Sunday, March 20, 2005

Sunday Reading

  • A New York Times editorial goes after Bambi.

    Forgive us if you are among the millions of gardeners, farmers, bird-watchers, drivers, fence builders, claims adjusters, body-shop operators, roadkill scrapers, 911 dispatchers, physical therapists and chiropractors who know this already.

    White-tailed deer are a plague.

    In their overwhelming abundance, they are prime examples of an ecosystem badly out of balance. They denude forests, making life impossible for vulnerable native plants and birds while allowing invasive species to thrive. While deer profoundly vex suburban gardeners, that annoyance pales next to the lethal danger they pose to drivers.

    Now, even bird lovers want the deer subdued. The New Jersey Audubon Society, in a report last week, urged the consideration of lethal means to solve the problem, arguing that fencing, contraception and other gentle tactics have proved largely ineffective. The group wants the government to rethink conservation policies it says are intended to maximize herds for hunters, and to consider – especially in the suburbs, where hunting is too dangerous – bringing in sharpshooters.

    It may sound harsh, even strange coming from an organization whose mission is to foster “environmental awareness and a conservation ethic.” But the group – which does not speak for the National Audubon Society – has it exactly right.

    Deer are simply heeding the biological imperative to go forth and multiply. With no natural predators, and the suburbs a year-round salad bar, they have slipped out of their ecological niche – and it’s our fault, not theirs. The deer did not ask human beings to create the kind of predator-free suburban landscapes in which they now thrive. But the mountain lion, gray wolf and bobcat are not about to return, and the houses and highways are staying put. People, therefore, must own up to their place in a compromised food chain, and assume the responsibility for managing it well.

    Unfortunately, deer contradict our innate assumption that only ugly creatures can be vermin. As the recent release of the “Bambi” DVD reminds us, they seem miscast as villains. But wise conservation means looking at the environment as a whole – from the smallest wildflower on forest floor to the biggest brown-eyed herbivore. The whole system – not just the prettiest mammals – needs protection.

  • The Seattle Post-Intelligencer takes the Bush administration to task for its energy policy.

    If the Bush administration were serious about energy independence for the United States, Cabinet members would be hard at work on innovative ideas. They would come up with ways to encourage conservation, put alternative fuels on a fast track and increase U.S. refinery capacity immediately.

    Instead, the administration last week won a Senate vote to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration.

    The vote was a narrow 51-49 victory. Environmentalists promised to keep resisting. It’s not clear that the Republican-led House of Representatives will sign off on the parliamentary atrocity of treating the policy decision as a budget matter. The GOP Senate leadership employed the maneuver to avoid a filibuster.

    As drilling opponents have pointed out all along, the refuge is unlikely to boost overall oil supplies. Even a bonanza would fail to make this country a significant contributor to the world’s oil reserves.

    The Arctic drilling will fail to contribute to independence from foreign energy sources. As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman pointed out in Friday’s Post-Intelligencer, the oil mostly will go to meet demand from Japan and China.

    Of course, if drilling occurs in the Arctic refuge, it may become the precedent that the energy industry and its advocate in residence, Vice President Dick Cheney, want to see for plundering environmentally sensitive public lands. Arctic drilling might well open the way to extracting oil from more public lands, especially in Western states, and off the coasts from Washington to Florida.

    Despite the administration’s desires, the public doesn’t want coastal oil platforms along the Pacific Coast or any place else. What would serve the public is bolder thinking on three fronts: efficiency, new energy sources and smoothly making the transition from oil to more environmentally friendly alternatives.

    Some of the answers have been obvious for years, such as higher vehicle mileage standards and other measures to encourage conservation. Even the Bush administration knows new energy sources have a place, though its narrow focus on hydrogen isn’t promising.

    Still, until alternative fuels become a larger factor, this country and the world are dependent on oil. As the Financial Times reported recently, one factor in rising oil prices is a lack of refinery capacity. There are no plans for new U.S. refineries, the paper noted.

    Congress and the administration should be looking seriously at ways to encourage a new U.S. refinery with model environmental standards. Absent new commitments on that and other scores, though, their talk about energy independence is a pure pose.

  • Ed Kilgore, sitting in for the honeymooning Josh Marshall (Mazel tov!) at Talking Points Memo, echoes the sentiments of many — including me — on the Terri Schiavo case.

    …I have been reluctant to wade into the Terri Schiavo case, given the comic-book biology and tabloid metaphysics that have dominated media treatment of this poor woman’s fate.

    But that was before Republicans called Congress into an emergency session this weekend to take jurisdiction over the case away from the Florida courts, and take control of Schiavo’s body away from her husband.

    During a long drive today, while trying to find a basketball broadcast on the boombox that provides radio in my very old car, I happened upon the voice of Tom DeLay pontificating on the Schiavo case, and it made me physically ill. His claim was that what’s happening to Schiavo would be illegal if it happened to a dog.

    The cynicism and hypocrisy of that line of reasoning is breathtaking, even coming from Tom DeLay. Untold tens of thousands of American families face the same agonizing decision–whether or not to continue mechanical life-support in terminal cases–every year. My own family faced it a few years ago. And very often, the issue is the same as in the Schiavo case: taking out the feeding tube, or continuing it indefinitely.

    The only unique thing about this case, of course, is the extended legal battle between Shiavo’s husband and parents, and the media notoriety that has made it so ripe for political opportunism.

    Do DeLay, his supporters in Congress, and those Men of God so conspicuously on display down in Florida really propose to picket every intensive care unit, nursing home, and hospice in America to ensure that no family facing Schiavo’s situation is allowed to let their loved one die? Is Congress really going to legislatively ban natural death so long as some theoretical means is available to continue it? Oh no, says James Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and DeLay’s prime enabler in this weekend’s grandstand play: the “emergency” legislation is “narrowly targeted” and not designed to set a precedent.

    In other words, this is pure political exploitation of a private family conflict that’s become a media sensation, even though it involves a very common, if, for the people involved, agonizing event.

    As such, the GOP’s Schiavo intervention is of a piece with other cynical efforts by Bush and his supporters to signal support for a “culture of life” without much regard for logic and consistency. It’s a whole lot like the Bush position on human embryo research, as a matter of fact. Many thousands of human embryos are created each year in fertility clinics; it’s only when it is proposed that these certain-to-be-discarded embryos be used for life-saving research that the Hammer comes down and Congress is asked to take a stand for life. Wouldn’t want to inconvenience or embarass possible Republican voters utlilizing those fertility clinics, right?

    But this time, I suspect the transparent cynicism of the we’re-absolutists-on-life-if-it’s-in-the-news posture of the GOP may backfire. It is very hard to pose as a pro-family, pro-states-rights, anti-Washington political party when you call Congress into an “emergency session” to interfere with the laws of Florida and the prerogatives of one poor husband trying to respect his wife’s wishes. If, as we are told, George W. Bush is about to lend his authority and signature to this disgraceful exhibit of overweening government power, the persistant media idea that he’s just a genial well-meaning man who happens to preside over a party of loony extremists and corrupt hacks needs to die a natural death.

    I hear there’s some sort of basketball tournament going on. What’s up with that?