Another year has come and gone and environmentalists of all stripes have good reason to be hopeful that 2007 is going to be a lot better for the environment than 2006. As we prepare for important work in the areas of marine policy, climate change, and the upcoming Farm Bill, it’s a good idea to take part in a great New Year’s tradition: looking back and seeing what we learned, especially things that challenged our preconceived notions.

So here’s a partial list of things that I learned in 2006 (please feel free to add yours below):

1. Maybe there is room for nuclear power

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Whereas most of nuclear power’s risks are just those, risks, the actual damage done by coal, oil, and other forms of fossil-fuel power are horrendous and kill millions of people a year, right now. To the extent nuclear power could exist without subsidies of any kind, perhaps it should be part of the future mix. I’m not as adamant in my opposition as I used to be.

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2. Whaling is perfectly compatible with the majority view of environmentalism

For most environmentalists, sustainable whaling is no different than sustainable deer, elk, bear, seal, or any other type of hunting. These people are right to claim that to the extent environmentalism gives priority to sustainability, environmentalists should learn to accept some level of commercial whaling and stop rallying against countries that are exercising their sovereign right over natural resources.

3. Maybe a carbon tax is better than a cap-and-trade system for CO2

I used to lean more toward the cap-and-trade system because it includes a set target for CO2 and because permit trading has been so successful with sulfur dioxide. But the more I learn about the actual implementation and pitfalls of a cap-and-trade system, the more I think an international carbon tax, despite its own problems, is the way to go.

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4. Some forms of meat production are relatively benign

While I continue to support a large-scale move toward plant-based diets on environmental grounds, I have learned that there are forms of animal production that in some regions may actually be better for the environment than grain production. If those who choose to eat meat purchased animals raised in these (primarily) grass-fed systems, it would probably make a significant difference, since factory farming is one of the world’s worst environmental scourges.

Happy New Year everyone!