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By James R. Cook

I’ve written often that the liberal political agenda is the blueprint for national ruin. Left-wing environmentalism offers a perfect example of this wrongheadedness. If liberals can’t find a legitimate corporate villain they make one up. Oil, mining and forestry companies bear the brunt of their misinformed criticism. Oil drilling in the arctic didn’t destroy the environment. An oil well disturbs a tiny area and even a field of pumping wells isn’t all that unsightly. Furthermore, these fields often last only a few years and then they’re capped and gone. It’s short-sighted to prohibit drilling over vast acreages.

Mining executives have become super sensitive to the environment. Liberals think that regulation was the only thing that stopped environmental damage. Changes and improvements in mining practices would have evolved anyway as the national mood swung toward conservation. Bad publicity and private lawsuits from property owners are powerful forces reigning in the occasional irresponsible mining firm. Most forestry companies are noted for their conservation zeal and reforestation serves their self interest.

While the greens and other liberals extremists want to prohibit oil drilling, mining and logging virtually everywhere, they overlook the greatest source of environmental damage. While they strive to stop commercial activity in natural resources, they fail to see what has happened to the environment because of agricultural practices.

Massive drainage of most of the small wetlands and ponds in agricultural states has eliminated wildlife, fostered pollution and created unbearable flooding problems. Every spring the runoff from rain and melting snow that formerly stayed on the land races down ditches carrying fertilizer and nutrients, turning once clear lakes green with algae. Huge recurring floods of the type that affect the Illinois River several times a year plug the streams with silt and fill in the lakes of the Illinois valley. Lakes in the Dakotas slip their banks and permanently flood thousands of acres, wiping out untold farmers. Eventually the fertilizers, pesticides and siltation finds its way to the Gulf of Mexico and putrefies there in a great and growing dead sea. An area the size of a New England state now exists devoid of all life.

The only criticism of agriculture from the left targets corporate farming, a favorite whipping boy of the liberals. This straw man doesn’t exist in the real world. Many states have laws against major corporations that prohibit farming or owning land. Farmers may incorporate their operations, but they’re still family farms, not the nonexistent corporate monoliths liberals rail against. Yes, it’s the family farm that drains the land and siphons off the water and waste for downstream sufferers. In a way, you can’t blame them, the government offered plenty of money to get additional acres into production. They paid to dig the drainage ditches and bulldoze the groves of trees.

Public attitudes affect change more than government regulation. The kind of environmental degradation that happened in the twentieth century could never happen now. Today we keep the water on the land. Drainage draws critical review. Every new construction project also becomes an environmental project. Urban sprawl is far more beneficial to wildlife than agriculture. And the muddleheaded government is doing its part in typical fashion. It gives money to farmers to grow crops and it gives them money not to grow crops.

What’s the point of this essay? To provide another example of how wrongheaded leftists miss the real story in our environment and fulminate against the good guys who are trying to bring about a little progress. I’m not trying to beat up the family farmer (some of whom may be customers). They bring the food to our table and their importance cannot be denied. But more conservation practices on the land (although starting to change for the better) are long overdue.

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