Green infrastructure

Nature provides lots of valuable services. Unfortunately, it is often hard to value them and even harder to figure out how to pay for them. Most of us have come to believe that things like water & air are free and/or belong to nobody. That attitude is what gets us in trouble. Things that are free or belong to nobody get wasted and ruined everybody. We need to think more systemically.

I just finished reading a good book called "Nature's Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature" by Mark Tercek, head of the Nature Conservancy. I suggest you read the whole book, but I will expand on some of the ideas.

The quote I liked is "Nature is not just something to preserve in a few places and degrade in others. Nature is everywhere. Yet nature is also not just a source of tangible benefits to people. It has a deeper meaning to people around the world."

The main idea is that we can and should work with nature. Nature provides fantastic infrastructure, which the author calls "Green Infrastructure". I will go into examples below, but first let me quote the other passage I found useful and true. "Contrary to popular opinion, companies can be better at making long-term plans for those resources than governments, which often get hamstrung by political divides and short term thinking driven by the next election cycle." That is not to diminish the indispensable role of government, but often the point of leverage is working with businesses. I found this true when I worked in Europe in the 1980s and 1990s. Governments talked and promised, but you could get things done faster in private spheres. Where private business was weak, as in communist countries, the environment was in the most miserable condition. He gave an example of Coca-Cola working to preserve water resources.

But the example I liked best, one I heard before, was New York City's green infrastructure. New York has some of the best quality tap water in the world. They began planning for its water needs way back in 1837. The system depends on forested watersheds in the Catskill Mountains. Most of this land is in private hands. Instead of building more treatment plants (i.e. gray not green infrastructure) NYC worked with landowners upstream, providing them advice on stream and water protection and sometimes money to help them do the right things. As a result, almost everybody is happier. Money has been pumped into rural communities that allow them to maintain a way of life they want that also provides clean water to NYC at a price lower than it would have otherwise to pay. And it is good for the environment. Smart all around.

Another example of great green infrastructure is restored oyster reefs. Restoring reefs was one of the good uses of Federal Stimulus Money (I finally found something the stimulus did right. As for the other billions ...) and the RESTORE Act. It costs about $1 million a mile to restore oyster reef. This is about the same as the cost of a seawall. But an oyster reef is better than a seawall. A seawall is as good as it gets on the day it is finished. After that, it starts of deteriorate and requires maintenance. An oyster reef improves with time. It is self-maintaining. And all the time it exists it filters the water, provide habitat for aquatic life and even sequesters carbon and potentially provides food for people. If there is a choice, why would anybody go with the concrete seawall?

I have been interested in the environment for as long as I can recall. I studied ecology back in the 1970s. Much of what I learned then has been overtaken by new knowledge. There really is no such thing as a climax forest, for example. I also imbibed the error that humans are separate from nature and that as one gains the other loses. Experience since then has demonstrated that both nature and humans can benefit at the same time from smart activities based on understanding relationships. I have also concluded that humans MUST manage nature. It is too late to try to keep hands off. As the head of TNC says in the line I quoted above, nature is not just something to preserve in a few places and degrade in others. I wrote a couple years ago something I think is a good close here too.
Human interaction does not always profane nature; the interaction done right can ennoble both. Conservation is a higher order activity compared with mere preservation, which is an abdication of responsibility in the guise of wisdom. Conservation demands that you apply intelligence and ecological factors to sustaining a system that works for man and beast. We humans live in this world. If/when there is a world w/o us, it really doesn't matter anymore. As long as we are here, however, it is our job to do things right. link.

The picture is me in the 1970s. My sister just sent me a bunch of pictures she scanned. I had to post it to show people who know me that I once had hair. Notice the long hair, confident smile and kick-ass boots. Back when I knew everything it was easier to make judgments.

Posted by Christine & John at June 2, 2013 7:01 PM
Comment #366929

Once again, your best articles garner the fewest comments.

Posted by: Warren Porter at June 3, 2013 12:12 PM
Comment #366930

Good article but I think you skipped over the primary sticking point in today’s failures to protect the environment. Profit. Corporations have retaken control over the priorities of the government. Since Reagan we have seen a systematic deconstruction of the environmental regulations put in place to protect us from our worst enemy, ourselves, in exchange for economic growth. But, with the propaganda machines constantly promoting lies denying anthropogenic global warming too many of our people are brainwashed while our politicians continue to be blinded by dollars of polluter contributions. The problem you recounted runs too deep to be resolved only by concentrating on single issue debate, we have to fix the money bias poisoning our political system before we can stop the poisoning of our environment. (and, no, I didn’t plan the wording ‘pun’, it just kind of happened).
I’m glad there’s at least one environmentally concious conservative out there.

Posted by: Dave at June 3, 2013 12:49 PM
Comment #366931

Dave, the question is, what is worse for the environment.

Some companies who might use greed as a more motivating factor than being responsible (this is a small percentage) who would be caught by the government and punished if they damage the environment?


Politics being inserted into the equation with no checks because the government does a FAR worse job checking itself than it does checking business?

Posted by: Rhinehold at June 3, 2013 12:57 PM
Comment #366932


I think the question should be “What is better for the environment?” And I think it’s obvious we can’t continue to allow money to control our response to environmental destruction. I mean, the energy industry alone has more resources than the rest of the country could marshall on this issue. Let me know if you disagree on that, since I disagree with your posts assumption.
You state that it’s “a small percentage” of corporations who would “use greed as a more motivating factor than being responsible “. Without meaning to be condescending, there is nothing in today’s world that would lead me to that conclusion. What business would voluntarily reduce their profits in order to be “responsible”? Quick examples in energy:
Do coal companies spend more money than legally required securing their waste piles? Did you hear about the Massey coal spill in Kentucky? The Pioneer Fuels spill in West Virginia?
How about the Dilbit pipepline burst in Arkansas? Do you remember hearing about it? Even the Obama administration supressed news coverage and the FAA declared the spill site a no-fly zone.
Any manufacturer with toxic waste will benefit with regulatory reductions. It’s a long list but there is no copororate responsibility, only money, profits and their now Roberts/Scalia sanctioned control of the government and media. You complain that the government doesn’t control itself, I agree, it’s being controlled by those with interests beyond the environment or our well being.

Posted by: Dave at June 3, 2013 1:33 PM
Comment #366933
there is nothing in today’s world that would lead me to that conclusion. What business would voluntarily reduce their profits in order to be “responsible”?

Just about all of them… Most every company I know gives from their profits to help the local community, they realize that they are stewards of the community and belong to the community and therefore they would not be able to continue to exist if the community, or environment, weren’t in existence…

The largest percentage of investment into ‘green energies’ are from private companies.

The fact is that you have the same misunderstanding about ‘business’ as many progressives seem to have. That business is a mindless entity with one single motivation. Greed. That’s just simply not the case. Businesses are run BY PEOPLE, and people have more than one motivating factor. As an extension, businesses therefore have more than one motivating factor.

While companies do need to make a profit (because that is how the people who run the company makes a living), simply trying to make as much as humanly possible without any concern for any result of that action is suicide for anyone wanting to make a long term business succeed. And people have choices to where they work, how many are going to work at a company that is mindlessly profit based?

Yes, there are people who are singularly motivated by greed, but they are few and far between. They get headlines, sure, but next time you are doing any business with any company, ask the people who work there, or the people who run the business, what their driving motivation is and almost no one will say ‘to earn the biggest profit we possibly can’.

I’m sorry to tell you this Dave but the fairy tale you’ve bought into is just not the reality of the real word.

Do coal companies spend more money than legally required securing their waste piles?

Many do, yes. That is why businesses that do just that are out there for those companies. This is a link of some of the companies that offer services to coal (and other energy) companies that help them reduce emissions, clean up the environment and be good stewards of the plant.

Yes, accidents happen (we cannot be 100% anything) but even when they do most companies work very hard to clean up those issues.

now Roberts/Scalia sanctioned control of the government and media

Ah, well there’s your problem, you have an issue with free speech that you disagree with (that’s what opponents of Citizens United suffer from). You want to only hear what you think is true and never hear anyone else give their side of the story. It’s not surprising that you have this mindset and I’m pretty sure you won’t do what I suggested and do that research into thinking differently than you already do…

Posted by: Rhinehold at June 3, 2013 2:27 PM
Comment #366936

I have been interested in and a supporter of alternative energy sources since the late 70’s, however it seems that our efforts as a country have been focused, for the most part, in the wrong direction. Solar panels on a roof provide very little usable energy when it comes to real world loads like an electric dryer or a/c unit. But that seems to be where our gov’t always pushes the technology. Just as in Solyndra, these panels produce a reletively low amount of electricity for the cost to install and can always be made cheaper in countries like China. As a nation we should be more interested in those technologies that can supplement the existing grid. Spain is currently implementing such a program and has constructed at least one such solar electric style utility. These types of systems could produce huge amounts of electricity in our desert southwest but I have yet to hear a single word about using such technology here. Its all just lip service and about solar panels or wind tubines on individual residential properties. While this might be some help, there are not so many people willing to invest 40K to lower there electric bill or listen to a wind turbine spin all night long, and that doesn’t even begin to deal with the maintanence of those systems. I do not think our gov’t has any real interest in lowering our dependency on foreign oil.

Posted by: JWL at June 3, 2013 4:59 PM
Comment #366937


Solar power plants are developed to deliver merchant electricity into the grid as an alternative to other renewable, fossil or nuclear generating stations.

The plant owner is an electricity generator. Most solar power plants today are owned by independent power producers (IPP’s), though some are held by investor- or community-owned utilities.

Posted by: Rhinehold at June 3, 2013 5:16 PM
Comment #366940

Hey “Dude” John…great photo. You sure looked like a happy camper back then as I am sure you still are. Good habits, hard work and paying attention brings rewards that make us all smile.

Posted by: Royal Flush at June 3, 2013 6:26 PM
Comment #366943


Read the book and try Conscious Capitalism by John Mackey & Simpler by Cass Sunstein (Obama’s regulation czar). Your model is outdated. My guess is that all three authors voted for Obama (Sunstein for sure). We are searching for convergence in order to better protect the environment and our way of life.

I own tree farms. Each year the environment is better on them than the year before. It is possible to be both good for the environment and profitable. In fact, in the long run that is the only way to be.

Neither the authors nor I call for NO regulation. But we can often do better if we work together. Speaking for the pulp and timber industry in Virginia, which I know personally, I am really proud of what we do. We have been growing timber sustainably for three or four generations and we get better at it all the time. We are subject to regulation. This is good to control the few bad actors. But I protect my streams because that is what I do. It is my land and I expect to keep it, so why would I want to wreck it?

jwl & Rhinhold

“These types of systems could produce huge amounts of electricity in our desert southwest but I have yet to hear a single word about using such technology here.” We have some in the Mojave Desert and in Nevada, probably other places I don’t know about. There are various types of generation in production.

As Rhinhold says, where it works private enterprise is at work.


I now have less hair but much more muscle around my stomach.

Posted by: CJ at June 3, 2013 7:14 PM
Comment #366945

John, we must use the same workout schedule as I too have more muscle around my middle. I did grow a mustache a few years ago but my wife hated it and said it make me look like a Mafia Don…lol.

I did grow long sideburns in the 70’s but never cared for the long hair.

Posted by: Royal Flush at June 3, 2013 7:28 PM
Comment #366961

The grater question is “do you still have your wisdom teeth”? lol

Posted by: tom humes at June 4, 2013 2:24 AM
Comment #366990

Hey Tom…I still have three of four…not too bad. Maybe that’s why I stay smart…lol

Posted by: Royal Flush at June 4, 2013 3:03 PM
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