Thursday, May 16, 2013

Billboard Nazis

As I was walking my dog through the natural stand of mature trees between my house and the street yesterday, a whitetail deer ran down my street in broad daylight, making the turn west down a busy street that drops sharply from a ridge a mile from downtown Durham, North Carolina.

Putting the sighting on my neighborhood listserv would in any other community incite extreme reactions on both ends of the ideological spectrum and probably result in efforts to “out-extreme” one another.

As a political independent I may be more sensitive to how absurd these reactions can seem and when stereotyped, they fuel the craziness we see in North Carolina’s legislature today.  You can see it in reactions to wildlife management and fracking.

By 1900 with a population just shy of 1.9 million people, unchecked “market hunters” had reduced the population of whitetail deer in North Carolina to fewer than 10,000 animals, one for every five square miles.

North Carolinians cared. The first game laws had been enacted here in 1783 but they weren’t enough to prevent market forces from nearly wiping out the deer population.

While North Carolina became the cradle of forest conservation in 1898, it wasn’t until 1937 that whitetail deer restoration efforts took hold and even today there is a lack of understanding, especially among many in high office, about the importance of nature and biodiversity and the ecosystem in general to human quality of life.

Today, we’ve gone from one deer for every 190 North Carolinians in 1900 to one deer for every 9 residents.  That’s a lot of deer when you consider we have five times the human population today and it is five times as many per square mile at a time when a much greater proportion of the state is urbanized.

With natural predators all but extinguished and farmland no longer buffering cities from wildlife habit, we have a deer problem which manifests itself in risk of disease and damage to vehicles and property use not to mention the deer themselves.charlotte before after 1

The number of deer is far exceeding biological and social carrying capacity in much of the state.  Efforts at management are politicized by extremist reactions on both ends of the ideological spectrum.  We see the same thing happening with the issue of hydraulic fracturing of shale to access natural gas.

Each side of the debate seems far too dominated by people who seem determined to out-extreme and demonize those on the other side of the issue, including many flush with the ability and hubris to dominate the North Carolina General Assembly.

“Fracking” as it is called, is a technological revolution that promises to temporarily roll back harmful emission of greenhouse gases, as least until these new sources are also depleted.  It may make us more energy independent but it won’t roll back the price of gasoline.

The price will be kept high here while exporting most of the new-found energy supply where it will reap greater stockholder value.  If we are smart, this boom will only intensify research and development of more sustainable alternatives.

Evidence is that many of the other benefits from this boom are canceled out by harmful side effects, lax regulation and unintended consequences.  Reduce these concerns by half and they still warrant extreme caution.

Just less than a year after oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens prophesied that converting the nation’s 8 million 18-wheelers to natural gas would eliminate eliminate 75% of our reliance on OPEC countries, news reports suggest that transformation is already underway.  This will also curb harmful emissions.

One of his companies already has 400 natural gas filling stations and earlier this month he proposed how to incentivize the transition.

But the real impact of fracking on global climate change will be the transition it will create on countries such as China and India away as they shift away from coal.  It may not reduce the price at the pump that much but these changes could ostensibly lower the costs, especially those not captured by businesses failing to use full-cost accounting, of other consumer goods.

It may eventually help reduce the amount we fund our military to serve as security guards for oil shipments from the Middle East to non-contributing countries throughout the world.  However, this may only intensify uncertainty and instability in that region.

As an op-ed in the New York Times two weeks ago explained, our so-called energy independence will undermine stability in that region and create even bigger problems for the U.S.  And this impact won’t be limited to the Middle East.

Reduce the euphoria and any related hyperbole by half as many insiders do and it may still be worth pursuing.  The real question is how to make fracking much safer and far less desecrating than it is now.  There is a value to clear air and water and scenic infrastructure and view-sheds.

Unfortunately, instead of refereeing between extreme positions, our legislature seems to have abdicated the true purpose of representative democracy on this issue as they did a few years ago when they surrendered trees and related curbs on soil erosion and water and air pollution free of charge to out-of-state billboard companies.

The photo below shows an example in Charlotte, where the now obsolete form of advertising has already clear cut nearly 5,000 trees, scarring the “Queen City’s” sense of place and releasing toxic waste all for the benefit of one fifth of one percent of consumers and less than 3% of small businesses.

This was the antitheses of capitalism, seeking to tilt the playing field to a few and for what reason, spite?

What the legislature did at the behest of billboard companies is a type of “legal corruption” and in my opinion an absurdly extreme reaction to the views of a few they considered just as extreme.   But this defiance of the wishes of nearly 9 out of 10 North Carolinians is inexcusable.

The answer to what they may consider eco-Nazis is not to counter as billboard-Nazis as these lawmakers have become but to make principle-centered decisions that benefit all North Carolinians.

One lawmaker was quoted in reports as saying that the giveaway was to teach communities a lesson, further proof that instead of rising to principle and good governance, many lawmakers are just trying to prove they can also take pettiness to an extreme.

The issue for me on fracking is less clear-cut (no pun intended.)  It isn’t “whether or not” but “how.”  It has been a little more than a hundred years since Americans rose in revolt against the desecration industries such as this imposed.

Hopefully, those setting the standards for fracking haven’t forgotten those lessons and begin to govern from the center.

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