Environmental Clashes

Environmental Clashes
Posted on January 12, 2015 | Bob Barrigar | Written on January 12, 2015
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Land exploiters vs. environmental activists.  A well worn story, but there are twists.  One species of twist arises when three or more groups have different objectives.  For example: environmentalists want to save the trees.  Farmers want the trees cut so that the land may be converted to tillable land or pasture.  Ranchers want pasture, but are not interested in tillable land.  Forestry companies want the trees harvested for lumber or pulp and then the land replanted with saplings.
 
Sometimes opinions can become so polarized that accommodation of differing views through negotiation is not possible.  An extreme example is published in the Lexington column of the 03 January issue of Economist, viewable at:
http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21637401-what-ceaseless-rows-over-yellowstone-national-park-reveal-about-america-ranchers-v. The scene is set in Yellowstone National Park.  There are too many bison.  So, reintroduce wolves to the Park to cull the bison population.  Easier said than done; the neighbouring farmers and ranchers fear for their livestock if wolves return to the Park.  On the other hand, bison straying from the Park overrun farmland; the wolves may curtail the bisons’ meandering ways and reduce their numbers.  The ranchers’ objectives do not coincide with the farmers’ objectives.  What to do?  Review panels and lawsuits consume millions of dollars.  There are culture wars, not merely economic wars.
 
When environmental activists resort to extreme measures, such as hammering nails into trees intended to be felled and logged and more serious acts, the situation can become yet more complicated.  When I was a small boy, I was active in a number of environmental organizations.  I deplored and discouraged any activity that was in breach of the law, and considered any extreme activism to be unhelpfully provocative and obstructive to useful negotiation.
 
As it happened, I was on the Executive of the Ottawa-Hull Chapter of Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, at the time known as National and Provincial Parks Association of Canada, eventually serving as Chapter President, at a time when two especially significant issues received our attention.  One was the Quebec Government’s plan to build a four-lane highway from what was then known as Hull to Maniwaki, partly through Gatineau Park.  The other was an Ontario Hydro plan to install a fresh power line between Ottawa and Cornwall, in part through environmentally sensitive areas.
 
Some of our membership wanted to mount protests and vigorous opposition.  In my experience, such moves can often be counterproductive.  My preference was to be cooperative, reasonable and ostensibly helpful at all times rather than to be adversarial.   Fortunately, my colleagues in the organization were for the most part of the same view, and we proceeded accordingly.  As a general principle, this policy is not a bad idea, since the “adversary” invariably wishes to avoid negative publicity, and so to avoid such, will often accommodate an environmentally preferable view even if it costs something extra.
 
In the foregoing two instances, our policy of cooperative negotiation worked well.  We provided detailed reports and analyses of environmentally sensitive areas to the planners, and were able to persuade them to adjust their initial plans to respond to our concerns.  The highway to Maniwaki was rerouted here and there to avoid environmentally sensitive areas, and where rerouting was not possible, we were able to arrange underpasses for deer and other wildlife so that they would not attempt to cross the highway.  Similar re-routings of the proposed power line were arranged in negotiations with Ontario Hydro.
 
In the context of efforts to protect the environment, I am not aware of any instances in which good-faith negotiation has not worked reasonably well.  I am aware of several instances (none of them involving CPAWS) in which confrontation has not worked well or at all.
 
Regrettably, a number of NGOs initially having worthy objectives have become sidetracked because of the extreme policies and action of some of their more radical members.  Some insight into this problem is provided in Dr Patrick Moore's book Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout: The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist.  Dr Moore is a co-founder of Greenpeace and served in the organization for 15 years, including as a leader in the organization's top committee.   In his book (which is not without controversy), Dr Moore explains why he left Greenpeace.  He then became an advocate of a less confrontational science-based approach to environmentalism.
 
Emphasize the positive and the feasible, and take the high road.  That message is one of the many reasons for which, if you have not already read Dr David Scott’s book Smelling Land on what we must do to avoid irreversible global warming, I recommend that you do so forthwith.

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Bob Barrigar's picture

retired patent attorney