Sunday, September 26, 2010

Don't want the carrot? Care for some stick?

We're written before about the innovative deal between Western Watersheds Project, Oregon Natural Desert Association and El Paso Corporation regarding the Ruby pipeline. Basically, the conservation groups get to help administer a $20M fund to buy out voluntary sellers of grazing permits.

Hooo, boy, did that stir the pot! The cattlegrowers freaked out. El Paso balked* but didn't back out of the deal. The conservation groups caught hell for 'selling out'.

Whatever. The fact remains that there is already a few million dollars to compensate willing sellers of grazing permits on millions of acres in the west. How can anyone deny that this could be win-win?

The ranchers. Completely afraid that a fist-full of bills might make some of their ilk decide that it's more economical to take the money and move to Florida than comply with the Endangered Species Act. Except compliance with the ESA on public lands is not optional, and the land management agencies are supposed to be enforcing that. When they don't, groups like Western Watersheds Project step in and strong arm the agencies with the law:
Ertz said Western Watersheds goes to court to enforce the nation's environmental laws.

"If they are saying they want the stick, we're ready to produce that," he said. "We're holding the threat of enforcement of existing laws over their head. We have no stick unless they're breaking the law."
How very radical a notion, to enforce federal law on federal lands. Don't want to comply? Would you like some money instead?

Seriously. Why isn't this a solution?

The last lines of Mr. Barker's Idaho Statesman article from today suggests that the deal overlooks 'culture.' We suppose they mean 'cowboy culture,' but we take offense. Just because ranchers have had a stranglehold on the West for several generations doesn't mean we need to persist in empowering them forever, does it? The West has changed. Drastically. The frontier mentality is no longer appropriate, and the consolidation of land in the hands of a few privileged (either financially or temporally) ranchers is no longer an equitable way to deal with natural resources. Sure, culture matters. [Ed: As did Native American cultures. Ahem.] We're sure slave owners liked their plantation-style houses. But was the preservation of that culture more worthy than a new culture which valued justice and equity for all?

The new culture of the West is being built on the principles of sustainability and ecological integrity. Livestock operations may have a niche on private lands, but the public lands are the last, best vestiges of habitat for wildlife and ecosystem service provision that we've got. Finding a carrot with which to induce ranchers off public lands that they can then invest and co-create new ways of existing in the arid West seems more than fair. Culture matters, but culture changes.
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* UPDATED 9/30: We've had some interest in our characterization of El Paso Corp.'s "balking" at the Ruby deal. To clarify: The deal is on, and to the best of our knowledge, El Paso has not tried to get out of paying the conservation groups. However, in many a news account, El Paso reps have said things like, "We regret..." and they did give an extra $15M to the whining cowboys. From our perspective, it looks like El Paso got more flak than it expected and went a little weak in the knees. Note to El Paso: the whining never stops from that crew, and the grabby hands are always begging for money. It's a traditional lifestyle.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The political economy of international policy

The New York Times *suggested* we would 'like' this article today, "Developing Nations to Get Clean-Burning Cookstoves." (Also, the ghost title, "A Move to Replace Soot-Spewing Stoves in the Third World.") Thanks, Grey Lady, but no thanks.

And here's why. We don't doubt that stove efficiency will improve the lives of the people they are distributed to.
The World Health Organization says that indoor air pollution caused by such cooking methods is the fourth greatest health risk factor in developing countries, after unclean water and sanitation, unsafe sex and undernourishment. The gathering of fuel is mainly done by women and children, millions of whom are exposed daily to dangers in conflict-torn regions. The need to forage for fuel also keeps millions of children out of school.
To give them an alternative is humane, considerate and important. So far, so good, yes?

Except this is the part we dislike:
The [current] stoves also contribute to global warming as a result of the millions of tons of soot they spew into the atmosphere and the deforestation caused by cutting down trees to fuel them....
Although the toxic smoke from the primitive stoves is one of the leading environmental causes of death and disease, and perhaps the second biggest contributor to global warming, after the industrial use of fossil fuels, it has long been neglected by governments and private aid organizations.
Now, lest you think we're objecting to a strategy that might combat carbon levels, let us ask rhetorically: Why is it so much easier to impose our political will on the brown people?

Don't get us wrong. We're into the benefits for the families involved, at least the temporary benefits:
The idea is how to create a thriving global industry in cookstoves, driven by consumers’ desire to have these products at a price they can afford,” Mr. Detchon said.

“These stoves don’t have a long lifetime,” he said. “To produce low cost and high volume, you’ll have to replace them relatively frequently, perhaps every two, three or five years. You’ll need a supply chain and business model that delivers them, not on a one-time basis, but as a continuing enterprise.”
Oh, great. That's exactly what we need. Another opportunity to export our model of disposable crap propping up an economy. Did anyone consider using the money to teach people how to use solar ovens, plant fast growing regionally-appropriate fuels, or, heck, maybe even ask Americans to stop using the behemoths we've grown so fond of?

Despite the fact that the lifestyles of people in the First World has and will contribute to profound health effects on millions of people, no one has asked us (nor mandated) that we change anything about our behavior.

And thank goodness, because we want to be able to bake two double-sheet cakes in half the time so we can load up the SUV and drive on down to the party with the jumping castle and the BBQ! Because our time is valuable!

And cake is delicious!

Monday, September 20, 2010

And another thing.... re: seat at the table

Sitting at the table isn't enough (if you are already firmly ensconced there, ahem). You need to provoke change. Endlessly studying, discussing, funding, strategizing, planning, cooperating, etc., etc., ad nauseum doesn't mean a goddamn thing to us. Saving the river- say, THE SAN PEDRO RIVER- would mean something. To us, to the Huachuca water umbel, the loach minnow and spikedace, the jaguar, etc., etc. ad un-nauseum. To real, living breathing things that depend on healthy, functioning ecosystems.*
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*Um, that means all of us, whether you know it or not.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A seat at the table

We think a lot about collaboration and cooperation... and facilitation and tacit endorsement. Because the conservation movement of late cares a lot about these things, and we care a lot about conservation.

So, here's the thing: When people say things like, "Yes, but by being collaborative, The Nature Conservancy* has earned a seat at the table," we just feel like tearing out our hair. Look, if the Destroyers of Nature ask you to sit at their table, you (the conservation group) are not doing your job! They wouldn't be asking you to sit at their table if you were really a threat to them. In many scenarios, you are actually an asset; by being flattered to be asked to sit at their table, you're lending them some credibility for being concerned with the environment. Don't sit at the fucking table, people, and don't think that it's somehow progress that they are asking. It's progress in the wrong direction: you've lost the fight by being an non-problematic placeholder for all the plants and animals and soils and future generations who will never be heard from.

Don't give in before the fight starts by offering to play nice. Capitalists are cut-throat motherfuckers, and you should be on the side of the cutthroat trout.

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*We're not especially picking on The Nature Conservancy here, mind you. Lots of groups have fallen or are falling into this trap.