Months Late Park Service Releases Report on Climate Change

I posted a note on claims of possible censorship earlier, along with a very long time lag in waiting for the report to be released. Now we wait to see if anyone sees anything amiss. And we, at least I, wonder whether the earlier outcry had any impact on the final product that appears to be unsanitized. Here is a snip from The Hill, 5/21/2018:

The National Park Service (NPS) released a major report on rising sea levels after the Trump administration was accused of censoring it.

The Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal reported last month that administration officials removed mentions of human-caused climate change in the report, reflecting President Trump’s and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s skepticism that manmade greenhouse gases are the main cause of climate change.

But the report released late Friday puts the blame for sea-level rise squarely in human hands.

“Human activities continue to release carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, causing the Earth’s atmosphere to warm,” the report says.

“Further warming of the atmosphere will cause sea levels to continue to rise, which will affect how we protect and manage our national parks.”

NPS spokesman Jeremy Barnum said the report went through the usual editing process, and the agency is confident in its scientific accuracy.

Utopia or Dystopia: What comes next?

The other day at lunch with an old friend, our talk turned to optimistic and pessimistic outlooks regarding the future. He has been reading books by authors who are somewhat to highly optimistic about the future—basing their optimism on advances in science and technology. Two books he mentioned are Stuart Brand’s Whole Earth Discipline: Why Dense Cities, Nuclear Power, Transgenic Crops, Restored Wildlands, and Geoengineering Are Necessary (2009), and Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The case for reason, science, humanism, and progress (2017).

I mentioned that years ago I was asked to present a set of myths at a Forest Service “adaptive management” workshop in Santa Fe, NM. The first two myths were “Science will find an answer” and “Technology will save us.” I view science and technology as two-edged swords—working both toward our collective good as well as toward our collective detriment. It all depends on how we choose to use them.

When I got home I looked up both books. Brand’s book seems somewhat reasonable—in a Jack Nicholson “Maybe this is as good as it gets” way—judging the book by its title (and a few reviews I found). Both books seem to fall into the trap I identified at the Santa Fe meeting.

I found an interesting review of Pinker’s book by Ian Goldin in Nature.

Here is a snip from Goldin’s review of Enlightenment Now:

Although it is framed as a historically informed template for a new age of reason, Enlightenment Now ultimately becomes something else: an extended dismissal of the arguments of despair that Pinker fears are defining politics and crowding out an alternative approach rooted in rationality and global cooperation. He does not frame the thesis in economic terms. Yet he essentially defends globalization and the growth of market economies by claiming that it has brought more progress than any force in history. As an economist, I agree.

So do I. But I also agree with Goldin’s other arguments:

But globalization has also led to an escalation of risks. What is rational for individuals is increasingly irrational for society. The drivers of progress are rising incomes and connectivity; these also lead to greater negative spillovers and systemic risk. Managing globalization’s underbelly is essential, and the gulf between what needs to be done and what is being done is widening. Economic growth has come at the expense of ecosystems. Because nature does not respond to price signals (rhinos do not reproduce more when their horns are more valuable), increasing freedom of choice has led to overexploitation of a growing number of natural systems. Pinker does cite climate change, but as a worrying exception to a relentlessly positive narrative, rather than as the most glaring example of a wider failure of global commons management.

Goldin concludes with a precautionary note:

I share Pinker’s optimism that this could be our best century, in which poverty and many of the challenges humanity has historically confronted are addressed. Yet there is also a real potential for dystopian outcomes as sea levels, strife, temperatures and resistant infections rise, and biodiversity, democratic institutions, social ties, mental health and resource security are eroded. We need to face up to these and other daunting challenges while nurturing the positivity required to tackle them.

Enlightenment Now is not a balanced account of the present or future. But for the many overwhelmed by gloom, it is a welcome antidote.

I’m more pessimistic than Goldin. Even though I agree that this century could be our best chance to extract ourselves from what may be a lemming-like mass approach toward the edge of a cliff, it seems an unlikely prospect to me. On the other hand the dystopian outcomes seem more likely. But who am I to make such “likelihood” calls. Then again, who is? I regret that I won’t be around long enough to see much of what happens.

I guess I’d have to read Enlightenment Now to see if I agree with Goldin’s call that it is a “welcome antidote” for “the many overwhelmed by gloom.”

As for Brand’s outlook, take a look at what he and coauthors call An Ecomodernist Manifesto (2015).

The Ecomodernist Manifesto is hopeful, if a bit too hopeful as to humanity’s ability to rise above our worst natures. It seems somewhat reasonable at least in these ways: 1) Nature is recognized as a positive good, with suggested safeguarding of both ecosystems and species diversity highlighted, 2) market economics is relegated to secondary role, not a primary driver of all that is good, …. It seems overly optimistic in its portrayal (or lack thereof) of people’s ability to get from the edge of dystopia to the future they propose. And it is optimistic as to the roles portrayed be technology and development. But it was written in 2015, or 1 BT (BT: Before Trump).

On a hopeful note of my own, if we don’t now and continuing forward from here slip into deep dystopia, Trump and others like him on the world stage may ironically give us the wake-up calls we desperately need.

Small Steps Toward Building a Brighter Future

[U]nceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. — Phillip K Dick

On Earth Day Sharon tried to spread a message of optimism in a feed from PERC’s Executive Director Brian Yablonski. A couple of us failed to find any optimism there. Here is why: Yablonski and others who call themselves “Free Market Environmentalists” adhere to what many economists view as a particularly narrow field of economic thought labeled the Austrian School.
(See also My Wars Against Economic Fundamentalism (Iverson, 2011)) (See also: neoliberalism: Wikipedia, Guardian)

Main tenets of the Austrian School are: free markets, individualism, and “curbing the size of the state”.

Economists who frame the subject more broadly—as political economy—don’t view markets as necessarily “free,” neither government as necessarily “bad.” Most economists allow for government action as a legitimate part of broader workings of democratic politics (including wealth redistribution). Austrian School economists do allow for altruistic behaviors on the part of individuals, e.g. community or sectarian service and contributions, but believe government to be an ineffective or perverse tool for such. Austrians usually allow for government provision of national defense, but not much more from government. It is the disallowance of space for broader democratic governance I find most off-putting in the practice and politics of the Austrian School. For more on that, see Democracy in Chains: The deep history of the radical right’s stealth plan for America, by Nancy MacLean, 2017. (reviewed here (The Atlantic, 2017), reviled here (Critical Inquiry, 2017).

A World of Three Zeros

Recently I stumbled onto an interesting, uplifting book titled A World of Three Zeros: The new economics of zero poverty, zero unemployment, and zero net carbon emissions, 2017 by Muhammad Yunus. (reviewed here (New York Times, 2017).

I haven’t read the book yet so I don’t know how the author attempts to solve the “zero net carbon emissions” problem, but the other two resolutions come about largely by people rethinking both the nature of business and human nature.

Business is recast in part as “social business” where the goal is to solve problems not just to make money. Yunus allows for conventional businesses, but suggests the need for many more “social business” enterprises that focus more broadly than simple profit—to solve social problems.

“Human nature,” says Yunus in the New York Times book review (2017), has been misinterpreted by the Capitalist System. Yunus argues, “In capitalist theory, it is assumed that man is entirely driven by self-interest. That’s definitely not the description of a real human being. Human beings are selfish, and at the same time they are equally selfless, if not more.” Hence his focus on “social business.” My guess is that Yunus also believes in democratic governance to help in this effort as well. But that can not happen until and unless we rid our culture of the serious misinterpretation of human nature he notes.

For the Common Good

Yunus is not the first to point out these problems. Almost 30 years ago, I used to champion Herman Daly and John Cobb’s book For the Common Good: Redirecting the economy toward community, the environment, and a sustainable future, 1989. (reviewed here (Scott London, 1995)).

Daly and Cobb’s message was similar to that of Yunus, but just gave general recommendations without many of the specifics Yunus now adds after successfully testing them in real-world settings.

Daly and Cobb were largely ignored, and shunned and derided by many in the economics profession. But that was way before pretty much all the wealth began to increasingly find its way into fewer and fewer hands (New York Times, 2017). Let’s hope Yunus’ message is afforded a more cordial hearing.

Here is how Yunus sums up our current plight (from NY Times article, but likely from his book):

“We need to abandon our unquestioning faith in the power of personal-profit-centered markets to solve all problems and confess that the problems of inequality are not going to be solved by the natural working of the economy as it is currently structured,” Yunus writes.

“This is not a comfortable situation for anyone, including those who are on top of the social heap at any given time. Do the wealthy and powerful … like having to avert their eyes from the homeless and hungry people they pass on the street? Do they enjoy using the tools of the state — including its police powers and other forms of coercion — to suppress the inevitable protests mounted by those on the bottom? Do they really want their own children and grandchildren to inherit this kind of world?”

Will EPA Science Advisory Board Bite the Dust?

On Monday EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that “burning of biomass, such as trees, for energy in many cases will be considered “carbon neutral” by the agency,” as reported by the Washington Post’s Chris Mooney and Dino Grandoni.

The Post article goes on to note that

… William Schlesinger, … an EPA Science Advisory Board member, said Pruitt undercut the board — which had been “divided on this subject,” — with this decision. “There would be no point in doing it now,” he said. “We’re supposed to provide analysis of the basis of decisions. He’s already made the decision. So what’s our role?”

My question is whether the EPA’s Science Advisory Board will (or ought to) follow the National Park Service’s Advisory Board lead by resigning en masse following this and other Pruitt stunts.

Park Service Report on Climate Change Delayed (Forever?)

Amid all the weekly distractions/destructions in Trumpland, I have been patiently awaiting the release of the National Park Service’s report on how to protect park resources and visitors from climate change. I am afraid that the wait is far from over, so I’m posting snippets from Reveal, 4/2/2018, titled Wipeout: Human role in climate change removed from report. Reveal’s article, by Elizabeth Shogren, outlines alleged deletions and edits that look a lot like the type censorship Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke says don’t happen in his department. Snips:

National Park Service officials have deleted every mention of humans’ role in causing climate change in drafts of a long-awaited report on sea level rise and storm surge, contradicting Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s vow to Congress that his department is not censoring science.

The research for the first time projects the risks from rising seas and flooding at 118 coastal national park sites, including the National Mall, the original Jamestown settlement and the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Originally drafted in the summer of 2016 yet still not released to the public, the National Park Service report is intended to inform officials and the public about how to protect park resources and visitors from climate change.

Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting obtained and analyzed 18 versions of the scientific report. In changes dated Feb. 6, a park service official crossed out the word “anthropogenic,” the term for people’s impact on nature, in five places. Three references to “human activities” causing climate change also were removed.

The 87-page report, which was written by a University of Colorado Boulder scientist, has been held up for at least 10 months, according to documents obtained by Reveal. The delay has prevented park managers from having access to the best data in situations such as reacting to hurricane forecasts, safeguarding artifacts from floodwaters or deciding where to locate new buildings. …

Reveal obtained almost 2,000 pages of drafts of the report showing tracked changes and dating back to August 2016 – along with dozens of pages of other documents about the report and preparations to release it – in response to a public records request to the state of Colorado. …

The edited national parks report “is probably the biggest scientific integrity violation at the Department of Interior, by far … because this is an actual scientific report,” said Joel Clement, who was the Interior Department’s top climate change official in the Obama administration. …

Reveal obtained almost 2,000 pages of drafts of the report showing tracked changes and dating back to August 2016 – along with dozens of pages of other documents about the report and preparations to release it – in response to a public records request to the state of Colorado. …

The lead author, University of Colorado geological sciences research associate Maria Caffrey, worked full time on the report on contract with the park service from 2013 through 2017.

Caffrey declined to discuss the editing and long delay in releasing her report, instead referring questions to the park service. Asked whether she has been pressured to delete the terms “anthropogenic” and “human activities,” she replied, “I don’t really want to get into that today.”

“I would be very disappointed if there were words being attributed to me that I didn’t write,” she said. “I don’t think politics should come into this in any way.” …

Editing notes in a draft obtained by Reveal indicate that many of the deletions were made by Larry Perez, a career public information officer who coordinates the park service’s climate change response program.

Perez declined to comment on why the changes were made. …

The National Park Service’s scientific integrity policy prohibits managers from engaging in “dishonesty, fraud, misrepresentation, coercive manipulation, censorship, or other misconduct that alters the content, veracity, or meaning or that may affect the planning, conduct, reporting, or application of scientific and scholarly activities.” It also requires employees to differentiate between their opinions or assumptions and solid science.

Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, said “the edits are glaringly in violation” of the science cited in the report and “such alterations violate” the policy.

The alleged censorship in the park service’s report is the most recent addition to Columbia University Law School’s Silencing Climate Science list of about a hundred Trump Administration problem areas.

Caffrey says that she finished writing the report in October, 2016. That sounds like a year and a half in the editorial queue.

Meanwhile, according to Reveal, Zinke said in a March 13 Senate committee hearing, “There is no incident, no incident at all that I know that we ever changed a comma on a document itself. Now we may have on a press release…” “And I challenge you, any member, to find a document that we’ve actually changed on a report.”

I guess that if departments don’t release controversial reports they can make claims like the one from Zinke. That is, they can make such claims unless one counts “sins of omission” alongside “sins of commission.”

Utah Representative Mike Noel’s Motives Under Scrutiny Regarding Relentless Crusade Against Alleged Federal Lands Overreach

Cedar Mesa Grand Gulch

We have spent a bit of time on this blog hashing out the goods and bads of Presidential national monuments establishment under the Antiquities Act, and particularly subsequent reductions enacted by a subsequent Administration. In the latest reduction-saga President Donald J. Trump substantially reduced Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments in a Utah.

Some of us, particularly environmentalists and Democrats, thought the recent reduction to be a gleeful move to “stick it to the out-group” by a President hell-bent on undoing anything and everything done by the previous Obama Administration. In this case three added benefits would accrue to the reduction move: sticking it to the Clinton Administration, supporting “the base” by claiming benefits to energy-related resource extractive industries, and showing solidarity with the bright Red (Republican) Utah Delegation. It was no secret that the Utah Delegation had been courting the Trump Administration to reduce or eliminate at least these two National Monuments—stressing that the Monuments were established by midnight political attacks, or stunts, by outgoing Democratic Presidents only to score points with their base.

Recently, another shoe just dropped in the ongoing debacle over Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments. The Salt Lake Tribune notes, 3/9/2018:

…As one of the harshest critics of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase, [Utah State Rep. Mike Noel, R] faced a backlash after a Montana-based conservation group published documents last month showing that Noel’s company owned land inside the original boundaries of Grand Staircase that was cut out by Trump’s proclamation.

He had not disclosed the land-owning company on his legislative conflict-of-interest form, at least not by the name registered with the state.

Western Values Project responded Friday to Noel’s reported retirement by asserting that there are “ongoing investigations” of him. “He must still be held accountable for his actions,” the group said, “even if he is no longer willing to face the public as a legislator.” …


Dueling Ladders of Inference: Are the Ds and the Rs ever again to find common ground?

Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts. …Salman Rushdie

Democratic operatives and pundits, the Ds, talk as if Republican power players attend to three things: God, Guns, and Gays. The Ds will sometimes expand the three to include Anti-environmentalism or what I have called a Republican war on Nature. What else?

Republican operatives and pundits, the Rs, talk as if Democrat power players attend to Socialism, Collectivism, Paganism, Atheism, Intellectualism, Secular Humanism. What else?

Meanwhile Rs talk about themselves in terms of family values, religious faith, individual freedom and exceptionalism, economics of free markets. What else?

Meanwhile the Ds talk about themselves in terms of community, consilience, connectedness to nature, critical inquiry, democratic traditions, economics of markets as part of political economy. What else?

I sometimes wonder whether these political power players can talk with one another. Have their “identities” and “narratives” become so divorced from one another as to make meaningful conversations unlikely or even impossible?

Notice that I implicitly introduced the notions of in-group and out-group above. I also introduced the idea of stereotyping. This will prove helpful because we are going to use both when we get into two books, The Trouble with Reality, and Demagoguery and Democracy. For now, though, let’s muddy the waters a bit by suggesting that the Rs and the Ds don’t even approach their party identity the same way. Consider, Republicans and Democrats Can’t Even Agree About How They Disagree (Washington Post, 9/7/2016)

… The Republican Party defines itself in ideological terms as the vehicle of symbolic conservatism. The Democratic Party, in contrast, is organized as a social group coalition. …

Republican leaders have a strong incentive to frame electoral choices in broad ideological terms: conservatism vs. liberalism; small government vs. big government; cultural traditionalism vs. social radicalism.

Democratic candidates, in contrast, prefer to emphasize disagreements over individual policies….

[P]olitical elites reinforce these distinct party identities when they communicate with the American public. Republican Party leaders encourage their voters to see the GOP as standing for a set of broad traditions and values. Democratic Party leaders push their voters to focus on the discrete interests of each social group within the Democratic coalition.

I suspect that both parties aren’t quite like depicted above. The Ds are probably more ideologically oriented and the Rs are more oriented around social groups. But both parties retain some of the identities identified by Grossmann and Hopkins. Muddied waters!

One way out of our current political mess would require that both the Rs and the Ds reflect on what they have become in terms of identities, narratives, speech (conceptual framing, rhetoric, propaganda, etc), and actively seek means to find common(er) ground upon which to deliberate and effect the work of Democratic Governance.

It seems to me, though, that neither the Ds nor the Rs have the interest or desire to try to learn from one another or to learn how to jointly craft law or policy. And there is no one to compel them to better behavior. Maybe they are just trapped in a socially-constructed quagmire that disallows them from speaking or acting differently. They act-out; shouting at one another, grandstanding, and playing muscle ball with each other, trying to gain favor for themselves and their party in a winner-take-all contest. The potential harms to our democratic traditions are large, including continued gridlock and impasse, but also opening the door for an authoritarian takeover. Whoa! (Liberals in-group bias warning: Robert Reich’s Fifteen Ways to Spot a Tyrant, Newsweek, 1/3/2017,
Bob Altemeyer’s life-work on Authoritarianism, Wikipedia)

But this story is not really about politicians. It is about us. We, the constituents who have the very same trouble. We, who pretend to be above the fray: “Surprise: we are in this together.” And we won’t get out of any of it unless we learn to change ourselves. Only then can we demand better behavior from our elected leaders. If any here believe that stereotypes are just rhetoric that politicians sling like arrows at one another, think again.

The Trouble with Reality

In The Trouble with Reality: A rumination on moral panic in our time (liberals in-group bias alert), 2017, Brooke Gladstone reminds us that we construct the reality we see, based on stereotypes:

… Our worldview is built on a bedrock of stereotypes, not just about people, but about the way things work. The power of those stereotypes—vital to survival in this unfathomable world—is as profound as it is inescapable.

Stereotypes, [Walter] Lippmann found focus and feed on what is familiar and what is exotic, exaggerating each in the process: “The slightly familiar is seen as very familiar and the somewhat strange as sharply alien.” They are refreshed continually, both by close observation and false analogy.

True or not, they carve neural pathways, sluices that stem the torrent of conflicting impressions and ideas churning through the umgebung [environment, surroundings, neighborhood].

In the end, stereotypes create the patterns that compose our world. It is not necessarily the world we would like it to be, he says, it is simply the kind of world we expect it to be. … (pp. 8-9)

Periodically, these stereotyped realities get smashed. A paradigm shift, is an example, when applied to professionals. Smashups are infrequent, and often repelled since we find them too threatening. Many (most?) people cling on to former belief systems or stereotypes, choosing to avoid the pain of threats to their umwelt, their self-centered “worldview.”

Those who do alter their worldview, only change it enough to allow them to move forward, retaining or clinging onto as much of their old worldview as possible. Seeking safety in the comfort zone.

Note: For any who may be disinclined to buy into the stereotype model, another way to frame this phenomenon is to use a construct developed by Chris Argyris called a “Ladder of Inference.” It is most often used a a part of problem solving in a double-loop learning system (pdf, or cartoon-video TED lesson).

Chris Argyris’ Ladder of Inference is represented by a series of steps, beginning at base with observable “data”and experiences, then ladder rungs: 1) selected “data” from personal observation, 2) added meanings ( personal and cultural), 3) assumptions made based on added meanings, 4) conclusions drawn, 5) beliefs adopted or altered about the world, 6) actions taken.

If we use Argyris’ Ladder only to stand on the top two steps and brow beat others with our own versions of reality and rightness and wrongness, and if others do the same, then we set a stage for demagoguery. If, on the other hand, we use the “Ladder” to reflect on our paths to discovery and to continually reassess our worldview, and to cross-compare with others on their life-journey, then we set a stage for civic discovery and effective public deliberation.

Whether we use the model of Stereotypes or the model of Ladders, in the worst case we get to the same end with Ds and Rs standing atop their separate Ladders of Inference, operating on pre-formed beliefs about the world and the perception of the world held by others, often leaping to conclusions or actions that would not happen if they were more reflective and open to change, and if they were to allow that prospect for others. Mostly they do not, setting the stage for ever-more intense conflict and ultimately even war. Is this where we stand today?

Are “we” better than our politicians? Mostly not, sorry to say. Just take a look at some of the trailing comments in this blog. Other discussion blogs get even nastier.

Demagoguery and Democracy

Standing high up on Ladders of Inference and lobbing projectiles at supposed rivals and adversaries is stage-setting labeled as “demagoguery” in Patricia Roberts-Miller’s book Demagoguery and Democracy. 2017. Since Roberts-Miller has a blog I’ll grab a definition of what demagoguery is and what it is not from there:

I’ve argued elsewhere that we’re in a culture of demagoguery, by which I mean that there are certain widely-shared premises about politics and public discourse:

  • Every policy/political issue has a single right answer, and all other answers are wrong;
  • That correct answer to any political question is obvious to people of good will and good judgment (that is, to good people);
  • The in-group (us) is good;
  • Therefore, anyone who disagrees with the in-group or tries to get a different policy passed isn’t just mistaken or coming from a different perspective or pointing out things it might be helpful for the in-group to know, but bad, and
  • Deliberation and debate are unnecessary, and compromise is simply making a good policy less good.
  • So, in a perfect world, all policy decisions would be made by the in-group or the person who best represents the in-group’s needs,
  • And, therefore, the ideal political candidates are fanatically loyal to the in-group and will shut or shout down anyone who disagrees.

[By in-group, social psychologists don’t mean the group in power, but the social group of which one is a member. So, for some people, being a dog lover is an in-group, even (or especially) in the midst of a culture in which that identity is marginalized.]

This is not the conventional way of thinking about demagoguery—if you look at a dictionary, it will probably define demagoguery as speech by demagogues (in other words, it reduces the issue to one of identity—a demagogic move).

In common usage, demagoguery is often assumed to be obviously false speech that is completely emotional, untrue, and evidence-free on the part of bad people with bad motives.

That’s a useless definition for various reasons (including that it doesn’t even apply to many of the most notorious demagogues); it’s also actively harmful in that it impedes our ability to identify in-group demagoguery—that is, demagoguery on the part of people we like. And it does so because we can tell ourselves this isn’t demagoguery if:

  • we think we are calm while reading the text, and the text (or rhetor) has a calm tone
  • we believe the claims in the text are true
  • the claims can be supported with evidence
  • we believe the people making the argument are good people
  • we believe they have good motives

One of the things I want to suggest in this talk is that teachers of writing are often unintentionally engaged in reaffirming the premises on which demagoguery operates, and we can do so in two general ways: first, by teaching criteria of “bad argumentation” (or demagoguery or propaganda or whatever devil term is in question) that don’t productively identify the problems of certain kinds of public discourse, thereby giving people a false sense of security—as in the above criteria. We can feel comfortable that we aren’t consuming or producing demagoguery when we are. Second, a lot of writing and especially argumentation textbook appeal to the rational/irrational split, assume a binary in epistemologies (so that one is either a naïve realist or relativist), require that students engage in motivism, and rely on a modernist formalism about what constitutes “good” writing.

For instance, if you look at the criteria for determining demagoguery, you can see the standards often advocated for a “good” argument.

If, as I’ll argue, that isn’t a helpful way to think about demagoguery, then the consequent way of teaching argumentation not only ends up reinforcing demagogic premises about public deliberation, but puts teachers in a really difficult place for talking productively about issues like bias and fairness.

So what might we do about our tendencies toward demagoguery? Roberts-Miller gives us hope but no simple answers. From Demagoguery and Democracy:

…First we can try to reduce the profitability of demagoguery by consuming less of it ourselves, and shaming media outlets that rely heavily on it. Second, we can choose not to argue with family or friends who are repeating demagogic talking points, and simply give witness to the benefits of pluralism and diversity [without condoning naive relativism’s anything goes]. Or third, if it seems interesting and worthwhile, we can argue with family or friends who are repeating demagogic talking points. Fourth, we can also support and argue for democratic deliberation.” … (p.94)

… Earlier I mentioned concepts particularly helpful for democratic deliberation: inclusion, fairness, responsibility, self-skepticism, and the “states.” Those can be turned into four basic principles.

First, because demagoguery depends on us and them being treated differently, simply insisting on fairness can go a long way toward u undermining demagoguery. Rhetorical fairness means that, whatever the argument rules are, they apply equally to everyone in the argument. … Second, Fairness, connects to responsibility is that the responsibilities of argumentation should apply equally across all interlocutors, so that all parties are responsible for representing one another’s arguments fairly, and striving to provide internally consistent evidence to support their claims. Third, the people arguing should strive to be internally concocting in terms of appeals to premises, definitions, and standards. … Finally, the issue is actually up for argument—that is, the people involved are making claims that can be proven wrong, and that they can imagine abandoning, modifying, and reconsidering. … (Pp.124-126)

Roberts-Miller concludes Demagoguery and Democracy:

Good disagreements are the bedrock of communities. Good disagreements happen when people with different kinds of expertise and points of view talk and listen to one another, and when we try, honestly and pragmatically, to determine the best course of action for the whole community. Our differences make us stronger. Democracy presumes that we can behave as one community, caring together for our common life, and disagreeing productively and honestly with one another. Demagoguery rejects that pragmatic acceptance and even valuing of disagreement in favor of a world of certainty, purity, and silence of dissent.
Demagoguery is about saying we are never wrong; they are. If we make a mistake, they are to blame; we are always in touch with what is true and right. There is no such thing as a complicated problem; there are just people trying to complicate things. Even listening to them is a kind of betrayal. All we need to do is what we all know to be the right thing. And it’s very, very pleasurable. It tells us we’re good and they’re bad, that we were right all along, and that we don’t need to think about things carefully or admit we’re uncertain. It provides clarity.

Democracy is about disagreement, uncertainty, complexity, and making mistakes. It’s about having to listen to arguments you think are obviously completely wrong; it’s about being angry with other people, and their being angry with you. It’s about it all taking much longer to get something passed than you think reasonable, and taking a long time resisting some policy you think is dipshit. Democracy is about having to listen, and compromise, and it’s about being wrong (and admitting it). It’s about guessing—because the world is complicated….

Democracy is hard; Demagoguery is easy. … (pp. 127-129)

What, if anything, ought we to do? If we and others do nothing might we be headed for a social, cultural,economic, political catastrophe? Or am I just being overly concerned about something that is “fake news” or just a passing phase? Finally, what does any of this have to do with forest policy?

Sustainability of Large-Scale Forest Biomass Energy Prodution Questioned

Over at the Summit County Citizens Voice, Bob Berwyn notes a study that throws cold water on some folks zeal for “Large-Scale Forest Biomass Energy.” According to Berwyn, the study, by the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry and several universities suggests that such large-scale production “may be unsustainable and is likely to increase greenhouse gas emissions in the long run.” Here are a few “concerns” raised by the study:

  • The general assumption that bioenergy is carbon-neutral is not valid.
  • The reduction of biomass and lost carbon sequestration by forests could take decades to centuries to be “paid back” by fossil fuel substitution, if paid back at all.
  • There are significant concerns about the economic viability of biofuels, which may require government mandates or subsidies.
  • A higher demand for biomass from forests will increase prices for the biomass, as in Germany where they have already increased in price 300-600 percent from 2005 to 2010.
  • An emphasis on bioenergy production from forests could lead to shorter rotation lengths, questionable management practices and increased dependence on wood imports.
  • Negative impacts on vegetation, soil fertility, water and ecosystem diversity are all possible.
  • Fertilizer use, another important source of greenhouse gas emissions, could increase.
  • The use of fossil fuels in the Industrial Revolution allowed previously degraded forests to recover in much of Europe and the U.S., while industrial-scale use of forests for biomass would likely reverse this trend.

Full study from GCB Bioenergy (2012) here (pdf)

Also reported at Science Daily
The source feed for all these reports and the “full study” link, from Oregon State University, is here

New Trees Can’t Save Us from Climate Change, especially if planted dead

Planting forests, USFS, via flickr
Over at KCET‘s “The Back Forty”, Char Miller challenges some too-common thinking in forestry. In Will Trees Save Us from Climate Change? A Doubtful Tale, Miller challenges foresters to move beyond thinking that re-greening the planet via planting trees will save us. Further, Miller suggests that there are lessons unlearned in attempts to plant trees to reforest landscapes. Here’s a shortened version of Miller’s thesis:

…That [trees] can sequester carbon has been much touted in policymaking circles as one tool to help shrink our carbon footprint; and thus trees seem critical to the larger effort to reduce global warming.

Yet it does not necessarily follow … that we must reforest the planet as rapidly as possible….

Sure: if we had a more complete picture of the variations of potential temperature change across ecosystems and typographies; if we could pinpoint when and where alterations in precipitation will occur; and were we able to calibrate the shifting influence that heat, light, and wet will have on differing soil types, then we might have a clue about what tree species to plant in which biota and at what times.

But we don’t. So to plant trees in hopes that they will survive — and thus increase the odds of us doing so — seems, at best, random.

Take a local analogy. In the scorched aftermath of the Station Fire the U. S. Forest Service feared that the erosive force of coming rainy seasons would strip the burned-over district of its soil. It thus launched an aggressive restoration project. Beginning in April 2011, contract labor planted one million seedlings of an expected three million over five years. The goal was to re-green approximately 11,000 acres of the 160,000 that burned at a white heat during August and September 2009. The Angeles National Forest, or at least a portion of it, would be reborn.

It has not happened. Only about 25 percent of the seedlings dug into charred slopes, cindered meadows, and blackened canyon floors have survived, a mortality rate that has stunned agency foresters. “When we planted seedlings, conditions were ideal in terms of soil composition and temperature, rainfall and weather trends,” one of them told the LA Times. “Then the ground dried out and there just wasn’t enough moisture after we planted.”

The Forest Service has gone back to the drawing board, shrinking the number of acres to be planted and, where possible, switching to tree species that are indigenous to the San Gabriel Mountains.

Critics are unappeased. One of them [mused], “The reality we live in is a Mediterranean climate, and there is just not enough water to create what they have in mind. I do not believe they will succeed because this is Southern California, not rain-drenched Oregon.”

This climatic reality is part of the reason why there has been a very long history of flawed regeneration projects on county and federal lands in the San Gabriels….

The Forest Service has never quite learned L.A. County’s hard-won lesson. Despite what federal foresters long have understood about the low fertility of local soils, mercurial weather patterns, and steep canyon walls, they have repeatedly endeavored to re-engineer the San Gabriels’ ground cover. …

Why this institutional memory has not surfaced to check the Forest Service’s current aspirations to reforest portions of the Angeles is an open question.

More to the point, the agency’s century-long inability to rearrange the San Gabriels’ biota to its liking is a powerful rejoinder to those who so confidently believe that planting trees, indiscriminately and in large number, will help resolve some of the challenges that a climate-changed world is bringing. [most hyperlinks omitted here]

Endnote: The evidence Miller cites is not the only evidence that the Forest Service “never quite learned [its] hard-won lesson.” The Forest Service’s Wyoming Study in the early 1970s came to similar conclusions. In the early 1970s, following a bark-beetle infestation and big clearcuts in lodgepole pine in Wyoming, the Forest Service began a massive re-planting effort. The logging went well. The planting did not. And the very large clearcuts raised controversy, in part fueled by the failed planting effort. The saplings died for the most part, scorched by the sun in the barren clearcuts. Many were planted again, and they too died, as documented in “Forest Management in Wyoming, 1971” (cited here). The Wyoming Study, led in part to the Church clearcutting guidelines that made their way into the National Forest Management Act of 1976. You’d have thought that the Forest Service would have been very wary of future adventures in re-planting. But no.

Now, in Southern California the Forest Service has, once again, wandered into a planting effort that has failed for pretty much the same reasons. Only this time they had a ‘partner’ – the National Forest Foundation — and outside money from “carbon offsets” government subsidies.

Our Forests: Two Worldviews

Americans continue to struggle with the idea of a public good, a “res publica,” in their national forests. We struggle in terms of both purpose of the national forests and how to best manage them. Herein we will contrast two different views of ‘national forests: for whom and for what.’ The first view comes from Dave Skinner, in a recent op-ed titled Impossible Dreams at the Flathead Beacon. The second view is mine, as aired here at the New Century of Forest Planning.

As I read through Dave Skinner’s “Impossible Dreams,” I reminded myself of just how diverse our worldviews are. Skinner views the world in a crass form of utilitarianism where forests are to be used for products and human pleasures: logs to flow freely to mills to make things, but also to generate monies to be returned to the treasury. Other ‘multiple use’ products flow freely too: oil and gas, minerals, red meat, and more. Roads are for human travel and to ‘manage’ the forests, recreation is for fun and, incidentally to be free, in part subsidized by timber and other products from the forests. [Note: The “to be free” tidbit is not in Skinner’s article, but is clearly what Skinner preaches elsewhere. Note further that I too share the idea of recreation for free outside certain improved sites. I also support commodity and service production from the national forests, but in a frame much more constrained than does Skinner.] Skinner makes no mention of environmental services, no mention of wildlife sanctuaries, no mention of sanctuaries for the human spirit. This is Skinner’s near-possible dream: that people might warm up to the idea that national forests ought to be managed for the version of multiple use embodied in the Multiple Use — Sustained Yield Act of 1960 (MUSY). MUSY predated the spate of environmental laws the were ushered in a mere decade later, following an upwelling of outrage at the wanton disregard for ‘caring for the earth’ that led to the passage of many US environmental laws and led to the celebration of Earth Day as a reminder of what damage we have done to our home—and as a reminder that we must now do better. These “US environmental laws” laws include the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the Wilderness Act of 1964, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the Clean Air and Water Acts, and more. Skinner’s “impossible dream” is that the national forests would be better managed in the tradition of state trust lands, echoing Robert Nelson’s similar push to Free America from Her Public Lands.

I too have an impossible dream. A dream that the Forest Service will finally take Aldo Leopold seriously, and move management toward the ideal that people become part of the “land community,” not overlords of the wild, neither zoo-keepers of the wildlife and garden-tenders of the forest. My dream is also that the Forest Service work up this dream hand in hand with the American people, through the Art and Promise of Adaptive Governance, helping lead America toward sustainability and ecological resilience/restoration. I suspect the Forest Service harbors a similar dream, although I don’t believe that they share my path toward that dream.

Here is a condensed version of Skinner’s Impossible Dreams, Flathead Beacon, 4/11/2012:

Golly gee, yet another U.S. Forest Service project has been blocked in court, [by environmental extremists]. …

Yet again, I found myself “thanking” Congress for writing laws enabling a handful of misanthropic kooks to utterly waste the labors of hundreds of professional, professionally paid public employees. ..

Um, what’s it called when you do the same things over and over and expect different results? Crazy!

Utah’s government is trying something different. On March 23, Utah passed House Bill 148 into law, demanding the Feds transfer title to public lands … by the end of 2014. … Arizona … passed a nearly identical bill (SB 1332) through their Senate, but it died (for now) in Arizona’s House Rules committee. The bill sponsor … told the Arizona Republic he spearheaded the legislation because “in the last 30 years, the radical environmental policies of these federal agencies have ground [resource] industries to a halt ….”

Now, it’s constitutionally impossible to force such a transfer. But — what if a bunch of states followed Utah’s lead, and Congress went along?

In attacking [the] bill, Arizona Sierra Clubber Sandy Bahr rhetorically asked, “How in the world do they [states] think they could manage these federal public lands?”

Turns out the states (and tribes) already do a better job: Oregon State University forest engineering professor John Sessions has studied the comparative costs of forest management under various ownerships (federal, tribal, state, and private). Dr. Sessions found that, in post-spotted-owl Washington and Oregon, annual management budgets across ownerships were roughly comparable.

But when based on timber sold (which pays for management, imagine that), Indian forests harvested a thousand board feet for every $92 of budget. Private and state operators were in the $102-$107 range, with the Forest Service at a ridiculous $1,296. At the time (2001), wood stumpage in the region ran $150-$300 a thousand, putting USFS costs at four to eight times revenues — a loss carried by taxpayers. Other forests supported themselves.

Sessions’ pattern seems to hold for Montana, too. Both state and tribal forest management programs in Montana, operated under state or tribal laws and regulations, are fiscally self-supporting. More important, they are good, even excellent, forestry. …

If [the Flathead National Forest] could sell its plan maximum (50 million feet), meeting FNF expenses with revenues is an impossible dream — a dream doomed to remain impossible as long as these lands are “managed” by federal employees under federal law applied in federal courts.

So, while Greens like Ms. Bahr are doing everything possible to portray legislation such as Utah’s as impossible, even crazy – the current federal land management regime is no less crazy.

Congress should seriously consider allowing states (and tribes) so inclined to have a go at managing these lands — if they succeed, they keep the land. ….

For those not familiar with Skinner’s narrow, antiquated views and exhortations on this and other multiple use matters, neither with the legacy of plunder associated with both the Forest Service’s multiple use timber management of the 1960s and 1970s, I simply ask you to ponder a few good books, including Paul Hirt’s A Conspiracy of Optimism: Management of the National Forests since World War Two and Richard W. Behan’s Plundered Promise: Capitalism, Politics, and the Fate of the Federal Lands. David Clary’s Timber and the Forest Service is also useful to get a flavor of the religious zeal that drove Forest Service timber management back in the go-go years.

As to what Skinner calls “excellent forestry” on the state trust lands, all I can say is that ‘trusts’ are a good way to raise money from land. As to biodiversity conservation, ecosystems services for clean air and water, aesthetic considerations, wilderness, and other uses and values not amenable to commodification, I believe other avenues for forest management offer much better solutions to the res publica idea of national forests, parks, and monuments.

The jury is out as to what we want for our national forests in this emerging century. Somehow I don’t believe that “we,” the American people, really want to take the ‘forest land trust’ path, back toward those ‘thrilling days of yesteryear’. As for me, I’ll continue to support the Forest Service’s move toward Leopold’s philosophy/practice. And I’ll continue to champion public engagement in the process when done legally, and with and eye toward fairness.