Iowa State Parks: Past and Present

Here is the sad result of living in a farming state with the richest soil in the world. I can only assume that this is mostly a result of the transition from small family farms to big agribusiness. The following is from “State Park Paths 2013” by Mark S. Edwards, formerly for 30 years the Trails Coordinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources:

Iowa started our state park system around the early 1900’s because there was so little left undisturbed. Even before we could designate these areas as parks they had been clear-cut, mined, plowed and heavily grazed. Iowa struggled through the 1930’s Great Depression, along with dust bowl days, unimaginable droughts and economic collapse to expand a state park system for all Iowans.

“By 1937 we lead the nation in the establishment of state parks. Today we compete with one other state for the very bottom in state parks and public lands. We are the most biologically changed place in North America. Roughly 98% of Iowa’s 36 million acres have been altered for agricultural use, cities, and roads.

“There are no old growth forests left to study or enjoy. We drained 98% of our wetlands, cut 80% of the trees, and plowed up 99.9% of our prairies. We have the most polluted surface water, the least species diversity and are at the bottom in environmental spending in the nation. This makes these parks very, very special not only for people but for the remaining critters.

“If we combined all our state parks together in one place we have 55,871 acres or a square just over nine miles on a side, a short day’s walk. The city of Des Moines covers 71,000 acres or a square about ten10 and half miles on a side.Urban sprawl in Iowa alone has increased 50,000 acres in the last ten years. Farmers converted around 50,000 acres of grassland, scrubland and wetlands from 2008 to 2011.”

True Costs are ‘Punitive’

I was listening to Coast to Coast AM tonight.

The second guest was Eduardo Porter.

He was discussing his book, The Price of Everything.

The price of gas came up. Eduardo Porter mentioned data about the actual cost of gasoline versus the lower price we pay for it. The host, Ian Punnett, said he didn’t like such ‘punitive’ pricing. I’m not sure what Punnett believes about global warming, but I suspect he doesn’t believe in it. Anyway, his reaction annoyed me.

We know we aren’t paying the full cost of the pollution we create through such things as gasoline. This is true in terms of future costs, but the costs of pollution have direct impact on our lives in the present. For example, gas used to have high levels of lead. When the government regulated gas to lower lead levels the violent crime rates decreased. In order to implement such regulation, it does cost us money, but ‘punitive’ is such an odd way to label the attempt to improve the world and avoid negative consequences.

So, it’s ‘punitive’ to pay the costs of the environmental destruction we cause? I suspect future generations will feel our present actions were rather ‘punitive’ towards them if we don’t change our ways. This attitude of socializing costs is just bizarre. Private corporations socialize their costs and losses so that the rest of us have to pay for the economic and environmental problems they cause. In return, we the taxpayers want to socialize the costs toward future generations. It’s a constant shifting of costs that no one wants to take responsibility for. I find such an attitude to be depressing to say the least.

There is only one way I can see that this attitude can be rationalized. Someone like Punnett must believe there never will be any costs or at least nothing we need to worry about. I don’t know if Punnett is a fiscal conservative, but it would seem probable. Fiscal conservatives love laissez-faire ideology and believe that free markets can solve all problems. Such a belief is naive. Maybe future ‘free markets’ will solve the problems we cause in the present, but then again maybe not. Wouldn’t it be easier to just not create the problems in the first place? What advantage is there to destroying the environment only to later on trying to figure out how to fix it again?

Ian Punnett doesn’t seem like a bad guy nor does he seem stupid, but his opinion implies a profound disconnection from reality. He told the author that we can’t know what the true costs are. By doing so, he was dismissing what data we do know. Yes, the data is imperfect, but denying inconvenient data is even worse. How does it make sense to base one’s opinions on an anti-intellectual denial of all known data because one doesn’t like the data? If Punnett had other data that contradicted what the author presented, that would be different. But he offered no data. He just criticized. Punnett apparently was making the argument that, by basing our public policies on the known data, it would be punitive to make people pay for the problems they help cause. Huh!?!

If I was more cynical than I already am, I’d start thinking people like Punnett actually want to destroy the world. Such a disconnection from reality almost seems psychotic. No amount of facts can change this view because this view is based on a mistrust of the facts. It’s a self-enclosed worldview.

It makes me sad.