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Announcement | Audio | Transcript Transcript

Global Warming: Scientific Fact or Fiction?
February 15, 2000
S. Fred Singer


Introductory Remarks by David Theroux

Welcome to the program this evening. The program tonight is a seminar-debate. Sort of a “debate” in quotes. Debate format, you might say. The topic is “Saving the Environment: Government, Friend or Foe,” which is intended to be a broadly conceived approach to the debate over environmental policy. For those of you new to The Independent Institute, hopefully, you’ve received a packet when you registered which has background information about our program. The Independent Institute is a non-politicized scholarly public policy research organization. We produce many books. We have a quarterly journal that you may have seen upstairs. We also have other publications, such as The Independent Review, and we hold lots of conferences. With media programs based on that work. Our interest in not to get involved with politics. Our interest is to hopefully get to the truth as best as we can and make that available to people interested in resolving many issues.

Our program tonight is part of a series. I might point out that in your packet, there is a green sheet that describes tonight’s program. Also, it lists two upcoming events. The next event will be on Tuesday, February 15th. The topic is “Global Warming: Scientific Fact or Fiction?” The speaker will be Dr. Fred Singer, president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project, who also happens to be with us this evening. Fred was the first director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service. He’s a distinguished fellow of the Institute for Space Science and Technology, and is author of the book, Hot Talk, Cold Science. And then on March 7th, we switch topics completely. The topic then will be “Pro-Team Sports: Are Politics and Corruption Winning?” We will be having two top sports economists, Roger Noll from Stanford, who is co-editor of a book called Sports, Jobs and Taxes: The Economic Impact of Sports Teams and Stadiums. The second speaker is Rodney Fort, professor of economics at Washington State University, and is co-author of the new book, Hard Ball: The Abuse of Power in Pro Team Sports. If you’re not familiar with the disputes in sports, this is a great way to learn something about them. I think you’ll be quite intrigued by the many issues that are raised.

For this evening, we are very pleased to have several top scholars and policy analysts with us. Our program features, as you know, Peter Huber and Michael De Alessi. They’ll be discussing environmental quality, science, and government policy. And I’d like to introduce our panel, if I may. Starting on my right, Peter Huber, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Next to him is Michael De Alessi, who directs the Center for Private Conservation. Thomas Graff, who is the senior attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund here in the Bay Area, and Sally Fairfax, who’s a professor at the College of Natural Resources at the University of California, Berkeley.

Peter Huber’s work, as many of you may know, has pioneered a number of important areas. He has pioneered important work in legal liability, in telecommunications, regulation, and many other fields. He is probably best known for his critical analysis that has brought the issue of junk science to the forefront, especially as it has affected the legal system. Michael De Alessi has applied both economic and marine science to develop new approaches to the management of fisheries and other resource systems. Peter, of course, is the author of the new book, Hard Green, which has been receiving a lot of attention recently. Michael is a contributing author of the new book, Earth Report 2000, which is also receiving quite a bit of attention. This is the book, Earth Report 2000; there are copies upstairs, in case you hadn’t noticed. And of course, this is Peter Huber’s new book, Hard Green, which just came out, and is available as well.

Both Peter and Michael are raising important questions pertaining to the basis for how we approach environmental issues. Since the first Earth Day, I guess it was two decades ago, government policy, especially in the area of environment, has expanded into almost all aspects of our lives. There are few areas it doesn’t touch, including the food we eat, the air we breathe, our homes, our jobs, and so forth. And for years the conventional wisdom has been that government management, government bureaucratic approaches to natural resource management, to food quality, to many other issues, was essential to conserve and protect our lives and ecological systems. However, there are an increasing number of scholars, who are wondering whether a collectivist approach works as effectively as you might think or whether the presumptions behind a lot of the claims of environmental policy are what they are. And perhaps there are issues that have not been raised that are even more serious. At the Institute, Garret Hardin’s famous essay, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” is one that we take to heart. We believe that Garret’s work was a fundamental insight into the nature of not just ecological systems, but economic systems, and we’re interested in trying to find how incentives and how such systems can be brought into line. In other words, how to bring the economic factors and the ecological factors into par. Similarly, in food and drug safety, there are issues that pertain to genetics, as many of you know, and biotechnology, but the thing that’s interesting about so many of these issues, is that they’re not just issues of the research scientist anymore. They are issues that are being debated in fields ranging from economics, patent law, world trade issues, anti-trust, and many other factors. Is technology a threat to mankind? Is technology a benefit to mankind? We have to somehow sort out these kinds of issues.

To do so, and of course, we can only really just touch on a small number of things tonight, but we can certainly begin a dialogue. The format of our program will be to have each of our two major speakers speak for 20 minutes beginning with Michael. Afterward, our panel of Tom and Sally will each comment for five minutes, then Michael and Peter will have an opportunity to respond or have other comments for five minutes. Then, we’ll open up the program to questions from all of you.

One other thing I should mention that I almost forgot. I’m not sure what’s wrong with me. We have a new book coming out. Of course, this is premature. I don’t want to take away from the thunder of our distinguished guests, but we have a book coming out this winter. This is actually a dummy of it. Just the cover, called Cutting Green Tape, and the book is going to deal with essentially environmental issues, both regulatory and tort law issues, as well as some different aspects of the scientific basis of toxicology and so forth. The title, I should mention of the book, is referring to two aspects of the issue. One is the bureaucratization of our lives, and what we should do about that. The second is a program that some of you may be familiar with called Green Scissors. This is a program that a number of environmental groups had implemented as far as their attempt to try to cut back on corporate welfare, which is something that we also are very much concerned with. So our interest is combine ecological and environmental concerns.

Our first speaker is Michael De Alessi. As I said, he’s director of the Center for Private Conservation. He’s an expert in marine conservation and private conservation programs. He received his BA in economics and his M.S. in engineering economic systems from Stanford. He has an M.A. in Marine Policy from the Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami. In addition to being a contributing author to the book Earth Report 2000, he is author of the monograph Fishing for Solutions from the Institute of Economic Affairs in London, and his articles have appeared in the New Scientist, International Herald Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. So I’m very please to introduce Michael De Alessi. [applause]

Michael De Alessi

Well, thank you, David, I’d say it’s a pleasure to be here. I guess I’ll start trying to characterize the book a little bit, since it is a book forum. What I think the Earth Report 2000 book is trying to do is really to take a positive view of our world and of the environment. It recognizes problems, such as the effects of DDT on bird populations and the depletion of fisheries, but it also stresses the vital role that human ingenuity and creativity plays in shaping our world, and its ability to overcome a lot of the problems that we face. Human ingenuity is exactly why Malthus was wrong when he predicted that population growth would outstrip our ability to feed ourselves. And in fact, agricultural productivity has increased far more rapidly instead. Earth Report 2000 also tries to critically assess how the role of government has affected not only the quality of our environment, but the quality of the science that has addressed many of these environmental issues, and how it will likely continue to do so in the future. The book tries to ask some hard questions about other perceived threats such as global warming and the notion of over-consumption. Just how serious are these threats, and does the proposed solution really accomplish anything positive?

For example, did you know—this is from a chapter by Roy Spencer—that it has been estimated that the Earth has warmed by about one degree centigrade over the last century, and that most of that warming has occurred at night during the coldest winter months? And most of this warming occurred earlier in the century. Using satellite data, it has been estimated that the increase in global temperatures between 1979 and 1987 has been one-tenth of a degree of Celsius. So what does that say about the proposed government interventions of the Kyoto protocol? Well, I think it’s still quite open to debate, but I hope articles such as the one in this book encourages people to discuss and to check the science more carefully on both sides of the issue.

The chapter titled “Doing More,” looks at how market processes naturally try to reduce the use of materials. Lynn Scarlett who wrote the chapter, likes to do her aluminum can trick, where she takes a Coke can from the late 1970s and tries her best to crush it. It feels like it’s made of steel. And then she takes one that she bought last week and crushes it in one hand, because there’s so much less metal in those cans today.

Going back to global warming, the more exhaust the car emits, the less efficient its engine is. Do we really need government to improve the conversion of gas in an automobile? Lynn Scarlett writes, “Pick-the-winner strategies that use the political process to anoint specific technologies as ‘better’ or ‘best,’ undermine the constant, competitive discovery process of the market and could perversely lead to more, rather than less, waste.” If I can steal a quote from Peter’s book, he says it more succinctly when he says “Coerced efficiency, like coerced recycling, is simply another instance of doing things well that shouldn’t be done at all.” [laughter] Which leads into another chapter entitled “Richer is More Resilient,” which is largely an indictment of government intervention policies that tend to perpetuate poverty when there is no doubt that wealthier is healthier. We’ve proven it in this country with how much more we care about environmental quality. But try asking someone living on the street in the Third World just where saving the snail darter lies among their priorities and I think you’ll get a very different answer.

Peter [Huber] covers many of these issues in his book and can speak more knowledgeably than I can about the issues of energy production and its effect on land use, or what’s wrong with so much of the so-called scientific modeling that’s used to predict imminent disaster these days, which I hope he’ll cover in his comments.

But to return to human ingenuity, another central theme of the book is the role of institutions and incentives in environmental protection. My chapter is on the fisheries, which is what I know most about, and it’s particularly relevant in that discussion. There’s no doubt that many of the world’s fisheries are in a state of decline, but why? All too often, it’s because government conservation programs have failed to understand and take account of the importance of these institutions and the incentives that they create. Very often conservation policy encourages people to catch as many fish as possible, often as quickly as they can, albeit in the face of the regulatory constraints that they face even though that harms them in the long run. In the short run, if they don’t catch something, their neighbor will, and so they do. This has resulted in some rather extreme examples of regulatory failure. One [example] is the cod fisheries of New England, that used to be one of the world’s most productive fisheries, and today has been hovering near commercial extinction for years. The Alaskan halibut fishery has changed now, but a few years ago, the idea to reduce catches in that fishery was simply to shorten the season. They thought, well, if there’s less time to catch fish, they won’t catch as many, and in a fairly short period of time, the season went from somewhere close to nine months to 48 hours. Two separate 24-hour fishing derbies with no real reduction in catch, just a lot more loss of life, and damage and investment in huge boats and nets. Because of all of that ingenuity was channeled into finding a way to beat the system, not into finding a way to protect and enhance resources.

There’s been one successful restriction of technology that I’m aware of, and that’s on the skipjacks, the oyster catching boats in the Chesapeake. The way they’ve successfully limited their ability to catch oysters is that it’s the last commercial sailing fleet in the United States. They still use wooden boats that are 60-70 feet long and powered by sail. They can only drag oysters off the bottom in about a five knot range of the wind, which doesn’t really matter, because there aren’t any more oysters left out there anyway, basically.

And my point is that systems based on private ownership, however, channel their ingenuity into protecting resources. If we contrast the Chesapeake oyster example to Washington State, where there’s fee-simple ownership of the oyster beds, not public oyster beds like there are in Maryland, the oyster industry has done quite well. It’s gone through some problems as well, but it innovated and it stuck it out, and they’ve got a lot of the Chesapeake oysters growing there now. I don’t know exactly what the figures are, but they’re working a lot harder to bring them back than the folks in Maryland.

One of the best examples of a regulatory change in that direction is in New Zealand where they’ve created transferable quotas to catch a specific percentage of the total harvest. It gets a little bit confusing, but basically what it means is that you have the right to catch a certain amount of fish every year that changes based on how big the fishery is, and it’s freely tradable. You can sell it, you can lease it, you can do anything you want. And that resulted in the industry investing tremendous amounts in research on its own. They’ve had fleets that have voluntarily reduced their catches, and industries have worked together. There’s a Challenger Scallop Enhancement Company that was formed among all the owners of the scallop fishery. And they’ve not only invested a lot in the technology of how to seed and enhance that fishery, but they’ve contracted with the people who have rights to the dredge oyster fishery and to inshore finfish fishery to manage the whole thing as one fishery. Particularly in this country, we hear all sorts of problems about how you manage fisheries with all these multi-species interactions. They’re doing it in New Zealand, and they didn’t set out to do it. They just gave the rights to each fishery—to folks—and then it suddenly, with all that ingenuity channeled into everybody being better off, including the scallops. Of course, it’s not a solution that can be applied everywhere. It gets even trickier when you go out into international waters. But, I think it’s important to get it straight in our own waters first, and there’s are lost of effects at the margin when you move toward private arrangements that can start addressing some of these problems.

For example, they’ve created these quotas in Australia for the blue-fin tuna fishery they have there. Blue-fin tuna migrate over thousands of miles. But because this fishery in Western Australia had specific rights to that fishery, they actually went out and started talking to the Japanese and worked out an arrangement where the Japanese would let more of the fish get to Australia, and then they’d let the Japanese catch some there. Of course, it creates problems when the Koreans decide to do something, but at least it’s working in the right direction. It’s getting those folks to talk.

Private rights also affect environment quality at the margin. Going back to the oysters in Washington State example. The oyster growers there don’t own any of the rights to clean water, but because their livelihood depends on it, they’ve been the strongest defenders of water quality in that state for almost a century, and I think they’re the reasons a place like Willapa Bay, which is just above the Columbia River, has one of the cleanest estuaries in the United States.

Many of the same institutional principles are covered in the biodiversity chapter in Earth Report 2000. And because of these sorts positive institutional arrangements that have come up, I’m a firm believer in the potential for other private conservation methods to provide environmental amenities that people value, including a sense of wilderness. I think that saying we value wilderness means we’re making an economic calculation to conserve it, because economics after all, is as much about subjective notions of value as it is about simple finance.

So to me, agreeing that we value a notion of wilderness means that’s a great opportunity for this human ingenuity to be tapped into, to find a way of providing that amenity on both large and small scales. And I think the long and varied history of private conservation, both in the United States and around the world is evidence of that, often in direct opposition to government policy.

We recently did a case study of a place called Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania. It was formed by an early suffragette, who, when that cause was over, switched her interest to conservation, particularly of raptors. And there was a mountain in Pennsylvania known as Hawk Mountain where bounty hunters—not bounty hunters, but folks would go up there to shoot raptors because the state put a bounty on these hawks—because the chicken farmers thought they were a nasty thing. And there was actually a secondary industry—there was so much shooting up there, they had folks who’d go up there and basically harvest all the brass from the shells that were left over—they had been shooting so many of these things. And she tried to get the state to get rid of this bounty, and it wouldn’t happen, so she found a way, she raised some money, and bought the mountain and protected it. And posted it no hunting, no shooting. And it’s still there today. It’s still privately protected and opened to the public. It’s one of the most—it’s a world famous raptor-watching spot still.

Many of the private conservation initiatives in this country has been localized, but I think it can work on a grand scale too. I was in Zimbabwe a couple of years ago, and had the chance to visit a private conservancy there that was formed by a number of ranchers who decided that wildlife was better for them economically than cattle. So they tore down every single internal fence that existed on their properties, and put up a double electric fence around it, and started bringing the wildlife back. And it’s almost a million acres large.

There’s a place called Earth Sanctuaries Ltd. in Australia that’s in the business of saving Australia’s endangered and native wildlife. Their plan is to have one percent of Australia’s land mass within their system of private wildlife preserves, and they are well on their way to raising that kind of money.

Teddy Roosevelt said that he loved silent places unworn of man, but unfortunately, I don’t think there are any of those places left. A garden must be weeded, and so must a disturbed ecosystem. Since all ecosystems are now disturbed, humans, I think, have been quite effective in going everywhere in large numbers. I think the question is not to build walls around nature, but how to decide who shall be the gardeners, and as gardeners at every scale, I think the government has generally failed. The national parks have suffered especially from the trend toward national natural regulation, which means in effect doing nothing. Randal O’Toole has put it nicely. He said, “What this essentially means is that if 10,000 elks starve to death after eating all of the available forage, park managers can simply say, it’s not us, it’s nature.”

In other cases, similar attempts to actively protect wilderness have also led to disastrous results. If you can tell the difference between a brown tree and a green tree, then you fly over many of the natural forests of the West, especially in California, and among the sea of trees that are there, you can tell exactly where the property lines are between private and public lands. These national forests were initially set up for logging, but over about the past 30 years, that focus has changed to protecting wilderness. What this has led to is fire suppression, which has meant that instead of big, beautiful forests with big trees and green open areas underneath, the fire suppression has created a dense underbrush, so that now when there’s a fire, it burns hot enough to reach the crowns of the bigger trees and killing them. They are also more susceptible to disease and pests like bark beetles. On the private lands, however, there has been a fair amount of salvage harvest, work to limit noxious pests, and control of the undergrowth. The Everglades has suffered for the same reason. The Parks Service there has stopped the age-old practice of burning the ’Glades every year, and the resulting fuel build up has meant that much hotter fires burn every few years, which burn up lots of the mangrove’s hammocks and will probably take hundreds of years to return.

A landlord with the record of the federal government would be widely condemned and not extolled, which is why I think it’s dangerous to hold up Teddy Roosevelt as a conservation icon. First, the Progressives that TR led, I don’t think were motivated to conserve wilderness. Gifford Pinchot wrote in 1903 that “the object of our fourth policy is not to preserve the forest because they are beautiful, or because they are refuges for wild creatures of the wilderness, but for the making of prosperous homes.” I think in a similar vein, Yellowstone was not created out of a notion of pristine wilderness, but at the behest of the railroads who wanted a destination for their passengers. Samuel Hays, who wrote a fantastic book on conservation at the turn of the century, wrote that “for Roosevelt and the Progressives, conservation gave wide scope to government by experts, to investigations by commissions, to efficiency in planning and execution. The crux of their approach,” he wrote, “lay in a rational and scientific method of making basic technological decisions to a single, central authority.”

To me, a technocratic system like that sounds remarkably reminiscent of what happened in the former Communist countries where we all know there was a creation of a well-documented environmental nightmare. I don’t think we’re anywhere near that kind of environmental nightmare here yet, but we do have tens of millions of acres in danger of a catastrophic fire and a socialist approach to land management and ownership. In fact, I think part of the Roosevelt legacy was summed up by the noted liberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith who noted some time ago in testimony to Congress, “The public lands of the United States exceed the combined areas of Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Denmark and Albania. Where socialized ownership of land is concerned, only the USSR and China can claim company with the United States.” I think that with the changes in those countries, I suspect the United States now stands alone. Land ownership in the United States at the federal level hovers around 30 percent, the numbers are difficult to get. But when you add state and local, you’re up to at least 40 percent.

There’s been big news in Arizona recently with the creation of a new national monument, where 87 percent of Arizona is either Indian lands or owned by government at all levels. In California, it’s about 45 percent ownership by the federal government. Despite what the government owns and how badly it’s been managed, there’s an ever-increasing call for more land. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said in an interview just this January, “We need to build upon the Teddy Roosevelt vision, we need more public land.” Thanks.

But how much is enough? I’m hardly suggesting that we sell our national parks. They do instill a strong feeling, a good feeling about our nation at least until we learn how mismanaged they are. And I’m not suggesting we should sell them off wholesale, but I get my sort of warm, fuzzy feelings elsewhere. I get them from knowing that the black rhino is on the road to recovery in Africa because of the creation of private conservancies in countries like Zimbabwe. That endangered species in Australia have a vigilant private steward looking after them. And in this country, I’m inspired by the private protection of places like Mount Vernon, or the natural bridge of Virginia, which Thomas Jefferson bought from King George shortly before the Revolutionary War. Private ownership has not destroyed the value of these national landmarks, it has preserved them. They also demonstrate, I think, that private conservation on a large scale doesn’t have to mean something like Disney. There’s a lot in between. Visit a private conservancy in Zimbabwe and track rhino there and you’re in a totally different world. You really feel like you’re—well, you probably feel like Teddy Roosevelt felt when he first got there.

So given these successes, I think one of the biggest problems we have to address is the issue of legal impediments to private conservation. TR was noted for granting federal protection to water fowl on Florida’s Pelican Island, which was commonly raided by poachers hunting for eggs and plumes. And the Audubon Society at the time, who were already creating their own private reserves, met with TR to persuade him to sell them Pelican Island so that they could protect the waterfowl. TR thought this was a great idea, but there was simply no legal way for him to do it. So instead he used an executive order to make Pelican Island a reserve under the Agricultural Department. If there had been a way to sell Pelican Island to Audubon, then I’m not sure we’d be having this discussion today.

I’ll mention one other legal change that I think has had a dramatic effect. That’s been water markets. Another case study we did was on the Oregon Water Trust obviously in Oregon. And the water law was basically use it or lose it. If you didn’t use it for something “beneficial,” you lost it. And leaving it in the stream for salmon wasn’t a beneficial use, which caused all sorts of problems. Not too long ago there was a change in the law that made leaving water in-stream was a beneficial use and all of a sudden you created this organization called the Oregon Water Trust which has gone out and bought these water rights to leave in stream. It ended a lot of conflicts and I think it’s been a fantastic innovation.

So in conclusion to say that private conservation will necessarily fail, on any level, when all too often it hasn’t been given the chance, prejudges the issue and neglects the creative evolutionary ability of societies to evolve both property rights and liability rules to resolve these emerging concerns. From this perspective, our current environmental concerns reflect the suppression of this discovery process, and I think the challenge is to find ways to restart and re-legitimize a decentralized, voluntary approach to environmental issues, and hopefully to extend more the private conservation success stories that I’ve mentioned. Thank you. [applause]

David Theroux

Thank you, Michael. Our next speaker is Peter Huber, who as I mentioned is senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He’s also partner in the law firm of Kellogg, Huber, Hansson, Todd and Evans. He’s a graduate of Harvard Law School where he received the Joseph Beal prize, and he received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from MIT. I got my mechanical engineering degree from Cal. Sorry Peter. Dr. Huber has been a consultant for the US Department of Justice, law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, for whom he also wrote a book on her life, he’s also been clerk for the US Court of Appeals Judge with Ginsburg, who of course has now been named to the Supreme Court, and Associate Professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. In addition to Hard Green, Peter is the author of numerous books, including Orwell’s Revenge, Law and Order in Cyberspace, Federal Telecommunications Regulation, The Geodesic Network, Phantom Risk, The Telecommunications Act of 1996: Special Report, The Geodesic Network II. Some of these are co-authored, but not a bit less important. Judging Science: Scientific Knowledge and the Federal Courts , Galileo’s Revenge: Junk Science in the Courtroom, The Liability Maze, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Liability. Some of you also may be familiar with his column in Forbes magazine and his articles in many other publications such as the New Republic commentary and so forth. I’m very pleased to introduce Peter Huber. [applause]

Peter W. Huber

Well, as they say, this is an unaccustomed pleasure for me. I am in the most unfamiliar position tonight of being called upon to defend the government, which I shall do for at least a few minutes before proceeding to other things. In listening to Michael’s very interesting remarks, it sort of brought to mind—it truly did bring to mind—this was not scripted, but they say that Einstein, when he was a very young boy, was a late talker, and then one evening, he broke into speech with the words that “Die Suppe ist zu heiss”—the soup is too hot. And his parents were greatly relieved that their young child was finally speaking, but asked him why he hadn’t said anything up to that time, and the answer came back, “Bis jetzt war alles in der Ordnung”—until now, everything was in order. [laughter]

And the fact is, we don’t—this country has a history, and the world has a history, and there is something to be studied and learned from life as it has been lived, and we don’t have to invent our environmental policies, and what we think works or doesn’t work completely from scratch. I know it’s tempting to do that in every generation, but we do have a two-century history. We actually know what we were doing environmentally in this country. I mean, these things are trackable, at least the “big picture” things are trackable, and we also can line them up roughly with what the policies were in place. How much they were tilted toward government or private conduct at different stages in our history. And so, if we want to engage these debates seriously, it’s incumbent for us to do that.

And I will assert, and this leads to other things, but very roughly speaking, the country, until about 1920—you can give or take a couple of decades—but until about 1920, there was a very clear direction to where this country was going. We were leveling it. OK? And since about 1920 or 1930, that process has been largely reversed. OK? And I have numbers for it, and I’ll try and put some out, but I believe that is more or less documentable. Certainly, if you look at the simple, direct measures of what one can do to a landscape, the fact is that for the first couple of centuries that anybody was studying this, we were cutting down everything in sight, and the government helped us do that and encouraged and required it, placed bounties on wolves and everything else.

But the notion that those problems were primarily government was not correct. That we leveled forests to give people 40 acres and a mule. In fact, we gave them 40 acres and a mule, then they leveled the forest. [laughter] I mean, that just is history. And we can’t just sort of not pay attention to it. That really was there. If I simply have to line up this history, and you draw quite the wrong conclusion if you do line it up. But if you simply line up the history, one can say that for the first century and a half, which was by every measure, the most laissez faire century and a half, ending, as I say, around 1920 or 1930. There was a clear arrow to the direction of the quality of the environment on this continent, and it was down. And since then, if I have to line it up, and I’m really not going to dwell on this conclusion for long, but if I look at the last half century where it is absolutely clear that the level of government intervention has gone up and up and up, I can also show, at least by the metrics that I consider to be most important, that the level of government involvement has gone up too. So this is not a good starting point for people who just sort of want to defend the general proposition that government is the enemy. It doesn’t prove the opposite either.

I might add, David was the—for those who have not read my book, you may not have realized that a good number of his remarks were directed straight at it—Teddy Roosevelt. I am the very person—I’m sure others might have thought of it too—who suggested that Yellowstone might be owned by Disney. And I go as far as David, and further, I don’t have the slightest doubt that by any measure David could come up with, and so let me say it here, so I don’t have to repeat it again. By any measure, David would present, and if he is prepared to measure, Disney would manage Yellowstone better than the B.L.M. [the U.S. Bureau of Land Managment]. Not the slightest doubt about it. [laughter] But I consider it to be a kind of moral certainty.

And with that said, and accepting it, I find it inconceivable, as do about 99.9 percent of my fellow citizens, with the possible exception of some of you in this room, all right, that we would ever contemplate such a transfer. And when the numbers are so badly against you, and David—I mean Michael has slipped it—I’m sorry, I’ve got opponents on all sides here [laughter]—Michael slipped in his remark that he didn’t want to sell them off. But I mean, if in any room perhaps outside this institute, we went to people and talked about privatizing the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone, why we would just be laughed off the podium. Because we would be. Does anybody seriously doubt that? Do you want your presidential candidate to say his next step is privatizing? You don’t, because you don’t want him to lose hands-down, which he would if he said such a thing. But why? Are all our countrymen just idiots?

Do they not understand that Disney could have more wolves there, which they surely would. I mean, I just don’t have the slightest—but we know surely what the answer is, and that is that there are some things that actually gain value. And I choke as I say this, and I choked as I wrote it, but it is nevertheless the truth. There are some things in life that actually gain value by being owned collectively. The fact is that pride of nations and citizenship and being proud in being something called an American, and a citizen of a continent entails some public dimension too. You can’t escape it, and that is a value in itself.

Now, secondly, of course, and secondly—and this went by rather quickly in some of the remarks you’ve just heard—that there is a transition in getting from sheer anarchy, where you’re just leveling everything in sight, and this system of private property values. I mean, let us be perfectly clear, and I’m a lawyer on this too, that if you have your private nature conservancy, even though you’re a mountain with your peregrine falcons on it, and so on, and somebody comes along with a gun, notwithstanding the fact that you own it, your main line of defense is not to get a gun of your own and see if you can shoot the hunter before he shoots your birds. Your main line of defense is to go to a court, and get a judge to order something, and then get that enforced, get a sheriff and a marshal out, right? And there’s this whole superstructure of government that actually makes that work. And the reason that the fisheries in international waters are going to hell, is surely not that we—that nobody has thought of privatizing them. It’s that we don’t have a government superstructure that can even give meaning to the notion of private property, to at least begin enforcing it.

I don’t want to be a Marxist “grand trend of history” here or anything [laughter], but the fact is that if you start in the condition of hunter—essentially anarchic conditions where anybody can hunt anything anywhere, you actually do have to go through a transitional process where somebody asserts sovereign authority over what’s out there. That’s how our property rights—if you want to pull out the title to your land, and read through it all, and say where on earth did this mumbo-jumbo come from? I can tell you where it came from. It came from the fact that the crown of England, at one point, about 500 or 600 years ago owned everything and gradually through a process, that property then got subdivided and carved up and moved outward. And that’s a very positive process when you can do it. When you can do it, if you can do it, and if you can at the same time not lose sight of the fact that some things are inherently valuable because they are owned by us, collectively. I do not doubt for a second that Disney could write a better national anthem for us well, [laughter] and design a better flag. [laughter] I mean, I just know they could. I can’t tell you—but still, I mean, that’s—all right. [laughter]

And you tell me—if, let us—and you mean to say that then these public values are going to be the subject of special interest lobbying. Well, of course they are. All publicly owned—if the public process is working exactly right, 50 percent of the people should say we have too damn many national parks, and the other 50 percent should be saying we don’t have enough and we’re right at equal points, that’s—I mean, you take any public value you wish—your police force, your joint chiefs of staff. Anything. If there’s anything in your agenda you accept ought to be public—how do we decide how much of it should we get? Well, we decide by all going and lobbying in Washington. And it’s a snake pit, but there’s simply no other way of gauging or deciding on public values. And I tell you, every word of criticism about a national park—fine, let’s put that aside and debate national security instead. The same issues arise. How do we decide when enough is enough? Well, we all go and lobby for our different—that’s the answer to your question [laughter]. How much is enough? How much national security is enough? Well, we’ll all go and lobby on it for it.

With that, then I’m actually going to get to why the nation changed in 1930, but the final point is this: our government is really rotten at lots and lots of things, and I believe that almost as ardently as anybody else, but if there’s one thing that even a died-in-wool conservative can have some faith that government might master some day, is it’s the ability to do nothing, and to do it very systematically. Now, and this is a point of serious contention, because the traditional monopoly for government that is most readily accepted by conservatives, is the monopoly on the use of force, essentially the police function, the military function, essentially monopolizing the things we don’t want done. We don’t want force used, so we give the police the legal monopoly over the use of force, and we hope that there’ll be no force use whatsoever. These things are negative objectives. When everything’s working perfectly, you want zero of it, and these negative objectives, after all, are part of the traditional function of government. I guarantee you every word that has been spoken and written about why we ought to privatize the protection of wilderness. OK? What is the protection of wilderness, redwoods, wolves, grizzlies, peregrine falcons—every single one of those statements can be applied word-for-word on why we ought to privatize the protection of house and home and life and property. Since when is the government particularly good at protecting my life, but not a grizzly bear’s? There’s no inherent sort of grand logic that it ought to be good. Fact of the matter is, it’s pretty bad at both. Most of my personal protection is private, it’s no—I mean, most of us rely on the first and second and third lines of defense in private initiatives, but beyond that, at some level, of course, government has a role. It’s not a useful, but—I hate to see so many of my conservative friends sort of committing hari-kari on this issue on privatizing the Grand Canyon. We should get beyond it.

Now, what’s really happened and why has the nation changed, because it did change. Just a few minutes on this. Let us start with a couple of paradoxes. If you measure carbon dioxide levels out here on the edge of the California coast, and you take the number and recognize that winds blow west to east across this continent, you know that we are burning carbon, the colossal amount of 1.6 billion metric tons into the air across the continent. Then you go measure carbon dioxide levels out in the Atlantic at a similar distance off the coast, you find that carbon dioxide levels drop. In other words, we are burning all this carbon into the air. The winds blow west to east, and the carbon levels go down. What gives?

Second paradox I put before you is—there is no question whatsoever that since 1920 to the present day, we have just about doubled our direct living footprint on the land. Our size of cities, roads, highways expanded from about 30 million acres of the continent to 60 million acres. It now stands at three percent of the continent. Not a huge amount, but it’s still twice what it was. Cities expanding, concrete expanding, highways expanding, and with all that said, the amount of forest on the continent since about 1920 has been expanding too. We are reforesting the continent. In fact, we have reforested a stupendous amount of land in the last half century. The numbers are hard to pin down. It’s something like 80 million acres. We have reforested more land in the last half century than is occupied by all our human habitation, all our houses, all our offices, all our interstate highways as we hold our lot. How is this possible? How are we sinking carbon when we’re burning 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon into the air? How are we reforesting the continent even as the concrete that immediately surrounds us is expanding? Well, I could string this out. In fact, I could string it out into a whole book and I’ve done so. [laughter]

But really, it comes down to this. Our basic impact on our wilderness is not where we live, or work and so on. That is a rather small impact. Our primary impact on the wilderness on this continent and everywhere else in the world, except more so everywhere else in the world, but still on this continent is not where we live, but it’s where our corn lives and our wheat lives. It’s our farms. Right? It’s our farms and our livestock. For every acre of city we have about six acres—six acres of cities and suburb, and sort of ordinary living—we have about six acres of farm land and about seven acres of designated range. The range is a little bit more debatable; the farmland is not. Anybody who’s interested in wilderness, all private, incidentally, overwhelmingly private, and an environment devastation so far as wilderness goes. What’s good for corn and Frank Purdue’s chickens and so on, and you can incidentally do with elephants or rhinos and so—anything you name, the same as Frank Purdue does with chickens, it can be done, but the fact is that once you domesticate things and you spread across the land, it displaces wilderness.

I mean, I shouldn’t be debating this, but wilderness is more or less by definition what was there before the market arrived, before the property lines arrived, and anyway, these farms occupy a tremendous area, and for the first 150 years of our history, as government progressively privatized land, I mean the whole—most of this continent used to be owned by government, and huge amounts, not enough apparently, were privatized, and there simply—the history is unambiguous. What happened for the first century and a half was that things got chopped down and farms expanded, and a hundred years ago, we cultivated as much farmland as we do today, and we turned a corner about 1920, 1930, and suddenly we began shrinking our imprint on the wilderness of this continent. And there’s absolutely no doubt whatsoever what shrank it, and not to put too fine a point, we have shrunk our imprint on this continent by embracing the technologies that the “soft greens,” as I call them, most passionately oppose. We have gone to fertilizers and pesticides and high-yield grains, and intensive agriculture, and in doing so, we tripled, or almost quadrupled the yields per acre, the average yield per acre, and that led to a massive retreat off the land that completely eclipsed everything else we did in expanding our cities and our highways. And the numbers are there, and go check them if you don’t believe them. Maybe everybody here believes them. It’s not—wasn’t good government policy. It wasn’t bad government policy, it was a technology, all right.

Even more so, around that same period, we made a second transition, or actually two additional transitions, and I’ll just flag them briefly, but anywhere else in the world, except the industrialized West, and this continent, still lives in essentially the carbohydrate economy. It is not merely their food, of course, that comes from the land, it’s all their energy and all their construction materials. What should be surprising about that? We evolved on the surface like all other species. Of course all our sustenance is drawn from the same place as the redwoods and wolves draw their sustenance. The surface. We were a species like them, but around the ’20s or ’30s, technology reversed that, and we began doing what we do now very well indeed. We stopped spreading across the surface to gather our energy and our building materials, and we began living three-dimensionally. We began digging down.

To put it as bluntly and crudely as it could be put, we moved—this was a little earlier than that—we moved from the renewable source of oil. What was our old renewal source of oil? The Sperm whale, of course. You just kill them and another one gets born, and then you have renewable oil. We abandoned that and we began digging the stuff out of the ground. We mounted the harpoons on a derrick in Titusville, Pennsylvania, and all the rest is history [laughter], essentially by going down and into three-dimensions, we’ve had a dramatic shrinking. Just a tremendous contraction of our actual exploitation of land.

The rejoinders are clear. Number one, “Gee, we’re going to run out of stuff down there.” The other side doesn’t believe that. “If we were going to run out of fossil fuels, why would we be going to Kyoto?“ I mean, if there’s going to be nothing left to burn, then obviously we can’t cook the atmosphere, right? I mean, what terrifies them isn’t that we’ll run out, it’s that they know as well as I do, as well as anybody knows if they’ve studied this, that there’s no imminent danger of our running out. They cannot win both the scarcity debate and the pollution debate. They can win one or the other, but not both. In fact, it’s always the case. Either you have a scarcity problem or you have a pollution problem. You can’t have both. They are wrong about scarcity. They have a concern about pollution, and one can discuss that, but in any event, that’s their first concern.

Their second, of course, is that these hard fuels, these tremendously land frugal fuels, fossil fuels and uranium and so on, are in fact really land profligate when the final reckoning in. The oil looks frugal, which it is as you take it out of the ground, but it becomes the Exxon Valdez. The uranium looks very frugal, but it becomes Chernobyl and you lose all the Ukraine, or the oil become global warming and you lose the whole darn planet, [laughter] and it’s fair enough as far as it goes, but the numbers are so strongly against them, they have a lot of headway to make up before they can win that case. You can’t dismiss it on its face except they start with the indubitable environmental fact that these technologies have made possible our retreat from the land. They have to really make a very powerful case for their own stuff.

I might add that everything they endorse, from Al Gore to Amory Lovins what they stand for is going back to the carbohydrate economy. They want us to do wind, photo-voltaics, biomass, low-head hydro. Every single one of them is acreage intensive. We’ve lived that. Once again, we don’t have to invent this from scratch. We know what that economy would be like. We lived it. It‘s our own history. It’s a land-intensive economy. It’s an economy where you level your forest to get your fuel and building materials and so forth. Why are carbon dioxide levels dropping as you go across the continent? Because we’re reforesting the continent. We’re sequestering so much carbon in this growing forest, that it is more than off-setting, as best as anybody can measure, our net carbon emissions. Government: the problem, the solution? It’s kind of beside the point. Thank you. [applause]

David Theroux

Thank you Peter. Now to our distinguished panel for their comments. Our first panelist is Thomas Graff, who I mentioned before is senior attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund. He founded the EDF’s Californian office in 1971. He currently directs the fund’s program on transportation, and has been an active leader in the areas of air pollution, water conservation and energy policy. He’s a member of the governor’s commission on transportation investment as well as the advisory committee. He received his master degree from the London School of Economics, and his J.D. also from Harvard Law School. Thomas held banquet positions at Boalt School of Law at the University of California at Berkeley and at Harvard Law School. Tom Graff. [applause]

Thomas J. Graff

This is the first Groundhog Day of the new millennium. [laughter] Well, some of the distinctions that are made in both books lead me to wonder on which side of the divide I and my organization fall—the one that Peter just mentioned: soft versus hard? A pro-government perspective? A pro-private sector perspective? A coercive command-and-control approach to environmental policy? An approach that emphasizes incentives? Large scale solutions versus small scale solutions? A pessimistic point of view versus an optimistic one? I would, for myself, pretty much come down on the right-hand column, but I believe that the prior speaker would come to the conclusion that no, that isn’t right, that I’m a soft green, I guess, and a pro-government green and a pro-coercion green and so on.

I think that in a way, Peter got it right in saying that most of the issues that matter involve both private incentives and some form of government intervention, even if it’s just calling on the courts as the last resort. It turns out that the issues that I’ve worked on most intensively involve government in a much more comprehensive way. Several were mentioned. By the way, there’s a little interview that was done of me that you might be interested in that deals particularly with water and transportation issues in the state at the moment, but water issues have pervasively been, particularly in the West, dominated by government intervention, by government subsidy. Similarly, the highways were mentioned. Highways, with few exceptions, have been entirely a public domain, and even electricity, at least at the generation level, is now shifting towards a more private-oriented approach, primarily regulated by public utility commissions around the country, in some cases, even large publicly owned utilities have been the dominant paradigm.

Given that, naturally, we fall in a category of supporters moving toward incentive-oriented approaches, of user-fee approaches. One of the things that I would ask Peter to take another look at in his book—he has a very short piece in which he disparages pollution taxes, and by implication, perhaps user fees. I think that’s short sighted. Perhaps any tax is a bad tax. That could be true. But it also is the case that if we use taxes that are counter-productive, as for example, we’re doing in California, increasingly using sales taxes to subsidize road construction, we will get it exactly backwards. So I think we really ought to look hard at tax policy, and indeed doing what he suggests is probably a good idea, but maybe is a subterfuge, namely a move toward taxes on consumption rather than taxes on income and on labor. Just as an aside, I was in the state legislature yesterday, and a colleague of mine was being quizzed by a group of legislators. He made the statement that he preferred to pay for his food at the grocery store rather than in income taxes, and boy, was he jumped on by the legislative committee members—all Democrats in this case, by the way, for making such a statement. Yet the fact of the matter is that we use water policy in California and around the nation allegedly for a cheap food policy, and in fact, as a result, do inestimable damage to aquatic resources, which if water was priced properly, would be relatively protected.

So those are just a few of the points. It’s a complex world. Yes, private sector approaches, ITQs [individual transferable quotas] in the fisheries area, for example, are good things. It is incumbent upon those of us who work for soft organizations to work with those who have conservative political perspectives and bring those political forces together to make change. But we oughtn’t be too simplistic. We ought to recognize, as I think the speakers actually do, that government is indeed inevitable, and the point is to make it work, and to use market-oriented incentives and the like as best we can to ameliorate what often is, at best, a klutzy approach to public policy. [applause]

David Theroux

Our next panelist, Sally Fairfax, is Professor of Natural Resources at the University of California at Berkeley. She has published on articles on such issues as water rights, ground water, minerals leasing, public lands policies and so on. She is a co-author of two books, the Federal Lands: A Guide to Planning, Management, and State Revenues and State Trust Lands: History, Management, and Sustainable Use, and her many articles, have appeared in such journals as the Ecology Quarter, Natural Resources Journal and elsewhere. I’m pleased to introduce Sally Fairfax [applause]

Sally Fairfax

I’m a political scientist, which is sort of the epicenter of irrelevance, but I want to add the feeble voice of my profession to the discussions that we’ve heard this evening, which have tended over time in the direction of complexity. Instead of saying, well, which is better, the market or the government? I’d like to advocate a very simple approach to that complexity, which is cycles and say that at certain times in our history, privatization or private markets have seemed more attractive than government intervention, and at certain other times, government intervention has seemed more attractive than markets. And I think that this is sort of the way it’s going. I think that maybe it’s not appropriate or necessary, but it’s certainly the way things have been. I’d like to apply that brilliant insight to the area that I do know something about which is public lands and resources.

And it’s probably less known than it ought to be, that between the 1850s and the turn of the last century, almost all conservation was private. Joe Sacks has written a really interesting book about the role of private property and conservation, for those of you who are interested. It is called something like Throwing Darts at a Rembrandt, or Playing Darts. It’s a very interesting book on sort of the balances between publicness and privateness in property, which is, I think, what Peter was trying to get at when he was talking about not wanting to privatize the Grand Canyon, for example, or at least have that fruitful debate. But Mount Vernon, which Michael mentioned, Fort Ticonderoga, the Alamo, are all good examples of private conservation efforts. I’m fond of pointing to the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, though everybody wants to say it’s the Sierra Club or some other organization, the Trust for Reservations in Massachusetts are the first major conservation efforts. I think it’s important to notice that the first major conservation group, the first national fund-raising effort and so on for conservation, was in fact a ladies association, which is very typical of the whole conservation movement—of Gifford Pinchot and his sort of testosterone poisoning approach to the contrary not withstanding. What’s less well understood, is I think that most of the early conservation of the Gettysburg Battlefields was also private, and I could go into a long schtick on that, because I’m about to put out a book out on that subject, but it’s a very interesting process by which the government got its hands involved in battlefield preservation.

It’s worth noting as well that this emphasis on private conservation was put aside for a number of reasons. One, I think was it just wasn’t enough, and I think another reason was that the notion of private property was not understood as the way it is today, and it led to a lot of dismay at the excesses of privatization, and so we were sort of gliding at that time away from what one might consider a Lockean notion of property to a more social notion which was more appropriate and supportive of the agenda of the progressive movement.

I think it’s worth noting, however, that the idea of private conservation and private management of private resources indeed was not completely rejected, and we have sold ourselves the whole parcel of misunderstanding and misdirections when we say that we gave up privatization and went into a big era of government, retention government ownership and government management of land. The figure, one-third of our nation’s land, or the government owns and manages about a third of, or whatever, however that comes up, is a very bad number, and I’ll just talk about that for a minute or two, and then I’ll sit down and hopefully we can all get to dinner. But the point that I would like to make is that the green blob that you find on a AAA map is a very bad way to understand the nature and extent of federal ownership. And, it’s important that we not misunderstand what the government retains and what it owns and what it manages and mislead ourselves into misunderstanding what the government ought to be held accountable for.

I am not going to make a huge brief for the brilliance of the National Parks Service—as a person who has a degree in forestry, I would never defend the Park Service anywhere. Besides that I happen to think that they are probably the most feckless and witless long-term federal agency, but that’s just my biased little opinion, because as I said, I was trained as a forester. But the point that I want to make is that federally retained land is not clearly federally retained. Different parts of what we now call the “bundle of sticks” were held in different contexts, under different circumstances regarding different resources, and one of the most extensive kinds of federal ownership is what we have come to call in my lab at school, “nominal federal retention.” That is to say, the federal government holds nominal title, and the control is effectively private. And the best example of that, I think you can make a very compelling case, with a slightly different facts situation for both a BLM-managed public range and the Forest Service Management-managed public range. And if anybody wants to hear that, that’s another book, so we could go on. Elsewhere, the federal government has retained title and control, but not the financial benefits. A good example of that is most energy and construction grade minerals.

So it’s not clear to me what you’re looking at when you look at government ownership and management of land. How much of that is actually government, and how much of that is actually private is a matter, I think, that’s at least worth exploring before we draw a whole lot of conclusions about government ownership of land. I also don’t think that it’s prudent to go back and look at the days of Teddy Roosevelt and categorize this as some kind of a balmy day of government science operating on the land. I don’t think anybody—I mean, is there anybody else here who has the—well, I am the only one that’s both a political scientist and a forester, but are there any foresters here?

Well, you don’t have to be in forestry school for very long to understand that what is being palmed off as a science is nothing more than an economic model. Forest management, as it was imported into this country by Gifford Pinchot, and a series of previous German-trained foresters, is not a scientific model, it’s an economic model, and it has to do with a model of a state like Germany, which thought itself to be land-poor, tree-poor, and in a situation in which trees were absolutely mandatory for their economic survival. And it was in response to those economic and cultural pressures that the idea of cut equals growth and the regulated forest emerged, and there was some understanding of the sort of physiology of tress that went into it, but the basic idea was to maintain the stock in perpetuity, and it made sense in that particular time and place in Germany. It made absolutely no sense in an area where land wasn’t scare, trees weren’t scarce, labor was expensive and there’s no conceivable basis under which it’s possible to categorize German forestry as an applied science. It just doesn’t make any sense.

And a good example of that, we could talk about the fire policy that this led people to adopt. It was not, by the way, really the epicenter of government forestry. It was forced on the government by a number of entrepreneurial advocates who alleged that they—who are now being alleged to be better managers, who simple said they couldn’t afford to invest when it burns.

I could go on, I probably shouldn’t. So I will just conclude by saying that one of the articles that I’m working on now, was one of our colleagues, who is, in fact, a marine biologist, and I’m clearly not, is that it seems to be that what is proposed for the oceans in terms of ITQs and stuff, ought to be examined before we argue that it’s a great idea, through the lens of what we’ve done to the public range. Appalling similar impulses underlie it, and I would want to look at it a little bit more closely. Not only with a marine biologist, but with a Range Con before I jumped into the ship. [applause]

David J. Theroux

Thank you Sally. So Michael, do you want to add any comments?

Michael De Alessi

Sure, quickly. Since Peter wrote off the practicality of selling off the Grand Canyon and what to do with the Grand Canyon, I merely raised that issue because I’ve done a fair amount of slagging the government conservationist state. I thought I’d mention that I didn’t think we should sell that off, and I really meant it. I’m interested in what’s practical as well, and my point in a lot of what I brought up in looking at the legal hindrances that have been created to private conservation activities. Most of Arizona, I think, is enough. Stop, give someone else a chance. Or in a lot of cases, private conservation just hasn’t been possible. One of the things we’ve put on our little logo of Center for Private Conservation, we put the head of a wood duck. Not to say that the wood duck was completely saved by private conservation. It wasn’t. It was saved on public lands too, but a lot of what had to do with saving the wood duck was the actions of private individuals—clubs, groups, Boy Scouts, whatever, who’d go and knock on people’s doors and say, “Look, we’ve got a wood duck box, it’ll attract these wood ducks. They’ve been in decline. Can we put this on your land?” And people would say “Yeah, that sounds great. I’d love to have wood ducks there.” And now we have an endangered species act that if wood ducks were endangered, nobody would want wood ducks on their land. And I think we really need to consider the implications in a lot of cases, how to change the legal system to make private conservation possible.

The reason that there’s been such fantastic success in Zimbabwe with these private conservancies was a change in the law some years ago. It said if the state still retains ownership of all the wildlife, but gave private landowners the ability to manage that wildlife, then suddenly they could get a return from wildlife. And that’s why all sorts of people are switching from ranching and farming to producing wildlife. Before, they couldn’t. Now, if there are more antelope on their property, and a few of them can get hunted, then they’ll get a great return.

There’s a similar example in Texas where the game in Texas is the sort of the “king’s game” model. There are a whole bunch of ranchers in Texas who are members of a thing called the Texas Exotic Wildlife Association. They’ve imported exotic animals from places like Africa. And because they can actually own those species, have really promulgated them. I think the population of scimitar-horned oryx in Texas is higher than in Southern Africa, where they came from. So I’m not saying there’s no place for a conservationist state or for government to get involved in conservation. I’m just saying, let’s be practical and let’s tap into this ingenuity of private conservation that’s out there. [applause]

David Theroux

Peter, any further comments?

Peter W. Huber

I pass.

David Theroux

So we have the chance for questions from the audience.


A false dichotomy has been set up here and the truth lies somewhere in between. The government has to obviously get quicker and smarter and more flexible. The privatization issue—conservation areas—is not necessarily a case, and I used to work for an organization called the Nature Conservancy, which is the epitome of privatization, and what happened with along these lines is that the whole idea of conservation has evolved.

David Theroux

You have a question?


Is this really a false dichotomy? Are you guys addressing the wrong issue? Are we missing a big point here? One of the things that you raised was about more scimitars in Texas than in Africa. Those aren’t real scimitars. Those are kind of genetic mutants at this point, too. So I think we have to consider the quality of the kinds of wildlife that you’re talking about. Are we ranching wildlife? Is that what this is all about? Is this wildlife agriculture? Anyway. That’s kind of a mixed bag of points.

Michael De Alessi

Yes, that sounds a little bit like a false dichotomy to me too. I mean, when does—if we have a million acres in Africa where wildlife live, or that animals that some of us would call wildlife are free to roam about and procreate on, but there’s a fence around that million acres, I don’t know, is that—are those genetically inferior?


There has been evidence in some of the populations of wildlife in Africa where behavioral abnormalities are showing up because of these closed populations, etc. But really, the question is—isn’t our idea of conservation evolving along with the way we’re doing this?

Michael De Alessi

Yeah, I think everybody has a different idea of what it is, which is partly why I think we should allow people to try as many different ways of doing it as we can. But I don’t know how really to answer that.

Sally Fairfax

I think the Nature Conservancy is an interesting thing to bring up, only in part, because that’s the topic of the book I just finished—private conservation trusts. It’s kind of an interesting topic. And I think one of the things that is fairly, clearly observable, is that there are very real consequences for what gets preserved in terms of urban versus rural, whose heritage, and so on and so forth, in terms of their spatial—of parcels preserved spatial and so. For example, it’s much easier with a Nature Conservancy or Land Trust—


—Public Lands

Sally Fairfax

Well, TPL’s a little different. Of the land trusts, it seems to me that TPL is the one that has any kind of a record at all doing any kind of urban conservation, but if you look at the sort of the bed-run of the private land trust, you get scattered parcels, a really high tendency to preserve land while reserving the right to build four houses for their four children. So there are a lot of problems with the Nature Conservancy model. If you’re trying to do something more than stop housing developments, then the Nature Conservancy model is not very good at that at all. In fact, a lot of the way they raise their money is by—I mean, a lot of people would call the Nature Conservancy a high-end real estate broker.


Yeah, it’s for the environment defense fellow. But anybody can answer this. I wanted to hear more about taxing pollution. I’ve been very interested in tax reform. I’d love nothing better than to get rid of the income tax, sales tax, property tax, you name it, and I was just wondering if there really is a way to tax polluted effluent. What were you really thinking about this?

Thomas Graff

Well, historically, and Peter makes this point in his book. I think environmentalists, and it’s used on the cover of his book, but it’s kind of a shaky word, but I’ll use it anyway, took the view that any kind of recognition of pollution, be it in taxing it, or giving it a permit and then trading it, was a bad thing. And so pollution taxes started out, I think, at least in my experience, as being even from an environmentalist’s point of view. But, as he points out, I think that’s changed, and there is a recognition that if you tax something, the person or entity or firm emitting that product tends to use less of it, or emit less of it, so that’s the resource conservation or pollution reduction point of green taxes.


And it would raise money.

Thomas Graff

And it raises money, but it won’t raise enough money to eliminate the income tax. [laughter]


Mr. Huber, if I understand your distinction between a “hard green” and a “soft green”—“hard green” means that the environmentalist is interested in the environment for its own sake, but the “soft green” is the environmentalist interested in the environment for the way it allows us to manipulate the political culture, that we can control the growth of industries, the motion of population, and I can’t help contrasting that with your remarks about Disneyland taking over Yosemite, or Yellowstone.

David Theroux

Do you have a question?


Yeah, sorry. Are you willing—do you agree that Disney can do a better job of it? How many grizzlies are you willing to kill for this feeling of national greatness that you associate with our collective ownership of things like Yellowstone?

Peter Huber

Quite a few, because I recognize a real value in these things. I mean, if you don’t believe that there’s any value in that it’s easy then. Every loss of a grizzly is a net loss. But if you believe there’s any value there at all, then you’re going to be making those trade-off, and I do. I say this with utter confidence, because I know my views are shared by, as I say, 99 percent of my fellow citizens, so the rest of you—too bad.

On national purpose and national pride, I know absolutely for sure, there is only one measure of value, and that’s what most of us consider valuable. I mean, how else do you assess national values, other than by asking most people what they value?


I’m sorry. I’m sort of shocked. My ox has been suddenly gored. I’ve been a donor and a member of the Nature Conservancy for more than 20 years, and Dr. Fairfax’s remarks implied that everybody knows that they’re corrupt or they’re just a high-class real estate broker. I don’t know what you mean by that. Are they or are they not preserving important tracts of land for wildlife, for birds, etc.?

Sally Fairfax

Certainly. And I should say that I’m—well. My own life cycle on this fascinates at least me. I started out when I first started being interested in these issues of land and land conservation. The smartest thing I could think to do, and having no money, but having the anticipation of some, since my parents were aging, I thought I would write a will that included the Nature Conservancy as the primary beneficiary. And I have since rethought that. I don’t want to say that—I’m not going to say—and I wouldn’t give up a single shard of the land that the Nature Conservancy has protected, however, I do think it’s worth noting, There was a wonderful book that was called—perhaps you know—Digging Dirt on the—it was a—I believe it was one of the early TNC—I can look it up, if you’re interested. E-mail me and I’ll get you the name of the book. But it’s sort of how these deals get constructed. And—the Nature Conservancy acquisitions. And perhaps if you’ve done them, then you know more about this than I do, and it might be worth hearing again, but a lot of times what happens is that a parcel is acquired, and instead of being conserved, houses are constructed. There’s a very famous case in Elk Horn Slew—I don’t know how many of you are familiar with this. Austin Chase had a field day with it, in which the area was extensively to be preserved, but the way the deal was funded was that—I can’t remember if it was 11 or 15 [years ago]. Are any of you familiar with this story? This was some years ago. Anyway, what they did was make a very high class real estate development and they put a number of private homes around the edge, and the internal area was preserved as a view shed for these high-end homes, [laughter] and surely, am I doing you a disservice?


I feel compelled to speak out a little bit on the example that you said. I no longer work for them, but their idea of conservation has evolved from sort of small preserves, single species, yes, maybe high-end, but really looking at landscape ecological issues, and I, myself, worked internationally for them. We were kind of on cutting-edge issues that were integrating conservation and development for indigenous people, so it’s gone way beyond that.

Sally Fairfax

Well, that would be where the argument would come from, and I can give you a couple of good books. There’s another wonderful piece, which I could also give you, which has to do with what they call the gravestone theory which is after somebody has wrecked 99 percent of it, they donate the last percent, and they look like heroes, and blah, blah, blah.

Thomas J. Graff

Just a quiet note on that. I‘m sure that Nature Conservancy does many, many deals, and I’m sure a few of them are problematic in one way or another, but I would ask even in the Elk Horn Slew case, I don’t know, what was the alternative? And if the alternative was development across the whole property, and you’re saving the slew, in exchange you’re giving up some houses and some high-end development, that may have been, it probably was, in my guess, a good deal. And when you’re working these sectors, you’re going to take some hits.


I think the larger issue—I think the points you brought up about private people regulating their own land and stuff. They’re going to be more responsible than the government. Because, one, they’re on the land, they see it first hand. If you’re directing it from a thousand miles away from the State Capitol, you’re not going to see the day-to-day results, but I think the larger issue about all these problems are pollution, deforestation, etc., are all due to overpopulation. I mean, we are the problem. And so—now I’m just wondering did you—how would you go about handling that? Is that a thing the government should handle, or is that going to be left to the individual to decide, and not realize that my four kids, if you times that by 500 million people, it’s going to make a big impact on the earth. So, is that where the government has a right to step in, or is this going to be left up to our own morality?

Michael De Alessi

Well, it’s not an area that I’m an expert in, but there’s a chapter in Earth Report 2000, so I highly recommend that you look at that. [laughter] Otherwise, off-hand, no I wouldn’t support a Chinese policy of how many kids you could have. No.

David Theroux

Peter, do you have any comments on that?

Peter Huber

Malthus said populations would grow geometrically, and here we have living proof right in this audience—a father of four. But look, the fact is that wealth is the best contraceptive out there. The richer people get, the lower their fecundity, and that’s the way to do it.

David Theroux

We’ve run out of time, I’m afraid. I want to thank our two major speakers for their participation [applause]. As you can see, both have raised very important issues. I hope both of you—I hope that everyone will be able to examine their books carefully [Earth Report 2000, Hard Green], and look into these issues further. I also want to thank our two panelists for their very incisive comments. Tom mentioned the copy of an interview of him from Metro Investment Report. For those interested in market-based approaches to transportation and related issues, I think you might find this of interest. One other thing I might mention, in your packet, there’s a catalog, and one of the books is on tax policy and taxing different kinds of choices, there’s a book in there called Taxing Choice, which I think you’ll find quite interesting.

The other thing I was going to say is that one of the areas the Institute is involved in, this is a long-term project, is a series of books on different aspects of environmental policy. The first one we did was actually at another institute years ago called Water Rights: Scarce Resource Allocation, Bureaucracy, and the Environment. That’s how I first got to know Tom Graff. It was a book on water problems—ground water, surface water, and so forth. I remember when we were first organizing this project, I was told that we were totally out of our minds to consider applying economics to water issues, and that no one cared about it, no one paid attention to it, but as soon as the book was released, it was of enormous interest. There’s a whole story behind it, which is kind of interesting politically, but ideas do have consequences, and the work of our two speakers today is a good indication of that. So thank you for joining with us, and we hope you’ll be with us at a future Institute program. Good night. [applause]


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