environment


It’s been almost four weeks since the hostage situation took place at the Morrison County Government Center.  This fish still feels shaken by that event and will try not to comment directly on it further other than to say that the Morrison County Record did a fine job of covering the various angles of the situation.  (If you want to find the Record’s articles, just go to its website and type Gordon Wheeler into the search feature.)

What I’d like to do, instead, is discuss property rights because this is ostensibly what was at the root of the event.  When it comes to owning property, most Americans believe that property owners should be able to do whatever they want with their property.  In direct opposition to this thought is the belief that we also get to decide what our neighbors do with their property.  (How often have you found that your lawn aesthetic doesn’t match that of your neighbor’s?  Or complained about how that neighborhood feed lot is going to decrease the value of your property?)

So, which is it?  Do we get to do what we want with our property, or are we going to set up rules that restrict what our neighbors do?  There are no easy answers to this question, yet, when there is a dispute over property rights, someone has to step in and make some sort of decision.

That’s where our govenment officials come in – our county commissioners, city administrators, planning & zoning officials, and inspectors.  Not only are these officials concerned with making decisions about individual property rights, they also have to keep an eye on what’s good for an entire community, plus make sure their decisions square with local ordinances and state laws.  The latter can be notoriously difficult to interpret due to vague language that’s meant to cover all possible situations.

These officials juggle all of the aforementioned requirements and variables in making their decisions and sometimes their decisions don’t sit well with the property owner or with the public.  Then what?  Well, the property owner and public can learn to live with the decisions or the decisions can be appealed to a higher authority.  Perhaps a particular law in question needs to be revised, in which case those concerned with the issue can head to the legislature and work that angle.  If a property rights decision seems particularly unfair, but can’t seem to be resolved with a particular set of government officials, perhaps it’s time to use the power of the vote to bring new leaders into the situation.  The point is that there are all sorts of potential solutions to a property rights disagreement.

The real crux of the matter, however, is that property rights decisions are notoriously contentious because of the underlying premises I mentioned at the beginning of this post.  Sometimes there just isn’t an easy fix, no matter how thoughtfully officials contemplate an issue, and no matter how hard a property owner works to get a decision changed in his/her favor.  What we need to change is our idea of owning property.  While we may legally “own” a piece of property, we don’t really own it.  We’re just borrowing it for a time.  It behooves us to think about who will be using the land next and start making decisions not simply for our own selfish needs, but for the needs of its future inhabitants.

I’ll share my reef, if you’ll share yours,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

I was listening to a program on Minnesota Public Radio this past week on which Michael Osterholm, former Minnesota epidemiologist and current director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, was a guest.  Osterholm is a HUGE supporter of food irradiation.  At one point during the program, he said that there are still fervent anti-irradiation people out there and he referred to them as “radicals.”  The way he said the word made it very clear to me that he is unwilling to listen to anyone who has anything to say on the issue that disagrees with what he believes.  That’s not a good way for a scientist to behave.

Please don’t irradiate me!  (Trust me, I won’t taste very good that way.)

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

Recently, Brett left a comment under my Which Majority? post that makes a good point.  The discussion was about global warming / global climate change and Brett said,

Advocates of global warming claim that skeptics are all paid off by the oil industry but we never hear what kind of money is being exchanged for supporting the global warming cause. Money will always confuse the issue and it is sad that we will never get a straight answer from the supposedly objective scientific community.

He is correct in saying that we don’t typically hear anything about potential conflicts of interest concerning scientists who believe we should act now to try to reverse global warming.  How many of these scientists are being paid off by the solar, wind, and ethanol energy industries?  How many are being paid to throw the research on compact fluorescent bulbs?

We could spend our time quibbling over all the conflicts of interest that happen on both sides of the debate, but this ignores the larger issue – the planet is showing evidence of warming.  Whether that warming is a natural cycle or produced by humans or some combination of both misses the point.  If the planet is warming, we are going to have to adapt and the only thing we can control is our own behavior.  There is no available temperature switch we can easily throw on Mother Nature in order to rebuild the polar icecaps.

Further, Mother Nature doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about whether we stay on this planet or not.  If we’re driven off by drought or excessive storms or disease or hunger, all the better for her to rebuild her natural resources.  The only ones who care whether we are here or not are human beings.

Setting global warming aside for the moment, we have some practical issues that we immediately need to address.  We are in the middle of an energy crisis with the cost of oil getting so high that consumers are deciding to find other less costly ways to get around.  Globally, a food shortage has developed, partially due to the hoarding of food stuffs for use in energy production.  We are also facing fresh water shortages in certain areas of the globe.  All of these are signs of our excessive consumption (and/or global climate change, if you choose to believe that it’s happening).  While these shortages may be good economically for those who control the resources, they aren’t good in the long run as far as creating a stable base of consumers.   If populations are killed off due to food and water shortages, industry will have lost a potential customer base, which means that the economy is going to contract, rather than continue to grow.  It’s an unsustainable system no matter how you slice it – unsustainable for homo sapiens, that is.

So then, we can continue on as we have been and not make any changes in our behavior until we definitively prove the cause of global climate change and find ourselves in straits more dire than we are currently experiencing, or we can figure out how we’re going to adapt by finding solutions that are well-considered  and sustainable for all sectors of society.  What would you rather do?

When homo sapiens is gone, fish will once again rule the world!!

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

On Saturday, March 29, 2008, Earth Hour invites people around the world to turn off their lights for one hour,  from 8:00pm to 9:00pm in their local time zone. Today, cities around the world, including Copenhagen, Chicago, Melbourne, Dubai, and Tel Aviv, will hold events to acknowledge their commitment to energy conservation.

What’s your carbon footprint?: Carbon Calculator,

Jump in the Water is Fine,

Brooke Trout

I’ve taken a couple of trips to the Twin Cities lately.  For those of you unfamiliar with our Minnesota lingo, the term ‘Twin Cities’ refers to Minneapolis and St. Paul, which are joined at the hip physically, but have distinct personalities.

On I-94, going south, I saw a billboard near Rogers.  It’s a simple billboard, with a picture of Al Gore and the words:  “an inconvenient truth: Gore Lies, Gets Nobel Prize?”  The billboard is sponsored by GlobalClimateScam.com.  I suppose they think the question mark gets them off the hook for libel.

When I see something this blatantly accusatory, I’ve got to know who is behind it.  So, when I got home, I looked up GlobalClimateScam.com.  The purpose of the group is to debunk the role human activity plays in global warming.  From the group’s About page:

“Mankind has a moral obligation to be a responsible steward of God’s creation for the good of future generations.  Protecting and preserving our earth’s ecosystems must remain a high priority for citizens of every nation.

“However, we oppose the alarmist agenda employed by most global warming “evangelists.”  In many cases, their agendas are based upon questionable scientific data and erroneous claims about global climate change. They claim the “science is settled” when, in fact, it is not.  Scientists do not agree on the cause of climate change, the role of carbon dioxide (CO2), the degree to which man contributes to atmospheric CO2, and whether global warming is anything other than a naturally occurring phenomenon. 

“Global climate changes have been occurring for centuries.  Global warming is most likely occurring today.  But there is much evidence to suggest that temperature fluctuations are part of a natural cycle of climate change, not man-made causes.  To conclude that man bears the brunt of the blame for rising temperatures is morally irresponsible and politically reckless.  Nature itself produces the greatest contributions to climate change.”

Note the use of the words ‘mankind’ and ‘God’ and the complete absolution of human beings for causing global warming.  Sounds awfully neo-conservative to me.  I dug a little further, noting that GlobalClimateScam.com was sponsored by the Minnesota Majority.  Upon arriving at Minnesota Majority’s home page, I discovered that their tagline is “Standing Together for Traditional Values.”

The term ‘traditional values’ is typical neo-con jargon and means that the group is all for legislating how people live their private lives (i.e. no abortions ever! no gay marriage ever!  follow our Christian religion and the morals we set forth always!), while at the same time claiming they want government out of our lives.  They want to allow the free market to reign unchecked and if you’re not wealthy, well then, it’s your own damn fault.  It’s the whole “pull yourself up by your bootstraps and agree with my way of thinking, but I’m not going to give you any boots” philosophy.  (Check out the site’s drop-down menu under Our Principles for the full screed.)

Funny thing, that.  I’m a Minnesotan, but I’m not a part of their majority.  I disagree with the Minnesota Majority on pretty much everything they stand for.  While it might be understandable that this li’l ol’ fish might fall into a minority of thought in the state, why is it that our state consistently seems to be a blend of both liberal and conservative values, as seen in the way we elect our government officials?  Could it be that we have two majorities?

Beware of who you allow to speak for you.  Now, the Freedom of Speech right the Minnesota Majority supports is something I can ascribe to (although I’m pretty sure the group is not going to like what I have to say).

As for the idea that human beings have nothing to do with global warming, I think I’ll listen to the ice core samples scientists have pulled out of the Antarctic that show elevated levels of carbon dioxide trapped in the ice at the point that the American Industrial Revolution started.

With frosted fins,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

I caught a chunk Ralph Nader’s speech at George Washington University this morning on C-Span 2. In his speech Nader said that the central issue in America right now is corporate power, connecting that statement to the overwhelming influence corporations have on what we read, on war, on legislation… and on and on. Nater went on to link his discussion to an article written in Business Week eight years ago. In the year 2000 Business Week polls showed that nearly three-quarters of Americans thought business had gained too much power over too many aspects of their lives. That was 8 years ago.

Nader’s campaign website lists 12 key issue that matter for 2008, issues that all major party candidates consider “off the table.” If you do nothing else read and understand this list, these are key issues that Americans should be asking presidential candidates hard questions about and that demand all presidential candidates move these issues “on to the table”.

Twelve Issues that Matter for 2008

Stop President Bush for getting a slush fund that would enable the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to continue to put the public at risk — take action today!

President Bush is asking Congress for no strings to be attached to the budget for the WhiteNo Slush Fund for Bush! House’s own offices.  He’s asking for a 5.6% increase in spending for White House offices, including $7 million — with no accountability limits — for the OMB regulatory office that wields power to delay and wekaen public protections for the environment, safety, public health, consumers, privacy, and much more.

To top it off, the president wants to turn the White House budget into a slush fund, with the power to transfer up to 10% of funds among offices.  That could mean much more funding for the OMB regulatory office — which puts wealthy corporate special interests ahead of the public interest.

Tell Congress that it’s time for less funding and more accountability:  no slush fund for OMB to put us at risk!

Sheesh!

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