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The Hetch Hetchy Valley in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains is the Lower 48′s second most spectacular glacier sculpted valley of sheer granite cliffs. The most spectacular is of course Yosemite Valley, 17 miles to the south. In 1913, Congress handed the city of San Francisco the right to turn Hetch Hetchy into a reservoir and profit off the water and electricity even though it is in Yosemite National Park. The battle against submerging this valley was one of the roots of activist environmentalism.

In the late 1980s, Reagan’s Interior Secretary Don Hodel came up with a great divisive environmental issue: San Francisco, tear down this dam!

The citizens of San Francisco are finally going to vote on whether to even consider giving up this reservoir. Local Democratic politicians like Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, and mayor Ed Lee are utterly opposed to restoring Hetch Hetchy to its natural state. 

In general, I think that people on the right are way too concerned about trying to figure out correct universal principles when it comes to environmental issues. Instead, think of environmental regulations as tools. San Francisco Bay Area liberal politicians are smarter: they are adamant environmentalists when it is in their constituents’ interests and adamant anti-environmentalists when it’s not.

• Tags: Environment 
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For some time, environmentalists have been aggressively nativist when it comes to plants and animals. Environmentalists don’t like, say, foreign transplants, such as rats driving extinct all the native birds on remote islands. They don’t like kudzu covering up much of the Southeast.
But that increasingly raises feeling of psychological unease and impurity in the minds of 21st Century environmentalists. If, as we all know, nativism is the worst thing in the history of the world when it comes to people, how can nativism be good when it comes to plants and animals? Why aren’t we more sensitive to the plight of the poor immigrant kudzu vines, emerald ash borers, and Asian longhorn beetles?
After all, conservation in America was largely invented by people who were nativists about flora, fauna, and people, such as Madison Grant. Back in the 1990s, the wealthy couple of David Gelbaum and Monica Chavez Gelbaum bought the Sierra Club’s soul for $100,000,000 on the condition that they drop their immigration restrictionist stance and thus their stance against population growth in the U.S. and in the Sierra Club’s home state of California. This epochal switch has largely disappeared down the memory hole. Today, everybody assumes that plant nativists are, by the nature of their superior morality, human antinativists. But there are psychological tensions in this inherent contradiction.

Now, the easiest thing to do is to simply ignore the contradiction. But it gnaws away at some.

From the Boston Globe:

The invasive species war 

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.

One of my readers comments:

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.

I increasingly find myself as The Last Moderate. Consider the question of native plants in my native land, Southern California. Before the white man arrived, Southern California was remarkably lacking in food crops. The Indians gathered acorns, which is a last resort food, because it takes a fair amount of work to make them edible. You’ll notice how nobody bothers eating acorns these days.
Americans quickly noticed that, given enough irrigation, practically any plant from anywhere in the world will grow in Southern California. For much of the first half of the 20th Century, Los Angeles County was the number one agricultural producer in the country. 
Moreover, in ornamental plants, this welcoming climate led to comic levels of diversity in landscaping, with one street having 150-foot tall fan palms (the iconic plant that makes a good logo for L.A. in silhouette, but looks like a hyperextended mop in reality) in one yard, next door to giant, dusty eucalyptuses from Australia, next door to large but not quite thriving redwoods from northern California, next door to a colossally wide Moreton Bay fig tree from Australia, etc. SoCal tends to have good yards but not good streets, due to an excess of individualism leading to an excess of diversity. It’s like yesterday’s discussion of free verse: poetry where anything can happen isn’t as fun as poetry where the end of the next line will either fulfill your expectation or surprise you. 
Growing up, I found L.A. residents’ penchant for decorative diversity, self-expression, and phoniness in landscaping and architecture amusing. More aesthetically sensitive souls, however, did not. For example, Nathanael West raged apocalyptically in Day of the Locust against L.A.’s diversity of architecture: “But not even the soft wash of dusk could help the houses … Only dynamite would be of any use against the Mexican ranch houses, Samoan huts, Mediterranean villas, Egyptian and Japanese temples, Swiss chalets, Tudor cottages, and every possible combination of these styles that lined the slopes of the canyon.”
Over time, I increasingly have come to appreciate the native environment, or at least it’s better aspects. Let’s prioritize, however, what we want to preserve. Not every bit of Southern California natural environment is as worth preserving as every other.

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.

• Tags: Environment, Immigration 
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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 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).

• Tags: Environment 
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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.

• Category: History • Tags: Environment 
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… then President Obama should do what President Nixon did in 1973: institute a 55 mph speed limit.

• Tags: Environment 
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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.

• Tags: Environment 
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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.

• Tags: Cars, Environment 
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As I wrote in right after the Southern California fires exactly four years ago:

Brushfires and mudslides used to seem more amusing because they afflicted Hollywood celebrities 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 California filled up long ago. So the ever-growing population has been spilling into the more treacherous wild areas.

This is regularly denounced as California the 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 California‘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.)

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 Alamos fire 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. …

It’s just California‘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.

And, in some ways, that’s fair, because so much of California’s current crisis traces back to the federal refusal to adequately enforce immigration laws.

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.

The logical solution: cut back on immigration.

Reality is literally lighting a fire under us.

• Tags: Environment, Immigration 
Steve Sailer
About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.

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