Pragmatic Environmentalist Principles

Pragmatic environmentalism is necessary to balance environmental impacts and public policy. This means that evidence-based environmental risks and benefits (both environmental and otherwise) of issues need to be considered. Unfortunately public perception is too often driven by scary one-sided stories that have to be rebutted by getting into details. I believe that pragmatic environmentalism is exemplified by these principles. Note that some of these principles overlap.

Principle 1: Environmental Issues are Binary: In  all environmental issues there are two sides. Pragmatic environmentalism is all about balancing the risks and benefits of the two sides of the issue. In order to do that you have to show your work.

Principle 2: Sound Bite Environmental Issue Descriptions: Sound bite descriptions in the media necessarily only tell one side of the story. As a result they frequently are misleading, are not nuanced, or flat out wrong.

Principle 3: Baloney Asymmetry Principle: Alberto Brandolini: “The amount of energy necessary to refute BS is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.”

Principle 4: We can do almost anything we want, but we can’t do everything: Environmental initiatives often are presented simply as things we should do but do not consider that in order to implement those initiatives tradeoffs are required simply because the resources available are finite.

Principle 5: Observation on Environmental Issue Stakeholders: The more vociferous/louder the criticisms made by a stakeholder the more likely that the stakeholder is guilty of the same thing.

 Principle 6: Iron law of climate: Roger Pielke, Jr says the “iron law” simply states that while people are often willing to pay some price for achieving environmental objectives, that willingness has its limits.

Principle 7: Golden Rule of Climate Extremes: Cliff Mass: The more extreme a climate or weather record is, the greater the contribution of natural variability.

Principle 8: Gresham’s Law of Green Energy: Gresham’s Law of Green Energy is named after Sir Thomas Gresham, a 16th-century British financier who observed that “bad money drives out the good.” Lesser shows that green energy subsidies transfers wealth and does not create wealth. The subsidies or “bad” money take money out of the system that was “good” inasmuch as it was being used productively. In particular he notes that “subsidized renewable resources will drive out competitive generators, lead to higher electric prices, and reduce economic growth”.

 Principle 9: Ridley’s Paradox: Economic damage from man-made ‘climate change’ is illusory whereas damage from man-made ‘policies’ to fight the said change is real.

Principle 10: Environmental Issues are Rarely Definitive: Principle 1 states that almost all environmental issues have two legitimate sides because two people can look at ambiguous and conflicting data and come up with opposite conclusions. This corollary principle asserts that as a result there are two legitimate arguments based on how each side interprets data. As a result environmental issues are not usually definitive.

Principle 11: Air Pollution Control Costs: As the control efficiency increases the control cost per ton goes up exponentially.

Principle 12: Glittering Generalities do not represent Pragmatic Environmentalism: A glittering generality is an emotionally appealing phrase so closely associated with highly valued concepts and beliefs that it carries conviction without supporting information or reason.

 Principle 13: Pareto Principle:  The Pareto principle  or 80-20 rule states that 20% of efforts or inputs can yield 80% of results or outputs.  For environmental issues, it’s important for environmental issues because it suggests that if we don’t aim to achieve 100% reduction we still will have accomplished most of the benefits and removed most of the risks.

Principle 14: Kicking a dead whale on the beach: Engineers will rarely tell you something is impossible, even when your proposal is a very bad idea. Computer scientists at Stanford and MIT in the 1970s came up with a wonderful expression for this, an assignment that was technically feasible, but highly undesirable. They called it “kicking a dead whale down a beach”.  Credit to Andrew Orlowski.

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