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Question:
Many people in the conservative part of America are saying that the environmental movement is false and over reacting. Is there sufficient evidence for these claims, or are they the ones who are mistaken?



Replies:
Since the environmental movement is made up of many different organizations and many different people with many different points of view, it is impossible to treat as a unified block of ideas. There are basically three main strains: "preservationists," "conservationists," and "developers." Preservationists want to prevent any further damage to the ecosystem by putting wilderness areas off limits to human economic activity. Conservationists believe that wildlife and some limited economic activity can coexist in harmony. Developers are those who believe the "environment" is really a bounty provided for human benefit and that it may be exploited without end. Preservationists and developers are complete opposites, and conservationists fall out somewhere in-between. As far as which point of view or "ideology" is the true or correct one, there is no objective "scientific" way of knowing: that is a matter of faith. But when it comes to specific facts, that is where science can help determine what is true.

For example, it is true that the Northern Spotted Owl population is threatened with extinction if the primeval forests upon which it depends are cleared for lumber. That is a fact that can be confirmed or unconfirmed by the methods of natural science. But whether the extinction of a species or ecosystem is a bad thing, or a worse thing than the loss of income and jobs by people who work in the timber industry is a judgment that depends on your own personal values and beliefs. The decision to continue with logging or to restrict or ban logging will depend on whose point of view will prevail in the political process of voting and making new laws. Even if scientists can get preservationists and developers to agree on facts.

Don Libby



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