The latest environmental (AGW) summit just wrapped up in Rio De Janeiro, 20 years after the initial ”historic” Rio summit of 1992. Here is a summary of the event written by someone who was there at the first summit and was attending the most recent. After reading it, I am much more positive about the future of the environment. Here is a little sample from the article:
I was in Rio for the first Earth Summit. Most of the world’s leaders came too. They negotiated treaties on climate change, biodiversity and desertification. The story was headline news for two weeks. Reporting for this magazine, I felt part of history.
This time the final mealy-mouthed “declaration” was stitched up by civil servants the day before the modest crew of often second-tier politicians arrived. There was not even a place on the agenda for ministers to discuss the declaration, so they didn’t. They spent three days reading prepared speeches and went home. By lunchtime on the final day, the place was emptying. There was nothing to stay for.
An assembly of 45,000 participants to discuss saving the world would seem like environmental profligacy at the best of times. When the outcome is so minimal, the absurdity is amplified. What on Earth did we think we were all doing here?
The problem here is that environmentalists brought the government and bureaucrats into the fold. 20 years ago there was hope and optimism. Now it is all being crushed by bureaucracy. That is what bureaucrats do well - make nearly pointless speeches at expensive, highly unsustainable, and resource wasting conferences. They rarely solve anything and most of the time make it worse. I wish I could have told all the dreamy-eyed and hopeful environmentalists back in 1992 to avoid government involvement. 20 years later, there is a huge environmental bureacracy wasting resources, wasting time, and wasting productive lives.
The most successful “environmental” organizations I have seen during my life are conservation organizations. It is unbelievable how many areas of the world have been preserved and restored through the work of clubs like Trout Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, the Audobon Society, and many others. If the Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, and Green Peace had used the billions of dollars they have received through the years to buy and manage natural areas of the world, they would have had much better success. Instead they have used mostly regulation, aggressive legal action, and government bureaucracy to advance their agenda, which makes me wonder if protection of the environment is the REAL agenda.
The key thing to understand here is that the vast majority of people, under their own volition, are willing to sacrifice (donate a little money, adapt their living style, etc…) for a better environment. They do not want to be told (like parent telling a child) to live a certain way. As we have seen in the AGW debate, they don’t want to be forced, by the threat of violent law enforcement, to live a certain way.
I had a friend who had a job a few years ago which required him to go out and talk to farmers who lived near streams and convince them to change their methods in order to protect the water in the stream. Western Wisconsin, at the time, was full of somewhat grumpy and stubborn old farmers. It was a tough job. Many of them did not want to put in any effort to protect the streams (even if it didn’t cost them anything), but some did. Through the years more farmers ended up adopting methods that protected streams. Some of it occurred through regulations and some was voluntary, but the idea of protecting the land and streams grew. It is a slow process, but once a critical mass is reached, then the environmental “offenders” become the minority and become isolated. There is no better method of getting people to “come-around” than through peer pressure. If you are the only farmer left in the neighborhood that allows pollution to run freely in to the stream, you end up being a pariah.
If we used gentle peer pressure – writ large – we would be further along than trying to use the blunt force of government diktats (as seems to be the preferred method of the Rio conferees).
Back to the summary of the Rio summit. There was another positive note. The author cried out for environmentalists to embrace technological progress as a means to help solve environmental problems. It is a shame that someone has to actually ask the large environmental NGOs of the world to embrace technology. Besides investing in large privately managed conservation efforts, they should be investing more in technology to help people live cleaner without having to sacrifice their standard of living. It is an absolute no-brainer. Instead of wasting resources and vastly increasing their carbon footprint by organizing world meetings with second-tier bureaucrats, they could be helping to implement clean-technology.
Have a swell Thursday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.