Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Environmental Restoration and the Poor

Here's a good idea.

"In 1995, the South African government started a program called Working for Water, in which unemployed people were hired to clear thirsty alien trees from important watersheds around Cape Town. A single eucalyptus consumes up to 100 gallons of water in a day, so removing the trees is like putting water back in the system. "Rivers that hadn't run in 30, 40 years began to run again," said Guy Preston, the founder of Working for Water.
That program now operates in every South African province, has an annual budget of $60 million and has inspired a group of sister programs that may change the face of conservation across the continent. Their aim is not just to restore ecosystems but to put them to use for human benefit."

I think this an excellent idea for several reasons. First, it builds environmental awareness among people who are often too impoverished to consider conservation. By paying the poor to work in conservation, it builds the educational knowledge necessary to convince them to conserve in the future and to pass on conservation knowledge on to future generations. Second, the government should play an active role in restoring environments and controlling invasive species. Naturally, I support increased government spending in many programs so it's not surprising that I would support this. However, I think this is a particularly good idea and a good program.

Is it applicable to the United States? Not really, I don't think. Is there something to getting the urban poor out of the cities and working to restore nature? Maybe, but there's a lot of historical reasons that the urban poor (i.e. African Americans) don't much trust the idea of working in rural places. I don't know that I can give them a good reason today that they should feel safe. I'm sure a couple of thousand of blacks descending on rural Alabama, or Indiana for that matter, would have much reason to expect a warm welcome.

Occasionally I hear the arguments that we need a new CCC. Maybe that's so, but who is going to work at it? The CCC worked in 1935 because there were millions of people desperate for work and the CCC was work. But let's not fool ourselves. How many of us today would want to clear trails for $6 an hour? Fight fires? Dig up salt cedar in dusty, hot New Mexico or digging up kudzu in sweltering Mississippi? Not so many.

That said though, the US government really should look at the South African experiment for an example of how a government can make a positive impact on both promoting conservation and fighting invasives. Not that we should expect this government to do take such an enlightened path.