Air Date: Week of April 7, 2000
Host Steve Curwood talks with author Peter Huber about his new book, Hard Green: Saving the Environment from the Environmentalists, A Conservative Manifesto.
CURWOOD: Most environmental advocates want to protect the health of the planet, but they don't all agree on how to do it. One approach is taken by author Peter Huber. He calls himself a hard green. That's also the title of his new book, Hard Green: Saving the Environment from the Environmentalists, A Conservative Manifesto. Mr. Huber says too many environmentalists have lost focus of the most critical problems.
HUBER: The soft greens, to my mind, are much more preoccupied with what I think of as micro-environmentalism. The trace pollutants, the large computer models, and seem to have lost, in my view, their focus on conserving wilderness areas, forest, shore, and the real wide open spaces that I think should be the primary and most direct focus of environmentalism.
CURWOOD: As a hard green, what do you believe the current state of the environment is?
HUBER: That depends, you know, where you're looking. On this continent, much as we are taught and urged to believe otherwise, the fact is that since 1920 we have been actually reforesting this continent. We're still cutting down some old growth forests, and I think that's as unfortunate as anybody in the conservation movement. But overall on this continent, we've actually added somewhere between 50 and 150 million acres of regrowth, regrowing forest in the last 70, 80 years. Clearly, our air and water quality are higher, and overwhelmingly the reasons are certainly government intervention and public concern, very much so, have played a role. But overwhelmingly it is because we have harnessed technologies that allow us to separate our own livelihood and our own wealth from this relentless spread across the surface that characterized the first couple of centuries of our own life on this continent, and that still characterize the primary mode of life in the rest of the world, certainly the developing world.
CURWOOD: You're talking about a reliance on fossil fuels?
HUBER: Primarily through fossil fuels and other harder energy technologies. We've learned how to use fertilizers. We've got better crops, higher-yield seeds. We've learned how to cut losses in transporting our food with packaging and with anti-oxidants and preservatives. These things may have other aesthetic and other consequences one can discuss. But the overwhelming primary impact has been to radically reduce the amount of land we have to occupy to satisfy our own needs. And that ought to be the primary test of whether we're moving in the right direction with regard to the wilderness, or the wrong direction.
CURWOOD: Some would say that this reduction in the use of the land is resulting in widespread contamination of the atmosphere. The use of introduction of large amounts of carbon, which scientists tell us is going to change the Earth's climate. Do you believe this?
HUBER: There's absolutely no doubt that we burn huge amounts of fossil fuel on this continent, about 1.6 billion metric tons a year on our continent. And I want to start with our continent, and then do the globe. But we have to separate them. Astonishingly, however, as best people can measure these things, and they've measured them rather carefully, carbon dioxide levels are higher off the Pacific than they are in the Atlantic, even though the prevailing winds blow west to east. Now how is this possible? We're burning all this carbon into the air on our continent, yet carbon dioxide levels drop from west to east. And the best explanation at hand, and these are real data, I mean the explanation is more complicated, but the best explanation at hand is because our great-grandparents cut down so much forest, because we're reforesting so rapidly at the moment and adding new soil, and creating new carbon sequestration ecosystems. That at the moment is keeping our books in reasonably close carbon balance.
CURWOOD: If we are warming the planet, this is something that's really dangerous for the planet. So let me ask you, Peter Huber, do you think that our use of fossil technology is warming the planet? The world's use of fossil technology.
HUBER: Well, on this continent I am sure, and I argue in my book, that our use of fossil technology is not, because we are keeping our carbon books in balance with that technology. Without that technology, we would not be reforesting this continent. Without that technology we would not have shrunk our agricultural footprint. We couldn't have done so. For the rest of the world it is perfectly clear that carbon books are not in balance. The Third World is heavily deforesting at the moment, but they are not by and large using the fossil technology. They are net carbon emitters precisely because they are burning down their forests and spreading across the land. Their main source of horsepower is still the draft animal, a tremendous emitter of methane and a very inefficient user of land. And that's where the net carbon emissions are coming from. The more you believe and are concerned about the climate models, the harder you should be looking to move the Third World through the transition that we ourselves went through in this century, which is a transition from a situation where you're deforesting your land and spreading across it, to a condition where you're reforesting it and shrinking the human footprint.
CURWOOD: So the idea would be to have the developing world use more and more fossil fuels. That would solve the climate change problem?
HUBER: Well, let's state it fairly and honestly. The objective ought to be to have the Third World deforesting less and less. To move into a condition of reforestation. And then you ask yourself what it takes to get them to that point. And if you don't want to ask that, you just don't want to struggle with the problem. Because that is the primary objective. That's -- the main problem at the moment is not the continent where the carbon books, as best people can measure them, are in balance, where the sinks are as large as the sources, but the places where they're not in balance. And you have to ask yourself, this can't be a touchy-feely issue. We have to ask ourselves objectively and seriously what are the technologies, what are the means that have allowed us to reverse course? I mean, what accounts for our successes, and how can we help other countries realize similar successes? These are how the debates should be engaged.
CURWOOD: Peter Huber is a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute and a columnist for Forbes magazine. His new book is titled Hard Green: Saving the Environment from the Environmentalists, A Conservative Manifesto. Thanks for joining us.
HUBER: Thank you.
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