Thursday, April 22, 2010

Celebrate: It's '89er Day

Sadly, I am old enough to remember the original Earth Day, and recall thinking about the fact that it was not a good thing that Whoever It Was That Decided These Things had no respect at all for '89er day.*

I remember that an overriding theme of the original Earth day was "death." The Earth was dying (there was global cooling back then), as were our rivers, lakes, air, forests, and bald eagles. One of the biggest themes was overpopulation and the near certainty that the world was on the cusp of massive starvation. So, I think the attached USA Today op-ed piece is particularly useful. In fact, in the United States and most of the developing world, we have scored major successes in cleaning up the air and water, and the Green Revolution in agriculture has allowed the feeding of billions of more people than was thought possible.

Pay close attention to Lomborg's closing call for more attention to be paid to the problems of the developing world. Environmental quality is pretty clearly what economists call a "normal" good: we prefer more of it as our incomes rise. And although he doesn't use this term, this points in the direction of opportunity costs. We have made incredible strides in the West, but they have not been free lunches. Automobiles are cleaner, but they cost more. The environmental movement's success in shutting down the U.S. nuclear power industry fostered a conversion to coal-fired generation that is dirtier, more carbon intensive, and costs human lives in mining accidents. High schools to educate our children don't get built because we preserve the habitats of desert owls. And the virtual elimination of DDT has allowed malaria to stage a deadly resurgence across much of the developing world. We need to honor the successes that we have produced in the last 40 years, but we can not stick our heads in the sand and act as though the decisions come at no cost.

*'89er day celebrates the "land run" of settlement of Oklahoma Territory in 1889. And, here's a totally off-topic note to the political-correctess police at the NCAA: people who broke the law and entered before the gun was fired (I guess today we'd have to pretend it was a walkie-talkie) were called "Sooners." People who agitated for the settlement, on what were previously extended areas of Native American lands, were called "Boomers." So, "Boomer Sooner" is a reference to the deliberate policy of law-breaking European-American settlement on land that was previously assigned to Native Americans (some of whom, BTW, were forcibly- relocated Seminoles). So why is it horrible to honor Native Americans with sports names but OK to honor those [Sooner Schooner] who worked to exploit them? But, to address this issue, we'd have to consider that one of the reasons for the reassignment of lands was U.S. anger over the support that Native Americans in the Indian Nations provided to the Confederacy during the Civil War. Of course, you'd be pretty angry at the United States, too, if you had been at the wrong end of Andrew Jackson's ethnic cleansing movement known as the "Trail of Tears". But, wasn't it the Seminoles who were the most active in resisting the relocation? But the NCAA doesn't want us to honor them, just the Sooner Schooner and colleges named after Andrew Jackson. Maybe I shouldn't give the NCAA any more bad ideas to waste their time on.

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