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Jewish World Review Jan. 24, 2000 /17 Shevat, 5760

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez
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Agreeing with Bubba ... this time -- I GET NERVOUS when Bill Clinton does something I approve of.

That's how I felt last week when I found myself silently cheering President Clinton's designation of a new national monument on the north cliff of the Grand Canyon. Arizona's Republican governor and its entire Republican congressional delegation criticized the move as a power grab by the federal government, so how could a good conservative like me be pleased? It's a question I ask myself every time I visit a national park and thank heaven that the panoramic vistas I enjoy are in public, not private, hands. These are heretical views for a conservative, aren't they?

Well, maybe not. At least not according to Peter Huber, author of "Hard Green: Saving the Environment from the Environmentalists, A Conservative Manifesto." Huber, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, who holds an engineering degree from MIT and a law degree from Harvard, argues that "to conserve wilderness legacies and to expand them is not to abandon conservative principle; it is to affirm it." As we grow older and richer, we want to conserve more: "more law, more history, more freedom and more public land, too. And so we should, political conservatives especially. This is the most conservative conviction we can embrace."

But conserving public lands -- in the grand tradition of Republican Teddy Roosevelt -- should not be confused with what has become the obsession of the environmentalist movement, regulating private property, controlling growth -- both human and economic -- and trying to predict and alter the future.

Environmentalists, Huber contends, have long since abandoned conservation as their primary goal. Indeed, a purely conservationist move like President Clinton's designation of the million acre Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument last week is as likely to draw criticism as well as praise from radical environmentalists, who worry that the new status will attract more people. In the environmentalists' universe, human beings are always the enemy, or so it seems.

The conservationist wants to conserve land, forests, rivers and oceans for man's enjoyment. The environmentalist wants to protect them from man. Radical environmentalists see man as a cancer on the earth, metastesizing until he destroys or devours everything else, which is why they favor population control by whatever means.

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As Huber points out in a chapter he calls "Ethics in the Green Lifeboat," radical environmentalists imagine earth as a lifeboat with limited carrying capacity. He quotes Finnish environmentalist Pentti Linkola: "Those who hate life try to pull more people on board and drown everybody. Those who love and respect life use axes to chop off the extra hands hanging on the gunwale." No wonder environmentalism makes so many conservatives uncomfortable.

But Huber offers a different vision -- a conservative one -- of how to keep the earth green. Creating wealth, he notes, is the best birth control. As people, and nations, become wealthier, population declines. Moreover, human beings are not the problem, they're the solution. "There is no inherent scarcity of food, fuel, metal, mineral or space to bury our trash," he declares. Human ingenuity coupled with free markets will transcend such limits, he says -- and he provides convincing evidence to back up his claim.

The one real scarcity is "scarcity of wilderness and the wildlife that dwells there," which is why Huber and other conservative conservationists want to maintain and extend forests, wetlands and wilderness.

If you're really worried about global warming, Huber told me in an interview last week, the kind of conservation President Clinton practiced last week is likely to have measurable effect. Maybe the means the president used weren't the best -- he invoked a 1906 law that allows presidents to act unilaterally to preserve American antiquities instead of seeking legislation.

But conservatives shouldn't decry the end itself. It's time conservatives seized wilderness conservation as their issue, rather than leaving it to the environmentalists.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate