Sunday, April 26, 2009

Thoreau on Earth Day

It is always instructive to take a look at the founding visions of those whose ideas are often followed in change movements, and those of Henry David Thoreau, perhaps the quintessential American minimalist, are germane in the era of the nationalization of environmental regulation promoted by the environmental movement.

This article from the Los Angeles Times does that.

An excerpt.

“Earth Day is upon us, and with it, several "green" events, including the broadcasting of "Walden: The Ballad of Thoreau" on public television and in schools. This is surprising at a time when government involvement in the environment is all the rage. Henry David Thoreau, who wrote that "government is best which governs not at all," is probably writhing in his grave.

“Instead of keeping environmental management at the local level where it is most efficient, we are moving toward more centralization. This trend -- call it green nationalism -- is not new. Theodore Roosevelt's "New Nationalism" platform moved the country away from local control of resources toward bureaucratic management for the masses. Roosevelt set aside 200 million acres of public land and created federal management agencies, such as the Bureau of Reclamation and the Forest Service. These agencies were to "produce the greatest good for the greatest number" -- a noble but impossible goal. …

“Managing resources from Washington means politically directed projects, which often ignore fiscal realities and long-term environmental effects. The Forest Service's Smokey Bear campaign, for example, was created to prevent wildfires and protect lumber for the armed forces. Smokey came to symbolize decades of fire suppression, which unfortunately has resulted in today's catastrophic accumulations of fuel in our forests and exorbitant taxpayer costs to fight wildfires. In 2006, the Forest Service spent $1.5 billion for emergency fire suppression; 45% of its budget for 2008 was committed to fire prevention and suppression.

“Green nationalism didn't stop with Roosevelt. President Nixon helped build an unprecedented bureaucratic morass: the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA; the Clean Air and Clean Water acts; the Endangered Species Act; and the list goes on. Environmental improvements continued under these regulations but with a much higher price tag than in the previous decades.

“Have regulations gone too far? These have come with bloated bureaucracies spending billions of taxpayer dollars. Environmental scholars such as New York Law School professor David Schoenbrod agree that "the best estimates are that we could have achieved the present level of environmental quality at a quarter of the direct cost." NEPA, for example, created a logjam for the Forest Service by halting timber sales and forcing the agency to spend resources defending itself in court. Meanwhile, millions of acres go unmanaged, exacerbating the already heavy fuel loads."