Note: I am teaching environmental policy this fall, possibly for the last time. I first taught it over 30 years ago. The spotted owl’s endangered species list and Maine’s efforts to comply with the Clean Air Act amendments were important parts of my early studies. I advised gubernatorial candidate Angus King to oppose car testing and worked in Augusta to get rid of it. Upon my return to the UMM, I discovered that the theoretical elements of endangered species law that I had studied from afar were alarming and personal with Atlantic salmon, and I led the effort ultimately unsuccessful to oppose registration. I ran for Congress a few years later and found myself in growing conflict with the environmental left and its fear-mongering strategies. In 2008, I wrote this (slightly modified) piece for Bangor Metro. Little has changed.
Maine has a reputation for being quite “green”. Maine environmental left wing advocates successfully demonized capitalism, perfected doomsday fear as an agenda-setting and fundraising strategy, established environmentalism as a secular state religion (with taxpayers filling the collection base), while managing to avoid liability for the negative consequences of their actions. Who said it wasn’t easy to be green?
Maine’s green program even sports a new buzzword: “sustainability.” At first glance, sustainability is an attractive concept. The idea behind sustainability is “Don’t eat the seed corn”, or more formally, don’t take actions that reduce the opportunities and prospects for generations to come. Wrapped in the politically correct swaddling clothes of the 1987 United Nations Environment Report, everyone wants to be “sustainable”. There may be almost unanimous agreement on the desire for good management and sustainability of natural and human resources, but there is no agreement on what exactly this might mean in practice.
What is or is not “sustainable” depends on assumptions about technological change, economic systems and human nature. Thomas Malthus (father of population explosion hysteria and first professor of sustainability) made such assumptions and predicted the collapse of humanity. His heirs in today’s environmental movement employ similar tactics. Predicting the apocalypse and crying wolf gets you attention and funding, especially if you take steps to ensure that you won’t be held responsible for the wolf’s repeated and incorrect calls.
Global warming is the most recent and successful effort in this direction. Al Gore got a Nobel Prize for it. After all, bending over to science in the name of saving the planet isn’t really a mortal sin, is it? Just a little green lie. I am a member of environmental law. We don’t have too many members here in Maine, certainly not in our US Congressional offices or in the mainstream media.
Environmental law includes a member named Bjorn Lomborg, mathematician, professor and author of The skeptical ecologist and False alarm. Lomborg has this annoying habit of looking at data (usually UN data) and he keeps coming back with a conclusion that the Wolf Criers cannot accept: the quality of air and water is improving, Human longevity and well-being improve and spending dollars to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will not prevent global warming, but will make us both poorer and less sustainable. Because of such heretical statements, the environmental left has sought to silence and demonize Lomborg. In my opinion, he should have won the Nobel Prize.
As part of Maine’s efforts to “fight” climate change, Maine signed an agreement in August 2001 with the Maritime provinces and other New England states to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. The New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers’ Action Plan on Climate Change is essentially a regional update of the infamous Kyoto Protocol. (The Kyoto Protocol was of course rejected by President Bush in April 2001. Slightly less famously, the US Senate rejected the terms of Kyoto 95-0 in 1997, and President Clinton, for some reason, didn’t. ‘never presented to the Senate for ratification after that.)
Maine has also signed an agreement with a number of other “blue” states to implement reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. This initiative, like the Kyoto Protocol, will stealthily and perhaps substantially increase energy prices, but will virtually prevent global warming. Legislation requiring disclosure of these facts was derailed by Maine’s environmental left in 2005. It appears that transparency, honesty and accountability are not enough in climate change policy. There is also the small question of the Constitution of the United States, which prohibits such interstate and international agreements without the consent of Congress (Article 1, Section 10, Clause 3).
Governor Mills introduced himself as a full-fledged climate alarmist and formed a climate change policy task force, which recommended that we increase public land ownership to 30% of the state (doubling it by compared to the current 15). Public ownership is not evenly distributed at all, with the vast majority in the 2nd Congressional District, with over 30% of Washington County already publicly owned. The statewide 30% target reflects a 30% national target promoted by President Biden. Neither Maine nor the United States’ publicly owned goals will be subject to legislative approval.
Perhaps one day the stranglehold of the environmental left on Maine’s political culture will be broken. If this ever happens, here are the principles that should guide environmental policy:
• Good management is based on facts, not fears. Careful cost and risk-benefit analysis should govern decision-making, as opposed to an emotional fear campaign designed to advocate for aggressive intervention.
• Wealth makes health. Successful growing economies are essential to environmental quality, as they provide both the means and the desire to protect the environment. The worst environmental problems are in the third world; the cleanest environments are found in developed countries.
• Technological innovation and entrepreneurship are essential for human progress. Policies that discourage prudent risk-taking and new technologies out of excessive risk aversion and / or fear of technology (the precautionary principle) should not be adopted. Stifling the development of new technologies with excessive regulations only condemns a large part of humanity to poverty and despair.
• Socialism is not sustainable. Policy prescriptions that decrease private ownership and control of the economy (capitalism) are not compatible with economic growth and will ultimately decrease both human well-being and the quality of the environment.
Reprinted with permission from the September 7 edition of Machias Valley News Watcher.