All things environmental

Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

Harvey Enchin is a big, fat moron

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Harvey Enchin

What a terrible thing to say!  I don’t like Enchin’s opinion, so I’m attacking him.  That’s called an ad-hominem attack: focus on the messenger, not the message.  If he’s an idiot, what he says must be wrong.

Using ad-hominem arguments is usually the last recourse of someone who is losing an argument, so I better be careful.  But Enchin doles out ad-hominems so frequently from his Vancouver Sun op-ed pulpit that he deserves a few back.  Big fat moron!

But I better justify my own attacks.

Here’s his own, unsubstantiated ad-hominems: those who oppose the Keystone pipeline, the Site C dam, or the ludicrously name Prosperity Mine are “elites with an agenda”, “wealthy celebrities”, or “acolytes of well-funded environmental organisations”.  Wow – I oppose these three projects, heady company I keep!  Further, I am misguided and anti-jobs:

Despite the critical role employment plays in alleviating the indignity and suffering of poverty, many misguided groups and individuals stand in the way of creating jobs.

I love this sentence: a combination of ad-hominem, as well as the commission of a strawman attack, and the use of the either-or fallacy.  All three are textbook examples of logical fallacies used as rhetorical devices.  In plain English: misleading lies.

Let’s examine them, one by one.

Ad-hominem: I am neither elite (I wish!), nor misguided.  In fact, I submit that Enchin himself is both misguided and, if not elite, at least elitist, for following and parroting the Fraser Institute’s message.  And that message is clear: the market and only the market can produce wealth, and anyone who opposes this creed is misguided.  Indeed, the market economy has been remarkably effective at creating wealth…for the one percent.  For the rest of us, not so much – and I suspect that this includes Enchin himself.  Misguided?  Deluded, really.  Material wealth has been created by a combination of market forces and strong regulations and labour movements.  Without unions and other social pressures to redistribute wealth, and environmental protection to ensure safe living conditions, wealth just gets accumulated by a lucky few, and a spiral of economic downturn destroys the rest of us.  Just ask the people who fought for union jobs in Cancer Alley.

Strawman: In a debate, this is claiming that your opponent is saying something that happens to be very easy to refute.  One more time: environmentalists are not anti-jobs.  Quite the opposite.  Inasmuch as a group as diverse as the community of environmental activists is, there is unanimity on one thing: we are all pushing for good, well paying, long lasting jobs.  I’ll get back to this.  But claiming that environmentalism is against jobs (or against progress, or…you name it, we’re supposedly against it) is simply wrong.  But the media, dominated by the moneyed elite, has been successful at framing the debate this way – and it’s a shame, and it’s up to all of us to correct this.

Naomi Oreskes has written extensively on this topic (Merchants of Doubt, co-written with Erik Conway in 2010, is marvellous).  In her analysis right-wing pundits equate environmentalism with communism – because environmentalists often call for increased government regulation.  This has been the message of right-wing think-tanks, from the Fraser Institute here to the Cato Institute, the Progress Foundation, and many others too numerous to name.  All aspire to unfettered capitalism, and all have had a very pernicious effect.  Donald Gutstein, of SFU, has documented a remarkable who’s-who of right-wing pundits in his 2009 book Not a Conspiracy Theory.

Either-or fallacy: this one has been dogging the environmental movement ever since its birth, so that it has become a cliché: either you are for the environment, or you are for the economy (and jobs).  At times it has pitted trade unions against enviros, as during the War in the Woods in the 1980s Clayoquot sound in BC.  Other times it has been repeated as a rationale for pushing destructive projects, in a loggers-versus-owls fashion: loggers need to make a living, so damn the owls.  The reality, of course, has always been far more complex; a careful reading of the events during the War in the Woods era, for instance, shows that enviros were pushing against the logging of old growth areas, true, but also for processing raw logs in BC instead of exporting them, so as to create more forestry jobs.  Developing ecotourism and protecting fish habitat (to save fishing jobs) was also prominent in their argument, to say nothing of sustainable forestry a la Merve Wilkinson.  Again the corporate interests have been successful at framing the issue, much to the expense of BC’s environment – AND economy.

In truth, there is no opposition between protecting the environment and creating jobs.  In some cases, yes, stopping a project like Prosperity Mine means that there won’t be mining jobs in that area.  So it seems a net loss – until one starts to factor in all the jobs in tourism, fishing, and traditional activities that will be preserved.  In the case of the Keystone pipeline, the case is even clearer; in fact, some of the opposition to the pipeline stems from the fact that it is a net exporter of jobs.  If crude oil is to be extracted from the Alberta tar sands, then it should be refined in Alberta also, not exported to the US to create jobs there.  This is an argument that is reminiscent of the plea to prevent raw logs from leaving BC – and it comes from the Peter Lougheed, the former premier of Alberta, hardly considered a tree hugger.

Ironically, in the same edition of the Sun are three articles by Margaret Munro about the economic potential of new technologies, undermining Enchin’s argument.  One doesn’t need to go far to find good data about the job creation potential of green industries.  Today’s Huffington Post features an article by Environmental Defence’s Keith Brooks titled “why we don’t need to choose between the environment and the economy”.  Brooks shows that the Chinese new air pollution laws may cost their jobs to over 800,000 coal power workers.  That’s enormous!  But that is significantly less than the even more enormous two and a half million jobs created in wind power by the same regulations.  There are many other examples (for instance, the recent reports by the Brookings Institute, UNEP or the OECD).  The key point is that protecting the environment creates jobs.  Yes, it forces a restructuring of the economy, and this affects people in older industries.  But these jobs would be lost sooner or later at any rate; and an enlightened government (like, say, in Germany or Sweden) facilitates the transition by promoting green jobs.  A backwards government (like, say, Canada or Alberta) insists that business as usual in extractive industries is the way to go.  But there is a reason why the green jobs sector is the fastest growing segment of the economy, and that employment remains relatively high in countries that have invested in the green economy.

Some people will say that there just isn’t the money to invest in green jobs in Canada.  But we are investing billions in pipelines and in coal plants, to say nothing of the F-35 fighter plane purchases or new jails peppering the country.  That’s a lot of money that will generate very few jobs and little improvements to the Canadian economy.  The money is there, it is only a matter of putting it to work in the right direction.

The either-or fallacy rests on a black-or-white view of the world: either you’re with us, or you’re against us.  It is a mainstay of small minds that can’t grasp complexity (and, therefore, reality).  It is also characteristic of a fascist mind-set: an orderly, black and white view of the world, good guys or bad guys, saints or sinners, everyone in its place.  Elites belong on top, the law is the law.  As if life were that simple.  This is a dangerous turn of mind, one that requires oppression.  That, and the dishonest denial of reality that it comes with, is what I reproach Enchin for.

So he’s a big fat moron.   Aaah!  Doesn’t that feel better?  But really, ad-hominems are never really warranted.  They’re rarely convincing.  And, to my knowledge, Harvey Enchin is not particularly fat.  But after reading his stuff, it’s hard not to conclude that he’s a big moron.


Written by enviropaul

November 26, 2011 at 4:20 pm

One Response

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  1. […] search (either or fallacy environmental), I found an old post of mine I wrote five years ago, Harvey Enchin is a big fat moron. Here’s an […]

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