Sunday, August 7, 2011

Environmentalism and Conservation. When Does it Go Overboard?

Glen Ellen, California,

 A couple of weeks ago I finished up an internship at the Mill Valley Library in Mill Valley California. You would think that I spent the majority of my time shelving books and what not. Oh no, this is not the case in the least. Mill Valley Library is a special place, and has a significant number of special events in the pipeline and going on. Mill Valley is an affluent community with excellent funding. I spent my internship working with the staff in planning First Friday events. The events are a celebration of all things narrative. Anything that can be construed as a narrative is open game for clearing the library on a Friday evening, supplying wine and food, then having an interesting presentation. The events usually attract from 90 to 200 local folks. Please check out the past First Friday Events by clicking here. As a Humanities student, I just love this kind of thing. The library staff is super dedicated to giving back to the taxpayers who fund the library by coordinating interesting intellectual topics. People love it!

Trip Jennings

So meet Trip Jennings. He presented a slide show and talk about the things that move him. He's 28 and pretty passionate about saving the environment. He was a National Geographic Adventurer of the year, a professional kayaker and currently is a documentary film maker. His gig is Conservation through Exploration. To save pristine wilderness areas he sets out with the best photographers in the world to capture footage and images that are so compelling, that the images themselves tell the story as to why a given area should be off limits for any type of resource extraction.

His latest film is called SPOIL, and it chronicles his successful (so far) attempt to prevent a pipeline from being built through a truly incredible rainforest in British Columbia. The pipeline would be fed by the controversial Tar Sands extracted from Alberta. A large Ocean Terminal would have to be built to move the oil to refineries around the world. Apparently Tar Sands is some pretty dirty oil, creating substantial comparative pollution released into the air during the refining process. Of course I'm not a scientist, and can't back this up. Sounds pretty dirty though.

I suppose I am an environmentalist. I've enjoyed the ocean and all her creatures. I've gone diving on tropical reefs unharmed that were nothing short of breath taking. Conversely, I've gone diving on reefs destroyed by ships anchors, water temperature changes, and just plain ole nasty harbor wash type conditions. I've backpacked through Glacier National Park and Yosemite. In short, I love all wilderness, including an urban wilderness like New York City.

I just am confused as to exactly where I come down on a person like Trip Jennings. Watching the SPOIL documentary is really inspiring. The footage and photography, the mountains, critters, animals, trees and water, are all over the top beautiful. I simply do not want to risk screwing up such a place. However, and this is huge, Trip Jennings advocates almost zero use of resources at all. His premise is that no matter what, humans will destroy the environment period. This position is untenable. He speaks with pride about how he and others like him have been successful in stopping the coal industry in its tracks. British Petroleum is the devil, they must be because they deal in oil and gas with a profit motive, another dirty word.

Trip was challenged in a Q &A regarding the telling of his story as one sided. He acknowledged that the use of petroleum and natural resources has propelled millions upon millions to lead better lives, and has pulled untold numbers out of poverty. He acknowledged he drove a car to the presentation. He simply believes his side of the story is not well documented. There is some truth to that.

The government is strangling the energy industry with practical impacts that must be acknowledged. Recently in Alabama, a state that has 30 plus percent of its population on food stamps, an owner of a coal fired power plant sat for an hour while the community lambasted him for numerous complaints, mostly environmental concerns. Likely legitimate concerns, I don't know. At the end, the owner simply said Ok, I give up. 150 people lost their jobs, and the tiny community was crushed after loosing the electricity rates they enjoyed and worse, the millions in tax revenue. When EPA forced policies make upgrades to coal fired electricity plants not worth the upgrade, the plant shuts down. Pretty straight forward. America sits on the largest coal reserves in the world. Coal plants are now mining said coal, and shipping the coal overseas to places like China. Much to Trip's chagrin a ocean tanker shipping terminal is being built literally in his back yard, on the banks of the Columbia River for this very purpose. The laws of cause and effect are right in his face, and the belching coal will still be released into the atmosphere, just in another country.

American will be suffering greatly due to policies designed to change behavior all in the name of conservation and environmentalism. The question becomes is the suffering worth it? Is it possible to find the mean between environmental protection and an individuals right to consume as much energy as they can pay for? As I stated above, I am pretty conflicted about all this. There is something so powerful about a wilderness. The same can be said for some American who can't feed his family because the job he held is gone based upon a premise that oil will spill and destroy everything, it just is a matter of time. We must have energy or were all screwed. 

What is the solution?

Much of the politics swirling around environmentalism clashes mightily with my politics, causing real intellectual turmoil for me. When asked why study the humanities, I can point to the above as a perfect example. The humanities provides such a broad spectrum of intellectual inquiry that when it comes to the decision point the issues has been analyzed in a robust fashion. Being correct is important, but not everything from the individual standpoint. When things go awry I gain substantial solace by pointing to a responsible grappling with the issue prior to. I become agitated when things go bad, and my lack of inadequite analysis contributes. Weird ah?

Here is the Documentary. The quality is top notch.

Capt Chris

No comments: