2. The Environmental Kor

Temperance Revisited

All great reform movements start the same way – with the best of intentions.  The temperance movement began when a small, dedicated group of people, primarily women and religious figures, condemned the immorality of alcohol and its ties to alcoholism.  Because the hue and the cry over “demon alcohol” could not be quieted, federal officials took the most extreme action.  The result was the 18th amendment to the Constitution.

Section 1. After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

Within a few years however, it was obvious to all that good intentions backed by law could not prevent individuals from consuming alcohol, –   and that crime related to illegal whiskey trafficking had become a national threat.  The “prevention of alcohol” amendment to the Constitution was repealed by the 21st amendment to the Constitution.

Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

Section 2. The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

The road to hell was paved with good intentions, and in many ways the environmental reform movement suffered from the same problems.

Environmental Idealism

The Earth is but a small speck in the universe, and man’s earliest adventure into near space shows just how small.  Small, however, does not mean insignificant for “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth”.

Joe Barristar recalled the day he sat in a large auditorium one row behind a first group of environmental engineering graduates.  Dressed in white gowns and wearing surgical masks, these first timers represented the heady days of environmentalism.

Each new environmental engineer marched forward to get his or her degree to the cheers of family, friends and other students who saw in them the hope for a better world. The agenda was to clean things up and give every man, woman and child a healthier and less dangerous life.  When the hallowed group finished marching forward to get their degrees, Joe, who was to receive his second engineering degree, did the same march forward but to much less cheering from the crowd.

Joe liked the environmental mission, but he also demanded that science remain true to its factual and challenging roots.  As such, he rejected the unquestioning zeal of many who professed to be environmentalists.  This got Joe in some hot water when he wrote a number of articles about environmental extremism, – and a local newspaper published them to stir up the readership.  When Joe called the environmental movement more belief than science, he was called bigoted.  When he pointed out that the global warming scandal exposed the political abuse of science, he was called ignorant.  And when he pointed out the massive size and scale problems of wind and solar farms, he was called anti-green.

By the time of the Gulf oil spill, Joe had lived long enough to see the environmental movement transition from one that would help mankind to one that considered mankind some type of vermin in need of control .  To Joe, it was of great concern that the humanitarian missionaries of the environmental movement had lost their way.

Practical Environmentalism

As with the temperance movement, the environmental movement grew rapidly, driven by the likes of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”, a book that described the connection between widespread pesticide use and the damage to wildlife and humans. However, to experienced engineers, the environmental movement all too often demanded the irrational or even impossible.

Perfectly pure water without any chemical contamination required special filtration and bottling processes, and there was considerable question about whether “zero” water without any mineral content was healthy.  Large community water treatment plants that recycled waste water  and converted brackish, reservoir and surface well water into something drinkable could not achieve such perfection.  And even if they could, the water that ran through the pipes to homes and businesses would leach out chemicals.

The demand for pure water expanded into lakes and streams, and to the protection of fish and unique aquatic animals.  Far too often this demand was used against man even when man thirsted for water and food.

Perfectly pure land was impossible.  The process of purifying an acre of land in one place required the relocation of  pollutants to another place.  In some instances, cleanup costs were so great that the land was abandoned as useless for mankind.

Perfectly pure air without any chemical contamination was yet another impossibility.  Utility plants, heavy industrial facilities and many small businesses burned oil or used coal.  Cities were choked by smog and air pollution.  Fortunately, exhausts could be partially cleaned up by catalytic converters or smokestack scrubbers.

The valued green initiatives of solar, wind, geothermal and tidal created their own unique problems.  Wind farms were affected when the wind died or birds migrated.  Solar farms became heat producing extinction zones.  Geothermal and tidal facilities were highly location dependent, and no one knew what the massive use of these technologies would have on climate.

An over abundance of people meant a massive drain on the Earth’s resources as well as a major source of the world’s pollution.  Therefore, population control became a necessity to the environmental movement, –  and the elimination of “unwanted” babies and “unproductive” aging or handicapped adults became a priority.  Joe wondered if the number of children per family would come under strict government control.

Eventually, the Earth’s entire ecosphere became the subject of concern.  The great environmental question was whether global warming existed and how to control it without destroying civilization.  Joe knew that the  answer of the radical environmentalist was all too often “to hell with civilization.  We are here to save the world.”

What bugged Joe the most about the environmental movement was its all too often short sighted and dogmatic behavior.  He had seen the stubborn conduct of many environmentalists, and an attendant increase in risks and ill conceived choices.   In the case of the Gulf of Mexico, the result was evident to all who bothered to think.

The Ecstasy

In its early years, the environmental movement was realistically a disorganized collection of misfits.  However, every great idea has its time and place, and the environmental movement was no different.  It garnered power, recognition and resources from individual citizens, private businesses and institutions, and the government.

The result was that many dumps and toxic sites were cleaned up and turned into beautiful places for human use.  Rivers, lakes and streams were changed from toxic and malodorous swamps into pristine waters.  Clean air meant better health and a longer life for city dwellers.  The result for American citizens was an amazing improvement in their quality of life.

The Love Canal is the pre-eminent environmental success story.  It began with a developer’s dream for a beautiful and modern community.  Unfortunately, the dream was shattered by economic troubles and advances in technology.  By 1910, the only thing left of the developer’s once visionary idea for a new 20th century community was a ditch.

In the 1920s, the ditch became a convenient dumping ground for every type of waste.  For the next 30 years, it was used as an uncontrolled landfill.  In 1953 the Hooker Chemical Company covered the ditch with dirt and sold it to the local municipal authorities for virtually nothing.

In the late 1950s, about 100 homes and a school were built over the earthen covered Love Canal ditch.  It took another 20 years for the ticking time bomb of environmental disaster to show itself when badly corroded chemical waste disposal drums and chemical contaminants rose to the surface of the ground.

Trees, flowers, bushes and plants of all kinds died. The air smelled and people choked.  Home and school grounds were saturated by liquid toxins.  Children foolish enough to play on those grounds suffered chemical burns and injuries.  Birth defects, miscarriages and leukemia statistics were higher than for the average population elsewhere around the nation.  All of this was caused by over eighty different chemical compounds, eleven of which were considered to be carcinogens.

Eventually, the citizens of Love Canal were relocated.  Both New York State and the federal government provided emergency funding to aid with evacuation and to compensate departed residents for the loss of their homes.  Unfortunately, the birth defects continued to plague these families.  Not only were mothers and children affected, but grandchildren, born well away from Love Canal were victims as well.

The Agony

Environmental change, however, did not come without a downside.  Aging heavy industrial and manufacturing plants belched smoke and dumped pollutants.  When required to clean up, many simply shutdown, abandoned the work site, and disappeared into history, – or to China and other oversees destinations where the regulations and cost of doing business were considerably less.

The secondary effect of deindustrialization was the loss of America’s skilled and well-paid workforce.  Within a few decades, the American middle class saw a decline in their incomes. This led to the rise of the two-income family and less children per family.  Single women with children had difficulty prospering, and became dependent on government.  Thus a vicious cycle of ever higher taxes and ever greater demand for government services sapped the entrepreneurial spirit and determination of the American citizenry.

Pittsburgh is a classic example of the negative impact of the environmental movement on heavy industry:

By 1911, Pittsburgh produced as much as half of the nation’s steel.  The population, mostly immigrants from Europe and blacks from America’s South, grew to over half a million – making Pittsburgh America’s 8th largest city.

During WW-II, Pittsburgh produced nearly 100 million tons of steel for the war effort.  Unfortunately, this came at a tremendous environmental cost because of smog from the constant coal burning that supported steel production.

After WW-II, Pittsburgh began the process of cleaning up the air and improving the quality of living.  The industrial base continued to expand until the 1970s and 1980s when the “smokestack” steel industry collapsed.  There were massive layoffs and steel plant closures.  Those jobs never returned.

Pittsburgh did transition from its heavy industry economic base to one that was supported by tourism, education, healthcare, and certain high technology endeavors.  However, it’s population never recovered to the level when the steel industry provided the economic base.  The environmental movement had effectively destroyed the American steel industry as an engine of national growth and success.

One other industry that was affected by concerns over the environment was the nuclear industry.

Essentially, the problem was that nuclear materials are radioactive, and if radioactive materials were somehow released into the environment as a result of an accident or attack, a very long-term environmental disaster could occur.  The Three-Mile Island nuclear power plant malfunction in America in 1979 and the much more serious collapse of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in Ukraine in 1986 did not help the cause of the nuclear industry.

Decades passed before a serious re-examination of nuclear versus fossil fuel occurred.

Kordule

Kordule Callahan was a rugged naturalist with a twinkle in his eye.  And he was the Chief Executive Officer of the “Federation of the Earth”, one of the world’s leading environmental organizations.  Early in the environmental movement’s history, he caught the wave of concerns about the future of the planet.   Thanks to a growing coalition of fellow travelers, power hungry politicians, moneyed interests, and activist lawyers and judges, Kordule had become a national and international power player and consultant for numerous governments.

Notably, Kordule’s background was typical of an environmentalist of the time.  He had no college education, and picked up his environmental knowledge by reading voraciously and doing practical experiments to test new ideas.

Kordule was an unusual name, and during his childhood it distinguished him from other children.  It was interesting how people would use the name.  To strangers, it was usually pronounced “cordial”, as in friendly or a liqueur.  To acquaintances, his name was often abbreviated “Kor” as in the core of the Federation.

Some of Kor’s closest friends knew the real meaning of his name.  Kor was a Klingon warrior from the original Star Trek television series.  Kor-du-le meant warrior of the lily or earth.  The name Federation of the Earth had come from Star Trek’s Federation of Planets.  Notably and appropriately for Kor, the Fleur-de-lis was one of the symbols of the Federation, – and to those who had read the Alexander Dumas novel “The Three Musketeers” it was the symbol of the book’s female assassin.

The Meeting

Joe first met Kor when he was speaking to environmentally aware future engineers at “No Doze” University, at least that’s what the engineering students called it when they were pushed to their physical, mental and emotional limits to keep up with the demands of technical courses.

Kor was a truly engaging speaker.  He was articulate, knowledgeable, and willing to fairly and unemotionally dialogue with individuals who disagreed with his positions.  This was the pleasant mask that hid his association with the Earth Liberation Front, a group of radical and violent environmentalists.

Kor’s lecture was on “global cooling”, the 1970s fashionable equivalent of “global warming”. Joe knew that the idea behind global cooling was that temperatures during a 30-year period starting around 1940 portended a new ice age.  The scientific community held this view with a mixture of skepticism, but for young and impressionable minds, it was a great place to start an environmental discussion.

The “lecture” was held at the student union, a place few engineering students had time to visit.  It was also the place where various types of socialist and anarchist radicals played ping-pong or discussed their next protest march or event.

During the question and answer period following the lecture, Kor was asked about overpopulation and its impact on the Earth.  Kor’s answer was that it was a problem of considerable importance and there would come a time when human reproduction would have to be controlled or that unspecified Draconian measures might be needed.

Significantly, Kor’s lecture occurred just before the “Roe v Wade” abortion decision of the Supreme Court and well before the use of genetics to determine whether a fetus would be born with a serious birth defect.  It also predated the national euthanasia debate by a couple of decades.

The “lecture” produced two noteworthy events.  In the first, and most serious, the enlightened student who had asked the question about population control killed himself.  In his suicide note, he stated that it was his intention to demonstrate the importance of population control by sacrificing himself to the cause.  The suicide made the news for about a day or two.

In the second, and somewhat humorous event, one newly hatched environmentalist from the ping pong crowd at the student union invaded the engineering dorm during a study period for a major exam.  Yelling “save the Earth” was not appreciated, and a huge engineering student grabbed the offending individual and threw him out of a second floor dorm window into some thorn bushed below.  The word got around quickly that you don’t mess with engineering students during study periods.

Joe had listened intently to Kor with an appropriate skeptic’s eye.  One thing he knew for certain was that Kor was addressing very large and complex issues supported by very little in the way of facts or, even more importantly, science.  This would change over time, but it was already obvious to Joe that the politics of the environment would create pressure to distort scientific inquiry.

Predictably, it happened when the global warming scandal broke and revealed that data and scientific methodology had been manipulated to fit political needs.

Oil:  The Environmental Bogeyman

The environmental movement was not just one giant group.  There were people who focused on animals, others who focused on the seas, still others on the air and land.  The most encompassing of these was Kor’s “Federation of the Earth”, which Joe reasoned could easily be expanded to the “Federation of the Planets ” if mankind somehow managed to survive and develop the technology to send himself to the planets and the stars.

One of Kor’s primary concerns was the use of hydrocarbons for energy.  Coal was dirty and raped the land.  Oil was smelly and required large facilities to process and store useful products.  Wood, although long abandoned for heat in the first world, was still a major source of heat and cooking fuel in the third world where a growing population of human beings was deforesting massive land areas year by year.

Kor had a particular dislike for oil.  As a boy, he had grown up near a refinery, and experienced the constant smells and not just a few accidents.  Kor knew that oil involved massive machines for drilling, giant sea and ocean platforms, huge pipeline networks, refineries, storage facilities, transportation hubs and, finally, local gas stations in every village, town and city in America.  Oil, unlike coal and wood, was obtrusive and in your face.

Kor did not find it difficult to undermine oil company initiatives.   The Arctic was a pristine wilderness to be left untouched by human hands. Drilling near shore areas could endanger fish and marine animals, and also the recreational activities of coastal towns.  Exploiting the gigantic Bakkan and Green River fields in the Northwestern and Western United States could leave a toxic residue and use far too much water.

After all the political posturing had ended, drilling way off shore in very deep water was the compromise reached to service the energy needs of the nation and preserve the purity of the its air, land and water.  Unfortunately, the result had been an environmental disaster.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The Environment Protection Agency was established in 1970 as a result of the lobbying of environmentalists such as Kor.  When he told the story of its creation and rise to prominence, Kor claimed considerable credit.  He considered the EPA to be one of his babies, and he jealously guarded it against all assaults on its integrity.

The EPA’s modern mission was to protect human health and to safeguard the natural environment upon which life depended.  The EPA employed upwards of 20,000 people nationwide, half of which were engineers, scientists and environmental protection specialists.

Joe looked at the EPA as an inside government lobbying organization for a diverse collection of environmental groups.  From Kor’s Federation of the Earth to many other environmental justice groups, the EPA spoke for them.  The relationship, however, was seldom comfortable because legislation and government funding never perfectly aligned with the needs and wishes of the various private environmental groups.  “The best we could do under the circumstances was never good enough for Kor”.

Joe’s complaint about the EPA was that it had become typically bureaucratic over time – slow to react, often arbitrary and capricious, and certainly authoritarian.

The first of these complaints was manifest to the entire nation when it took weeks for the EPA to decide to allow dispersants to be used on the oily mess associated with the Gulf spill.  By scientific estimates, upwards of a million and a million and a half barrels of crude oil spilled into the Gulf while the EPA pondered what it would allow.

The second complaint involved the approval of a single golf course hole in Virginia.  To set the scene, the golf course was built in an upscale development between the York and the James River.  The development itself was in an area dominated by natural swamps and marshes.  Nevertheless, the EPA representatives, in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers, refused to allow the developer to build a small lake in the immediate vicinity of one of the eighteen holes on the course.

Instead, the EPA ruled that removal of swamp or marsh in one area had to be compensated for by the creation of an equal amount of swamp or marsh in another area.  This left the impression that the EPA was not only making arbitrary and capricious decisions, but its representatives were simply throwing their weight around because they could. To Joe, it was horrifying to think that the EPA was managing land areas of a few acres.  What was next?  Managing a farmer’s pond or even a local puddle after a rainstorm?  The whole thing seemed ridiculous.

The pre-eminent example of Joe’s final complaint occurred when the head of the EPA threatened the Congress with pollutant trading regulations.  Essentially, if Congress would not create and pass legislation, then the EPA would handle the matter without benefit of law.  This threat to the Congress amazed Joe because in his experience with the government, no agency or department had ever threatened the Congress that provided their funding.  Quite the opposite as the general rule was when a Congressman called, the bureaucrat responded as expeditiously, truthfully and compliantly as possible.

This threat and subsequent regulatory action was a display of authoritarian and even dictatorial bureaucratic power unprecedented in the history of the American Republic.  The implications of this entire episode were, unfortunately, lost on a Congress more interested in self-preservation than exercising their constitutional mandate to control national spending and the rapidly expanding bureaucracies.   Kor, on the other hand, was elated by the likelihood that he could bypass the legislators who took up far too much of his valuable time.

Joe knew that the power of the environmental movement extended well beyond the EPA.  Virtually every department of the federal government had some environmental requirement imposed upon it or acted in accordance with a requirement.  The states and localities, likewise, were affected by a myriad of environmental regulations.  Even individual property owners were affected when the discovery of some supposedly endangered rodent or insect led to an environmental restriction that destroyed the property’s value and marketability.

The Spill and Environmentalism

The environmental movement had succeeded in driving oil drilling into the off shore depths.   However, in achieving its success, it had failed in its ultimately mission to protect mankind and the Earth.  The real world needed oil, and it would get it regardless of the risk.

In meddling in a lot of mankind’s endeavors, the environmental movement took on the appearance and action of a religion.  In doing so, it lost sight of its scientific foundation and hid its mistakes behind a mask of righteousness.  In becoming a belief system, it lost the credibility needed to persuade people and avoid skepticism.

The environmental movement ignored the American constitutional principles that were necessary for the development of good public policy.  As with the Salem witch trials, the rule of law was sacrificed to the desired ends.  Tragically, with its one world focus, the environmental movement had become contemptuous of the America that had given rise to its successes.

Joe wondered if the American people understood just how dangerous this movement had become.  Would they act to defend their way of life and correct the situation – or succumb to the pressures of worldwide environmental justice politics?

About Robert Warren

Research, Development and Engineering Consultant; Marine Accident Investigator; Author and Lecturer; CEO of Expertise, Inc.; Doctorate
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