Smirky columnist Jonah Goldberg’s latest column in National Review Online is virtually worthless as a source of information, but it does provide good insight into the relationship of the modern conservative punditariat to the environment and the environmental movement. In the end, they feel obliged to say they care about the environment, but it doesn’t particularly interest them, and as long as someone, anyone will reassure them that everything is peachy, that’s enough. And of course, if there’s one thing modern conservatives have in spades, it is an embarrassment of media sources devoted to telling them what they want to hear.
Goldberg uses the occasion of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment to riff on what is the core modern conservative position on the environment, namely: The rest of the world is polluted, because they are poor and socialist, but the U.S. and Europe are doing just fine, because they are rich and capitalist. There’s a germ of truth in this, of course, but what Goldberg is utterly insensate toward is the basic fact that pollution, global warming, and overfishing do not respect national borders. Wait, he believes in that stuff, right?
And let’s be fair, unlike the situation in America and Europe, there are some enormous environmental problems in the world. Even if you’re a global-warming skeptic, there’s no disputing that such problems as overfishing are real.
More slogging under the break.
He starts with a canard to which the right is bizarrely attached: that forest coverage in the U.S. is increasing. Of course it is — and most of that is monoculture tree farms in place of diverse forest ecosystems. I suppose trees are a good thing in and of themselves, but this hardly seems like the totemic indication of environmental health Goldberg thinks it is.
Then there’s this: "The literal greening of America has added vast new habitats for animals, many of which were once on the brink of extinction." Uh, no. The replacement of forest ecosystems with tree farms does not provide habitat, it removes it. The species Goldberg cites as recovering — black bears, buffalo, bald eagles — have recovered thanks to the concerted efforts of conservation groups and habitat protections provided by government regulation and private landowners. Tree farms had nothing to do with it. And of course, for every species that’s recovering, there are hundreds more declining.
One of the most annoying tics of the media is always to credit the notion that human-animal encounters are the result of mankind "intruding" on America’s dwindling wild places. This is obviously sometimes the case. But it is also sometimes the case that America’s burgeoning wild places are intruding on us.
What does that even mean?
This is what really tickled me, though:
Anyway, there’s more good news, of course. According to Gregg Easterbrook, air pollution is lower than it has been in a generation, drinking water is safer, and our waterways are cleaner.
Gregg Easterbrook: for your unstinting service as the conservative movement’s House Environmental Bitch, a grateful nation thanks you.
All of this is prelude to Goldberg noticing — via, hilariously, a TechCentralStation column — that the MEA recommends, among other things, several market-based mechanisms to address the world’s environmental woes. This is taken by the TCS nitwit and by Goldberg as earth-shattering, since they are deeply in the grip of anti-environmentalist stereotypes involving socialism and mud-worship. The TCS guy, according to Goldberg, is "the first, and perhaps only, commentator to notice that the U.N. report entertains the possibility that market mechanisms — property rights, credits, trade — are solutions to environmental ills, not causes of it."
Put aside for a moment the plausibility of Goldberg having carefully surveyed reaction to the MEA, and notice that he treats "market mechanisms" as monolithic. They are either "causes" of environmental ills or "solutions" to them. If you, like many conservatives, view "The Market" as a sort of demigod with magical powers, this makes sense.
Alternatively, one could view the market not as a natural category, but as a collective social creation. One could note that "market mechanisms" have, in fact, caused environmental ills, and conclude that other mechanisms need to be integrated into the market to ameliorate said ills. Just because it has the word "market" in it doesn’t mean it’s a natural outgrowth of "The Market" — what the MEA is proposing is an intentional modification of how the market works.
And finally, Goldberg concludes his farrago of dimly understood shibboleths with this gem:
If the United Nations is actually serious — fingers crossed! — this would constitute enormous progress and a sign that the global environmental community has finally conquered what I call the cultural contradictions of environmentalism. Broadly speaking, environmentalists want to end poverty, hunger, and disease, but they also want to keep indigenous cultures unchanged. But you can’t have both simultaneously. It is the natural state of indigenous cultures, after all, to be constantly vulnerable to disease and hunger, and no man fighting to keep his children alive cares about "biodiversity."
How can a person fit so many dumb things in one short paragraph? I’ll leave it to readers to count them. This has probably been a waste of my time and yours, but occasionally one needs to peer into the belly of the beast to understand the kind of rotgut from which it suffers.