I promised an environmentalist that I would read one article of her choosing that would, in her opinion, be most persuasive about the case for human-caused global warming. (She actually wanted me to see the Al Gore movie, but I said that although I have the stomach for, say, Evil Dead, I preferred the intentional comedy of the latter.) The article she chose was Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s article, Crimes Against Nature. Below is my response.
My main reaction was that I thought you were going to send me an article helping to prove the existence of Global Warming (i.e., human-caused Global Warming). This article mainly discusses various laws that G.W. Bush created or eliminated, or "worked around", etc. Kennedy's premise is that the existing environmental laws were a good thing, and the mere assertion that G.W. "violated" them is proof that G.W. did something bad. In other words, Kennedy makes little or no attempt to defend the laws (such as the Clean Air Act), he simply expects that you agree they're good. This, per se, is not necessarily a fault of the author, but his assumption is that you know about and agree with environmental laws. Personally, I'm more interested in the subject "are environmental laws good?", not "which environmental laws did G.W. violate?" You need to understand the first question before the second question can matter.
Apart from the fact that I didn't really think the article applied to our conversation about whether it's right for government to take action to "defend the environment", I also had some general problems with the author. Frankly, I thought Kennedy was pretty sleazy in the way he made assertions (e.g., "recalculating cost-benefit analyses to favor polluters", p. 2). Without evidence, he expects the reader to accept these assertions as facts. But the hallmark of Kennedy's style was to make gutless insinuations. E.g., in the same paragraph as above: "the Bush stealth strategy", and "Before coming to the White House, Graham was the founding director of the Harvard Center of Risk Analysis, where he received funding from America's champion corporate polluters: Dow Chemical, DuPontŠetc." Talk about guilt by association! But it's even worse than implied guilt by association, since he expects his readers to accept on faith the negative evaluation he makes of the companies.
I also love his Orwellian phrases like "destructive logging" and "old-growth forests". What exactly is "destructive logging"? What would be the alternative? Constructive logging that creates trees instead of cuts them down? By his logic, maybe we should prohibit all logging? To be truly accurate in the long term, no logging is destructive. Trees grow back! And what about "old-growth forests"? Would he prefer "destructive logging" of "new-growth forests" instead? I'm guessing not. People use these kind of slimy phrases because they don't want to be pinned down to anything concrete.
He, like most environmentalists, never weighs the unseen consequences of enacting his environmental regulations. He asserts that G.W.'s "Clear Skies" program "allows more emissions". Well, maybe it does and maybe it doesn't. But the production of goods that enable human beings to have the life span they do in the United States requires energy, and production often results in some amount of waste (e.g., garbage). He wants to have his cake and eat it, too. He wants the value that industry creates, but he wants to inhibit it from creating. If the issue was one of rights (e.g., is company X dumping on person Y's land?) then I would be all in favor of bringing that company to court. But regulations hindering industry for vague reasons of "air quality", for example, are arbitrary if you can't prove in a court of law that actual, real, damage has been done. It's the same reason you can't sue someone for "hurting your reputation". You need to prove damages.
And take the general idea of "environmental protection". Here's my question: whose environment, who or what is being protected, and from whom are we protecting it? He talks about "wetlands protection". Why should swamps be "protected"? Are there evil corporations moving in and releasing some kind of deadly chemical that prevents human beings from ever touching that swamp again? If he wants to "protect" a wetland, let him buy it.
Here's another good one. He says he represents fishermen (who are traditionally Republican he says; what a saint). In the case of fishermen, evidently, it's morally acceptable for them to kill fish. It's only bad when a big, bad, electric company kills fish (where no individual human beings work, of course). A "fisherman" who kills fish is good. A "power plant" that kills fish is evil. Great logic.
I also loved how he said (G.W.'s) eliminating environmental regulations is taking us "way back to the Dark Ages". Nice. I guess Kennedy forgot that he's the one talking about regulating power plants.
The most despicable phrase Kennedy uses is "the deadly pesticide DDT". This is a myth that he should, and probably does, know is B.S. On the contrary, DDT saves lives. A ban of DDT "puts hundreds of thousands of lives at risk", according to the Malaria Foundation International.
In the end, it's hard to learn anything from Kennedy's article, since it's filled with so many empty assertions and slimy insinuations. I am completely open to the idea that there are companies that commit actual environmental crimes. But to me, an "environmental crime" means an act causing provable damage to someone's health and/or violates property rights. I was not convinced by this article that any of the federal laws Kennedy defends succeed in preventing or punishing those that commit these crimes. On the contrary, I stand by my assumption that most environmental laws punish companies for producing values that the punishers need to survive.