We direct readers’ attention to the entertaining and enlightening column by George F. Will, at right, that describes the absurdities that arise when the administrative government runs amok.
He outlines a case in which a group of landowners challenged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s attempt to designate 1,544 acres of private land as “critical habitat” for the tiny, endangered “dusky gopher frog” – despite, as Mr. Will writes: “(1) no such frog has inhabited them for half a century, and (2) none could live long there unless the land were substantially modified … and (3) the loss of the acres could cost the owners $34 million in lost timber farming and development opportunities.”
The governmental overreach was so obvious, and so extreme, that the habitually divided U.S. Supreme Court rejected unanimously the agency’s arguments that “critical habitat” need not be “habitable” – and more broadly, and more dangerously, that judicial bodies ought to demonstrate deference to agencies’ interpretations of their legislative mandates.
According to Mr. Will’s column, “This idea is the crux of progressivism’s case for allowing the administrative state to boss us around without judicial review of its bossiness: This state’s agencies say they possess detailed expertise beyond Congress’s ken, and courts should bow before the agencies’ disinterested wisdom when construing Congress’s legislative instructions, however much the instructions’ ambiguities leave the agencies with vast discretion.”
Around the world, bodies politic are growing increasingly exasperated with the hubris of bureaucratic “experts” who not only believe that they “know better,” but also that their decisions, and decision-making processes, are beyond reproach, criticism or scrutiny, particularly by those whom Victorian writer Edward Bulwer-Lytton dubbed “The Great Unwashed.”
The assumption of infallibility and the profound disconnect in priorities between the “elite” and the “everyman” is acutely prevalent in the arena of environmental activism.
Intrinsically, the “natural” opponents to environmental interests (trees, whales, frogs) are human interests (development, jobs, opportunities). Sometimes they align – more often than not there is conflict. What has become problematic in recent decades is not the conflict itself, but the invention of a false equivalency between the “two sides” and the presupposition that human progress must stand aside for – not only mountain gorillas and rainforests – but also for dusky gopher frogs, hazy climate projections and inanimate beach rocks.
Consider France, where President Emmanuel Macron’s tax hikes on already expensive gasoline and diesel fuel (in the name of “clean energy” and “climate change”) ignited widespread, violent and deadly protests by tens of thousands of economically frustrated Frenchmen and Frenchwomen, who are far more concerned with feeding their children at the end of the month than making costly but largely symbolic investments based on future global temperature estimates.
One “Yellow Vest” protestor, interviewed in the New York Times, summed up his sentiments about France’s elected officials thusly: “Their response has poisoned the situation even more. The citizens have asked for lower taxes, and they’re saying, ‘Ecology.’”
The public demonstrations proved too much even for the obstinate President Macron, who this week capitulated, walking back the ill-conceived and ill-received policy decision that may still doom his presidency.
Here in the Cayman Islands, we have our own homegrown class of environmentalists who selectively obsess over even minor “modifications” to the landscape or seascape to facilitate development. From the opposition to the George Town cruise piers (“Save the Coral!”), to the stymieing of a planned luxury hotel by Dart on Seven Mile Beach (“Save the Beach Rocks!”), to challenges to the Rum Point Club (“Don’t Move Those Rocks!), and protests over Dart’s plans for the Barkers area (“Don’t Do … well … Anything!”) – when our elected leaders are confronted with hues and cries from the ultra-conservationist segment of our society, they would do well to remember that rocks do not pay rent.
To reference a wonted saying of Speaker of the House McKeeva Bush, you cannot live on mango steak and seagrass pie.