Conservationist, Environmentalist. Tomato, Tomahto (Or is it?)

Some of you may wonder how to go about getting your viewpoint published on SamePageNation. In my case, I suspect it is because I sleep with the co-founder. I’m...

252 0
252 0

Some of you may wonder how to go about getting your viewpoint published on SamePageNation. In my case, I suspect it is because I sleep with the co-founder. I’m proud of my wife for following her passion to unite thoughtful people of different political persuasions around issues upon which they agree.

My passion on the other hand (other than her, of course) is the environment. Ask yourself, do you accept the idea of a conservationist but bristle at the suggestion of an environmentalist?

Studies based on focus groups show that most people like conservationists better than they do environmentalists. That’s ironic and interesting, because the two descriptions overlap so much that they are essentially the same. Nevertheless, many folks picture environmentalists as granola eating, Birkenstock wearing counter-culture types who support Choice, like gays, hate guns and are likely to be Democrats. Conservationists by contrast are…well …conservative. They might be hunters or even carry a concealed weapon. If not full-fledged Republicans, they likely voted for Reagan.

Instead of focusing on these differences, in keeping with the spirit of SamePageNation, let’s figure out what both groups might have in common. Are they nature lovers? Probably. How else would you explain the $3,000,000,000 that Americans spend on bird feed each year? Do they love their kids and grandkids? Probably, if they have them. Do they want to stay healthy and live long lives? (Y) You get the idea.

So conservationists and environmentalist as described here have common traits that most everyone shares. But as with the rest of us, they encompass many different belief systems. For instance, picking up on the Pope’s recent declarations regarding the environment, they might want to protect nature because it is God’s handiwork. This should be especially true if they are Creationists. But perhaps they are atheistic secular humanists who are simply impressed by what they see around them in nature. If they ascribe the Theory of Evolution, they might sense injustice in losing species that took many millions of years to evolve. In some religions, notably in Asian countries, God IS nature. If they believe in reincarnation, they would certainly want to come back to a beautiful healthy earth!

What we have then, is a diverse group of people, most of whom would be disinclined to make an effort to get to know the other. OK, so let’s put it all aside and focus on the issue and not the political, religious or social persuasion.

I’d like to use as an illustrative example the federally mandated ethanol program. By means of introduction, back in the 1800’s, nascent tax regulations required that in order to accept a full write off on forest lands authorities required that the land had to be burned over after logging. This destroyed the soil. As a result, 150 years later there are huge tracts of land in the upper Peninsula of Michigan that still do not support trees. Today’s ethanol mandates and the entire concept of converting food crops to fuel is even more stupid. The process that got us to these mandates is not stupid, it is called politics. (You might understandably beg to differ with that comment!) Specifically it is based on the time tested concept of exchanging favors. The politician essentially buys friends with taxpayer resources; in this case with subsidies and regulations that favor certain segments of the economy. This happens all the time. It’s informed voters such as ourselves keeping an eye on things that prevents crony politics from becoming the crippling pandemic that it is in so many countries. But this, the most environmentally damaging policy of all time flew under the radar for most of us. What’s happening is that over 35,000,000 acres (count the zeros–this is as much land as is a couple of fair sized states) is devoted to growing corn, not for food, but for fuel.

The irony is that the energy inputs roughly equal the outputs! In other words, add up the energy used to produce the fertilizer (corn need lots of fertilizer but half of it washes into our lakes and streams) the tractors, and the transportation to the ethanol plants and blending facilities is roughly equivalent to the energy released when the ethanol is burned in our cars.  No question, without government subsidies and EPA mandates, this is something that would never happen in a market economy. It is a huge waste of tax dollars.

To add insult to injury, it drives up the cost of food. Especially corn and everything that eats corn from cattle to chickens. For a while they even ran out of corn tortillas in Mexico because so much corn was being shipped to U.S ethanol plants! Just one more stupid (unless you’re a politician) government program? Yes, but this one has to stop because the devastation it has already caused will haunt us for generations.

Much of this devastation can be seen in our waterways where nutrient overload has spawned dead zones and toxic algae blooms. Scientists estimate that agriculture causes about 60% of the nutrient overload in the Great Lakes. Most of this is corn and 40% of all corn is grown for ethanol. Last summer 400,000 people were left without drinking water for days because these nutrients fueled a toxic algae bloom. The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico keeps growing. But the devastations are not limited to surface water. Ancient aquifers are being drained to irrigate crops that we’d be growing where there was more rainfall if it weren’t for the vast acreages consumed by food-to-fuel plantings.

We all drink water and most of us like shrimp, two of those commonalities I forget to mention earlier. How about land use and the impact on wildlife? Thirty five million acres is a lot of land. Most of this land is heavily fertilized and sprayed with pesticides. It may look nice, but intensive single crop agriculture has become an industrial process. As if the chemicals aren’t bad enough, Bt corn grows on most of it. Bt is an organism growing in the soil that is toxic to insects. It has been genetically engineered into the corn plant, killing all sorts of insects most notably the monarch butterfly whose population has plummeted since the introduction of this Bt corn with built-in insecticides. Not all GMO traits are bad, but this one is!

Senator Stabenow former Chair of the Agricultural committee told me that if corn wasn’t being grown for ethanol, it would just be grown for food and exported. Even if this is the case, at least it would be good for our economy and save millions of acres of oxygen producing forests in South America.

Whether you’re a climate change believer or denier, here’s an interesting fact: If the acres where “food to fuel” corn is being grown were converted to forests, it could store up to 17,500,000,000 tons of carbon. That’s more coal than the U.S. has consumed since 2000.

At this point you either agree that ethanol subsidies and mandates must end; you don’t agree; or you don’t really care. If you don’t care, it’s unlikely you would have read this far. If you agree, you are either an Environmentalist or a Conservationist. (Your choice.)

In this article

Join the Conversation