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Friday, August 31, 2012

Politics, Government, and Natural Resources

In the spirit of the season, I thought you might like to consider how the wood industry and specifically, natural resource management, enter into the the political discussion. You may think, "They don't"...but then you wouldn't really be aware of where the governments of the world are taking us. It's been going on a long time, perhaps as long as governments have existed.

Heads of state have long realized that control of the land and the resources it produces are the key to power and wealth. And there was a time in America, for our first one hundred years or so, when private citizens wrested control of the land away from the government and used it for their own personal sustenance and gain. But by the end of the 19th century, politicians began to respond to "the public's" growing anger with the monopolization of the country's land and resources by large corporations, and the Occupy Wall Street movement was born. Although in those days, the occupiers were politicians and respectable, in the form of populists like Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot. They were early champions of what has become to be called the Progressive Movement, and that movement continues to grow and evolve to this day in various forms.

In fact, I think a case could be made that both of our political parties are now Progressive, although their visions of how we get to the Progressive ideal are quite a bit different. You see, at its foundation is the assumption that the world's resources are limited, and that the government is required in its wisdom to manage these resources and their distribution in a fair and equitable manner. That most governments and political parties support this idea is apparent in the actions of the leaders, not their words. You rarely if ever hear any American political leader, for instance, from either party, question the existence of agencies like the Department of Interior, Department of Agriculture, or Forest Service, although these departments were created by Progressives precisely to accomplish the Progressive vision of resource management.
"The first duty of the human race on the material side is to control the use of the earth and all that therein is. Conservation means the wise use of the earth and its resources for the lasting good of men. Conservation is the foresighted utilization, preservation, and/or renewal of forests, waters, lands, and minerals, for the greatest good of the greatest number for the longest time.
...
Nationally, the outgrowth and result of Conservation is efficiency. In the old world that is passing, in the new world that is coming, national efficiency has been and will be a controlling factor in national safety and welfare.
Internationally, the central purpose of Conservation is permanent peace. No nation, not even the United States, is self-sufficient in all the resources it requires. Throughout human history one of the commonest causes of war has been the demand for land. Land (agricultural land, forest land, coal, iron, oil, uranium, and other mineral-producing land) means natural resources.
Therefore, world-wide practice of Conservation and fair and continued access by all nations to the resources they need are the two indispensable foundations of continuous plenty and permanent peace.
Conservation is the application of common sense to the common problems for the common good. Since its objective is the ownership, control, development, processing, distribution, and use of the natural resources for the benefit of the people, it is by its very nature the antithesis of monopoly. So long as people are oppressed by the lack of such ownership and control, so long will they continue to be cheated of their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, cheated out of their enjoyment of the earth and all that it contains. It is obvious, therefore, that the principles of Conservation must apply to human beings as well as to natural resources."
- Gifford Pinchot, from his autobiography Breaking New Ground, 1947
So, conservation must prevail in all things human and natural, it is the key to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and it must be provided and controlled according to the dictates of The Common Good (in political talk, that means The Government). And Pinchot was a Republican!

Now, it is true that progressive, big government thinking like this was countered in the intellectual arena by writers such as F.A. Hayek in The Road to Serfdom, George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged. And it is also true that these classics are having a resurgence in popularity due to what is perceived as governmental over-reach by some. Yet, for all the recent political rhetoric about freedom and the American way of life, we can't escape the fact that governments around the world, including ours, are tightening their control over almost every aspect of our daily activities. We also can't ignore that an increasingly large number of our fellow citizens believe that to be a good and necessary thing, for a wide range of reasons.

Which brings me to the point of today's post. The following video excerpt from the 2011 movie Zeitgeist: Moving Forward gives us a glimpse of the obvious endgame of the Progressive Movement, with respect to natural resources management. Some of you will find it logical and inspirational, others of you will find it deeply disturbing. But either way, don't dismiss it as something theoretical and unreal; I assure you, forces around the world, both government and commercial, are moving us ever closer to the vision so clearly explained in the video. I ask you to stick with the video to its conclusion, for even if you find its political ideology offensive, it builds to a conclusion that I believe fairly captures the essence of a large percentage of government, university, and commercial research in the arena of natural resources. And lest you think it some quirky, radical dream, you might consider that the full movie version posted on YouTube has received over 17.8 million views, with more than 90,000 "likes" and only 5,000 "dislikes".

As a person or company interested in the utilization of wood from the forests of the world, you need to be aware of these trends and begin to consider how to monitor and react to the changes that are headed our way. Like it or not, access to wood and forest resources will some day likely be dictated by a conservation-based acquisition process, not the free market.

Of course, Orwell was at least thirty years too early with his title of Nineteen Eighty-Four; who knows when the "Resource Based Economy" explained below will be finally realized.

1 comment:

jayo said...

Strategically preposterous. Sustainability as we know it has three pillars, like legs of a stool. The Zeitgeist video clip partially considers two (environmental conservation and economy efficiency) but does not address the third -- social acceptability. Indeed, the dark side of economics is equity, or fairness in the distribution of benefits and costs. We the people will not allow the Zeitgeist "resource-based economy" rational planner guy to do his thing because we will not allow the black helicopters full of blue-helmeted stormtroopers to take over, should they try.