Apocalyptic projections, capitalism as the savage enemy of the planet, the ban on fracking: all this is seen almost daily through information platforms, influencers or political leaders who promote their own environmental agenda.
However, little is said about how fracking helps companies reduce their carbon emissions, how China pollutes the seas with plastic or destroys species with indiscriminate fishing, or how in Venezuela a systematic ecocide and ethnocide are being carried out.
Where is the environmentalist paraphernalia with these issues? And the mainstream media?
To address these urgent issues, El American contacted Spanish ecology professor Dr. José Ramón Arévalo, a former professor at Oklahoma State University and a visiting professor at the University of California.
Arévalo recently published his book, available on Amazon, entitled Ecología liberal para no ecologistas y no liberales (published by LGE libros and printed by Artes Gráficas Cofás).
The doctor and professor develops his work in the field of exotic species, the impact of fire and the effect of extensive cattle ranching on diversity.
Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón: Dr. Arévalo, what is your book about, what do you comment in it, what areas of the environmental theme does it touch on?
José Ramón Arévalo: I like to make this clear: it is not an essay book, nor a technical or academic one; it is a book of opinion. What I want to collect is a series of ideas that I have been reading over the last 20 years, since I have been interested in the management of protected areas, but I have also been very interested in how societies can have more freedom. It seems to me that freedom is one of the foundations of a modern society, the more freedom it has the more prosperous it will be and it has always struck me that, in the field of conservation of protected areas, of the environment, it was not very common to see market solutions to the conservation of protected areas.
It is true that there are some writings out there that deal with the subject, but they are older and, what I wanted to address, is that there is a possibility for the conservation of the environment from a market point of view and not only of the environment, but of the species that are in danger of extinction. I am also not so radical and anarcho-capitalist as to think that everything has to be private. I, if I define myself as something, I have not evolved so much, I have remained a minarchist. I suppose that the evolution of the human being will lead to an anarcho-capitalism, but I wouldn’t go so far.
And I believe that the public management of protected areas, (where there are very good and others that are very bad), but that can be diversified including market actions or sale of protected areas and the most curious thing about it is that I am not discovering anything new. There are already national parks with some private management, in fact, Latin America, the United States also, I see them more advanced in these fields; in Europe we are more waiting for the government to take this type of decisions and to take charge of the management of the natural environment. Whereas, in Latin America, it’s very common to see how certain groups buy land and conserve private properties, which are elements that preserve certain parts of the environment, and that has caught my attention.
Even in Africa you see this type of experience. I was surprised that in Europe they weren’t, and that is why I dedicated this opinion and information gathering paper to deal with the subject. It is true that the examples given are already the obvious ones and do not say anything new, but in Europe the subject is new.
EAR: Regarding this, there are certain aspects about the environment and ecology that are quite comical; we have seen many green groups and movements or influencers that are selling us capitalism, free market or pro-market movements as the culprits of the environmental disaster, supposedly. Any comments on this?
JRA: They present an antagonism between the market and conservation of the natural environment, which is totally absurd, you only have to look at the fall of the Iron Curtain back in 1989-90 to see how the environment was in those idyllic socialist countries that were much worse off than in Europe. So, escaping from the market doesn’t ensure the preservation of the environment, in fact, it eliminates many incentives for the conservation of the environment; because when there is an economic valuation of the spaces, it is normal that these spaces have a certain capacity to be protected by society.
I have always been struck by the fact that when the Europeans arrived and began to spread throughout North America, there were between 60 and 90 million head of bison; however, in a very short time, in about 100 or 150 years, they disappeared. The bison in the United States disappeared; those that exist today in the USA are brought from Canada, from the remains that were left in the north.
And why did the bison become extinct? Because it didn’t have a correct allocation of property rights. In the meanwhile, cows multiplied. I, of course, lived several years in Oklahoma, and Oklahoma became the beef producing center of the world. Then that moved to Argentina and Brazil because of price competition, but after World War II, Oklahoma was the world’s beef producer.
It was a very important state for oil and for beef. It was very rich and, in fact, you can see the decline that has taken place. But well, they show us that cows did not become extinct, it is very difficult for cows to become extinct because they have perfectly assigned property rights.
If those tribes that were populating the American plains had had a minimum property right over all these groups of bison, possibly they would not have become extinct. It happens that they were not defined and this is an open field for extinction. And there are examples of this, the African elephant is a clear example. In other words, there are market solutions that have worked, I am not saying that all public management is bad, but there are market solutions that can be combined and that are present in this type of conservation of the natural environment.
EAR: And do you think that the media, green movements, influencers play their role in persuading or installing in the public opinion that the solution to preserve the environment is “more state and less market”?
JRA: I always tell my students that whatever they see in the media, assume it is false until proven otherwise. It’s incredible the way they manipulate and, moreover, it’s like a kind of cartel. Because small groups, minority groups, have little reach; but to top it off, the usual lines of these small groups to reach the population, which were the Big Tech, where Twitter and Facebook are, are taken over by the same owners of these big corporations or at least in coalition with these big corporations. As we have seen in the United States, where there was a kind of conspiracy to prevent Donald Trump from winning.
And they don’t even blush about it. “We have manipulated society to win the elections,” they say, as if it wasn’t bad enough. That is why I talk about “media” in quotation marks.
Like these folkloric elements that they bring out, such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Greta Thunberg, who were walking up and down. I believe that DiCaprio and Thunberg do not add up to more than one year of school between them throughout their lives because they were always up and down playing the “Chapulín”. So, I say, how can we consider these people as intellectual reference points for the decisions that a country has to make? A Hollywood actor who moves around in a private jet, when are we going to move around in a private jet? And a little girl, who they have her up and down and have turned her into a kind of pop icon of progressiveness and environmentalism.
I believe that this girl will take action against her parents for abuse. Because a girl who, instead of being in school, is doing – as I said before – the grasshopper out there, there would be consequences. If I don’t take my children to school, the police will take my statement.
EAR: It is also very hypocritical because they criticize Trump, capitalism, the United States, but nobody mentions that China is the country that pollutes the most in the world, that it throws tons of plastic into the seas; that they go as far as Peru or Ecuador fishing indiscriminately and destroying species; and instead of criticizing that, they attack the United States, while with Trump in power, the country reduced its carbon emissions.
JRA: It’s funny, well… it isn’t. It’s totally expectable if you’ve read a little bit about basic rudiments of economics: if you economically punish companies for their carbon emissions, these companies will have less economic resources to invest in their technology improvements or in research and development which is exactly what has happened.
As there is less economic pressure, companies in the United States -because it is worth stressing that the U.S. compared to Europe would be like a tax haven, although we do not know what will happen now- can invest a lot in research and development. This is something that is totally anomalous, because it is said that the U.S. invests a lot in research, but what it does not say is that it is 10 times more than what private corporations invest.
In Europe, this private contribution is practically minimal. And it is normal, because if they are punishing companies with taxes, the possibilities of investing in technological improvements are lower.
And this is what has happened in the United States. Companies have decided to reduce their emissions not to protect us from global warming, but because by reducing emissions, you consume less energy, and your yields increase. It is the market’s response to a rise in fuel prices.
That’s why oil is still so low in price. Because every time they go up and raise it to over $100, the market starts to respond with much more efficient technology by reducing the consumption of these fuels.
I am not saying that there are no serious environmental problems, what I am saying is that the most severe environmental problems come from Russia, China and developing countries that unfortunately have not been able to access this market economy that makes them grow enough to be able to protect themselves from negative externalities as they are usually called.
EAR: Of course, and I will give you an example. The most interventionist State in Latin America is Venezuela, and it is the one that pollutes the most. It is destroying the Orinoco Mining Arc, Canaima, which is a world heritage site, in Lake Maracaibo there is an oil spill and nobody says anything. In Bolivar there is an ecocide and ethnocide because the indigenous people are being destroyed and there are very few complaints.
JRA: The situation in Venezuela is paradigmatic and I believe that it will be studied in the annals of history how a country that had a per capita income twice that of Spain in the seventies and that now Spain can surpass it 5 or 10 times.
It is for us to realize that these policies, which in principle are good, because they seem to have good intentions, “let’s make everybody rich”, “let everybody have the same opportunities”, have never worked. We even have experiments in North Korea and South Korea, we have plenty of evidence of how these kinds of policies work. But whatever, it’s a bit like the predictions that are made about environmental catastrophes.
In the seventies, apocalyptic predictions of resource depletion were made. That oil would run out, that gas would run out, that minerals would run out; they didn’t get any of them right. They did not hit on any of them.
However, the most paradigmatic aspect of this fact is that it has no reputational cost.
What does fracking involve?
EAR: There’s an interesting topic I wanted to touch on which is about fracking. Now the Biden administration is nominating Deb Haaland, a Native American representative who fights fracking and supports the Green New Deal, for Secretary of the Interior. An important position that is linking the drilling industry. In the United States, in general, there are many green movements and left-wing politicians -such as Bernie Sanders or AOC- who are against fracking, but, precisely, these drillings allow companies to reduce their CO2 emissions from the implementation of gas. Why are these contradictions so strong in the media?
JRA: They are ideological approaches that are out of place and we cannot interpret them in a scientific way. Here ideologically it has been established that fossil fuels must be abandoned; fracking is nothing more than a way to maintain this use of fossil fuels for many more years. They realize that it is impossible to break with this era of fossil fuels, so they look for political measures, which are neither scientific, nor technical, nor environmental, to break it.
Why? Because an agenda has been put forward to end fossil fuels. And that agenda, possibly, is going to take its toll on the United States. In this country, every time there is a Democratic president, unemployment shoots up to 10%, problems begin to occur, and unemployment affects minorities the most, not only blacks, but also Latinos. Because it is a very abundant primary sector labor force and they are the ones who are going to suffer from this type of measures.
In spite of all that, they believe that the best thing to do is to go down this road, but they do not have a scientific basis. The increase in carbon dioxide has long since been decoupled from temperatures; according to the predictions, we should have had an average of two degrees Celsius more than 40 years ago. Today, we are at 0.9 degrees, this totally dismantles the whole chiringuito -as we call it in Spain- that was inaugurated in Kyoto.
Because you, in Kyoto, you can set up a chiringuito because you foresee that the temperature of the planet will increase 4 or 5 degrees, with the current trend, at the end of the century, the temperature will have increased 2 degrees. Two degrees is how much the temperature varies in a year depending on whether it is a colder period or a warmer period.
So it is not a catastrophe, and if it is not a catastrophe, how do they maintain this whole story? Well, they are maintaining it by changing its name. From global warming to global change, climate change, now they are calling it climate emergency.
I was in the United Kingdom giving some classes, in Bristol, and a colleague told me that the new term is “global weird”, which is like global rarefaction, which came to mean that strange things happen… (laughters) Then, every strange thing that happens can be used for global weird. The thing is that I don’t know how they are going to link it to oil (laughs).