New Big Thinking on Wicked Problems

Roger Pielke Jr. has a thoughtful piece over at The Breakthrough Institute titled The Irrelevance of Climate Skeptics.  Himself, having long been labeled by some as a climate skeptic, Pielke’s seemingly self-effacing perspective is that public opinion on climate change is over and the battle for the plebeian mind has been won by those professing man-made climate change.  But before wicket problemsdelving into Pielke’s intriguing idea, I first offer a comment about the Institute, lead by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus – not household names to those outside the wacky world of environmentalism – whose 2004 essay The Death of Environmentalism featured prominently on the front page of the NYT.

The Institute represents an encouraging paradigm shift, free of the reflexive “us v. them” environmentalism and stodgy party politics and usual partisan divide, with a bevy of new generation, smart research academics and free-thinking policy wonks who care about the human condition and finding practical solutions to some of civilization’s most pressing environmental challenges – or “wicked” problems as David Ropeik likes to call them  – on water, energy, climate, and sustainability.  In 2011, Nordhaus and Shellenberger started the Breakthrough Journal, which The New Republic called “among the most complete answers” to the question of how to modernize liberal thought, and the National Review called “The most promising effort at self-criticism by our liberal cousins in a long time.”  Pretty remarkable collision of liberal and conservative praise.  Check out their website – it’s worth your time, as the Institute’s big think approach is changing the way the next generation will analyze, debate, and govern in a world filled with wicked problems. Continue reading

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“Nudging” versus “Coercion” – Balancing Environmental Protection with Liberty and Freedom

The recent controversy over the U.S. Government’s increased proclivity to secretly paw through the electronic communications and telephone records of Americans has prompted some soul-searching by many.  Is this just one more step imagesCAPHOYBVtoward fulfilling the Orwellian prophecy of 1984?  Has the citizenry ceded too much of their freedoms and liberty for the sake of feeling safer and more secure?

Some conservatives, like Andy McCarthy, over at NRO, argue the hype as non-sense and claims the government’s action is not only constitutional, but completely appropriate and necessary to change and stop some very bad human behavior.  McCarthy believes it’s not “big government” to blame but the little people in whom we’ve entrusted the keys to the government, and our human frailties.  Jonah Goldberg, over at NRO, however, takes issue with McCarthy, and argues there is more behind the secret curtain that deserves our skepticism. Goldberg contends that we should look askance at new powerful mega-computers and technologies that equip us with the ability to crunch huge amounts of data heretofore never possible.  Goldberg cautions

The arrival of “big data” — the ability to crunch massive amounts of information to find patterns and, ultimately, to manipulate human behavior — creates opportunities for government (and corporations) that were literally unimaginable not long ago. Behavioral economists, neuroscientists, and liberal policy wonks have already fallen in love with the idea of using these new technologies and insights to “nudge” Americans into making “better” decisions. No doubt some of these decisions really are better, but the scare quotes are necessary because the final arbiters of what constitutes the right choice are the would-be social engineers. Continue reading

Crunchy Con is Back – GOP break out your Birkenstocks

Thank you to Robert Costa over at NRO for this week resurrecting the term Crunchy Con.  Ever since Rod Dreher left NRO, I’ve missed his thoughtful and witty narrative on why it is okay for Republicans and conservatives to care about the environment.  sandlesSounds really silly I know, but so many on the political right have forsaken the conservative principles of conservation and environmental stewardship due to the unfortunate politicization of the topic.  During a talk last Friday at the Reagan National Library, Senator Rand Paul, a libertarian conservative, and self-described “crunchy conservative,” wasn’t holding back his respect and love for the environment.  Costa reports,

Long before he was famous for a filibuster, Senator Rand Paul was a  cargo-shorts-wearing ophthalmologist who lived in Bowling Green, Ky. His  political activity, beyond supporting his father, was relegated to reading  through his bookshelf, which was stocked with the works of Austrian economists  and obscure philosophers.  He wore hemp shirts, bought organic vegetables, and  canoed. But since winning his Senate seat three years ago, Paul has mostly kept  that side of himself — his “crunchy conservatism,” as he calls it — under wraps.  Instead, he has played up his tea-party persona, and focused on legislating in  the buttoned-down Senate.

Costa continues

Paul’s unabashed crunchiness — the term was popularized by former National Review writer Rod Dreher to describe some conservatives’ taste for granola, Birkenstocks, and Mother Nature — wasn’t just a stylistic aside. He argued that his lifestyle is a reflection of his reform agenda for the GOP, which is founded on themes of local control, states’ rights, and free enterprise. He spoke about how the party needs to be a voice for those who love the environment but want the government to stop intruding in their lives and livelihoods. “When we as Republicans wake up and tell voters that we want to be the champion of the small farmer and the small businessman or woman, then we will thrive as a party,” he said. “Republicans care just as deeply about the environment as Democrats, but we also care about jobs.” Continue reading

Sue-Settle-and-Circumvent the American Public

Posting below an NRO article in its entirety by Jillian Melchior, a Fellow over at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, on the phenomena of sue-and-settle by some environmental groups.  The terms of sue-and-settle agreements are decided upon solely between a judge, the government, and the plaintiffs, to the exclusion ofScales%20of%20Justice%2001 the American public and otherwise straightforward administrative procedures.  Some environmental groups have found this tactic an effective way of circumventing and speeding up the normal course of rulemaking involving APA’s public notice and comment provision, which can take on average three years from the time a regulation is first proposed until it is finally promulgated.  Although sue-and-settle certainly isn’t confined to the Obama Administration, as the practice has been occurring with increasing frequency, a new report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce claims that more than 100 EPA rules have been adopted using this strategy since 2008.  Continue reading

Whale Wars on Trial

Among my favorite reality shows is Animal Planet’s Whale Wars, starring the curmudgeonly captain, Paul Watson, and his rag-tag volunteers aboard the Sea Shepherd who risk their lives in the Antarctic’s icy waters trying to stop commercial whaling by the Japanese.

This week the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an oimagesCANVL7UEpinion, reversing a lower court’s decision and issuing a preliminary injunction against the Sea Shepherd’s attempts to interfere with Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research (“Cetacean”) whaling vessels on the high seas.  Watson and his team are now deemed dangerous pirates.  Continue reading

Farmers, Fishermen and Phil – a tribute to life

Fitting tribute over at NRO to the legendary crab fisherman, Captain Phil Harris, of the Cornelia Marie, who left us two years ago today.  As my fellow Deadliest Catch junkies captain philcan attest, the show has never been the same.  Captain Phil was quite a character, with many memorable one liners like “I’d rather see you than Jesus right now” – one of my favorites – as he routinely cheated death on the Bering Sea in search of opies and kings.  He was as tough as nails, fighting raging seas, fighting addictions, fighting through pain, and fighting for an honest living, but as Habeeb aptly notes, unlike Wall Street, Captain Phil never fought Uncle Sam to bail him out of difficult times.  He fought for a way of life, like Paul Harvey’s farmer, that too often is forgotten.

My new year’s wish – for less politics and more credible voices!

My friend, Larry Schwieger of National Wildlife Federation, tweeted out his new year’s wish, “for a 2013 that ushers in a deeper understanding of how important it is for all to come together to solve the climate crisis.  We owe it to our children and all those who may follow after us.”   It’s a noble wish, and a conservative wish I might add, but one that has about as much chance of happening as hell freezing over.  I have no doubt that Larry genuinely believes that climate change is the most serious threat facing the planet – but Larry’s problem, from my perspective, is that far too many don’t believe what he believes.   It’s not because the object of his wish isn’t important and worthy of discussion or action.  No, it’s because the issue of climate change has become so politicized that there is a paucity of credible, authoritative voices on the matter. Continue reading