A few years ago, I brought a young visitor of mine from the East to Moonshadows, the Malibu boîte where Mel Gibson commenced his ill-starred drunken drive. As my friend went out to smoke a cigarette, the young bartendress complained to me, “How can you let him do that?” I explained that he was of age and as a smoker myself I could not be so hypocritical, but she would not let it go. “My body is a temple!” she declared. “Mine too,” I responded, “with tobacco incense!” She eventually revealed that she was a heavy pot smoker, “which is much greener.” This allowed me to go on the offensive, pointing out that marijuana smoke contains more carcinogens than tobacco smoke. But by then, her eyes had glazed over.
Many people enjoy using the “green” excuse to cover nearly anything. Pot (referred to in my far-off youth as “the herb”) frequently is blessed with the “green” moniker but is undeserving of it, and not only compared with tobacco. Apparently its production is as dangerous to the environment as the raising of McDonald’s beef cows is supposed to be for the Brazilian rain forest. According to energy analyst Evan Mills, indoor pot production uses enough electricity to substantially contribute to annual carbon-dioxide emissions. Worse still, proliferating marijuana plantations in such out-of-the way spots as California’s Los Padres National Forest inject pesticides and fertilizers into the ecosystem, with concomitant damage to plants and wildlife.
One might argue that the “greenest” thing to do would be either heightened law enforcement or regulated legalization, but little is likely to be done.
In California, the most efficient branch of state government is our State Park system. This wonderful repository of natural and historical treasures does its job as well as it can, despite the best efforts of governors and legislators to wreck or pilfer it. I came very close last November to voting for Proposition 21, which would have subsidized the system’s expenses through a usage tax. But my nerve failed me at the thought of voting for any new tax. Based solely on experience, I trust the system’s employees far more than I can most of the state’s bureaucrats.
Sacramento’s abuse of the parks makes the state’s hypocritical greenery all the more poignant. In 2006, Assembly Bill 32 cleared the legislature and was signed by Governor Schwarzenegger. This measure attempts to pit California’s David versus global climate change’s Goliath by imposing strict caps on greenhouse emissions. It is difficult to see how the Golden State’s war on emissions will affect a worldwide problem. But its immediate result will be to close down or chase out businesses and their jobs while spending yet more money on regulation from our near-bankrupt coffers. If the time and treasure spent chasing greenhouse emissions went instead to something tangible—say, the State Park system—this would show a more authentically “green” consciousness. But posturing over the infinite is always sexier than working in the immediate.
The same is true on the national stage, where the National Park Service is also one of our better run federal offices. Washington buzzes with all sorts of “green” schemes these days but tends to neglect concrete environmental issues. One of these is the Grand Canyon. Back in 1923, a USGS team found a number of possible sites for dams in the Grand and Glen Canyons. This was the beginning of a major era of dam construction in the United States, when many in government saw electrification as a panacea for social ills whose benefits outweighed any other considerations. (Remember the TVA?) The spots the USGS found within the parks were off-limits, but they constructed Hoover Dam in the 30s and Glen Canyon Dam in the 50s and 60s outside their boundaries. The latter is above the park and so has had an enormous—and apparently destructive—effect upon it.
Although the Sierra Club and other environmentalists (who had successfully torpedoed two other such projects) had taken a firm stand against Glen Canyon, it was built over their objections. But controversy continues, with such opponents as the redoubtable Katie Lee claiming that Glen Canyon is being damaged and the Colorado River will never be able to produce sufficient power to justify damming it.
Whether or not Glen Canyon’s opponents are correct, wouldn’t it be a better use of public funds to identify concrete environmental threats about which we can actually do something? All across the country, public lands are threatened with all sorts of dangers, whether from pot farms, indiscriminate development, or simply politicians looting budgets to make up for shortfalls in other poorly run bureaucratic branches. Yet our leaders, for all their green protestations, rarely seem willing or able to act on what is in front of them. A secondary question might be why the various park services tend to be better run than the rest of the governmental octopus.
My hypothesis is that our leaders tend no longer to hunt. But though I have not hunted since my far-off youth, there is something about the chase that keeps one anchored in reality. One of our greatest conservation-minded presidents, Teddy Roosevelt, was also one of our greatest huntsmen. We owe the survival of such rare creatures as the European bison, Père David’s Deer, and the Asiatic lion to royal hunters’ preservation of such tracts as Bialowieza, the Milu Yuan, and the Gir Forest.
Prominent anti-hunting rulers were people such as Blair and Hitler. One worries for France’s future, given that Sarkozy has been forced to give up the chasse presidentielle! At least the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were able to enjoy the sport with Prince Charles once upon a time.
Alas, with fewer Americans and other Westerners hunting, fishing, riding, canoeing, or doing anything else in the outdoors, we are ever more contented with rulers who govern out of the script for a green-tinted Bambi cartoon.
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