Margaret Wente on Kareiva and the ‘Enviro-Optimists’

Salt evaporation ponds formed by salt water impounded within levees in former tidelands on the shores of San Francisco Bay. There are many of these ponds surrounding the South Bay. As the water evaporates, micro-organisms of several kinds come to predominate and change the color of the water. First come green algae, then darkening as orange brine shrimp predominate. Finally red predominates as dunaliella salina, a micro-algae containing high amounts of beta-carotene (itself with high commercial value), predominates. Other organisms can also change the hue of each pond. Colors include red, green, orange and yellow, brown and blue. Finally, when the water is evaporated, the white of salt alone remains. This is harvested with machines, and the process repeats. Image credit: dsearls/Flickr user through a Creative Commons license.

Salt evaporation ponds formed by salt water impounded within levees in former tidelands on the shores of San Francisco Bay. (More on how the colors are formed below.) Image credit: dsearls/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.

Over the weekend, Toronto Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente sharply laid out what she and other journalists such as Keith Kloor have called the key philosophical battle of environmentalism today – between, as she puts it:

the purists and the pragmatists, the pessimists and the optimists – between the McKibbenists, who believe we’re on the brink of global catastrophe, and those who think human beings are more resourceful and the Earth is more resilient than the doom-mongers say they are.

Exhibit A of these eco-optimists for Wente? Peter Kareiva, chief scientist of The Nature Conservancy. Wente says that “Kareiva and his fellow enviro-optimists are the key to saving environmentalism from terminal irrelevance.”

As Wente puts it:

He argues that the purists have been terrible for environmentalism because they’ve alienated the public with their misanthropic, anti-growth, anti-technology, dogmatic, zealous, romantic, backward-looking message. (As a young scientist, he testified in favour of restricting logging to save the spotted owl. Then he saw the loggers sitting at the back of the room, with their children on their shoulders. After that, he became convinced that environmentalism wouldn’t work so long as it was framed in terms of either/or.)

Read Wente’s full column and let us know what you think.

Oh — about those colors in the photo above? dsearls, the Flickr user who took the photo, writes:

There are many of these ponds surrounding the South Bay. As the water evaporates, micro-organisms of several kinds come to predominate and change the color of the water. First come green algae, then darkening as orange brine shrimp predominate. Finally red predominates as dunaliella salina, a micro-algae containing high amounts of beta-carotene (itself with high commercial value), predominates. Other organisms can also change the hue of each pond. Colors include red, green, orange and yellow, brown and blue. Finally, when the water is evaporated, the white of salt alone remains. This is harvested with machines, and the process repeats.

Opinions expressed on Cool Green Science and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.

Bob Lalasz is the director of science communications at The Nature Conservancy and the editor of the new Cool Green Science. A long-time editor and writer, he was previously the Conservancy's associate director of digital marketing. He now blogs here about the Conservancy's scientific research and on-the-ground work as well as larger conservation science and science communications issues.



Comments: Margaret Wente on Kareiva and the ‘Enviro-Optimists’

  •  Comment from WaterAndLife

    With this blog promoting Peter’s ever more aggressive attacks on our conservation peers, it seems TNC leadership is taking a side in the blowback controversy to say it is on board with calling other conservation groups “terrible for the environment” and Walmart and DOW Chemical (along with us of course), the real and true path.

    I can’t tell you how disappointing and damaging this is. This is not the cooperative, science-based TNC I signed on with. It’s ego-driven bridge burning which seems more interested in trashing other groups than saving nature.

    I know we hired the World Wrestling Federation guy to run membership. Is that the new approach all around? Scream and yell try to put other groups in public head locks? Who is in charge of TNC messaging and vision?

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