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American Thinker
American Thinker
24 Feb 2024
Mark C. Ross


NextImg:The layman’s guide to saving the planet

Years ago, it occurred to me that just about everybody is a devoted environmentalist, since nobody wants to live on a burned-out husk.  We just disagree on what the real problems are and what to do about them.

It so happens that the first conservationists were hunters.  Their organization is still around: the National Wildlife Federation.  Habitat preservation and enforced limits on the number of kills were necessary to achieve what is now the mantra of the modern movement: sustainability.

Enter tyrannical politicians.  Way back in the ’60s, “fossil” fuels became a target of environmental activism.  After all, we were burning them like crazy, and nobody was making any more of them...and (cough! cough!) we were drowning in the fumes of their combustion.  Ground zero was the Los Angeles basin, which was known by the pre-Columbian natives as the Valley of Smokes.  We would sometimes come back into class from recess, and everybody was coughing.  Then came the catalytic converter, and automotive air pollution took a dive.  Oh, dear!  We needed a new reason to oppose fossil fuels.

Atmospheric chemistry was made to order for a doomsday hoax — because unraveling the complexities of earth science is still a work in progress.  And fossil fuels — coal, natural gas, gasoline, and diesel — were brought back into the spotlight.  What has to be emphasized over and over again is that all of the carbon in fossil fuels was previously extracted from the atmosphere by the process of photosynthesis, with oxygen as a byproduct.

Garrett Hardin’s famous essay “The Tragedy of the Commons” brings to mind the pollution of the oceans and the atmosphere.  The oceans are unique in that they will continue to get saltier, even if no humans ever existed.  Water evaporates, but dissolved minerals mostly stay behind and add to their concentration. 

The first lecture in my college ecology class was about phosphates.  As one of the three key substances needed for plant life, phosphates, along with nitrogen and potassium, form the basis for chemical fertilizer: NPK.  The atmosphere is mostly nitrogen, and potassium is fairly common, but phosphates are of immense strategic importance.  Places such as Florida have phosphate mines.  There are also “guano” islands, where birds such as cormorants have, for eons, deposited digestive waste, which is now being harvested for agricultural purposes.

The oceans, a one-way street for dissolved minerals, remain intact.  Smaller-scale versions are known as terminal desertic lakes.  The Dead Sea is one, and the Caspian Sea is the largest, having no outlet that would allow the water to remain as fresh as the inflow.  Harvesting sea salt for commercial purposes recovers some of the solutes but is insignificant on a global scale, and it also smacks of the dreaded human intervention.

It may just be a conceit, but human environmentalists seldom refer to us as just another species that just happened to occur on this uniquely life-supporting planet.  But here we are.  Extinction happens...but not yet to us.  It may be said that medical technology and other products of human intelligence have suppressed our evolution as a species since our gene pool is no longer being culled the way it usually has been done to other species.  But then we’re also supporting some of the other species, especially if they’re economically important to us.  But then again, ecology is actually almost all about economics, or rather the flow of energy through an ecosystem.

Also, from a human standpoint, consumption is the essence of ecological sustainability.  Of course, we must consume...but should we do so frivolously?  This is really an accounting question.  Or rather, how much should we consume beyond absolute necessity?  Enter advancements in technology — and what social scientists call sumptuary preferences...meaning personal tastes.  The militant enviros tend to push us toward a seriously lower standard of living.  We, of course, resist. 

Now enter the American Puritan legacy.  Following onto this tradition, environmental zealots continue to enshrine moderation — the avoidance of consuming beyond necessity — as perhaps the greatest of all virtues.  We devout agnostics sarcastically point out the enviros’ hypocritical use of private jet planes as routine conveyance — typically to attend global salvation conferences. 

Years ago, it occurred to me that just about everybody is a devoted environmentalist, since nobody wants to live on a burned-out husk.  We just disagree on what the real problems are and what to do about them.

It so happens that the first conservationists were hunters.  Their organization is still around: the National Wildlife Federation.  Habitat preservation and enforced limits on the number of kills were necessary to achieve what is now the mantra of the modern movement: sustainability.

Enter tyrannical politicians.  Way back in the ’60s, “fossil” fuels became a target of environmental activism.  After all, we were burning them like crazy, and nobody was making any more of them...and (cough! cough!) we were drowning in the fumes of their combustion.  Ground zero was the Los Angeles basin, which was known by the pre-Columbian natives as the Valley of Smokes.  We would sometimes come back into class from recess, and everybody was coughing.  Then came the catalytic converter, and automotive air pollution took a dive.  Oh, dear!  We needed a new reason to oppose fossil fuels.

Atmospheric chemistry was made to order for a doomsday hoax — because unraveling the complexities of earth science is still a work in progress.  And fossil fuels — coal, natural gas, gasoline, and diesel — were brought back into the spotlight.  What has to be emphasized over and over again is that all of the carbon in fossil fuels was previously extracted from the atmosphere by the process of photosynthesis, with oxygen as a byproduct.

Garrett Hardin’s famous essay “The Tragedy of the Commons” brings to mind the pollution of the oceans and the atmosphere.  The oceans are unique in that they will continue to get saltier, even if no humans ever existed.  Water evaporates, but dissolved minerals mostly stay behind and add to their concentration. 

The first lecture in my college ecology class was about phosphates.  As one of the three key substances needed for plant life, phosphates, along with nitrogen and potassium, form the basis for chemical fertilizer: NPK.  The atmosphere is mostly nitrogen, and potassium is fairly common, but phosphates are of immense strategic importance.  Places such as Florida have phosphate mines.  There are also “guano” islands, where birds such as cormorants have, for eons, deposited digestive waste, which is now being harvested for agricultural purposes.

The oceans, a one-way street for dissolved minerals, remain intact.  Smaller-scale versions are known as terminal desertic lakes.  The Dead Sea is one, and the Caspian Sea is the largest, having no outlet that would allow the water to remain as fresh as the inflow.  Harvesting sea salt for commercial purposes recovers some of the solutes but is insignificant on a global scale, and it also smacks of the dreaded human intervention.

It may just be a conceit, but human environmentalists seldom refer to us as just another species that just happened to occur on this uniquely life-supporting planet.  But here we are.  Extinction happens...but not yet to us.  It may be said that medical technology and other products of human intelligence have suppressed our evolution as a species since our gene pool is no longer being culled the way it usually has been done to other species.  But then we’re also supporting some of the other species, especially if they’re economically important to us.  But then again, ecology is actually almost all about economics, or rather the flow of energy through an ecosystem.

Also, from a human standpoint, consumption is the essence of ecological sustainability.  Of course, we must consume...but should we do so frivolously?  This is really an accounting question.  Or rather, how much should we consume beyond absolute necessity?  Enter advancements in technology — and what social scientists call sumptuary preferences...meaning personal tastes.  The militant enviros tend to push us toward a seriously lower standard of living.  We, of course, resist. 

Now enter the American Puritan legacy.  Following onto this tradition, environmental zealots continue to enshrine moderation — the avoidance of consuming beyond necessity — as perhaps the greatest of all virtues.  We devout agnostics sarcastically point out the enviros’ hypocritical use of private jet planes as routine conveyance — typically to attend global salvation conferences. 

Image: Marco Verch Professional Photographer and Speaker via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.