Readers Write: Environmental misconceptions

Letters to the Editor for the weekly print issue of December 3, 2012:  Inconsistency and outside influence have been prevalent ever since Congress passed the Wilderness Preservation Act 25 years ago. Paper protections rarely bring with them consistent and adequate enforcement.

Environmental misconceptions

A "Good Reads" feature ("Where is the environmental proof?") in the Nov. 12 issue includes a paraphrase of Fred Pearce's assertion at Yale Environment 360 that "Fracking to release natural gas presents significant environmental hazards, but is far preferable to burning coal." This implies that, at some time and in some forum, we can make a choice to stop burning coal. But I don't see any political forum (or will) to make and implement that choice.

The marketplace so inadequately reflects environmental costs in consumer prices that I don't see an economic forum either. We'll likely keep using both natural gas and coal, rational analysis notwithstanding.

In this same issue, the article "Protected sea areas grow," talks so freely about "set asides" and "protected areas" that unwary readers might feel complacent, thinking much is being done to protect the environment. But nothing in a document sets aside an area from its oceanic and atmospheric surroundings, which are increasingly polluted with everything from estrogen to plastic to CO2 (and the acids it forms at the ocean surface).

No "protected area" diminishes the solar radiation that blasts coral reefs through gaps in the ozone layer. When regional ocean ecosystems are messed up by the removal of big and mid-size predators (sharks, tunas, bluefish, etc.), the living communities inside marine-protected areas (MPAs) are affected as much as anywhere outside them. And it hardly needs saying that paper protections rarely bring with them consistent and adequate enforcement.

The main reason designating areas as MPAs varies from relatively easy to impossible is the strength of opposition from commercial fishing interests, domestic or foreign. Big fish stocks attract big fleets. I suspect the current list of MPAs is insufficient and doesn't represent actual marine populations or protection needed. This inconsistency and outside influence have been prevalent ever since Congress passed the Wilderness Preservation Act 25 years ago. Then, mountaintops with great views and poor trees were set aside and preserved with a lot less fuss than more environmentally important mid-slopes and fertile valleys.

Robert Weeden

Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

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