Saturday, May 26, 2012

Environmentalism as Religious Doctrine

In his book "The Armchair Economist," economist Steven Landsburg explains why he is not an environmentalist:

"The hallmark of science is a commitment to follow arguments to their logical conclusions; the hallmark of certain kinds of religion is a slick appeal to logic followed by a hasty retreat if it points in an unexpected direction. Environmentalists can quote reams of statistics on the importance of trees and then jump to the conclusion that recycling paper is a good idea. But the opposite conclusion makes equal sense.  I am sure that if we found a way to recycle beef, the population of cattle would go down, not up. If you want ranchers to keep a lot of cattle, you should eat a lot of beef.

Recycling paper eliminates the incentive for paper companies to plant more trees and can cause forests to shrink. If you want large forests, your best strategy might be to use paper as wastefully as possible — or lobby for subsidies to the logging industry. Mention this to an environmentalist. My own experience is that you will be met with some equivalent of the beatific smile of a door-to-door evangelist stumped by an unexpected challenge, but secure in his grasp of Divine Revelation.

This suggests that environmentalists — at least the ones I have met — have no real interest in maintaining the tree population. If they did, they would seriously inquire into the long-term effects of recycling. I suspect that they don't want to do that because their real concern is with the ritual of recycling itself, not with its consequences. The underlying need to sacrifice, and to compel others to sacrifice, is a fundamentally religious impulse."

40 Comments:

At 5/26/2012 1:04 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

What I get out of this is that you do not understand environmentalists.

You think you understand environmentalism but you clearly do not understand their values.

For instance, they see value in a river that is not polluted or a forest that is old growth and you give the impression you do not see the value or you don't have that value itself.

 
At 5/26/2012 1:38 PM, Blogger arbitrage789 said...

"Recycling paper eliminates the incentive for paper companies to plant more trees and can cause forests to shrink"
_______________________

I'm not convinced that the propensity of the U.S. population to recycle has much bearing on the decision by the paper companies to plant more (or fewer) trees. The "lag" time is huge; it takes many years for trees to grow from a mere seed to a useful size. Many CEO's can't see beyond the next quarter; it's a lot to expect for them to be making bets on what should happen long after they've left the job.

 
At 5/26/2012 1:50 PM, Blogger Len Kowitz said...

The next time you're confronted by a door to door evangelist tell them you don't have time to discuss mythology and watch them vanish in a cloud of dust.

 
At 5/26/2012 1:51 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

recycling is for most things a green weenie "feel good" reality.

Aluminum and metal are valuable.

In our location - paper recycling atl schools was stopped after the companies collecting it stopped paying and started charging.

"Recycling" is often a "feel good amenity that a locality supports because it's good PR and it saves them from having to develop new landfill sites.

For that reason, it makes sense in places that are urbanized and landfill land is expensive and beset by NIMBY issues.

It boils down to whether it is cheaper to pay a recycler to take the stuff or landfill it - in another state.

 
At 5/26/2012 2:41 PM, Blogger Pulverized Concepts said...

If it's somehow morally wrong to alter the appearance of a body of water or cut down a tree, what about the things that aren't visible? Doesn't use of your Iphone or sending a comment to this web site with your laptop via wi-fi fill the atmosphere with invisible radio waves? Just because they're invisible to you doesn't mean that they're not there. In fact, those waves are rolling across the universe, polluting the electromagnetic spectrum of places we don't even know about. Maybe interfering with the broadcast of crucial weather info on some planet light years away, if not now, then in the future. We really can't take the chance that our trivialities will mess up some important stuff across the galaxy. Reruns of Seinfeld might eventually produce anomalies in somebody's MRI west of Alpha Centauri. It's time to call a halt to wireless communication.

 
At 5/26/2012 2:45 PM, Blogger juandos said...

"You think you understand environmentalism but you clearly do not understand their values"...

Wow! Do clinically stupid people have values that actually have something to do with reality?....

Oh wait!

I'm asking the wrong person...

 
At 5/26/2012 3:00 PM, Blogger arbitrage789 said...

Also worth considering that the market for paper and lumber is global...an analysis of supply and demand should be undertaken from that perspective.

 
At 5/26/2012 3:39 PM, Blogger kmg said...

If Enviro-nuts actually cared about CO2, they would be pro natural gas, not against it.

If they cared about CO2, they would be more worried about China, than the US.

If enviro-nuts cared about human pollution, they would be more worried about plastic in the oceans (which indisputably IS caused by humans), than CO2 (which cannot be entirely attributed to humans, given that trillions of leaves fall off and rot each fall in the Northern Hemi).

 
At 5/26/2012 4:57 PM, Blogger Kevin Carter said...

Even if environmentalism and capitalism were mutually exclusive (which, to be clear, they aren't), like an Evangelist grossly misrepresenting facts and twisting logic to disprove evolution, this article demonstrates the folly of using rhetoric as a substitute for informed understanding and has merely provided those you wished to discredit with more fodder to support their cause.

Don't let your faith in the religious doctrine of capitalism cloud your judgement when making investments: Personal beliefs are no substitute for well reasoned business decisions.

 
At 5/26/2012 6:28 PM, Blogger Krishnan said...

I know many very good scientists/engineers who think very rigorously about problems they work on - allowing for contrary opinions and analyses - as long as the discussion revolves around actual data or specific hypotheses or ideas - and when the topic turns to the "environment" - they become blithering idiots - I cannot recognize them anymore. It is as if they do not want to hear anything BUT what they believe - They will parrot the usual nonsense and tripe like "you do not want clean water and clean air" - but refuse to understand differential costs - or how growth has actually improved our lives - including water and air and all that ...

Something happens when the word "environment" comes up - many normally intelligent people lose their analytical capabilities and spout nonsense and refuse to listen to anything that contradicts their view

 
At 5/26/2012 11:20 PM, Blogger Brandon Carver said...

I don't think the comparison if the beef / cattle industry with paper demand and deforestation is very fair. If we did recycle beef, we would no longer have incentive to raise so many cows, therefore the population of cows would decrease. However, decreasing the demand of paper would not reduce our demand of the trees. The reason we began to recycle in the first place is because we realized that we had a demand for the trees to sustain the earth and for other purposes. We saw that there was not enough trees to last forever with slowing the process down by recycling. Reducing the paper demand allows the sustaining supply to increase, which was already determined beneficial.

 
At 5/27/2012 1:28 AM, Blogger Ken said...

Larry G,

It is you who does not understand. The question is how much do you value keeping pollution below a certain level. What are you willing to trade off for to keep pollution below that level? You should read Landsburg's full letter. It's available online. google for "Why I Am Nor An Environmentalist".


arbitrage,

Many industries have long lag times. Ever hear of Glenlivet? Even paper trees have a shorter lag time the 18 year old Scotch.

Brandon,

Define "fair". And do you have any proof at all that the demand for non-paper wood products would increase if the demand for paper disappeared? If the demand for oil disappeared tomorrow, do you think the demand for non-gasoline oil products would increase to fill in for the demand that used to be there for gas? If not, why do you think this would happen for wood?

This is another excellent presentation of the trade offs involved.

 
At 5/27/2012 1:36 AM, Blogger Hydra said...

Evidently you never ment an environmentalist who was an environmental enonomist.

They would tell you that there is an optimum level of tree production and a maximum level of tree production.

Producing more than the optimum level of trees production is wasteful, and may cut into other valuable production.

Trees for pulp grow in as little as sixteen years, It takes 24 years to grow large enough for Chip-N-Saw, which is used to make 2x4s. It takes 33 years for a tree to become large enough to sell for lumber, telephone poles and plywood. This is well within the planning horizon for large lumber corporations.


==============================


Also worth considering that the market for paper and lumber is global.....

Not really, paper mills are near the pine forests for a reason. I doubt if much pulp lumber is shipped overseas. High quality maple for bowling alleys, maybe.

 
At 5/27/2012 6:15 AM, Blogger Larry G said...

the two tenants of environmentalism is pollution and consumption/destruction of resources.

the environmental movement really got started when air and water beyond the lands owned by the polluter were being polluted.

You had property owners - polluting other people's property and public commons.

When your activities pollute land, water, and air that you don't own then it becomes the legitimate business of other property owners who rights are affected.

We already have a regulation-laden pollution permit system where it is other property owners via their elected govt who decide what kind and how much pollution you, as a polluter are "permitted" to pollute.

the idea that anyone has a "right to pollute" is really an idea that one would have a "right to pollute - property other than their own".

this is where regulation comes from.

environmentalists are defenders of property rights in a way....

 
At 5/27/2012 6:25 AM, Blogger sykes.1 said...

I taught college-level environmental science and engineering to engineers, biologists, geologists and other science students for 37 years.

The term "environmentalist" covers some ground, but usually it indicates a person whose mind is rooted in Romanticism. Romanticism is a conscious repudiation of the Enlightenment and science and reason. The environmentalist response to nature is intuitive and emotional, and the environmentalist is not open to rational discussion of environmental policy, costs vs. benefits or whole system analysis.

Romantic ideas now have spread to environmental engineering. A good example is Dr. Alfredo Juan Armendariz. He was (and again is) an environmental engineer and a Research Associate Professor of Environmental and Civil Engineering at SMU in Dallas. He left SMU temporarily to become Region VI Administrator for the US EPA. His outburst about crucifying private businesses with environmental regulations shows just how far Romanticism has contaminated science and engineering.

 
At 5/27/2012 6:35 AM, Blogger Larry G said...

" Romanticism is a conscious repudiation of the Enlightenment and science and reason."

perhaps.

but environmentalism is also a repudiation that other property owners have the right to pollute and harm you and your interests.

when the water in a stream that flows through your property poisons your livestock - you become an "environmentalist".

When the factor upstream of your house poisons your kids with it's effluent - you become an "environmentalist".

When the food you eat, gives you cancer from the pesticides put on it - you become an "environmentalist".

the question is WHO decides WHAT someone can pollute and in what concentration.

some think this is the polluter's "right".

but others think that as soon as pollution leaves your property and affects other property owners that you have violated others property rights.

That includes the shared ownership of the "commons".

this is not "romanticism"... this is pure and simple pragmatism.

even someone who lives in a rented apartment but is harmed by air or water that was polluted by other property owners has property rights.

 
At 5/27/2012 2:49 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

"Not really, paper mills are near the pine forests for a reason. I doubt if much pulp lumber is shipped overseas. High quality maple for bowling alleys, maybe."

Really? Try again.

 
At 5/27/2012 3:18 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

Brandon: "However, decreasing the demand of paper would not reduce our demand of the trees. The reason we began to recycle in the first place is because we realized that we had a demand for the trees to sustain the earth and for other purposes. We saw that there was not enough trees to last forever with slowing the process down by recycling. Reducing the paper demand allows the sustaining supply to increase, which was already determined beneficial."

Who, exactly, is "we"?

You understand that trees, like any other crop, are a renewable resource, right? More demand means more supply, and vice versa.

Another thing to consider when you favor recycling of paper is the environmental harm causes by the recycling process. Are you familiar with the process, and the chemicals reguired to bleach used paper for reuse?

Making new paper from trees is a much more environmentally friendly process.

 
At 5/27/2012 5:23 PM, Blogger Hell_Is_Like_Newark said...

arbitrage:

I'm not convinced that the propensity of the U.S. population to recycle has much bearing on the decision by the paper companies to plant more (or fewer) trees. The "lag" time is huge; it takes many years for trees to grow from a mere seed to a useful size. Many CEO's can't see beyond the next quarter;

Paper companies plant a lot of trees. They are looking 30+ years in the future.

A co-worker of mine some years back owned a fairly large rural track of land (former farm). Kimberly Clark paid him to allow them to re-forest the track with pine. All the owner had to do was some maintenance which would allow the trees to grow faster. Kimberly maintained the right to the trees. The man was tickled pink to be paid to have his property upgraded in such a way.

 
At 5/27/2012 5:59 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

I'm not understanding the deal about trees for paper mills.

if a paper company owns a crap-load of land that it plants trees on - like any other crop... and harvest them when they need them...

what exactly is the "environmental issue" here?

What most environmental weenies believe about trees is that the last remaining vestiges of old-growth are worth preserving.

I never heard an enviro-weenie go higher order over a pulp-tree farm.

 
At 5/27/2012 6:29 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

"What most environmental weenies believe about trees is that the last remaining vestiges of old-growth are worth preserving."

And they demonstrate that belief by using their own money and by raising funds from like minded folks to purchase those old growth vestiges for preservation, right?

 
At 5/27/2012 7:59 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

well.. they haven't yet got the part down about purchasing themselves down yet...

 
At 5/28/2012 3:21 AM, Blogger Jet Beagle said...

brandon carver: "We saw that there was not enough trees to last forever with slowing the process down by recycling. Reducing the paper demand allows the sustaining supply to increase, which was already determined beneficial."

Almost all of the trees harvested in the U.S. today were deliberately planted by humans, who did so with the intent to earn profits. Furthermore, there are millions of acres of potentially forestable land across the nation which could be planted if the incentives were there.

The forests of the U.S. can definitely last forever. What is needed is for the profits from tree farming to be high enough that the landowners invest in reforestation.

 
At 5/28/2012 3:44 AM, Blogger Jet Beagle said...

arbitrage789: "I'm not convinced that the propensity of the U.S. population to recycle has much bearing on the decision by the paper companies to plant more (or fewer) trees. .... Many CEO's can't see beyond the next quarter"

I definitely think you are mistaken about CEO's, but that's not all that relevant. The overwhelming majority of trees harvested in the U.S. are not grown on land owned by paper corporations. According to research by the U.S. Forest Service:

- 47% of all forest land is owned by federal, state, and local governments;

- 35% is owned by families;

- 18% is owned by other private entities, including corporations, Indian tribes, and conservation groups.

In addition, the evidence that paper companies do not have a short-term orientation is clear. Companies such as International Paper and Weyerhauser invest many millions of dollars in forestry research and in education of and assistance to tree plantation owners such as my father-in-law.

 
At 5/28/2012 3:48 AM, Blogger Jet Beagle said...

larry g: "recycling is for most things a green weenie "feel good" reality.

Aluminum and metal are valuable."


I agree, Larry. Based on what I've read, I also believe that recycled plastic also has great value. In fact, I saw an interview with a plastics recycler CEO who claimed that the demand for recycled plastic exceeds the supply provided by U.S. households. His company is importing recycled plastic.

 
At 5/28/2012 3:54 AM, Blogger Larry G said...

" The forests of the U.S. can definitely last forever. What is needed is for the profits from tree farming to be high enough that the landowners invest in reforestation. "

that's not really an "environmental" issue though. There is PLENTY of unused land available to plant trees for pulp but like any other business - buying the land and planting the trees is a cost of doing business.

Environmentalist don't recycle paper because they're trying to "save" tree plantations. They recycle because hey consider it wasteful to throw away something that can be re-used and won't take up space in a landfill.

it's a waste-not, want-not ethic that has gone mainstream to many people who do not even consider themselves as "environmentalists".

In some places like New Jersey, recycling is mandatory -you must separate your trash - not because of green weenies but because of land-fill costs. Even if they have to pay to haul away some types of recycled, it still is cheaper than landfilling it.

The concern about old growth forests is entirely separate from the recycling issue; doesn't matter what the wood would be used for - and most if not all old growth is not used for paper but other purposes like home building.

 
At 5/28/2012 6:25 AM, Blogger Jet Beagle said...

Larry G: "Environmentalist don't recycle paper because they're trying to "save" tree plantations. They recycle because they consider it wasteful to throw away something that can be re-used and won't take up space in a landfill."

I agree with the second sentence. But I am dead positive that most of the folks who recycle paper believe they are "saving trees".

The fact is, of course, that no tree can be saved. It will eventually die and rot on the ground. What can be saved are forests. It is absolutely true that the expectation of profits is the reason we have more forestland in the lower 48 states than we did 200 years ago.

 
At 5/28/2012 6:31 AM, Blogger Jet Beagle said...

larry g: "most if not all old growth is not used for paper but other purposes like home building."

I don't think any of the few virgin timber forests remaining in the 48 states are being harvested for any reason. Not sure about Alaska. Perhaps you are referring to international "old growth".

 
At 5/28/2012 6:36 AM, Blogger Larry G said...

re: "saving trees".

there's a wide variety of people who recycle - beyond those who consider themselves "environmentalists".

I would posit that most folks who are really involved in the environmental movement (as oppose to folks who say they are "green") know the difference between an old growth forest and a tree farm.

Of the folks who consider themselves "green" but really have not much of an idea about where paper actually comes from, some may "believe" they are saving trees even though they may not realize that much paper comes from tree farms and not old growth forest.

When we classify those who believe they are "green" as "environmentalists" - I think we go astray.

"real" environmentalists - the ones who actually donate to organizations like EDF, NRDC and the Sierra Club usually know the difference between tree farms and old growth forests.. they spend a bit more time reading up on the issues.

Others who are not actually part of the environmental movement don't like the idea of being stigmatized as a "destructor" of the environment so those folks are much more susceptible to sound-bite ideas about the environment including marketers who are essentially "green scamming".

more educated "enviro" folks realize that, for instance, paper bags in the grocery are also juxtaposed against the issues involving plastic bags and many who think both are not good.. you'll see them carrying their own reusable bags.

Unfortunately "green" sells well even if much of it is scamming....

 
At 5/28/2012 6:38 AM, Blogger Larry G said...

" I don't think any of the few virgin timber forests remaining in the 48 states are being harvested for any reason. Not sure about Alaska. Perhaps you are referring to international "old growth". "

believe it or not.. there are still privately-owned old growth forests left...more in Canada...than the US and more internationally as you say but not all old-growth is 'protected' - even on govt lands.

 
At 5/28/2012 8:12 AM, Blogger Jet Beagle said...

Larry, I agree that a few virgin forests remain in the U.S. 48. What I said is that none are being harvested. Do you know of any in the US 48 which are being cut?

 
At 5/28/2012 9:47 AM, Blogger Larry G said...

@jet

page 11

http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/rsl/publications/oldgrowth/old-growth-ca-or-wa.pdf

 
At 5/28/2012 10:17 AM, Blogger juandos said...

""real" environmentalists - the ones who actually donate to organizations like EDF, NRDC and the Sierra Club usually know the difference between tree farms and old growth forests.. they spend a bit more time reading up on the issues"...

LMAO!

These fools don't know their ass from their shoes...

These are the same people who have a collective hissy fit when sensible people try to remove dead undergrowth (a.k.a. kindling) and use the courts and other government entities to try to stop the clean up...

 
At 5/28/2012 10:31 AM, Blogger Larry G said...

I'd agree with LMAO with respect to the Sierra Club and EarthJustice but EDF and NRDC tend to be more well grounded in realities although I suspect not to your liking either.

 
At 5/28/2012 3:00 PM, Blogger juandos said...

"but EDF and NRDC tend to be more well grounded in realities..."...

Just how loose in your definition of reality?

Unreal!

Both those outfits are pushing the AGW scam...

 
At 5/28/2012 6:48 PM, Blogger Che is dead said...

"... you do not understand environmentalists. You think you understand environmentalism but you clearly do not understand their values." -- Larry G

Yeah, you're right, it's nothing like a RELIGION.

 
At 5/29/2012 4:10 PM, Blogger juandos said...

"Yeah, you're right, it's nothing like a RELIGION"...

Yeah paul I had to chuckle regarding the video clip...

You might find this amusing...

Another liberal myth shot in the ass: Climate Change Doubt not due to ignorance of the science

A new study has dispelled the myth that the public are divided about climate change because they don't understand the science behind it....

 
At 5/30/2012 6:38 AM, Blogger Zachriel said...

juandos: Another liberal myth shot in the ass: Climate Change Doubt not due to ignorance of the science

juandos: A new study has dispelled the myth that the public are divided about climate change because they don't understand the science behind it.

Those are two different statements. The study did not determine knowledge of climate change science, but general scientific knowledge.

Can you provide one of the so-called signatures of anthropogenic global warming?

Interestingly, the study showed that the climate skepticism was correlated with cultural groups.

 
At 5/30/2012 6:46 PM, Blogger juandos said...

"Those are two different statements"...

Only to you , only to you...

"The study did not determine knowledge of climate change science, but general scientific knowledge"...

You're right about that, people have apparently have enough general knowledge of science to know that science doesn't work by consensus...

So the Al Gores, Jim Hansens, and the Michael Manns of the scam can't BS their collective way into other people's wallets...

"Can you provide one of the so-called signatures of anthropogenic global warming?"...

Why? Do you want me to make something up?

"Interestingly, the study showed that the climate skepticism was correlated with cultural groups"...

Yeah the two basic groups, those with common sense and those without it...

Common sense leads to skeptical thought and the asking of basic questions...

Some people are just beyond help...

 
At 5/31/2012 6:51 AM, Blogger Zachriel said...

juandos: Why? Do you want me to make something up?

Quite the contrary. We asked you to state what most researchers in the field consider to be one of the signature evidences. In other words, do you have the required knowledge, and can you state the argument fairly?

 

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