Consequences of Simplistic “Solutions”   2 comments

Reading with an open mind.

I’ve been rereading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and am amazed at what I’m finding there. When I was in high school and then in college, it was required reading in some classes and I admit it, I read it for the environmentalist message that I was expected to regurgitate in class and kind of ignored whatever didn’t fit that narrative, but on this “for my own information” reading, I’m seeing things with a different view, perhaps because I’m free to think rather than do what I’m told.

As a libertarian, I know there are multiple ways of dealing with the missteps we humans make. One strategy deals in cultural transformation. This could be applied to multiple topics, but let’s just look at environmental issues. Concerned citizens work toward environmental improvement by developing social awareness and making voluntary adjustments. The EPA admits that this decentralized approach of neighbor talking to neighbor, of scientists proposing corrections, of commentators writing critiques and of consumers and businesses altering their behavior over time improved the environment of the United States immensely in the 1960s BEFORE the National Environmental Policy Act was passed.

The alternative is political action – NEPA and its rabid offspring, including the Green New Deal, which looks to centralize the power to deal with a situation under a government “problem-solving” agency(ies). Most of today’s activists embrace the “all problems should be and can be solved by government” approach.

So, it surprised me to find that Carson blamed federal, state, and local governments for the wave of mindless environmental abuse she witnessed.

Go read the book before you argue. On page after page, Carson reviewed these damaging actions and time and again, there was government involvement – either directing the program itself or reinforcing a private program and refusing to listen to biologists or members of the general public who objected.

At one time, the federal government had a major effort toward sagebrush eradication, which of course affected grouse, deer, moose and beaver. This “appalling example of ecological destruction,” according to Carson, was carried out by the US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. I find that ironic since the Forest Service now tries to blame ranchers for sagebrush destruction while not acknowledging its own history – a history I couldn’t find on the internet, but a cousin who is a North Dakota feed store owner confirmed for me.

Carson criticized local governments for the practice of spraying roadsides to kill weeds, even damaging specially designated nature areas. She specifically mentioned Connecticut’s Arboretum Nature Area. This practice, by the way, continues today, mandated by the US Department of Transportation for safety reasons. The chemicals are less damaging — we think.

In the 1950s, the US Department of Agriculture and state departments of agriculture carried out the aerial dusting of Aldrin to control a Japanese beetle infestation in the Midwestern states. When people began to complain about the toxicity, government agencies, including the Federal Aviation Agency and the Detroit Department of Parks, assured the public that “the dust was harmless.”

Carson is famous for her opposition to DTD, but she placed the silence of spring firmly on government shoulders. Federal government spraying against the fire ant caused massive bird die-off, according to Carson. Many city governments, on recommendations of the Department of Agriculture, sprayed DOT and heptachlor trying to control Dutch elm disease. Turned out proper pruning was what was necessary.

Carson had great disgust for Nassau Country (Long Island, New York), the US Department of Agriculture and the US State Department for conducting aerial spraying against the gypsy moth “showering insecticide over children at play and commuters at railway stations,” killing hives of honeybees and even a horse poisoned by its drinking water.

Carson does mention other actors as bearing some blame for this destruction of nature – consumers, sportsmen, farmers and manufacturers of pesticides were part of the problem in her view, but she overwhelmingly cites government as the principle offender. At least 90 times, she cited some level of government involvement, either carrying out the programs or reinforcing an environmental abuse.

Carson showed no sign of a libertarian bent. She didn’t see government as an inherently evil agent. She simply reported government’s dysfunctional actions from a naturalist’s point of view. If modern environmental activists want to avoid repeating history, they need to analyze what went wrong, rather than just resting on their presuppositions.

A spirit of crisis causes us to make policy decisions without thought for the long-term consequences.

Carson saw the government’s approach as simplistic overreaction. People respond to a “spirit of crisis” she said in describing the Japanese beetle infestation. The feeling of urgency favors a single-minded approach that ignores side effects and long-term arms. The dominate philosophy was “nothing must get in the way of the man with the spray gun. The incidental victims of his crusade against insects count as nothing.”

Once government had been captured by this philosophy, bureaucrats lined up behind the policy with thoughtless obedience. They didn’t question, they wouldn’t even listen to alternative voices. Carson expressed deep frustration at their closed-minded mentality.

Interestingly, Carson admitted that the pesticides had their uses. She wanted a moderation, not a cessation. She wanted us to think deeply and thoughtfully about their side effects and long-run impacts and to modify as needed – as sensible. That’s an important message for today. The 21st century environmental activities need to realize the world is a complicated place and policy interventions have many unexpected consequences.

We live in a world where screaming “catastrophe” and calling on the government to implement simplistic, sweeping measures can cause vast harm.

And it’s important to recognize that this rush to “DO SOMETHING”, demanding that government ram simplistic solutions through without looking at unintended consequences exists in a whole host of topics today. Is it caused environmental degradation? Could be, given the history. What we know is that it is causing economic and societal degradation and that the natural rights of individuals are endangered by the constant insistence that collectivization is “for our own good.”

Why do we assume that problems largely caused by government intervention will somehow magically be repaired by pouring more government intervention on the problem it caused?

2 responses to “Consequences of Simplistic “Solutions”

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  1. One problem with government policies for addressing certain issue is that ‘one size fits all’ often causes problems because niche solutions are not accounted for and often don’t fit the policy guidelines.

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    • Right. A bigger issue for me is that a solution for one part of the country might not be appropriate for all parts of a country. Alaska and California share the Pacific Ocean and that’s about it. Our climates aren’t the same. Our cultures aren’t the same. Oddly, Californians believe THEIR solutions should be instituted in Alaska, even if it is against our culture and makes no sense in our climate.

      Liked by 1 person

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