This is in response to Justin Ruhge’s column (Daily Nexus, “University Idealism Is Anything But Right,” May 8).
There are a few basic rules to arguing well. Once you get your audience’s attention, you need to convince them, and that usually means using what I like to call “facts” and “logic.” So if you were, hypothetically speaking, going to write an editorial last Thursday, you would probably not want to open with three paragraphs about the left-wing educational conspiracy without presenting any evidence. Nor would you want to attack all environmentalism based on one flawed law supporting it.
Far from being a secret communist movement, environmentalism is the principle that all actions that we undertake today will not cause irreparable harm today or sometime in the future. It recognizes that public interests can occasionally trump individual rights. Environmentalists do not always seek the destruction of companies whose operations involve putting tons of toxic smoke into the atmosphere; we recognize that some of this is necessary. We do, however, demand that they take every feasible step to reduce the damage they do, even if it costs more. The strange set of ethics held by anti-environmentalists insists that companies have a “right” to profit when they are needlessly taking lives and damaging others. Plenty of evidence has amassed linking air pollution to cancer and the ridiculously high incidences of allergies and asthma in America. A few simple steps, like scrubbers in industrial plants and widespread adoption of low-emission vehicles, would make a tremendous difference.
Another facet of environmentalism, the one that Justin Ruhge chose to attack, was the preservation of pristine land. On a purely utilitarian basis, wildlife refuges have much to offer in the field of science; many of our medical discoveries still come from the analysis of rare species, so it would seem to be in our best interests to keep them around. And if you’re not a soulless robot, you can understand, if not agree with, the aesthetic and ethical reasons to prevent extinction. Keep in mind that the space set aside for preservation is a small percentage of the available land and will remain that way, just as city parks are not slowly taking over Santa Barbara. The value of having pristine land should be obvious to anyone here, as all of California’s beaches are publicly owned. These public beaches, like our national parks, attract visitors from all over the world, much to the benefit of the tourism industry. It would seem that environmentalism and business are not always at odds.
Justin’s beef with environmentalism seems to have only two reasonable, though well-hidden, arguments. The first is that some purchases of land for environmental purposes have been set up with no public access. This is truly a shame, because one of the great benefits of these areas is their recreational value. While developed campsites can be damaging, there is no serious environmental impact from allowing hiking and bike trails. The second issue is that of “big government.” Ruhge’s complaints against the thesis that “private owners cannot be trusted to take care of the land as well as the government can” are completely boundless. Land set aside as pristine and for the benefit of the public cannot be developed, nor could you restrict access to it. In short, you would give up all the rights of property ownership anyway. Ruhge is right, however, in his concern over increased bureaucracy. What he really wants is for public land to be self-sustaining, and I suspect that the system is already close to paying for itself. Most parks have parking and camping fees that pay for the cost of maintaining the site. It would be reassuring, however, for the process of autonomy to be formalized, ensuring prevention of Evil Government Waste.
Though it faces a great deal of demonization, environmentalism is one of the most common-sense and laudable goals in politics today. Its implementation in law, like all other human ventures, is not quite perfect, but you can do a lot more to improve it if you articulate your objections rather than demonizing the entire process.
Loren Williams is a junior computer science major.