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April 23, 2005

Your Turn: Seeing the Forest for the Fees


There’s green and then there’s green.  (As if it would still be true.)

I don’t believe that the paper published earlier this year — “The Death of Environmentalism” — critiquing the green movement from the inside, was intended as a capitulation.  If I’ve got it right, however, pro-development and pro-business interests have seized on this critical analysis to confirm that environmentalism is dead. 

In the case of The Economist, they use this assumption as the jumping off point to dictate (and establish) future terms for all things ecological.  According to these guys, every future environmental initiative is destined to have the word “market” attached to it.  For example, the “answer” to climate change is to institute a “market-based” carbon-emissions trading system.  If there is trouble policing fisheries because the oceans belong to everybody, why not establish property rights.  The new mantra is “nature at a price” — with the future reduced to:

…data-based, analytically rigorous policies rather than pious appeals to “save the planet”….

Compared to the more subtle previous TE cover — in which the flat tax was represented by a steam iron — this photo-illustration seems desperate to make a point.  Maybe though, the photo editors got into more of a thicket than they thought.

Let The Economist rescue environmentalism, and the planet.  Someone else please rescue this image!


(Because BAG Analysts often prefer source evidence for those finer inspections, here is the full size version.)

(Go here for the TE editorial; and here for the TE feature article on Environmental Economics.  By the way, you might also have comments on the more “heavy handed” illustration that accompanies the feature piece.  In the case of the ram, doesn’t it seem like he’s been cut off at the wrist?  I also have questions about what’s going on at the desk.  Is this an exchange of cash, or could it be that “tree man” got the shake down?)

  • GreenEggs

    As for the feature article’s illustration:
    The goat’s hand does seem mysteriously cut off at the wrist, and speaking of hands, all of the hands in the illustration seem to be tghe exact same color except for the tree-man’s left hand, which is white.
    That the creatures all seem to be human underneath their custumes seems to signify that environmentalists are disguising their capitalist interests undreneath a worthy cause.
    As for the exchange of money going on, it would appear that both people affected by the exchange are happy with the deal, although the man at the desk, who I assume represents the corporate world, seems to be recieving a slightly larger sack of money than he is giving away. Unless he is in fact, just giving away money to all the “environmentalists,” in which case it would be strange for him to be smiling at all.

  • aethorian

    Atlas shrugged, stretched his back a bit, and started to read aloud:

    They could not see the world beyond the mountains, there was only a void of darkness and rock, but the darkness was hiding the ruins of a continent: the roofless homes, the rusting tractors, the lightless streets, the abandoned rail. But far in the distance, on the edge of the earth, a small flame was waving in the wind, the defiantly stubborn flame of Wyatt’s Torch, twisting, being torn and regaining its hold, not to be uprooted or extinguished. It seemed to be calling ans waiting for the words John Galt was now to pronounce.
    “The road is cleared,” said Galt. “We are going back to the world.”
    He raised his hand and over the desolate earth he traced in space the sign of the dollar.

    “I’m not sure you’re getting this,” he said, closing the Book with a puzzled look on his face. “Would you like to read it for yourself?”

  • Asta

    It must be Palm Sunday.
    Anyhoo, to add to GreenEggs’ interesting comments, I can only add that the Leopard figure at the end of the line gives away the message. He has one hand in his pocket, and I don’t know why but I have always associated someone with their hands stuck in their pockets as someone who is not-so-subtley asking, “What’s in it for me?”
    The Bird Woman carrying the purse is even less subtle.
    Perhaps the illustrator is pointing out that what started as a noble cause is turning into a long line of greed.

  • George Johnston

    How about a simple take:
    We can have green forests as long as there is money in it.

  • MonsieurGonzo

    Scorched Earth
    replace the watery $ with fire
    …the River wall becomes fire-break, thus: “the buck stops here“.
    (replace the $ with a burning cross: entirely different take, n’est-ce pas? )
    aethorian can probably find for us several good examples of burning SYMBOLS; eg., Swastika, Hammer&Sickle, Star-of-David, Flags, etc., propaganda usually depicted (as this Economist cover does) from an aerial perspective, either on a “field -of- green” = innocence or, some geo-political MAP = national interests.
    what is “news” here is that the issue now is no longer nationalism or ethno-religious dominion
    …rather, it is privatisation; ie., we are replacing the classic Jungian nationalist or religious SYMBOL burning in our psyche with post-modern corporate brand ~ quite literally, marked by fire ~ the $ being more universal proxy for, say ~ DOW or EXXON or Weyerhaeuser or, NorskHydro’s viking ship logo.
    without FIRE, this is not a burning issue :-/

  • aethorian

    Properly fueled, cold cash can give off a nice warm glow, but nothing attracts the eye like good money management.
    From the Economist’s opinion piece Rescuing environmentalism:

    A proper price [upon ecological valuations], however, requires proper information. So the second goal must be to provide it. The tendency to regard the environment as a “free good” must be tempered with an understanding of what it does for humanity and how. Thanks to the recent Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the World Bank’s annual “Little Green Data Book” (released this week), that is happening. More work is needed, but thanks to technologies such as satellite observation, computing and the internet, green accounting is getting cheaper and easier.
    Which leads naturally to the third goal, the embrace of cost-benefit analysis. At this, greens roll their eyes, complaining that it reduces nature to dollars and cents. In one sense, they are right. Some things in nature are irreplaceable—literally priceless. Even so, it is essential to consider trade-offs when analysing almost all green problems.The marginal cost of removing the last 5% of a given pollutant is often far higher than removing the first 5% or even 50%: for public policy to ignore such facts would be inexcusable.
    If governments invest seriously in green data acquisition and co-ordination, they will no longer be flying blind. And by advocating data-based, analytically rigorous policies rather than pious appeals to “save the planet”, the green movement could overcome the scepticism of the ordinary voter. It might even move from the fringes of politics to the middle ground where most voters reside.

    Ah, another little green revolution is on the way. Roll up your sleeves, please: this won’t hurt a bit, and we’ll all feel so much better afterwards.

  • Drew Thaler

    Screw the photo; the feature illustration is more interesting. :-) People are lining up and posing as various things in nature (it’s clearly a set of costumes, what with the seams showing and the cowboy boots etc visible underneath) in order to squeeze money from the system.
    Basically you have the person at the desk — the government? private industry? — handing out money to pay for environmental protection of some sort. And does that money really go to the environment? No. Someone profits by it. It’s a system of handouts. It seems like a very negative statement.
    I don’t know … it seems to conflict with the spirit of the feature, which is about how environmental protections can be good investments for the long term. Maybe rather than make a point on its own, it’s meant to depict the FEAR that businesses have when they pay for stuff like that; that they are just giving money away.

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