Are Environmentalists Stark Raving Mad?

You might think so by reading the daily environmental trade press. Case in point – in today’s Greenwire (subscription required), we’re informed of a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (apparently, not yet posted online) about fish farms. The authors of the paper believe that sea lice from farmed salmon caused a 9 percent to 95 percent mortality rate in wild juvenile salmon populations in British Columbia. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, however, is not persuaded, and notes that the study does not prove the point and that plenty of other studies have found to the contrary.

Now, set aside any doubts. Let’s just assume that sea lice from farmed salmon migrate to wild salmon and that it may – but may not – kill them. How do you feel about that? Now, my reaction is “Hmm. OK. I’ll keep an eye on that. Now, what’s for lunch?” But I’m an enviro policy wonk and I’m paid to care. Most people would probably not give a damn one way or the other. After all, there’s a lot of things in this world to worry about, and sea lice on salmon just isn’t something worth spending more than, say, a minute on at most.

But for environmentalists, the new report is an excuse for political road-rage. “This is an atrocity, this should just piss people off,” claims Prof. John Volpe, co-author of the study.

An atrocity? You mean, like what happened in Lancaster the other day, or what is going on today in Darfur? That’s a little extreme, isn’t it? And how reasonable is it to go to the water cooler with teeth grinding and nostrils flaring after hearing of salmon and sea lice?

“What’s the matter, Jerry? You look pretty mad.”

“I’ll tell you what’s the matter! Sea lice from commercial aquaculture is finding its way to wild salmon populations, and, by God, it REALLY TICKS ME OFF!!”

To quote Jerry Seinfeld, who are these people? Well, Greenwire has an answer to that too (but you will need a subscription to read it). According to “The American Environmental Values Survey,” a new report released by ecoAmerica (an environmental research firm), environmental groups reach out to roughly the same 3 million people, which represent about 1 percent of the population, and surveys repeatedly show the environment is a top priority for roughly the same small percentage of the public. Only 44 percent of people are willing to label themselves “environmentalists,” only 48 percent think that environmentalists are “practical,” and 44 percent described environmentalists as “self-righteous” (ONLY 44 percent??).

Keep this in mind as we enter the political season. The Greens are a pretty weird – and a pretty overrated – voting block.