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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

In honor of Earth Day 2012

If you have time, listen to this episode of Radiolab on NPR. If you don’t have time, I’ll summarize the story now. The Kirtland Warbler has been listed as an endangered species since 1973, and has faced extinction in the past decade. The bird was threatened for two reasons. First, an invasive species known as a cow-bird entered the region. Cowbirds sneak an egg into the nests of other birds when the mother is away. In order to hide the egg, the cowbirds kill one of the warbler eggs.  The cowbird often watches the nest and if the cowbird egg is removed from the nest, the cowbird will seek revenge by killing all the other eggs in the nest. To add insult to injury, the cowbird will hatch a day before the other eggs, so it will be the loudest and strongest of the hatchlings, consuming a larger share of the food than the other baby birds. This often leads to the death of another warbler hatchling.

To combat this problem, the National Forest Service has killed and trapped thousands of cowbirds, but the warbler population did not rebound. This is how the second problem was discovered; the warbler needs young saplings in order to thrive. As a result of development, many regions lack saplings and wildlife habitat is comprised of older trees. The National Forest Service then began burning forests in order to create habitat for the birds.

Tragically, the National Forest Service lost control of one such fire on a windy day and a young firefighter was lost in the flames. This young firefighter and 'birder' had taken a paycut specifically to come work in the area to protect the Kirtland Warbler. As a result of this tragic fire, the warbler population has rebounded and continues to grow.

This story made me ponder whether I would sacrifice my own life to save a species. The question is easy when you think of animals that evoke nostalgic memories of zoo animals and polar bears on Coca-Cola commercials. So maybe you would be willing to sacrifice your own life to protect the lives of panda bears, but would you be willing to die to save a rare species of lizards? Or to take it one step further, to save a microorganism?

Despite your answer to the questions above, I’d like to put this argument into a more relevant context. If you hesitated for even a fraction of a second to ponder whether you would sacrifice your life to promote the balance of nature, then you probably recognize the importance of preserving the environment. The most poignant component of this argument is that if it were as simple as self-sacrifice, hundreds of thousands of individuals would be willing to give their life to preserve a species. Unfortunately, preserving the intricate balance of nature requires the hard work, sacrifice and determination of hundreds of millions of individuals accompanied by sweeping changes around the world.

Of course you can, and in fact you should, reduce, reuse and recycle. You can use energy efficient appliances and replace your lightbulbs with eco-friendly alternatives. You can buy locally grown, organic products and you can carpool or walk to reduce your carbon footprint. You can vote for local officials that support the preservation of the environment. You can encourage your friends and neighbors to adopt a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Again, I think that you can and you should do the things listed above, and much, much more.

However, the only way to achieve the necessary level of change required is through political will.

It is difficult to prioritize your vote in times of budget deficits and recessions, but if you truly value the environment you will promote your beliefs  with your dollars, your actions, your voice and your vote. Voting for local, state, and federal officials that prioritize the environment above special interests is one important way we can affect change. 

Forget New Year's Resolutions... what is your Earth Day Resolution? 


  1. As economist Thomas Sowell famously notes, "there are no such things as solutions, only trade offs." Some of your suggestions would probably be helpful. Others, almost assuredly not.

    What do you think would happen if hunting was opened on Warblers? ( Or what if the EPA made every protective regulation possible? (Could they fine cowbirds for their sneaky actions?) Where's the line where love of nature becomes an idol that causes nature to be valued above humans? Maybe some would sacrifice themselves for animals, but should that choice be forced onto others?

    There are economic consequences to every action. Sometimes - perhaps many times - political solutions end in much more harm than good. Just ask the red-cockaded woodpecker or ancient forests. ( /

    For good measure, here's a piece I wrote on a Christians interaction with Earth Day:

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  3. Chip- I guess I was only using the warbler as an analogy to get people thinking. I thought I made that clear.

    Obviously, it is very unclear whether man's pursuit of economic gain is more important than various ecosystems and the species that reside within. There are infinite questions that have yet to be solved, including, as you mentioned the social equity.

    As for Christianity and environmentalism, without getting into biblical detail, I seriously doubt the Bible or Jesus would support the way we are exploiting the earth's resources and stealing irreplaceable resources from future generations. Furthermore, who benefits from economic growth? Sure, I guess you can say everyone, but at what cost. The trade-off is that we are all losing the environment around as at inconceivable rates.

    Finally, and most importantly, consumers and voters (Christians, pragmatists, Muslims, Buddhists etc) alike have lost almost all of their sway in the United States. Everyone has a right to support what they believe, and I think most people, Republican and Democrat alike, would agree that we have to take responsibility for our actions. Unfortunately, people are forced to choose from two parties, neither of which has environmentalism as a top priority. For more, read Tom Friedman's recent piece:

    I think there is a lot of unbridled political will on the left. The tea party has voting members of Congress will members of the "Occupy" movement are being arrested. Those of us that value the environment more than we value the pocketbooks of oil companies, large corporations and the many others that benefit from irresponsible practices need to get organized and vote for pragmatic appointees at the local, state and federal level.

    If members of Congress actually voted in a way that reflected their own conscience rather than voting in a way that supports the lobbyists funding their campaigns, I think Republicans and Democrats alike could actually propel the US to the forefront of emerging markets focused on sustainable growth. The partisanship has gone too far, and campaign funding has taken the power away from the voices and consciences of individuals.

    I'm a Christian, and I believe that Jesus would want me to work to preserve this beautiful Earth created for us so that my great-great grandchildren can enjoy the same things we enjoy today. It's not a zero-sum game Chip. You can be a Christian, an economist and an environmentalist.

    1. The nice thing about rising prosperity is the associated social benefits, not in terms simply of cheaper products (permitting the worse off a rise out of poverty like at no other time) but also in quality of life. Why have the arguments of air quality in essence blown away? Namely because greater wealth contributed to a greater demand for (and ability to bring about) better air. We use more oil and yet have cleaner air. Fancy that. (

      In terms of lobbyists taking advantage of the political system, I by all means concur. It's one of the best arguments for reducing the size and influence of federal government. If a big government is supposed to help enact widespread positive change, why does it always seem to be met with worse results and more corruption/abuse? One should note that bad legislation is not the fault of lobbyists. Fault is on politicians, who ultimately sign the laws. Whether or not the argument is offered that the politicians must act as such or get voted out due to big corporate money, that is one more reason for why the political system of big, unaccountable, centralized government is a big, bad, wasteful thing.

      In terms of campaign finance reform, at every time in history money has allowed people to have their voices heard (printing presses, radio ads, megaphones, tv ads, etc.). Clamping down on some but not others is a much more distortionary effect. People put their money where their mouth is, on every side of an issue. Let that play out without biased meddling. I will not vote to silence my opposition; not should I stand for them seeking to silence me.

      Preservation of the earth is different than making it a priority above human life. There is a point of balance. But as noted above, a free market system where people are able to vote with their dollars to preserve that which matters most to them is the best route to a more beautiful planet. I place my vote with the people over the disastrous consequences of meddling and corrupt government. Again, as the economists mantra should be, there are no solutions, only trade offs.

  4. I don't think Amanda is trying to force anyone to do anything, but she is reinforcing ideas that we should all find to be common sense anyway. Chip on the other hand, seems to be pushing his self-centered view of Christianity down the throat of his readers. I'm a Christian and I am appalled by the lengths some people take to interpret the Bible as some form of entitlement to do whatever they want. It is extremists like Chip that are the real threat to the health of the planet and the health of humanity. I for one, would gladly sacrifice myself if it meant that the selfish ideas that Chip endorses became extinct.

  5. Lol, Chip you old troll you! Who cares if "enviormentalists are dramatically unbiblical in their philosophy and efforts." Maybe the bible is wrong from time to time.

    When I read:
    And these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls... And the stork, the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat. (Lev. 11:13, 19)
    I hear:
    Bats=Birds -The Bible

    I know this isn't hardly an example of why your views are entirely skewed. I just wanted to take a jab at you, after you trolled your way through this enlightening blog entry.