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Friday, November 14, 2003

Audubon Wildcatters: Environmental Duplicity

By Robert Wolf

One great insight from the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter is that, “the first thing a man will do for his ideals is lie,” and the fuss and furor over drilling in ANWR illustrates the point. Do Utopians lie, yes? Do they have to lie, yes ? Why? The sugarplums dancing in their heads can’t be defended in any other way.

Of all the arguments against drilling in ANWR, perhaps the most ingenuous is that there is not enough oil to bother with. According to Richard Pombo, representing the 11th Congressional District of California: Texas has 4.9 billion barrels of proven oil reserves; Louisiana has 564 million barrels; Oklahoma has 556 million barrels; and Wyoming has 489 million barrels. ANWR has an estimated 10.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil. ANWR alone has the potential of twice the proven reserves of all four of those states.

Which brings us to the environmental argument. Democrats, and other left leaning purveyors of the ‘truth’, ran ads showing lofty mountains and lovely green countrysides that would be deflowered if the ‘evil’ oil companies had their way. With typical leftist deceit, the pictures they showed us were of an area far from where the actual drilling would take place. It is nothing like their pretty pictures. It’s a terrain far more closely resembling a Jovian moon, Io perhaps. If their arguments are sound, why would they do that?

It may come as a surprise to many, that The Audubon Society has decades of experience in developing oil resources in the midst of their environmental refuges. Despite propaganda flyers like "A Refuge Is No Place for Oil Rigs!” The Paul J. Rainey Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana, the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary near Naples, Florida, and the Bernard Baker Sanctuary in southern Michigan all have had active oil production without environmental Armageddon.

Environmental ‘Wildcatters’

The National Audubon Society has drilled thirty-seven wells in the Paul J. Rainey Wilderness Sanctuary in Louisiana alone. The group's efforts have produced one successful crude oil well, and fifteen successful natural gas wells, which bring $2 million into Audubon’s coffers annually. The public is not generally aware of this; first, because no public debate was required as the lands are privately owned and second because environmentalists would just rather not talk about it. They are Ludites more than caretakers of nature; environmentalism is a strawman for their hatred of Capitalism and modern technology.

But, the apparent inconsistency between Audubon's policy on ANWR and its actions on its own lands seems to have embarrassed them enough to revamp the Rainey tale in a way more palatable to environmental activists. In a 1991 World Energy Council Journal article, the Audubon Society said it was compelled to allow drilling within Rainey because the original donors of the preserve had "retained part of the mineral rights beneath the sanctuary." As the revisionist tale is told, if Audubon had refused to sign a lease allowing exploration, under Louisiana law, the other party could have forced the issue. A summary section includes the statement: "Thus, in effect, we had a choice of allowing the drilling with Audubon safeguards in place, or with no Audubon safeguards at all."

An examination of the deed belies this version of the story. When Grace Rainey Rogers donated her brother's hunting preserve to the Audubon Society in 1924, she did not retain any mineral rights; Audubon owned them all. Moreover, the deed of donation stipulated that the land was to be used only as a sanctuary wild birds; any exploration and drilling would violate the "wildlife sanctuary only" condition and would permit the donor to demand return of the property. Clearly, Audubon was not compelled to develop the energy resources, and was, in fact, prevented from doing so by the condition of the deed. However, when natural gas was discovered in the 1940s, and wells neighboring the Sanctuary became enormously profitable, the revenue became a temptation and deed restriction became a hindrance.

According to Silas B. Cooper, the Audubon Society's attorney in Louisiana, Audubon went back to Mrs. Rogers, and she agreed to allow drilling on Rainey splitting the royalties 50/50. Her heirs later reduced their share to 40%. Which brings us to Audubon’s Corkscrew Sanctuary.

The sanctuary is an area within the Big Cypress National Preserve, and part of the larger Everglades National Park. Unlike Everglades in general, the preserve was created to protect the natural system of water resources flowing into Everglades National Park, but also as a recreational area. As a result, activities not allowed in most national parks such as oil drilling, cattle grazing, privately owned camps, hunting and off-road vehicle use, are permitted. The resident Miccosukee and Seminole Indians harvest cypress trees and other plant life and hold their annual Green Corn Dance, which is open to the public, in the Preserve.

Despite these impacts, Big Cypress has excellent water, which have been classified "outstanding Florida waters” by the State. In southern Michigan, the Bernard Baker Sanctuary, an Audubon Society State affiliate, has had active oil production, as well.

The same Silas B. Cooper now believes that the fragility of ANWR's ecosystem justifies Audubon's opposition to drilling there. Why the apparent contradiction? In today’s hysterical environmental climate, Audubon has to pretend that energy development is categorically incompatible with environmental concerns, their funding depends on it. But, on their own land, they found ways of reconciling oil exploration and development with their environmental unctuousness.

Secretly, carefully, slowly and deliberately they planned for every conceivable problem. They developed a detailed eight-page lease containing stringent safeguards to protect the refuges. Drill sites were located off the sanctuary property using directional drilling, drilling was permitted only between the 18th of December and the 10th of March, to avoid disturbing the sand cranes, and no seismic or geophysical testing was permitted. To minimize the possibility of spills, only one hole was permitted; circulation of drilling fluids was handled in very high-tech ways to prevent the possibility of sub-surface water contamination, and the casing had to be cemented from the surface down to the bedrock, among other requirements. Effectively, they drew up a contract that ensured oil development and environmental protection.

Audubon's experience at Rainey, Corkscrew and Bernard Baker clearly demonstrate the feasibility of extracting oil and natural gas from land without causing environmental harm. Not only has there been no measurable damage from drilling, but the income has enabled Audubon to fund, at Rainey, a marsh management program it could not have otherwise afforded.
Audubon knows how to have mutually advantageous development and environmental protection on their own land; they only become obstructionists when it comes to public lands, and not on principal but for reasons connected with grants and other donations.

Clearly they have no scruples. The inconsistency between Audubon's actions on Rainey and its rhetoric over ANWR reflects the different incentives that drive decisions about the use of private and public lands. At the root of all the controversy surrounding the environment is the question of whether or not the government should own land in the first place.

Public vs. Private Lands

Public lands are a relatively recent phenomena in America stemming from the time of Teddy Roosevelt. It was he who conceived of and initiated the system of National Parks. It was believed at that time that unique geographical areas could not be protected in any other way than by being held and managed by government. This was the original progressive era when, much like today, citizens looked to the government to solve every problem that affected their lives.

Because decisions about public lands have been political, they have been contentious and dishonest. None of the nit picking or micro-managing would occur if the lands were private. If Audubon and others owned all the protected lands in America, we would not even be having the debate.

It should be clear at this point, that the best approach for the environment would be to get the government out of the land management business. The land should be sold (not given) to environmental groups. The profits could pay off Social Security. As owners, these groups could drill or not drill as they choose.

The Audubon Society, rather than being embarrassed by Rainey, should tout it as an example of how economic and environmental concerns can be united.
© by Robert Wolf, All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

National Character: The Quest for Sainthood.

By Robert Wolf

There is a theory that national character is an amplification of the aggregate behavior of its individual citizens, i.e., that the political macrocosm is a reflection of the microcosm.

This theory should not startle anyone, historians and public leaders have spoken about ‘national character’ for centuries concluding that individual responsibility and morality can not be divorced from governmental actions. So when Progressives and others lovers of the collective demand that government transform society, they are asking the impossible.

Transubstantiation

Plato is quoted as saying, "Good people need no laws to act responsibly, and bad people find a way around the laws." Benjamin Franklin addressed the issue by saying, “As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” Theodore Roosevelt said, “No prosperity and no glory can save a nation that is rotten at heart,” and Judge Learned Hand offered: “Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it.”

James Madison cautioned, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other", and Thomas Jefferson warned, "Peace, prosperity, liberty and morals have an intimate connection."

The consensus is that for a nation to be a free and virtuous, the citizenry must manifest those qualities first. The whole is equal to, but never greater than the sum of its parts. The notion that we can be better collectively than as individuals is a fallacy. Morality begins with the individual and is reflected in how they are governed.

This theme was most clearly enunciated by Alexis de Tocqueville, a French historian, who in the 19th century concluded that, "America is great because America is good. When America ceases to be good, it shall cease to be great." De Tocqueville wrote at length about Americans and liberty, and was impressed with our predilection for keeping government at bay while happily pursuing our personal interests. He concluded that this made for a harmonious and industrious society where citizens were afforded the opportunity to succeed to the extent ambition inspired them.

Quo Vadis?

Well, a lot seems to have happened since then, the Income Tax, the Federal Reserve Act, the 17th Amendment, Smoot-Hawley, and the Fascist New Deal. As Pericles said, “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you”!

The New Deal gave birth to the Nanny State, the responsibility for the indigent, the indolent and the elderly, and what a fine job it has done. The poor are still poor, health care is unaffordable and seniors are cloistered and out of sight.

According to Frederic Bastiat, “Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.” Henry David Thoreau explained, "Government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of the way"; Twain said, “No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session,” Voltaire quipped, “In general, the art of government consists in taking as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other.” Shaw said, “A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.”

The Ghost of Christmas Past

It is clear from these quotes there is nothing new in ‘progressive’ ideology, but the collectivists who couldn’t get arrested in the 80s and early 90s are on the rise again. Each generation rediscovers these ideological relics and pursues them with the vim and vigor that only youth can bring. Like Anne Rice’s heroes, they are odious and never truly dead.

Paul Johnson drives a stake to the heart of the matter when he says, “The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible have been tested before not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false.” Unfortunately, the study of history has given way to Social Studies in our public schools.

Socialism did not begin with Marx. Collectivists have a long and distinguished lineage stretching back through history to ancient times. A contented populace on the dole is as old as Rome itself. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that when the burden of ‘bread and circuses’ became too great, Rome fell.

Modern collectivism owes its roots to Rousseau and the French Revolution; the revolution that brought us Robespierre and the Reign of Terror, and of which William Wordsworth wrote:

"...and never heads enough..."
Domestic carnage, now filled the whole year
With feast-days, old men from the chimney-nook,
The maiden from the busom of her love,
The mother from the cradle of her babe,
The warrior from the field - all perished, all -
Friends, enemies, of all parties, ages, ranks,
Head after head, and never heads enough
For those that bade them fall.

When pressed about his tactics, Robespierre is quoted as saying, "The government of liberty is the despotism of liberty against tyranny . . . Terror is naught but prompt, severe, inflexible justice; it is therefore an emanation of virtue. It is less a particular principle than a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to the most pressing needs of the fatherland."
That he died on the same guillotine as his victims, his jaw hanging off from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, might be the elusive proof of God.

For much of the twentieth century, collectives had a grim look about them. They threw bombs in the 20s and 30s and assassinated people. In the 50s and 60s, they were able to point with pride to great successes of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China and kidnapped Patty Hearst. No longer cultivating the scrufty look of the 60s and 70s, now Progressives work hard to appear intellectual and ever so civilized.

Like proper British Fabians sipping their tea, they chortle, “Nothing to fear from us, we’re for the poor and the down trodden--the little guy”. In Great Britain, the Fabians accomplished truly miraculous things. They taxed the landed gentry into poverty ultimately adding them (and the upkeep on their estates) to the welfare rolls, lost the ‘Empire’ and pretty much bankrupted the country by the 1960s. Hip hip hurrah and harrumph.

According to Eric Hoffer, “There are many who find a good alibi far more attractive than an achievement. For an achievement does not settle anything permanently. We still have to prove our worth anew each day: we have to prove that we are as good today as we were yesterday. But when we have a valid alibi for not achieving anything we are fixed, so to speak, for life.”

Progressives now tell us that Russia and China were failures, not of collectivism, but of big government. But if this is true, why the paradoxical behavior? Collectivists should want less government, not more.

Alms

While unquestionably there are among us those who through no fault of their own, are unable to provide for themselves, the halt, the lame, the blind, the mentally deranged and retarded; throughout the many ages of man they have been provided for, but most successfully by private charities. The government’s War on Poverty is a failure. There are as many ‘poor’ now as when it started.

The irony here is that the same minimally rational pundits who point to the War on Drugs as a failure can not accept the abysmal failure that is the War on Poverty. In the face of reason, they insist on more of the same. C. S. Lewis explains, “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” Don’t be fooled, when leftists talk about the brotherhood of men, it is a brotherhood of which they are fully in charge. They seek power over the destiny of others. Dick Army recently noted that only three categories of people get to spend other people’s money: children, thieves and politicians.

Cosmic Justice

The premise upon which progressive argument is based is the word ‘fair’, as if fair were some kind of absolute. Clearly what seems fair to one can appear quite unfair to another. This construct is used by collectivists, first, to say nothing, and second to argue for equal outcomes rather than equal opportunity.

Can life be fair? Is it fair for one person to be more talented, better looking, or more intelligent than someone else is? Is it fair that one man is born to wealth and another poverty? Of course not, because life is not fair, nor, is nature fair. Is it fair for the wolf to be stronger than the rabbit? Yet this undigested concept is basic premise of the collectivist community and is offered up as their highest standard of virtue.

The undefined notion of fairness is the basis for their spiritual arguments as well; even God is not fair. If there were a God, we hear, would he permit such and such to occur? He could and would. If the Supreme Being wanted a world where everyone lived ‘happily ever after’, he could have created it, but it would have been a planet populated by sheep. According to Herbert Spencer, “ The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.” So, there must be some value in free will, even if one is free to choose evil.

Righteousness

Virtue can not be delegated. Anyone who believes government can be charitable for him is delusional as well as a thief, as his largess comes from the pockets of others. If virtue is the goal, the work is in the trenches. Ayn Rand correctly observed that “ a liberal's compassion is limited only by the size of someone else's wallet.” Their appetite clearly outweighs their pocketbook and their reason. If we bankrupted all of them, it wouldn’t cover government’s expenses for more than an hour or two. "A government of reason is better than one of force." (Thomas Jefferson to Richard Rush, 1820)

Yet directing government resources to the service the poor is high on the collective’s list. The fact that the Constitution is ignored, is irrelevant. Many believe that without Uncle Sam there will be no one looking out for the poor, the elderly, and the bewildered; although this is probably the only nation in history where the poor are morbidly obese, own automobiles, cell phones, televisions, and Barcaloungers. The insightful adage, “give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, but teach a man to fish and he can eat for a lifetime” is lost on the left.

Fallen Angels

Perhaps the “national failures’ that are the occasion of constant carping by those sagging to the left are a manifestation of the guilt they feel over their individual shortcomings? Unfortunately, no amount of government will salve those wounds.

It is interesting to note that on the individual level progressives handle charity quite differently, the unkind might even say hypocritically. For example, a worthless cousin or brother-in-law is told to go out and get a job (education or life, etc.), certainly not provided for out of the household budget. Nor do collectivists lend the beleaguered relative money—the ‘loser’ might not pay it back. Yet with unctuous piety, they demand the allocation of a portion of the treasury in the service of these folks, even knowing the beneficiaries of their purloined largess will be the very person they deemed unworthy of help in the first place and others like him.

They preach peace and fight over parking spaces, riot at sporting events or key a rival’s car. The weasels whine that life should not be competitive demanding scoreless sporting events for their children, while wresting a promotion from a co-worker through defamation. In reverent tones they lecture us about charity, while hocking their scruples to purchase fancier homes and cars that embarrass their neighbors. They harness the muscle of government backed unions to get more pay and better benefits for themselves and their relatives because they were there first. The outsider, the so-called scab is beaten, often to death, for the crime of being his own agent. Yet, it is corporations that are violent and greedy.

They preach peace, love and brotherhood at their rallies, then trample, push and shove their brothers to get to the parking lot, and for the best view at sporting events, concerts or the movie theatre. They seldom interact with their parents but advocate for the elderly, who they are certain are better off stacked up somewhere in a nursing home. They urge their daughters to marry well while lauding the courage of unwed mothers, granting taxpayer support as they encourage them to whelp potential voters in ever increasing numbers.

Money spent on security systems for their homes and cars is a necessity, while government spending for the military is a waste. They are against war, desire peace, but will fight with a neighbor at the drop of a hat. They describe those in the military as cretins unfit for any thing else, and argue against guns while secreting a loaded revolver for themselves. Without a second thought they traffic with dreadful people for a better job, good grades or admission to a prestigious country club, but view it as unforgivable that the U.S. once supported Saddam.

Is there a stronger word than hypocrisy? Teddy Roosevelt wrote: "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles…. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena … who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; … and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

In “Contest in America” Mill observes that “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse”, and Ted Nugent referring to guns wryly remarks, “If guns cause crime, then mine are defective!”

Peace on Earth

Is peace on Earth even possible? The entire panorama of human history argues against it. As long as individuals can not resolve differences, as long as they lie, cheat, murder and steal; how is it possible for entire nations to act with decorum?

Is universal peace the greatest virtue? Perhaps liberty should be more highly prized than peace. Peace is an abstract, while liberty is not only a concrete, but it is also the prerequisite to peace. There will always be disputes even among honest men, but they can be resolved peacefully when men renounce the initiation of force and commit themselves to a just and objective body of law.

Perhaps I am a pessimist. James Branch Cabell said, "the optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist fears this is true;" while George Bernard Shaw observes, “the power of accurate observation is frequently called cynicism by those who don't have it. " I can’t help believing that a saintly nation requires a nation of saints, and we would be hard pressed to find one.
©2003 by Robert Davison (Wolf). All Rights Reserved.

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