Earth Day Activists Often Confuse Motion with Progress

By James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute

Earth Day is almost upon us again and we will soon be treated to a stew of self-congratulatory feel-good activism and apocalyptic visions.  The Earth is dying, so remember to do your part by separating the brown glass from the green.

Your children are going to be bombarded with propaganda. They will be so excited to tell you about the environmentalist art projects they did in school this week, and you’ll be left wondering if a drawing of decaying garbage in a compost bin is really appropriate to hang on the refrigerator.

From the classroom to the cartoons on television, it’s wonderful to be green. Spongebob will stop the evil Plankton from plowing under Jellyfish Fields for a freeway and Max and Ruby will have an Earth Day costume party. Dora the Explorer even has a downloadable chart on how your child can go green to help “save the mermaids.”

A year ago my son’s elementary school was preparing to celebrate Earth Day. One of my son’s classmates took it upon herself to “honor” Earth Day by picking up the detritus of civilization that had scattered across the school yard. My son, demonstrating the Wigderson sense of humor, decided to “help” her by dropping things out of his pocket in her path, giving her plenty more to pick up. He came home quite proud of his little joke, pointing out that his poor victim had no idea of the prank that had been played upon her. After all, she was very proud of her good deed, and he had merely helped.

As adults, we’re a little more aware that Kermit the Frog was right: it’s not easy being green. We often find ourselves dealing with the unintended consequences of environmentalist cant substituting for reasoned public policy debate.

Take for instance what has been dubbed President Barack Obama’s “War on Coal.” The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has adopted a new rule that would effectively kill off any new coal burning electric power plant by limiting CO2 and other “greenhouse gases.” By reducing the demand for coal in the United States, Obama’s EPA will actually make coal cheaper for China and India to burn. Much of the developing world will find coal cheaper to burn, too. They will have less stringent standards for coal emissions and the resulting environmental damage could actually be greater as a result.

But hey, we’re doing our part to save the Earth from Global Warming. Al Gore and Prince Charles will be happy and the bureaucrats will feel good they did something “for the Earth.”

If we’re thinking globally but acting locally, that can have unintended consequences, too.

There was a recent advertisement in the Waukesha Freeman from “The Friends of Vernon Marsh” imploring people, “Keep the Vernon Marsh Clean, No Dumping Please!” At the Friends of Vernon Marsh website, we learn,

Each Spring the Friends of Vernon Marsh conducts a marsh clean-up.  Last year’s clean-up resulted in the collection of over 10 large garbage bags of debris, old tires, even a broken up TV set.

The nearby Town of Genesee also has been experiencing some illegal dumping alongside its roads. In a recent Waukesha Freeman article, one town official is looking for suspects.

Last week, a pile of broken television equipment was found on Madison Street east of Highway DT, and this is just the latest example of what appears to be illegal dumping just west of the border of the city of Waukesha.

Cleanup responsibilities often fall to Town Hall staff members, who must pick up the trash and take it to a different location for the town’s trash service to retrieve.

Town Clerk Barb Whitmore believes the dumpers aren’t from the Town of Genesee because the town’s trash pickup service picks up “just about everything.”

However, don’t bother looking in the City of Waukesha for your suspects. One resident of the city has made it a hobby of photographing the broken television in its natural state.

Why so many abandoned televisions? Frustration with the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs?

In 2009, the Wisconsin legislature, under the control of the Democrats, passed a law requiring the recycling of electronic devices, including televisions. Buying a new flat screen television in 2010 became a lot more annoying than carrying the old television to the curb.

Electronics consumers now find themselves storing old televisions and computers waiting for a convenient moment to take them in to an electronics recycler. For some when it becomes too much of a hassle, an obliging wetlands or an unguarded dumpster do just fine. Gee, who would have thought that making electronics disposal more difficult could lead to bad social behavior?

Of course, the Vernon Marsh may be more vacant lot than wetlands if some environmentalists have their way. The City of Waukesha is looking for a new source of water, and they would like to tap into Lake Michigan. The Great Lakes compact requires that if a community straddling the basin like Waukesha takes water from the Great Lakes they have to return approximately the same amount of water to the source. The use by Waukesha of Lake Michigan water will have no adverse effect on the lake, but some environmentalists are afraid of “urban sprawl” and would like to derail Waukesha’s application.

If Waukesha cannot withdraw water from Lake Michigan, the city will have to dig more shallow wells to the west, which will have an adverse effect on the surrounding surface bodies of water, including the Vernon Marsh.

The good news for The Friends of Vernon Marsh is that the electronic recycling law will probably give them many chances to feel good about themselves.

Bonus: with the dry land, picking up those broken televisions will be a lot easier.

It will be a happy Earth Day for everyone.

Wigderson is a an award winning columnist from Waukesha.