If we turn the battle against climate change into a culture war, we will all lose.
I love this! It's frustrating that we are using 20th century tools to solve 21st century problems. I worked for 10 years in government and now I've worked for many years as a green tech-entrepreneur. It became clear to me over time that these broad brush political solutions don't work all that well.
I recently had a friend stop talking to me, because I suggested that environmental legislation that sounds great, may not have the intended affect. It's like trying to treat cancer with early style chemotherapy, which bombs the body with poison and hopes to kill the cancer before the whole person. We need to move towards a precision gene therapy approach, to tackle environmental and other issues. When you solve a very specific problem, you might find better solutions to general problems.
The style of politics now works for a system that's in a maintenance phase. Think of a CEO managing a well established corporation. A little move here or there, some diplomatic words.. will work. But when you need a major re-jiggering to solve problems, you need a much more entrepreneurial approach that's far more hands on.
The government needs to be acting more like scientists/entrepreneurs, which means picking a specific problem to solve, doing a systematic analysis, experimenting, measuring and iterating. I'm a huge FDR fan girl and this experimental style was his main approach to ameliorating the depression.
I'm not sure whether our current political system selects politicians who can't think in this kind of analytical way, don't feel like they have political cover to do this, who need education in entrepreneur/scientist thinking, or whether the political process itself makes it impossible to come up with sane solutions.
Sorry for rant, I'm just passionate about this subject.
"To engage these issues in good faith, protagonists on both sides of the debate will need to follow their arguments through to their logical conclusions rather than refusing to accept any inference that contradicts their ideological priors."
Such an eloquently put truth for our polarized age... Applies not only to this issue, but all those others that often get bogged down in identity/culture war debate. Thanks for the great read Ted and Alex.
Great article, Ted and Alex. This is a good example of a debate in which a 'narrative matters more than facts' attitude leads to a weird place where public feelings on both 'sides' of the debate leaves the entire public discourse almost totally divorced from reality. "Climate Change Causes Forest Fires" is unfortunately as unhelpful as "Leave it to Private Forest Management" in solving actual problems. Labeling this, correctly, as just another outpost of the culture wars is a great first step toward restoring sanity in what should be a debate with a common set of assumptions and differing ideas of how to proceed.
Wonderful article; appreciate the balance and nuance.
Was a bit baffled. though, by the statement that "The environmental community has traditionally advocated letting forests burn." The Sierra Club certainly hasn't supported that view, successfully challenging the US Forest Service's plans for controlled burns.
Yet another example of the damage done by the bad marriage we're all stuck in between left and right. My guess - the forest will continue to burn.
From my comment to Karen L. below, you can imagine the depth and breadth of my education in and experience of political families entrenched here since Spanish rule in Texas and Louisiana. From being in the a patrician, albeit matriarchal, "donor class" to "ward-heeling" lower classes often characterized by race or religion, I do not valorize i.e. academic or charitable "non-partisan, over taxable and taxing partisanship.
Indeed, I think restoring real debate and avoid repetition of last night's national fiasco, involves recovering some durable principles of 18th century "civic liberalism" as well as the patriotic, but now, fragile foundations of a "federal" republic like the United States. Specifically, I would like to see the (a) Democratic Party govern itself by recovering some of its republican (egalitarian) traditions and democratic (majoritarian) aspirations. Recovered traditions are, by definition, regressive and our transformative aspirations would hopefully be progressive. It will take some of both as we can plainly see "settlements", "norms", "rules" (written or not), and "deals" falling apart.
These are collusively bargained over, then negotiated and "closed" by and between contingent-fee professionals, mercenaries, operatives, and other self-styled or self-serving "activists". They have been fraying since the Great, World, and Cold War, 1914-1989, that sustained or generated them petered out.
I see no alternative to last night, or last month, or the last few decades without restoring some run-down (old), replacing some (obsolete or flimsy), and building some strong or powerful (new) institutions.
Actually, a strong, republican and democratic political party could do some of all three.
My party, was the first republican party in North America, "back in the day", and is the oldest democratic party in the world, today. But, it is not self-governing and has degenerated little more than the "brand" of and a claque for a patronage-chain rooted in gerontocracy, capable of filling up consent calendars with junk legislation and filing cases publicly but litigating them into secret or trivial settlements based on on discovery without disclosure and evidence never subjected to trial.
Today, it is a 737 MAX waiting to get back in the air with patched-up software covering up simply bad engineering.
This is a great article, thank you! Unfortunately, while it addresses the operational reality of addressing out state situation with both action toward carbon emissions reduction and forestry management, it provides no insight on how to avoid the already staked out culture war areas that it may engender. You write: "This will require a new, publicly funded forest management industry dedicated not to the extraction of valuable timber for private profit but rather to the removal of low-value underbrush and immature trees for public benefit." And this is the challenge: we've made government action "for the public benefit" a part of the culture war discourse already. And considering the level of federally managed forest area in CA, I am not sure that we can escape that narrative. I would LOVE to hear more about how you perceive this aspect of the challenge, and what you think might be done to navigate it.
Thanks for a very helpful entangling of a complex issue.
This historical perspective from Wired Magazine is a bit shocking. I think it sheds more light on the fires (but not the politics) than this essay. Maybe we need to be using 16th century tools (frequent fires) to solve a 20th century problem (way too few fires).
"Prior to [the 20th century], and especially before Anglo-American conquest, wildfire burned an estimated 6 million to 13 million acres each year in California, according to one study, far more than even the current record-setting season [which may reach 4 million].
... Most of those frequent fires past were different, though, in a critical way: Burning with a shallow flame front —so-called surface fuels ... Over time, this sustained forests of old-growth conifers, oak, and madrone widely spaced on carpets of grass and shrubs, which in turn made terrific forage for deer. Indigenous people lit wildfires all over the American West for millennia to manage land for this outcome—with such success that, in the late 19th century, Anglo-American ranchers and even lumbermen adopted the practice.
Collins, to show me what that looked like, stopped the truck at a section of the Blodgett Forest that had been managed for 16 years in the old way, with regular fire. I can report that a forest, when allowed to burn the way it evolved to burn, feels wonderful, ...