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What really concerns environmental activists and global warmists?

Week of 20 Apr 2009

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It seems funny to me where the battle lines are drawn in the environmental arguments. For instance, creatures such as the Snail Darter, Spotted Owl, and now the Pica, draw attention and the pointing of accusatory fingers by those which have taken up the cause that the planet is in need of saving. It is a little more than convenient to become alarmed about locations that are already nearly wilderness and where these creatures now live. Pointing fingers at humans living in these near-wilderness locations and causing them to change their entire lifestyle and livelihood is pretty easy if you are powerful and do not live there yourself.

Let us look for a moment at another event in history. Somewhere around 1626, the Dutch (disclosure: including, almost certainly, a direct ancestor of old Grandpa Jim on the Dutch side of the negotiations) talked the Indians out of Manhattan in a famous transaction heard round the world. I suspect the Indians of that day, if magically transported to this, would find modern day Manhattan, indeed modern day Long Island, the shores of Connecticut and New Jersey as well, to be quite startling. Yet, I have never heard one person of any ilk suggest we return these places to their pre-western civilization state.

What we hear instead are statements such as the Pica is moving to higher elevations in the Rockies, indicating a problem with global warming. We hear lots of things about signals and indications, but what is the result of the manifestation of these signals and indications? We are told the oceans will rise if the ice caps melt (along with a few other predictions about droughts and other unpleasantries). But, mainly, we hear the oceans will rise. This is important for a surprising reason as you will see below.

Now, let's go back in time even further than the transaction of 1626. In fact, let us think about pre-human times on earth. At that point, the level of the seas was inconsequential; indeed the height of the land above sea level was inconsequential. In fact, we might even argue that the precise intersection of dry land and the oceans was a matter of happenstance, a coincidence. On a smaller scale than continents, we know islands continue to rise and fall above the current sea level due to earthquakes and volcanoes. Coastal swamps and marshlands, then, it can be reasoned, are also coincidental in location. For swamps and marshlands develop relative to the height of the seas, not at absolute elevations from, say, the center of the earth.

All of these matters are, again, coincidental, until the first human built the first grass hut on the beach. For once a human put the energy and resources in building the first grass beach hut, humankind has been and continues to this day to be highly interested in where sea level is precisely located (look at the extensive work expressed in detailed tidal charts if you don't believe me).

Now, in apology to the many of our readers not in the United States, I'll have to get a bit provincial in order to continue my line of reasoning, for my knowledge level which I'll use in the balance of this column pertains to what I know about the United States. In the United States, personages of liberal persuasion tend to be environmentalists and persons of conservative persuasion tend to be not so nearly interested in the environment. Yes, these are broad generalizations, but I think they are valid in this case (and I am sure you will write and tell me if you believe they are not). I think we could further state, perhaps with more certainty, that when it comes to political persuasion, liberals in the United States tend to align themselves with the Democrat Party while conservatives tend to align themselves with the Republican Party. On political maps, Republicans are often designated in the color red and Democrats in the color blue. You can easily find these maps detailed to the resolution of counties or even smaller. Since you are a smart readership, I'll skip the logic and jump to the conclusion that one might find more environmentalists dwelling in places on political maps that are blue and more of those not so interested in the environment in places that are red. When one looks at these colored political maps, one notices that the coastal areas tend to be blue and the interior of the United States is largely red.

I am not saying that there are not environmentalists everywhere (or especially that there are not people reacting to environmentalists everywhere, see last week's column and the story of the recycling bins at the post office). However, the logical conclusion I have reached is that a significant number of people of the coastal dwelling sort are the pointing finger environmentalists. And why? Well, again, you smart readers are already ahead of me on this one--they own the expensive beach houses and other coastal property endangered if the seas rise. They want interior living people to change their lifestyle to ensure the soundness of their investments and to preserve their coastal lifestyle. For you coastal pulp and paper folks, not to worry, they already are demolishing your mills to put up condos, trusting the sea level will stay exactly where it is. One could argue the environmental movement, at least a significant portion of it (note: I did not say "majority" I said "significant"), boils down to money (that's a big surprise!)--they are really saying, "You do your part so my beachfront investment is not devalued by changing sea levels." Any doubts about this line of reasoning? Look at the money being thrown at New Orleans--a place 8 feet (1.7 meters) below sea level (on a good day) and argued by engineers with the very first explorers to arrive there to not build on this site.

At least the Dutch picked an island with a bit of an elevation to it. Perhaps that is due to their own experiences back in Holland where they have been fighting the sea for centuries. In fact, when one thinks of low-lying countries, two immediately come to mind--Holland, where they have successfully done so, and Bangladesh, where they have not. Perhaps mustering resources to help Bangladesh share Holland's success would be a worthy cause for the wealthy countries of the world to pursue.

Now one could say I am just guessing about all the above, and to a certain extent,that would be true. However, I have found over the years that a very large majority of humans are strongly motivated by money. If you can dig into their thinking and see where the money is, you'll often find their motivation. Those strongly motivated by altruism are a very small and rare group.

By way of explanation, we have gone far a field the last couple of weeks to provide a bit of diversion to your otherwise perhaps unpleasant days in the mills at this time. These poor economic times will pass and our industry will stabilize at a new economically natural level. In the meantime, you have enough problems on your minds and I hope we have given you some related, but not exactly too close and personal, things to think about as you work your way through the difficulties.

As always, be safe and avoid distractions. The most important thing right now is to keep healthy and working. And, towards that end, I am still helping many with writing their resumes (or c.v.'s if you prefer); send yours to me if you need help. I just finished one before I wrote this column.

Be safe and we will talk next week.


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