Tuesday, May 07, 2002

A Moment on the Earth

The low posting output lately is due to a glitch with posting to my web hosting service (hopefully, that'll get fixed, I'll get a work-around, or I'll change providers) and the fact that my laptop is in the shop.

I recently finished A Moment on the Earth, by Gregg Easterbrook. This is a long book, but I'm glad I made it through. Easterbrook's main thesis is that the environment is in good shape, but that this is a result of environmental regulation, so we should be interested in more of it. It's somewhat counter-intuitive -- or rather, it shows how counter-intuitive the two main poles in environmental debate are -- "The sky is falling, despite all the environmental legislation that's passed," or, "Everything we've done to clean up the planet has been enough. Let's just leave it at that."

I mention the thesis partially because a simple web search turned up some severe misunderstandings. For example, from this page,

His central thesis is: "...even for all their failings, market forces and a self-interest stake in forests are the best system for assuring responsible behavior, as they confer voluntary reasons to protect the land." (403) By implication, there is no longer any role for governmental regulation?

Hmm, well, most authors don't state their thesis on page 403. Reading the first part of the book, I noticed that Easterbrook expressed his general like of government regulation. In fact, he thought the good example government regulation set by getting results on environmental cleanup could be used to push government regulation in other spheres. The quote above has to do with the superiority of government regulations that make it worth people's while to comply. For example (mine, not Easterbrook's), littering is illegal pretty much everywhere. And, most places, the roadsides are strewn with bottles and cans. But when I lived in Michigan, I hardly ever saw litter of that type. Why? The 10-cent bottle deposit (made famous by Seinfeld).

I also found this page:

He denies such obvious truths as the fact that insects are becoming resistant to pesticides, asserts that "nothing Carson forecast in Silent Spring has come to pass," and boasts of the increase in raptors without noting that this was due to the banning of DDT.

Wow. Let's see. He mentions that insects are becoming resistant to pesticides, and mentions that the increase in raptors happened after DDT was banned.

I'm not quite sure what about the book provokes such strong reactions from people who clearly haven't read it all the way through. I found it to be a level-headed examination of the state of the environment. I didn't always agree with it, but it made a lot more sense than doomsday predictions or the let-'em-pollute crowd.

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