Tag Archives: environmentalism

The Public’s Property Rights in Drakes Bay

There’s a risk, when coming to an issue that’s been festering for years, of missing some of the nuance that make the issue so difficult. But I’m finding that the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. dispute is much clearer without any extra local-colorful details. When the 9th Circuit denied an injunction this week, it seemed to me to be the most obvious result to the most simple of problems.

At the very basic, the case it most understandable. In 1972 the United States purchased the site for permanent protection, which was conferred as part of the Point Reyes Wilderness Act in 1976. To ease the transition, the U.S. granted a 40-year lease to the ongoing oyster company business. In 2004 — more than 32 years into a 40 year lease — a new owner takes over, undoubtedly aware of the pending expiration date.

As the Court describes it:

In letting the permit lapse, the Secretary emphasized the importance of the long-term environmental impact of the decision on Drakes Estero, which is located in an area designated as potential wilderness. He also underscored that, when Drakes Bay purchased the property in 2005, it did so with eyes wide open to the fact that the permit acquired from its predecessor owner was set to expire just seven years later, in 2012.

Now, a whole lot of other stuff happened, and a lot of other law was invoked (dealt with by the majority opinion in 37 pdf pages), but none of it changed the fundamental legal nature of the problem. When the U.S. declined to renew the lease, at the discretion of the Secretary of the Interior, consistent with a wilderness designation by Congress in 1976, it shouldn’t have been to anyone’s surprise.  And certainly not to anyone’s property rights expectation. As a general rule of property, leases are up when leases are up.

Cross-posted at Coastal Conservation Network.


Who’s Organizing the Ocean Organizers?

Admittedly, I’m only a few months into conserving coasts, but I can completely relate to this essay on the seemingly directionless ocean conservation movement. Although I’d quibble a bit around the edges, the main message appears to be spot on. Smiley-faced, donor-oriented, put-a-shark-on-it ocean campaigning dominates when a tougher, more urgent, and more coordinated effort is necessary. I’m sure that there are very smart people thinking about all of this, but I’m just not seeing it coming out of very many NGOs dedicated to the oceans cause.


Stuff to Read

Some really interesting things on climate policy communications and climate policy strategy:

1. Theda Skocpol explains and expands on her critique of the cap-and-trade battles of 2009-2010.  She’s right on about 90% of it, and on the other 10%, she’s not entirely wrong.   I certainly hope big green philanthropy is reading this stuff. (Also, philanthropy, while you’re reading things, read this one on how progressives are losing think-tank ground in the states.)

2. A lengthy and scholarly article on “framing and moral messaging in environmental campaigns.” The article describes “methods for reframing climate change in ways that are more personally engaging, for creating a moral foundation that compels greater participation, for localizing the issue and switching policy focus, thereby diffusing political polarization, and for using opinion-leaders as community-level connectors and recruiters.” Smart advice that shouldn’t have needed a lengthy and scholarly article to explain.

3. An interview with UCLA professor Ursula Heise on “the narratives of climate change and the evolving challenges environmentalism faces in telling its story.” Also, an interesting discussion on why climate change is talked about way more than other environmental imperatives.


Newest Best Argument for Taking Action on Climate Change Is Now Climate Change

An interesting article in the New York Times makes the claim that compared to the frequent and vague “green jobs” argument, “the stronger argument for a major government response to climate change is the more obvious argument: climate change.” The piece concludes that, “In the end, the strongest economic argument for an aggressive response to climate change is not the much trumpeted windfall of green jobs. It’s the fact that the economy won’t function very well in a world full of droughts, hurricanes and heat waves.”

As a comprehensive cap-and-trade approach seems less likely, and more direct carbon pollution regulation by EPA seems more likely, the change in argument seems not only natural but necessary.  For one thing, the cost-benefit calculations are becoming increasingly clear even without a jobs and economic development hook.


Communicators Communicating About Climate

With a few weeks of more intensive on-the-job attention being paid to climate and coastal impacts under my belt, I am more aware of the communications issues involved.  I would tend to agree with recent scholarly discussions about the science of science communications that concrete coastal adaptation issues will get more traction than abstract and politicized  issues of  international carbon pollution policy and global warming temperature math.

So yes:

Because being out of step with one’s cultural group in struggles over the nation’s “soul” can carry devastating personal consequences, and because nothing a person believes or does as an individual voter or consumer can affect the risks that climate change pose for him or anyone else, it is perfectly predictable—perfectly rational even—for people to engage the issue of climate change as a purely symbolic or expressive issue.

In contrast, from Florida to Arizona, from New York to Colorado and California, ongoing political deliberations over adaptation are affecting people not as members of warring cultural factions but as property owners, resource consumers, insurance policy holders, and tax payers — identities they all share. The people who are furnishing them with pertinent scientific evidence about the risks they face and how to abate them are not the national representatives of competing political brands but rather their municipal representatives, their neighbors, and even their local utility companies.

What’s more, the sorts of issues they are addressing—damage to property and infrastructure from flooding, reduced access to scarce water supplies, diminished farming yields as a result of drought—are matters they deal with all the time. They are the issues they have always dealt with as members of the regions in which they live; they have a natural shared vocabulary for thinking and talking about these issues, the use of which reinforces their sense of linked fate and reassures them they are working with others whose interests are aligned with theirs.

The challenge, of course, is how those of us “environmentalists” — burdened with a brand identity associated with warring cultural factions — further “the ongoing political deliberations over adaptation.” Our very existence at a round table discussion has the potential of polluting potentially productive communications and deliberations.

The problem is, I don’t think this conclusion:

In this communication environment, people of diverse values are much more likely to converge on, rather than become confused about, the scientific evidence most relevant to securing the welfare of all.

follows necessarily. Certainly not without some sort of advocacy somewhere along the line. Property owners, resource consumers, insurance policy holders, and tax payers may understand the evidence if the evidence is served up to them by less problematic communicators, but they aren’t going to act necessarily. Or act quickly enough.  It’s an interesting advocacy challenge, to be sure, but I think there’s more to addressing climate change than waging some sort of proxy battle.


Traditionalist or Modernist?

There has been another upswell of a theoretical critique of environmentalism that I find both fascinating and frustrating. The relatively new eco-pragmatist / modernist critics say, “conservation is losing the war to protect nature despite winning one of its hardest fought battles — the fight to create parks, game preserves, and wilderness areas.” Instead of preserving the increasingly rare pristine landscapes, the pragmatists say we need to work with what’s left — working with development, not against it, focusing on sustainability in a changing world. The pragmatists promote a sort of glorified global gardening as a better way forward.

As someone who has been involved with the environmental movement in several states, covering a wide range of environmental issues, usually in close proximity to genuine grassroots, I’d generally concur with critics of the critique, captured by a twitter post characterizing the pro-pragmatist position as “all wooly thinking, strawman arguments, gross simplifications.” Indeed, to broadly characterize such a large and diverse “traditionalist” movement as strictly preservation-based, seems to neglect to acknowledge a number of different strains of traditional environmentalism. Moreover, to call preservation-based approaches ineffective, the pragmatist-theorists diminish what has indeed been preserved.

Nevertheless,  I’d also agree that in some instances, a more pragmatic approach could be worthwhile.  As I start a new position in a new organization, I expect the tension between traditional and modernist approaches will be in the forefront of my work. Coastal conservation in a time of climate change and rising sea levels, must necessarily be a mix of preservation, mitigation, restoration, and adaptation.  Hardening a coastline against future storm surges, for example, may actually be most efficiently accomplished through softer preservation of wetlands, dunes, and buffers.  Traditional environmental approaches may actually be the most pragmatic. On the other hand, coastal conservation needs to be especially pragmatic as coastlines are redrawn while climate change goes essentially unaddressed.

Having been on the job for only a day or two, I’ve obviously got a lot to learn. But I expect that I’ll have a lot more to say about all of this in the coming months.