both North and South America. I can’t remember if he talked much about the Anasazi.

    Another good book on pre-Columbian native Americans is the book Cahokia by Tim Pauketat which gives a pretty good archaeological reading of the largest North American urbanized area (north of Mexico that is) existing before 1492. A very interesting read.

  • Tom Hering

    Oh shoot. It’s been a few years, and I don’t have a copy anymore either. The civilization centered in Missouri?

  • SKPeterson

    That would be Cahokia. Pauketat’s book makes it seem more like a political collapse.

  • Joe

    Tom – private entities like this exist. http://wildlifepreserves.org/ Google will reveal to you that there are lots of private groups that buy land for the express purpose of preservation. Why? Because people value it and when people value things they use their money to buy them. Simply because there is no profit in an enterprise does not mean there is no market at work. People like nature so they are willing to put their money into it.

    Phil – having grown up in Northern Wisconsin mill town, I can attest to the fact that most of the land owned by paper companies was open to the public for hunting, hiking, camping etc. My home town was also located in such a spot that I was within short distance of two national forests, paper company owned forests, county owned forests and two Indian reservations. The forest management practices of the papers companies was equal to or better than the rest.

  • Phil

    SK @ 90
    Sure you could log those areas, but due to the high altitudes and short growing seasons the regeneration would be very slow and in some cases you might not get regeneration for over a hundred years. Most high elevation forests are slow growing and that is why they are wilderness areas the Forest service (back when they did a lot of harvesting) could not make money on them so they were left alone. A lot of the high elevation forests in intermountain west is made up of subalpine fir which has little commercial value. These areas produce more value by attracting hikers and tourists to these areas.

  • Tom Hering

    Joe @ 94, thanks for that example. They’re doing a very good work. I won’t ever become an anti-government type, or even the type who’s always skeptical of government, but you guys are starting to convince me that private efforts can sometimes be better than public ones.

  • I applaud people and companies who manage their private land well.

    I also applaud people who don’t commit crimes. And third, I applaud nations who don’t attack their weaker neighbors.

    The truth of the matter is that there are exceptions to good land managers, law-abiding individuals, and peace-loving countries. Because of this, we have environmental regulations, police forces, and militaries. If we lived in a sinless world, the government would not have to bear the sword, including the sword of environmental regulations.

    It is true that environmental regulators (e.g. the EPA) can have rules that are counterproductive or unjust. The solution is not to abolish the EPA or suspend environmental regulations (proposed by most Tea Party favorites in the presidential primaries), but to work towards a balance that works well for both individuals and society as a whole.