Getting It Right the First Time

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Summer 2004 Vol. 5 No. 3 Getting It Right the First Time The article Degraded Darkness (Spring 2004) provides a nice overview to help us begin to fathom the environmental impacts brought about by the technological revolution of artificial lighting. I am sorry that efforts such as the Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) have arisen only in the last decade. It has been known for more than 50 years that the lights on buildings like the Empire State Building in New York City can confuse birds in nocturnal migration and lead to large avian mortality events. Similarly, it has been known for more than 40 years that aviation obstruction lighting (on the tall towers that broadcast our television and radio signals) is responsible for large kills of night-migrating songbirds. Having been involved in the effort to mitigate bird mortality at communications towers for the last six years, I can attest to the fact that it is very difficult to change an established socio-technological pattern in order to mitigate impact on wildlife. We realize now that, ideally, the time to consider the environmental impacts of our technology is while it is being developed and first implemented. The relatively recent technology of commercial wind power is a good example. When the early wind plants in California were found to kill an alarming number of golden eagles, the wind industry responded with different turbine designs in an attempt to reduce raptor mortality. A kill of an estimated 2,000-4,000 migratory bats at a 44-turbine wind plant in northern West Virginia last fall is the latest environmental challenge for the commercial wind industry. Fifty years ago, such an event would not likely have raised much concern. In our current climate, the wind industry, bat conservationists, and government agencies have already met to try to address the problem. The resolution of this sort of issue will be a defining challenge for the conservation movement in the twenty-first century. BILL EVANS Executive Director Old Bird, Inc. Ithaca, NY Precious Few Success Stories I enjoyed Frances Cairncross piece "What Makes Environmental Treaties Work?" (Spring 2004). However, the article left me with several unanswered questions. First, the discussion focused so narrowly on environmental treaties, particularly since there appear to be precious few success stories from which to draw lessons. Surely, the long historyboth successes and failuresof international treaty-making in other areas could provide valuable insights? Second, I was surprised by Barrett's observation that those who negotiate environmental treaties are so unaware of previous efforts. Given that this is such a crucial issue, I would like to have seen more discussion of why treaty negotiators are so ill informed: is this unique to environmental treaties or endemic to international treaties in general? What can be done about it? Last, I feel that Barrett's analysis would benefit from an evaluation of the costs and benefits of treaty participation to different groups within the societies involved. Even when a treaty creates self-enforcing motivations for all signatories at the national level, individual groups within member nations may still bear onerous costs. In the case of the North Pacific Fur Seal Treaty (cited as a success in the article), it must have been clear even to the sealers that conserving the resource was in their best interests. It would likely be harder to sell the U.S. energy industry on the idea that complying with Kyoto will lead to greater profits. I was left wondering: do treaties like Kyoto fail because they are poorly negotiated or simply because their costs accrue disproportionately to powerful groups in key signatory nations? MICHAEL DOUGHERTY Seattle, Washington Scott Barrett responds: First, I agree that we can and should learn from the experience of treaty-making in other areas. Indeed, I do so in my book. However, it is essential to understand the limits to this approach. Different problems pose different challenges. They also require different remedies. My new research is on the international control of infectious diseasesa topic that would not seem to be so very different from environmental protection. And yet in this area the world almost never uses treaties. Moreover, the reasons for successsuch as the stunning eradication of smallpoxare very different also. Second, helping negotiators to do better was a primary motivation for writing my book. I am also fortunate to teach at an institution that trains diplomats. Some of my graduates have already joined the ranks of environmental negotiators. Finally, I agree that it is important to understand the connections between domestic politics and international relations. One reason for the success of the Montreal Protocol was the support given by a key CFC producer in a fairly early stage of the negotiations. This is also a consideration behind my proposal for a technology-based climate treaty. Such a treaty would create markets for new technologiescommercial winners. Our choice of which technologies to promote must also be driven by a consideration of domestic politics and not only by engineering and science. For example, with so much coal in the ground (in China and India as well as in the United States), available at a low extraction cost, promotion of a technology that can burn coal without releasing greenhouse gases has a clear political economy advantage over simple emission caps. SCOTT BARRETT Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies Living in a Car Culture I found your magazine lively and inspiring but just wanted to jump into the breach regarding car and highway issues which, alas, seem to be rather low on the environmental list. The latest news on the cloverleaf highway with its lifeless underground described by David Ehrenfeld in Is This It? (Spring 2004) is that it is no longer on the highway engineers listnot for reasons of ugliness or land consumption but because theyve decided its not efficient. So there go all the metaphors about our four-leaf clover culture. More importantly, I think the latest tooting of the horn, if you will, for the so-called clean car emphasizes how little understanding there is of the overall degradation caused by the car culture. It isnt just what comes from the tailpipe, but the hardtopping and species-slaying sprawl that comes from subsidizing roads vs. rail. In the half-dozen years since I wrote Asphalt Nation, I have found it very disappointing to have Americans and environmentalists so wedded to their cars and so slow to support planning and transit-oriented design, walking, and other public transportation alternatives in their would-be greening as we press the pedal to the metal in ever greater numbers. JANE HOLTZ KAY Author, Journalist and Architecture Critic for The Nation


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