Now, the easiest thing to do is to simply ignore the contradiction. But it gnaws away at some.
Do we protect native plants because they’re better for the earth, or because we hate strangers? A cherished principle of environmentalism comes under attack
By Leon Neyfakh
… The reasons to fight invasive species may be economic, or conservationist, or just practical, but underneath all these efforts is a potent and galvanizing idea: that if we work hard enough to keep foreign species from infiltrating habitats where they might do harm, we can help nature heal from the damage we humans have done to it as a civilization.
In the past several months, however, that idea has come under blistering attack. In a polemical essay that appeared in the leading science journal Nature in June, a biologist from Macalester College in Minnesota named Mark Davis led 18 other academics in charging that the movement to protect ecosystems from non-native species stems from a “biological bias” against arbitrarily defined outsiders that ultimately does more harm than good. According to Davis and his co-authors, the fight against invaders amounts to an impossible quest to restore the world to some imaginary, pristine state. The world changes, they argue, and in some cases, the arrival of a new plant or animal can actually help, rather than hurt, an ecosystem.
The whole idea of dividing the world into native and non-native species is flawed, the article says, because what seems non-native to one generation might be thought of as a local treasure by the next. Instead we should embrace “novel ecosystems” as they form, and assess species based on what they do rather than where they’re from.
“Newcomers are viewed as a threat because the world that you remember is being displaced by this new world,” Davis said recently. “I think that’s a perfectly normal and understandable human reaction, but as scientists we need to be careful that those ideas don’t shape and frame our scientific research.”
The article in Nature joined similar arguments that had recently appeared in the journal Science as well as the op-ed page of The New York Times, where an anthropologist who had recently become a naturalized US citizen likened the control of invasive species to the anti-immigration movement. These critiques of so-called “ecological nativism” inspired equally spirited responses by scientists, including a letter in Nature signed by 141 scientists arguing that Davis and his cohort had downplayed the dangers of non-native species while distorting the work of ecologists and conservationists.
For environmentalists and anyone worried about a local lake or forest, trying to keep the potential carnage at bay seems like a no-brainer: if non-native species might destroy an ecosystem we cherish, then of course we should do what we can to suppress them. …
One of the first people to publicly make this “anti-nativist” argument was, somewhat surprisingly, the journalist Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and hero to locavores everywhere. He wrote an essay about it in the New York Times Magazine in 1994, focusing on the native gardening movement that was sweeping the United States at the time. Proponents of natural gardening had been calling on their fellow green thumbs to stop planting exotic species in their backyards; Pollan did not mince words in communicating his distaste for the practice, suggesting it came out of an impulse that was “antihumanist” and “xenophobic,” and even tracing its history back to a “mania for natural gardening” in Nazi-era Germany.
While Pollan said in an interview that he now regrets resorting to the Hitler button to make his point, he maintains that there is something worrying about the zeal with which some environmentalists seek to keep foreigners out of places where they think they don’t belong.
“We should always be alert that even those of us who think they’re practicing pure science or pure environmental policy are sometimes influenced by other ideas, other feelings,” Pollan said. “And we should interrogate ourselves to see if that’s what’s going on.”
Have you ever noticed how much the left loves the word “interrogate?” Ve haf veys of making you talk!
This point was echoed this past spring by Hugh Raffles, an anthropologist at the New School who wrote the essay comparing invasive species to immigrants. “We choose to designate some plants and animals as native because they fit with the way that we want the landscape to look,” said Raffles in an interview. If you call something native, he added, “you should realize you’re just making certain claims about what you want to see and what you think is important to preserve.”
THE SCIENTISTS WHO study non-native species and try to control them are called invasion ecologists, and they’re used to feeling embattled. But their opponents usually come from the political right, and can be counted on to dismiss most any effort at conservation as an expensive nuisance or an impediment to industry. This other contingent, though – the one that includes Davis, Pollan, and Raffles – comes from a less obvious place. Suddenly, these environmentalists who have always identified with progressive ideals are themselves being accused of being conservative, backwards – even intolerant.
Their reply is that, as scientists, their job is to save plants and animals from extinction, protect their habitats, and make sure that subsequent generations get to enjoy as much of the earth as possible. To suggest that the work has xenophobic connotations, they say, amounts to little more than academic noodling – a philosophical stance at best, and a harmful distraction at worst.
… Is the debate si
mply over rhetoric, then? If it is, its fierceness has highlighted just how important rhetoric is to the environmentalist movement, and how valuable the distinction between native and non-native is in terms of rallying people to the cause of conservation. Psychologically, it’s not hard to see why the anti-nativist position holds an appeal, and why it would worry environmentalists.
The Left finds a psychologically worrying element in environmentalism. Environmentalism’s defense of native species against invasive species that may decimate or marginalize the natives could have psychologically ‘racist’ ramifications. (After all, some racial ideologues have said if species of animals and plants deserve to be protected, so should the races and cultures of man.)
Environmentalism, associated with the Left, is now suspected of harboring subconscious ‘racist’, ‘nativist’, and ‘xenophobic’ tendencies, which though applied to animals and plants, may contaminate our view of races, cultures, and nations as well.
Again, it goes to show that the Leftist war on the West isn’t only ideological but psychological. It doesn’t only oppose ‘racism’ but all forms of thoughts and feelings that may be psychologically connected to ‘racism’ and ‘nationism’.
Sierra Club gave up on immigration-control, and it may now even have to give up on saving native species. I suppose it was great tht cats and rats introduced to the Galapagos ate up all the eggs of tortoises. And what did American Indians have to worry about when the white man came? Those damned racists! And what did Palestinians have to worry from the massive inflow of Jews in the 1940s? Terrorist scum.
In Southern California, for example, southern-facing slopes are blasted by the midday sun, and thus tend to be covered by impenetrable, gray-green-brown sage brush. We’ve got plenty of sage brush, so, go ahead, pave it over. I don’t care enough to pay much to save some more sage brush. In contrast, cooler north-facing slopes tend to be forested with a small variety of native oaks, sycamores, and a few other trees. Low altitude Southern California is only slightly forested, so its worth preserving much of what little is left. Thus, north facing slopes should be higher up on the conservation priority list than south facing slopes.
Political scientist Elinor Ostrom became the first woman winner in the four decades of the Economics quasi-Nobel Prize. I wasn’t familiar with her name, but her field of of study is a good one, so she’s probably a good pick. She works on the question of the various ways people arrange to avoid “the tragedy of the commons” of over-exploitation of common resources, such as fisheries.
As I noted in VDARE.com in 2005, Jared Diamond offers a succinct explanation of the possible solutions in his bestseller Collapse:
In another important section, Diamond illustrates how ethnic diversity makes environmental cooperation more difficult. He praises the Dutch as the most cooperative nation on earth and attributes their awareness of and willingness to tackle problems to their shared memory of the 1953 flood that drowned 2,000 Netherlanders living below sea level. (Unfortunately, he doesn’t mention whether Holland’s rapidly growing immigrant Muslim population remembers when the dikes failed 52 years ago.)
Diamond notes that there are three possible solutions to what Garrett Hardin called “the tragedy of the commons,” or the tendency for individuals to over-consume resources and under-invest in responsibilities held in common, leading to ecological collapse.
- Government diktat.
- Privatization and property rights — but that’s impractical with some resources, such as fish.
- “The remaining solution to the tragedy of the commons is for the consumers to recognize their common interests and to design, obey, and enforce prudent harvesting quotas themselves. That is likely to happen only if a whole series of conditions is met: the consumers form a homogeneous group; they have learned to trust and communicate with each other; they expect to share a common future and to pass on the resource to their heirs; they are capable of and permitted to organize and police themselves; and the boundaries of the resource and of its pool of consumers are well defined.” [My emphasis]
A classic supporting case that that Diamond doesn’t bring up: American shrimp fishermen in Texas were universally denounced as racists in the late 1970s when they resisted the government’s efforts to encourage Vietnamese refugees to become shrimpers in their waters. French director Louis Malle made a movie, Alamo Bay, denouncing ugly Americans fighting hardworking immigrants.
What got lost in all the tsk-tsking is that fishing communities always resist newcomers, especially hardworking ones, because of the sizable chance that the outsiders who don’t know the local rules or don’t care about them will ruin the ecological balance and wipe out the stocks of fish.
The evidence Diamond assembles indicates, although of course he never dares to state it bluntly, that the fundamental requirement for dealing effectively with environmental danger is: start with a population that’s limited in number, cohesive, educated, and affluent.
Needless to say, mass immigration from the Third World works against all those characteristics.
(To his credit, Diamond’s bestseller is clearly unenthusiastic about Latin American immigration into his own LA. To his discredit, you have to be a pretty acute reader to notice his heretical leanings.)
A quick Google search finds Nobel Laureate Ostrom also cautiously expressing Doubts About Diversity in her book The Drama of the Commons.
… Alesina et al. (1999) find that ethnic diversity is associated with lower public goods funding across the U.S. municipalities because different ethnic groups have different preferences over the type of public good … In the kind of rural societies considered in this chapter … the effectiveness of social sanctions weakens as they cross ethnic reference groups. In this vein, Miguel (2000) constructs a theoretical model where the defining characteristics of ethnic groups are the ability to impose social sanctions within the community against deviant individuals and the ability to coordinate on efficient equilibria in settings of multiple equilibria. With data from the activities of primary school committees in rural western Kenya, Miguel then shows that higher levels of ethnic diversity are associated with significantly lower parent participation in parent meetings, worse attendance at school committee meetings, and sharply lower teacher attendance and motivation.
If social groups (not solely ethnic groups) are defined as those whose boundaries coincide with the effective monitoring and enforcement of shared social norms … this is one way of understanding the notion cited earlier of cultural homogeneity, a variant of what many authors have called social capital or social cohesion. … Irrigation organizations that cross village boundaries can rely less on social sanctions and norms to enforce cooperative behavior …
There are basically two ways to get people to play nice with a common resource such as shrimp or irrigation water: violence or ostracism. The latter works most effectively regarding marriage — if you don’t play by the rules, nobody respectable will let your kid marry his daughter. But when newcomers who don’t ever want their children to marry your children arrive and start exploiting your irrigation system or fishery (or whatever), then the old non-violent traditions break down, and people start turning to violence or its threat, whether anarchic or government-based (e.g., socialism and property rights are based on the threat of the government’s monopoly on violence).
Over on Taki’s Magazine, my Wednesday column is up about the upcoming PBS documentary by Ken Burns, who created the superb The Civil War in 1990:
The publicity machine is now gearing up for documentarian Ken Burns’s twelve-hour extravaganza, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, which will run for six straight nights on PBS starting September 27.
This being a Ken Burns series, the predominant theme of The National Parks will be “diversity.” So, if you go camping in a national park this month, check out the diversity of your fellow visitors. You’ll likely notice tourists from all over the world, including busloads of punctual Germans and amenable Japanese.
But, foreign tourists aren’t the right kind of diversity for Burns.
Although Burns has spent his career explaining stuff, he’s never quite figured himself out. That’s why, judging from his documentary’s preview materials, The National Parks is shaping up, after six years of work, as Ken Burns’ Worst Idea.
Please read it there and comment about it here.
… then President Obama should do what President Nixon did in 1973: institute a 55 mph speed limit.
Matthew Yglesias denounces the actions of class traitor Sidley Austin, Michelle Obama’s old law firm, in using the environmental laws to slow down environmentalists’ plans for that SWPL favorite, light rail. (Trolleys without right-of-ways are barely more efficient than buses, but SWPLs can imagine themselves taking a trolley, but they shudder at the thought of riding a bus with all those … uh, well, you know …)
One thing law firms do is take cases on a pro bono basis. You get some prestige for doing so, and it helps underscore the legal profession’s self-conception as serving the higher calling of the law. The general idea here, of course, is that you’re supposed to be helping out indigent clients or some kind of do-gooder causes.
Meanwhile, in DC’s Maryland suburbs we’re inching ever closer to actually starting work on the Purple Line light rail. This would connect several destinations that are already served by transit and walkable transit-oriented development, provide transit access to the University of Maryland’s main campus, and also create the possibility of new transit-oriented development at additional stops along the way. It’s a good idea that will help reduce congestion on the Beltway, reduce carbon emissions, and enhance the region’s ability to keep growing in a sustainable manner. Every environmental group in the city is for it. But a group of NIMBYs centered around the town of Chevy Chase, MD and the Columbia Country Club are trying to block it in order to keep the riffraff out and are offering some spurious environmental claims to try to block construction.
They’ve engaged the large DC firm of Sidley Austin to help them in their fight. And Sidley’s doing the work pro bono — for free — as charity. No doubt in part this is because Joseph Guerra is both a partner in the firm and the husband of the woman co-chairing the NIMBY effort. Perhaps some of the firms partners are members of the Country Club as well. Who knows? But this is certainly a strange definition of charitable work. They might want to ask some of the people working for the firm on the bottom rungs — the janitors and so forth — if they really appreciate these kind of “charitable” efforts to deny poor people any better commuting options than the bus?
Why can’t Sidley Austin figure out that environmental laws are only supposed to slow down bad people, like conservative developers, but not nice liberal people who are trying to build stuff that Matthew Yglesias wants?
Progressives didn’t spend 40 years setting up a vast web of environmental and other land use regulations that make it glacially slow to build anything on either coast in order to hurt progressives. Therefore, environmental laws should _not_ apply to progressives. Any law firm that uses environmental laws to frustrate Matthew Yglesias’s desires is a traitor and should be dealt with. As Lenin said, the eternal question is always “Who? Whom?”
Bulldoze, baby, bulldoze!
You can’t have a bunch of environmentalist red tape holding back Yglesias’s Robert Moses-like ambitions to bulldoze anything standing in the way of his vision of a better future. Now that progressives have power, they must deregulate the environment so nobody can slow down their efforts to save the environment.
We have to bulldoze the environment to save it!
And while they’re at it, progressives should deregulate all the affirmative action minority set-aside contract regulations that slow infrastructure construction so badly.
The funny thing about the fashionable Toyota Prius is that it would get good gas mileage even it weren’t a hybrid. It has a very aerodynamic shape that provides a reasonable amount of interior room. Take out the weight added by the battery and electric motor, but keep things like the modest 0-60 acceleration, the use of aluminum rather than steel in places, and the real time miles per gallon gauge and you’d still have an efficient economy car. (And since the Prius has been built in Japan rather than America, you’d get Lexus-quality factory workmanship.)
But nobody would buy it. After all, the Prius is very similar in shape (just smaller) to perhaps the most unfashionable car of the decade, the Pontiac Aztek (introduced in 2001, now discontinued). The picture above is of an Aztek, not a Prius.
Conversely, nobody gets very excited over the Honda Civic Hybrid, because it doesn’t look like you’re saving the world by driving it. It just looks like you’re some loser who can only afford a Civic. In contrast, when you are driving a Prius, everybody can instantly recognize it’s a hybrid.
Basically, people choose cars to advertise themselves on the mating market. That’s fine, I’ve got no problem with that … except for the tens of millions of car-buyers who aren’t supposed to be on the mating market because they’re already married. Consider all the soccer moms who refused to buy aerodynamic minivans because they’re too mom-shaped. Instead, they bought squared-off SUVs, which get much worse mileage than minivans of similar capacity, because they felt they made them look sexier.
So, you have to give Toyota a lot of credit for figuring out how to trick us knuckleheaded Americans into wanting to eat our vegetables.
As I wrote in VDARE.com right after the Southern California fires exactly four years ago:
Brushfires and mudslides used to seem more amusing because they afflicted
Hollywoodcelebrities significantly more often than average citizens. This was not just a matter of God’s good taste. Hoi polloi lived in the cheaper and safer flatlands. The rich poised precariously in the hills, where construction and maintenance costs are higher—especially if you want your home to survive what Mother Nature keeps up her sleeve.
But the plains of
Southern Californiafilled up long ago. So the ever-growing population has been spilling into the more treacherous wild areas.
This is regularly denounced as
Californiathe driver has been population growth. According to a 2003 Center for Immigration Studies report by Roy Beck, Leon Kolankiewicz, and Steven A. Camarota, from 1982 to 1997 the total number of developed acres in California grew by 32 percent, but the per capita usage was up only two percent. Essentially all of ‘s population growth in the 1990s was due to new immigrants or births to foreign-born women. (Indeed, close to 1.5 million more American-born citizens moved out of California during the 1990s than moved in from other states.) California
As low-income immigrants pour into
Southern California‘s lowlands, crowding the freeways and overstressing the older cities’ public schools, the middle class (at least the ones who don’t leave the state) have responded by taking to the hills.
The hill country’s environment is benign most of the year. But the local ecosystem evolved to require periodic blazes. Up through American Indian times, these brushfires were frequent and thus relatively mild.
Unfortunately, we modern people haven’t really figured out how to manage the chaparral and pine forests yet—especially when the canyons and mountains are home to housing. The best-known remedy, controlled burns, is disliked by people who live in the backcountry because they pollute the air, and they can jump out of control. The 2000
Los Alamosfire set by the Forest Service ended up destroying hundreds of structures.
Thus the policy has been to try to suppress all fires. This, however, causes fuel in the form of dry brush and dead trees to build up each decade, inevitably leading to infernos like those of 1993 and 2003. …
‘s problem? ‘fraid not! Taxpayers across the country always end up chipping in, through government disaster loans, new federal firefighting and forestry management programs, lower stock market prices for insurance companies, and other forms of burden-sharing. California
desperately needs a slower population growth rate until it learns how its current vast population can live with its lovely but sometime lethal landscape. And the state’s burgeoning numbers are solely driven by immigration. California
The logical solution: cut back on immigration.
Reality is literally lighting a fire under us.
Mass immigration’s impact on the American environment has become another of those issues that can’t be discussed in polite society. The recent gyrations of the Sierra Club, America’s premier environmentalist organization, demonstrates just how restrictive the gag order against discussing immigration has gotten, and why.
The Sierra Club, logically declared in 1989 that its goal of zero population growth required that “Immigration to the U.S. should be no greater than that which will permit achievement of population stabilization in the U.S.” Native-born Americans have indeed done their part in achieving the Sierra Club’s goal, reducing their birth rate to the replacement level. But continued massive immigration has lead the Census Bureau to forecast that the U.S. population will more than double from 275 million in 2000 to 571 million in 2100, even though the global population is now widely expected to drop in the second half of the 21st century. Hispanics are projected to grow from 32 million to 190 million. Non-Hispanic whites are expected to remain the largest ethnic group, growing from 197 million to 230 million, but only because the Census Bureau assumes that Anglo white birth rates will increase. If they remain at their current level of 1.8 children per woman, the non-Hispanic white population may well shrink. And this total figure of 571 million might be an underestimate, since it assumes that the overall net immigration rate will decline fairly steadily from 3.6 per 1000 people in 1998 to 1.6 per thousand in 2100. If, however, the per capita immigration rate remains steady for the next 100 years, watch out. Environmentalists’ worst Blade Runner nightmares are likely to come true.
Despite the mathematical inevitability of high immigration’s increasing America’s population, in 1996 the Sierra Club leadership, hoping to outreach to minorities, discarded its immigration reform plank and decided to “take no position on immigration levels”. While neutral-sounding, this policy has functioned as a gag order. For example, the Sierra Club recently shut down two of its email lists that discuss population issues on the Orwellian grounds that immigration reformers were using it for “dissension” rather than the “open communication … for which they were created.” Apparently, some communications are more open than others.
Dissident Sierra Club members forced a referendum in 1998, and garnered endorsements of immigration reform from superstar environmentalists like retired Senator Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day; World Watch co-founder Lester Brown; novelist Farley Mowatt, author of Never Cry Wolf; photographer Galen Rowell, whose magnificent pictures have sold millions of Sierra Club calendars; and famed sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson, the brains behind the “biodiversity” movement.
Although the immigration realists merely wanted to go back to the 1989 Sierra Club policy that “The Sierra Club will lend its voice to the congressional debate on legal immigration issues when appropriate, and then only on the issue of the number of immigrants – not where they come from or their category,” they were of course demonized as racists by the organization’s management. One of the Club’s few Hispanic leaders, Luis Quirarte, announced that if the initiative passed, “I plan to quit. I am a Chicano, and blood is thicker than water.”
One might think that such racialist chauvinism, valuing La Raza over ecological health, would discredit the pro-immigration wing of the Club, but of course the opposite happened. Among the overwhelmingly liberal membership, such bullying worked well enough to block passage of the referendum.
Nonetheless, the Sierra Club has good reason to be extremely sensitive about race. For conservationists had traditionally argued, with much evidence, that it is not just how many immigrants, but also where they come from, that matters. In an era that’s becoming increasingly hysterical about ferreting out any and all historical links to racists, modern environmentalists have much to worry about.
The conservation movement traces its roots back to the Northern European romanticism of the early 19th Century. The Germans were particularly attached to their native forests (and still are, as reflected in the strength of the German Green Party). This love of the Teutonic homeland tended to spill over into blood and soil neopaganism, most notoriously among the Nazis. The mountain-loving Hitler considered the outdoors-orientation of the German gentiles to be another proof of their superiority over the wholly-urbanized Jews.
In the U.S., the first great age of conservation began during the Progressive Era under Teddy Roosevelt and his activist Secretary of the Interior, Gifford Pinchot. The Progressives’ reputation, long sky-high because they were seen as the forerunners of today’s liberals, has curdled in our multiculturalist age due to their WASP chauvinism. For example, TR, Pinchot, Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger, and many other Progressives favored eugenics. Many of the Progressives’ favorite causes — anti-machine politics, conservation, publicizing birth control, eugenics, muscular Christianity, immigration restrictions, and Prohibition — formed a fairly coherent agenda for maintaining the WASP domination of America in the face of heavy immigration.
Today’s conservationists face a similar challenge posed not just by the size of the current immigrant influx, but by its destination and composition within the U.S. As anybody who flies cross-country can see, America is a relatively empty nation. There are, in fact, huge swaths of the country that would benefit from higher population density. For example, Wal-Mart’s success has triggered a rapidly growing population around its headquarters in northwest Arkansas, which has turned a backward backwater into a pleasant part of modern America. Depopulating sections of the country, like the Dakotas, could desperately use an influx.
But immigrants are not flocking to the rural Midwest, where the native ecosystems have already been eradicated by agriculture. No, they are largely heading toward the sprawling cities, especially those in California, the Sierra Club’s ecologically fragile homeland. (A major new report in the leading science journal Nature on the world’s environments most in need of preservation, lists the California coast as the most endangered ecosystem in the U.S.) If America’s population is headed for 571 million, then California’s population could easily exceed a staggering 100 million.
If immigrants tended to come from cultures that shared a green-orientation with us, like Germany and Japan, or if they tended to be well-educated like the typical Sierra Club member, they’d pose less of a threat to the environment. However, most immigrants today tend to be poorly educated, and originating in societies that put little emphasis on conservation.
Latin Americans have shown a positive disregard for environmentalism as evidenced by their tendency toward littering and driving smog-belching old junkers. Hispanics have also demonstrated little interest in America’s natural wonders: only 1% of visitors to Yellowstone national park are Hispanics, even though they make up about 10% of the population.
As a predominantly blue collar group, immigrants form Latin America indulge in the traditional working class disdain for hoity-toity upper middle class environmentalists. Only 7% of the Sierra Club’s 550,000 members are minorities of any kind, compared to about 28% of the entire population. The political triumphs of the environmental movement have stemmed not from affluent, well-educated conservationists convincing blue-collar workers to vote against their own interests. Instead, the whole country has become more affluent, well-educated, and white-collar, thus spreading the tastes of the environmentalists through more of the electorate.
But we are importing a new proletariat from Latin America that’s even less educated than the Archie Bunkers of the past. In recent years, Hispanics have finally begun to vote heavily. It seems likely that during an economic downturn, Hispanic blue collar voters will favor relaxing California’s stringent restrictions on factories, construction, and landscaping.
Thus, the rapid growth of this ecologically apathetic group has dire implications for green politics. Iantha Gantt-Wright, the National Parks Conservation Association’s cultural diversity manager frets, “The absence of cultural and racial diversity in national parks looms as one of the greatest threats of all [to our national parks] because it means parks can lose the very constituents who will be in a position to save them in 50 or 100 years.”
Now, it’s likely that upper middle class environmentalist views could be inculcated into today’s Hispanic-Americans over the next couple of generations. But the process depends on their being economically and culturally assimilated into today’s upper middle class. However, few will manage that trick if they continue to be engulfed by millions of additional Hispanic immigrants, driving down their wages, and surrounding them with environmentally lax Latin American cultural norms. The best way to kick-start this assimilation process is via an immigration pause.