Conservation vs. Environmental Luddites


The last few weeks we were travelling.  First, in Southern Colorado we visited a large ranch, the Bar NI.  Next we visited friends in Upstate New York on farms, including one 1,000 acre property that preserves an original piece of the Erie Canal.  Then,  last week at the 4UR on the Rio Grande between South Fork and Creede.  While many of these properties were near public land, the conservation we experienced was all private or private and charitable partnerships.  Elk, turkey, eagles, trout, deer, bear, cougar, ducks, geese, beaver, and fox thrived across these carefully managed properties.

There is an element of the environmental movement that hates what we saw.  All the land I hunted for turkey in Upstate New York was private and full of game.  Game that in one way or another paid for its continuing existence.  The Bar NI’s elk herd survived across 36,000 acres of private land in part because of the Nature Conservancy’s conservation easement.  And the 4UR with its moose, lions, elk, and phenomenal trout fishing is a privately owned dude ranch.  The animals and the land have private market value that guarantees their preservation.

You do not have to hate free markets, capitalism, and the concept of progress to be a conservationist.

We need Wilderness Areas, National Parks, and other areas of public land set aside in pristine state, but most of the land in the United States is private.  We are not going to preserve the types of properties I saw banning GMOs, restricting minerals development to the point of prohibition, or otherwise TELLING private landowners what they can and cannot do with their land.  If the Luddites of the environmental movement continue to define the movement publicly as prohibitionist and anti-progress, those of us that believe in the Clean Air and Water Acts, in the Endangered Species Act, and in the framework of modern American conservation are going to start losing elections.

There is never going to be an enduring majority in the United States that agrees human material progress is wrong and we need to retard it.  The challenge is not prohibition, but to adapt conservation’s enduring values to the possibilities of new technologies.

Conservationists see the potential for natural gas fracking to reduce the amount of soot and heavy metals in our air.  They rightly have tough questions about well head emissions and other Clean Air Act issues that may need review in light of the vast increase in American production.  These are the types of problems where regulation and technology have been particularly successful under the Clean Air Act framework. But the Luddites do not want to make  fracking safe because that would lower the price of energy making their fantasy of a shrunken United States subsisting on wind and solar power economically impossible.

The environmental community, understandably in my view, has focused on climate change for well over a decade.  This is a real long term issue similar to Medicare.  But the real everyday on the ground right now conservation issues remain preservation of clean air, clean water, and habitat.  Those are the priorities that save lives by preventing respiratory death, waterborne illness, and extinction.

It is particularly immoral to advocate limited material development when it most retards undeveloped countries.  Africans are not dying from climate change, but they are dying from air and water diseases brought on by the root cause – poverty.  It was never my understanding of climate change science that it replaced the existing conservation and poverty agendas.

But unfortunately a significant chunk of the environmental community believes that human material progress is the problem.  Poverty stricken societies have no money for conservation. The priority has to be accelerating human material progress, while using technology to preserve clean water, clean air, and habitat.   Mandatory lifestyle ideologies are a harmful and divisive sideshow.




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