Property Rights Foundation of America®
Founded 1994

Private Property Rights: Enduring Problems-

Jigs Gardner
Editor, St. Croix Review
Westport, New York

Twenty-first Annual National Conference on
Private Property Rights
October 21, 2017
The Century House, Latham, N.Y

 

Not much time. First, I want to thank Bonner and Mr. West because they said a lot of things that will fill in my background. I'm going to do something which is unusual at this meeting. I'm going to recite a poem. It was written by Dr. William Carlos Williams. He was a poet who flourished from the 1920s to the 1950s. This is a little bit of my vanity. He was also a doctor. He was my doctor when I had polio seventy years ago. This is the poem.

[The Red Wheelbarrow]

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

Now, that's a very simple poem. It's obviously about the apprehension of beauty in the mundane. It's also about perception. What we perceive in the world. This is important for what I'm going to talk about because I don't think, despite all the good talk we heard today, that you quite realize the significance of greenism. It says that I'm going to talk about enduring problems. I'm only going to talk about one.

When I started researching this speech I turned to Carol's piece which she wrote for the Property Rights newsletter six years ago: "Enormous Wilderness Corridors Masquerading as Land Management Refinements." This focused my mind on greenism because that was a trenchant critique of plans to make the Adirondacks the northern bastion of a huge wilderness area extending down the Appalachians as far as Georgia. I quote part of her conclusion. She said, "It is important that New Yorkers look at landscape measures in terms of the scenario that state policies are geared to protecting core reserves and miles-wide corridors that would be off limits to human activity. Land use regulation akin to the Adirondack Park Agency's zoning powers and government land acquisition facilitate the radical scenario." What she was talking about is something called the "Wildlands Project." And I quote this from a magazine called Wild Earth, a green magazine, 1992. The guy, Reed Noss said, "I suggest at least half of the land area of the 48 coterminous states should be encompassed in core reserves and inner corridor zones. Eventually, a wilderness network would dominate a region and thus would itself constitute a matrix, with human habitations being the islands."

Well, obviously, we think of that as crazy. But as Carol documented it had a strong effect here in Adirondack Park planning. I can tell you that there are people walking the Earth now who are pushing this program in my area. But I'll come back to that.

I don't want to talk about the Wildlands Project. What I want to talk about is the thinking behind it. The confusion between environmentalism and greenism. Because so long as those two contradictory things are confused, our response to greenism will be weak. Weaker than it should be. Humans have been environmentalists from their beginning. We think now — we didn't think this fifty years ago when I was first studying the subject — but we think now, that human beings originally were indiscriminate in their waste practices. In other words, they defecated anywhere they felt like. Some human beings went in the back of the cave or they went in bushes. And not surprisingly, because wallowing in your own waste is very unhealthy, those individuals lived longer. The survival of the fittest. There is no other way to explain the shame that we feel if we defecate in the presence of other people. That is a very strong taboo. And so, we dealt with all our waste. Think of those things that archaeologists love: kitchen mittens, waste spots outside villages. Always outside, far away, in a ravine, in a body of water, and so on, until at modern times we cleaned up the rivers. We no longer throw things in them. Now, we have sanitary landfills. We generate electricity by burning things. We have an enormous trade in recyclables. I was just reading about it the other day in The Wall Street Journal.

The process is not so neat as that sounds. It's not so schematic. Like all human endeavors it is messy and contingent proceeding by conflict and compromise. No one gets everything he wants. No one gets a hundred percent environment. Because the relationship between environment and development is always complex, never static, always in flux. To build a factory, to pave a road, to plow a field, all require, eventually, all require amendment and amelioration.

We live and act largely unthinkingly in our surroundings, our environment a web of intimate reciprocal actions and reactions, making choices which center, always, around human needs. This has been going on empirically for thousands of years until the 60s. Then began a tremendous change in our conception of the environment, which would remove it from our ken entirely to make it into a sacred mythic entity as large as the universe - saving the planet. And as small as a snail darter - perennial victim of our rapacious greed. What had been an empirical process was turned into a moral crusade. Now, we were to be vilified for our sins against the sacred environment. This change in the concept of the environment must be seen for what it is. This is where I call on your practice of perception. The environment, this is an ideological construction. An ideological construction where we will always cede the moral high ground to greenism. The environment is not a fragile victim of our rapacity, but a remarkably resilient home where we have lived for countless generations in harmonious contention. Environmentalism is about solutions. Greenism is about problems.

I'll tell you a story of a town ten miles north of us. It is largely dependent on a mining company which is mining deposits of something called Wollastonite. Recently, the company was about to run out of its current deposit. There was another deposit within the borders of the Adirondack Park. The company put it up to the park: We'll give you land of our own that's undeveloped and you give us that land where the deposit is. And by God, the park agreed. But there had to be a referendum. The town passed the referendum. Good deal, huh? Immediately, two green groups sued the park to stop it. To hell with the town. To hell with the people. Because the ultimate aim of greenism, as we were talking today, is to stop development, to reverse it and return us to an imagined pastoral utopia.

And now I quote, once again. This is David Brower, who is a friend of the Friends of the Earth. And he said, "We must reclaim the roads and the plowed land. Halt dam construction. Tear down existing dams. Free shackled rivers and return to the wilderness tens of millions of acres of presently settled land." And Dave Foreman said, "Life in a hunter-gatherer society was on the whole healthier, happier, and more secure than our lives as peasants, industrial workers, or business executives." And John Davis, who is the editor of the Earth First! Journal said in Wild Earth, "Does all the foregoing mean that Wild Earth and the Wildlands Project advocate the end of industrial civilization? Most assuredly." Now, I do not say that the Wildlands Project is likely to happen. John Davis is a neighbor of mine and a very nice fellow. Very educated. He stops in to have a cup of tea now and again. He's been sent on scouting expeditions down the Appalachains and also out West to estimate the extent of the wildlife corridors. Next week he's giving a local lecture in the area to the delighted lefty yuppies in the area. But there are powerful forces inspired by greenism opposed to economic development.

Think of Cuomo. Now, this is a guy who wants the presidential nomination with the Democratic Party and, therefore, he prevents development. A significant part, the elite of a major party in the United States is against it all. That is a sobering thought.

Thank you very much.

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