Good Reads: ugly oil harvests; dueling environmentalists; and morality in animals
This week's long-form good reads look at 'out of sight, out of mind' environmental costs of energy extraction, animals' 'moral' behavior, and the hard work of a luxury repo man.
The US presidential campaign kept a laser focus on “jobs, jobs, jobs” that left environmentalists wondering if anyone still cares about the condition of the planet. A remarkable photo essay in the Daily Mail puts the need for economic development versus the preservation of wild places in high relief. Aerial photos of the mining of tar sands in northern Alberta – the world’s third-largest oil reserve – reveal how a landscape of what was once lush green forests, an area larger than England, is being turned into an oily, nightmarish desert.Skip to next paragraph
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Boreal forest in Canada is disappearing at a rate second only to that of the deforestation of the Amazon. The operation provides thousands of jobs, huge tax revenues for Canada, and a potential oil supply for the United States from a friendly neighbor. But the photos are a reminder to those who live far from this strip mining of what is being lost. “The tar sands should be classified as an act of ecocide and rendered illegal under international law. This is, in effect, a crime against humanity,” argues one environmentalist.
Where is the environmental proof?
Environmentalists decry how climate change skeptics ignore or try to discredit copious scientific evidence indicating that human-induced climate change is taking place. But environmentalist Fred Pearce says that on other issues the environmental movement needs to make sure it isn’t itself turning a blind eye to scientific evidence.
Many environmentalists strongly oppose genetically modified crops, nuclear power, and shale gas development (so-called fracking) but can’t show solid science to back up their opposition, says Mr. Pearce in an essay at Yale Environment 360, a publication of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. “[T]he voices of those with genuine environmental credentials, but who take a different view [on these issues], are being drowned out by sometimes abusive and irrational argument,” he says.
“[T]he environmental movement has done more harm with its opposition to genetic engineering than any other thing we’ve been wrong about,” he quotes Stewart Brand as saying. While many people have a visceral fear of invisible nuclear radiation, nuclear power has a better safety record than many think. Fracking to release natural gas presents significant environmental hazards, but it is far preferable to burning coal, Pearce says, and natural gas can serve as a valuable bridge until the use of alternative fuels can be ramped up.
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