WHOSE PROFITS HARM THE ENVIRONMENT OF THE WEST?

For some time I’ve been realizing it was time for a new post.  GET YOUR EARTH SAVIN’ MONEY’S WORTH has been at the top of the RWTBG long enough (Even though I really enjoy the images and the point they make). And, of course, I’ve been working on some new stuff for some time including an article on “RANCHING FOR VEGANS”  and HUMANS – ONE OF NATURE’S KEYSTONES (the working title for this one is  “TWO MILLION YEARS OF COWBOYIN’, WHO SAYS WE’RE NOT NATURAL?“). Anyhow, while I was researching those posts I ran across another article I wrote a while back that didn’t get published or posted and realized how big a mistake that had been. For one thing it tells a lot about how I came to the conclusions I’ve been describing on the RightWayToBeGreem.com. That in itself makes it worth publishing. One thing of note, some of the data is dated 2012-2015, but I feel the insights that data facilitates are still valid.

So, here it is at the top of the page until it’s replaced by Ranching Vegans or Homo Cowboyus. 

WHOSE PROFITS HARM THE ENVIRONMENT OF THE WEST?

When I came West in 1980, environmentalism was surging to establish itself as one of the dominant forces in the region’s politics. Wilderness preservation, saving endangered species, and protecting Nature were becoming dominant issues within the political scene. Led by the issue of the spotted owl, “grass roots” movements demanded a reduction in logging, ranching, and human impact in general (especially those activities that involved capitalism, free enterprise, resource use, and profits.)

The reason this reshaping was necessary, according to environmentalists, was that, when our European culture, with its concentration on pioneering, settlement, and developing resources to fuel growth and wealth, had moved West, it had put treasure ahead of nature and, as a result, perpetrated an environmental disaster. As evidence of this charge, photos of denuded grasslands, forests of stumps, stacks of dead predators, dried up riverbeds and more were published in environmental journals, the mainstream media, and political campaign materials to the drumbeat of “preserve,” “protect,” and “There ought’a be a law!” 

“Over” became the prefix attached to all human activity as in overgrazing, overlogging, overfishing, overhunting, overdevelopment, and overpopulation. Capitalism and private enterprise were cast as villains from which Nature had to be protected. Protecting nature, its proponents maintained, would restore the environment to its natural harmony as much as was possible with all these humans present.

From this, it seemed to follow logically, that the way to solve most, if not all, of our environmental problems in the West was to take away the profit motive as the determining factor in how we use the land. In other words, in deciding how we should relate to the land we should be putting values ahead of value.

With that in mind, in 1980 in my new home of Arizona, I became involved in the effort to protect as much of nature as possible from the profit motive and those who are motivated by it. To that end, I spent a lot of time (and so did a lot of other people) wandering the West taking note of and photos of land that was or at least appeared to be in bad shape. Blame for this damage was then laid at the feet of those using the land to produce products and profits.

“We’ve got to protect what’s left of the West — our natural/national heritage,” we trumpeted. Since the apparatus for protecting anything in our society is, of course, government, the opportunity presented here was right in tune with the New Left /socialist agenda of those of us who made up the 60’s generation. With that as our agenda, we began construction of a barricade of laws and regulations to change the management of as much of the West as possible so that human activity on the land was guided by values at least ostensibly based on ecology rather than economy. 

Over time efforts such as this have become one of the main driving forces in our society’s tenure in the West. Millions of acres have been set aside as wilderness, parks, preserves, and monuments, and human activity has been restricted on much (if not all) of the rest. The justification for these sweeping measures is the claim that this is the only way to return the land to conditions as “natural” and “pristine” as possible and remedy the abuse and overuse the region has experienced. As I write this, the push continues. At present an effort is underway to designate 160,000 acres around my home and hometown as a “National Monument.” Just south of the Grand Canyon 1.6 million acres are also targeted. North of the Canyon in Utah — 1.9 million acres.

Through all of this the question that remains to be asked is: Has anyone checked to confirm that these extensive measures achieve the results to which they are claimed to be the only route? Has anyone checked to see how effective protection has been in restoring the land to health, green-ness, biodiversity and ecological function? Has anyone even checked to see if the results of protection outshine the results of production when it comes to managing the lands of the Western Outback?

To some of us that series of questions doesn’t even make sense. Why would anyone bother to check to see if protecting a landscape is good for it? If you remove human impact from a piece of land, you enable it to return to “nature,” to “balance,” and once a piece of land is returned to the realm and function of Nature, everything that happens to it is what should happen — it’s natural!

In cases where a protected ecosystem doesn’t become as green and healthy as we think it ought to be, the idea that protection might be what’s causing the problem never enters the discussion. Invariably, the conclusion is that humans have screwed this place up so bad it’s going to take a long time to heal, and it may never do so. Such a place becomes an eternal affirmation of the assumption that humans are always the cause of what’s wrong with nature.

I subscribed to this way of thinking until, living in the same place in central Arizona for a number of years made it inevitable that I started noticing the results of ecological protection, especially protection I had been instrumental in creating. 

When I moved to Arizona in 1980 I had immediately become involved in a number of environmental initiatives including the Arizona Forest Service Wilderness Act of 1984 (I was northern Arizona co-coordinator of the “Adopt a Wilderness” program that was instrumental in securing passage of that legislation.) I also worked on a number of predator issues involving black bears and mountain lions, for which I received an award from the Sierra Club as one of the top one hundred grass-roots activists in the U. S. 

One of the human land-uses this activism impacted was cattle ranching. In fact, in some cases, the increased regulation I helped create caused ranchers to reduce and even abandon their use of grazing rights they leased on government (public) land. 

In one case, when I was talking to a rancher to confirm the accuracy of a series of re-photographs (“after” photos of land protected for several years contrasted with “before” photos taken while the land was still being grazed.) I asked the rancher why he removed his cattle from this land about 25 years before I re-photographed it?

“A bunch of enviros got a lot of land in that area protected as Wilderness,” he replied, “and it made grazing there too much trouble to bother with.”

“One of those enviros was me.” I said, and explained how I was involved.

The reason I was making those before and after comparisons of land this man’s cattle had grazed, and now was protected, was to check to see if protection actually achieves what its advocates (including me a few years back) claim it can do – return the land to natural health and ecological function. What’s the best way to check anything’s effectiveness? By checking to see if it produces what it says it can produce, and the best way to do this, I’ve decided, is by means of before and after observation confirmed and illustrated (where possible) by re-photography.

So — what did my before and after comparison of this man’s ranch reveal? First I found the “before” photo in the files of the Sedona Heritage Museum. It was taken on New Years Eve in 1957, and shows a hillside covered with grass and some shrubby trees, dotted with a few cattle, and framed by a backdrop of some of Sedona’s spectacular red rock formations including Courthouse Rock. 

That backdrop made the relocation of the original photo site fairly easy, and — after spending considerable time doing my best to find the specific spot from which the photographer had shot the original — I took my re-photo. My 2014 photo shows a hillside almost entirely devoid of grass with plain evidence of severe erosion. In some places it was obvious that as much as three feet of soil had washed away. The trees, most of which remained, had grown somewhat larger and a few new ones had sprouted. 

One revealing problem that increased the difficulty of finding the re-photo site was — with taller trees and a land surface three feet lower because of erosion — Courthouse Butte was much less visible above the ridgeline and therefore much less usable as a locator. After considerable effort and even bringing a ladder to get as high as the land used to be, I came up with what I feel is an accurate re-shoot.

Searching museums, the files of the USDA Forest Service, the internet, various books and other sources I found several more “before” photos, and by using Sedona’s intricately sculpted skyline as my compass I was able to relocate almost all of those sites and re-photograph them. The majority of those comparisons illustrated ecological changes similar to, and in some cases worse than, the instance described above. Mainly, what those comparisons showed was that, in the Sedona ecosystem, at least, protection had achieved the exact opposite of what it was touted to achieve:  

Instead of restoring the land to health, green-ness and balance, protection had caused it to deteriorate, denude, and erode. 

Instead of restoring and sustaining biodiversity, it had caused the land to become less diverse and to support less life. (Many of those photos are viewable in other posts on RWTBG.com.)

In other words, where applied, protection had diminished ecological function (in some cases severely) rather than restored or sustained it.

As I revisited these sites with images in hand showing the condition of these places while they were being used by humans to produce a product ostensibly for profit, I thought of the level of controversy that had been ignited by the conditions illustrated in these relatively benign “before” photos — outrage, opposition, finger pointing, lawsuits, demonstrations, calls for prosecution.

Why, I wondered, had no such controversy, not even a peep, been ignited by conditions created by “protection” that were much, much worse? 

From this came the unexpected realization that my re-photography had brought me face to face with a familiar villain from my eco-radical days  — the profit motive as a cause of ecological degradation. After all, “environmental protection” produces a very saleable product and therefore a profit. That product is the credentials protection offers its advocates as being “part of the solution.” Sign on to one of the initiatives of environmental protection and you automatically earn your credentials as “Earth Saver” virtually immune to blame and guilt for all environmental problems except the vague unavoidable guilt of being part of the human “affliction.”

Notice that this immunity to blame is not dependent on the ecological results created by the action involved. In the case of grazing to produce beef, ranchers have to keep the grasslands they use healthy enough that their cattle have enough to eat to survive, reproduce, and gain weight. In the case of protection, the more devastated the land, the more effective it is at selling more protection.

How profitable is this “not for profit” business? “Behemoth Big Green even outstrips Big Oil in expendable revenue by orders of magnitude,” writes Ron Arnold in “Big Green’s Untold Billions” — an article currently available via the website of CFACT (Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow) and previously published in the “Washington Examiner.”

In the Christian Science Monitor, In a 2012 guest blog, Robert Rapier observes, after “looking through the financials of a prominent environmental ‘non-profit’” and discovering “$250 million in assets, annual donations of more than $100 million, and a dozen employees listed as receiving more than $200,000 a year in compensation,” that he thinks “it is safe to say that environmentalism is indeed a lucrative business for some.”

Thus inspired I did some looking on my own: In the 2014 annual report of the Nature Conservancy, one of the largest environmental groups, I found assets listed at more than $5.77 billion. “Total support and revenue” for that year added up to more than 1 billion dollars. 

On a blog site named “NOYO — News and Views from the North Coast,” a list of the “Salaries of ‘Big Green’ CEO’s” included:

“President, Natural Resources Defense Council: $432,742.00

President, Environmental Defense: $423,359.00

Executive Director, Environmental Defense: $347,963.00

VP West Coast, VP Land, Water and Wildlife, Environmental Defense: $304,626.00

Managing Director, Pew Environment Group: $400,487.00

Two non-profits NOYO included in their “Big Green” list because of their prominence in environmental affairs — the David and Lucille Packard Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts — paid their CEOs more than a million dollars.

How big is the “not for profit” profit machine these people work for? According to CFACT (Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow) senior policy analyst, Paul Driessen, “U.S. environmental activist groups are a $13-billion-a-year industry”, and…

“The liberal foundations that give targeted grants to Big Green operations have well over $100 billion at their disposal.”

“Giving USA” estimates total 2014 donations to non-profits that deal with the category “Environment/Animals” at $10.5 billion.

Getting beyond the tip of the “Not For Profit” profit iceberg, the biggest funder of Big Green is government — federal, state and local. “Under President Obama,” CFACT’s Driessen writes, “government agencies have poured tens of millions into nonprofit groups for anti-hydrocarbon campaigns” including “spending $2.6 billion [per year] on climate change research (and only those who support the “carbon dioxide is a pollutant/major greenhouse gas’ receive funding).”

According to “Ballotpedia  — The Encyclopedia of American Politics,”  Environmental spending in the 50 states for Fiscal Year 2015 was more than 23 and a half billion dollars. 

www.National Priorities,org adds, in “Federal Spending, Where Does the Money Go,” — Federal Energy and the Environment spending in 2015 equaled $44.85 billion.

Add to this the political campaigns these “Earth Saver” credentials enable their holders to win, the bureaucratic agencies created and jobs provided, the professorships established, and science programs initiated, all to validate these credentials, and you have a “not for profit” behemoth that produces over a hundred billion dollars annually. In ten years that’s a trillion dollars. What this reveals is that contemporary environmentalism has a vested interest amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars in environments that are in bad shape, the worse shape the better. Not so hard to understand, then, why, when those environments deteriorate even more, as my before and after photos show, we hear no mea culpas from the “protectors” who supposedly are providing the means for them to heal.

From all of that the conclusion is unavoidable: Environmental corporatism is guilty, at least in some cases, of the very same offense of which it has accused capitalism and the free market — of getting rich at the expense of the environment.

And,… having put treasure ahead of nature to such a degree, this movement that portrays itself as the answer to our environmental problems is perpetrating problems at least as damaging and widespread as those to which it claims to be the remedy. 

The main difference is, in the case of ranchers, capitalists, etc. when they cause damage they have plenty of people and eco corporations calling them on it. When environmental corporatism does some eco-wrecking they are not subjected to accountability, at least not to any significant degree. Maybe this article will help change that.

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