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Posts Tagged ‘policy’

Actions that could help the environment don’t just regularly lose out to actions demanded by people with competing agendas. There’s plenty of potential for conflict within the environmental movement itself.

Take the case of the neighbors in Sunnyvale, California that pitted a family generating solar power in their backyard against the family living behind them, who wanted to grow redwood trees. Before long the trees, which were planted first, were shading the solar panels. The panel owners asked the tree owners to cut their trees, which they refused to do. The two sides went to court and only now, some seven years later, is there a resolution — which sees some of the trees being cut by court order.

Both families drive electric or hybrid cars. Both see themselves as environmentally-conscious. Yet, neither could agree on a compromise. That’s delighted pundits all over the country — seeing this as a classic case of green hypocrisy.

In the version of the story referenced above, the Christian Science Monitor takes a more insightful line.

“The truth lies more in shades of gray than chlorophyll green,” suggests writer Douglas Fox. Neither family are what detractors could describe as hardcore environmentalists. One family owns several SUVs along with their electric car.

That, he argues, reflects:

“a broader public appetite not for energy-saving habits, but for technical fixes: ethanol, solar, fuel cells, and hybrid autos that sometimes consume as much gas as many nonhybrids. You might call it the low-fat cheesecake approach to carbon dieting.”

While, as Fox says, it’s wrong to conclude from this story that “there is an inevitable conflict between trees and solar power” — mostly because most trees don’t grow as fast and tall as redwoods — we are likely to see more conflicts arising from competing environmental interests.

Bird lovers decry the impact of wind turbines, after all, (though not everyone believes it’s such a problem). Biofuels have many detractors. Nuclear power is a salvation to some environmentalists and an evil to many others.

The challenge for environmentalists, then, will be to help resolve these conflicts quickly, so that they don’t become an excuse to prevaricate on environmentally-beneficial action any longer.

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When environmental issues collide with rival policy concerns, the environment has long been the likely loser.   Even in America, with its agency dedicated to keeping the nation’s air and water clean, the planet too often loses when environmental push meets the shove of wealthier, more entrenched political interests.

A case in point is the recent decision by the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security to wave the normal Federal requirement that its actions don’t cause environmental harm and go ahead with a plan to build a 700 mile fence between the USA and Mexico — straight through vast areas of huge ecological sensitivity.

As today’s New York Times editorializes, the plan “will be a disaster on the ground.”

And as the Times also points out, the fence won’t even stop that many illegal immigrants.   But its symbolism plays to a powerful national constituency.   Clearly, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff feels that throwing a symbolic bone to the anti-immigrant lobby buys him more political capital than taking a position that would prevent far-from-symbolic harm to a large chunk of one of the nation’s most sensitive ecological areas.

The outrage that Chertoff’s decision has provoked, in Congress and elsewhere, suggests that the political value of deciding against the environment when it conflicts with other policy priorities is decreasing.  But it also shows that politicians still feel they won’t be asked to pay too big a political price for trashing the planet — even when the reasons they give for allowing that destruction make no sense.

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