“[A]complex system [is] one in which the elements of the system interact among themselves, such that any modification we make to the system will produce [consequences that emerge weeks or even years later] that we cannot predict in advance.”—Michael Crichton, author, lecturer, physician, producer, director, and screenwriter
In 2006, legislators banned horse slaughter in the United States for humanitarian reasons, and horses had to be transported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter, causing increased suffering for the animals along the way. And now a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report reveals that the ban has also caused a downturn in the price of horses and increasing reports of animal abuse and abandonment.
“The GAO report makes it clear ending horse processing has had a detrimental effect on both the economy and animal welfare. In light of this information, Congress should re-evaluate this misguided policy to allow responsible horse management which would create jobs, generate revenue and strengthen a struggling horse industry.”—Congressman Adrian Smith (R-NE)
But the misguided policy and the law of unintended consequences have not deterred Louisiana Democrat Senator Mary L. Landrieu from introducing even more feel-good legislation. Only this time, the ban would include the export of horses for slaughter, which of course in the economic downturn would create more unwanted, neglected, and abandoned horses.
“[W]hen we interact with a complex system, we … must always be watchful for delayed and untoward consequences.”—Michael Crichton
But hey, “the majority of Americans oppose the practice of horse slaughter,” and they don’t really care if the ban causes greater suffering for these animals because the simple-minded, knee-jerk solution frees them from guilt because they tried to do something.
The following excerpt from Michael Crichton’s speech “Fear and Complexity and Environmental Management in the 21st Century” depicts the naive thinking, absurd actions, and disastrous consequences of well-intentioned, misinformed government do-gooders who try to solve complex problems with knee-jerk solutions:
[On Theodore Roosevelt’s third visit to Yellowstone he] saw a thousand antelope, plentiful cougar, mountain sheep, deer, coyote, and many thousands of elk. He wrote, “Our people should see to it that this rich heritage is preserved for their children and their children’s children forever, with its majestic beauty all unmarred.”
But Yellowstone was not preserved. On the contrary, it was altered beyond repair in a matter of years. By 1934, the park service acknowledged that “white-tailed deer, cougar, lynx, wolf, and possibly wolverine and fisher are gone from the Yellowstone.”
What they didn’t say was that the park service was solely responsible for the disappearances. Park rangers had been shooting animals for decades, even though that was illegal under the Lacey Act of 1894. But they thought they knew better. They thought their environmental concerns trumped any mere law.
What actually happened at Yellowstone is a cascade of ego and error. But to understand it, we have to go back to the 1890s. Back then it was believed that elk were becoming extinct, and so these animals were fed and encouraged. Over the next few years the numbers of elk in the park exploded. Roosevelt had seen a few thousand animals, and noted they were more numerous than on his last visit.
By 1912, there were 30,000. By 1914, 35,000. Things were going very well. Rainbow trout had also been introduced, and though they crowded out the native cutthroats, nobody really worried. Fishing was great. And bears were increasing in numbers, and moose, and bison.
By 1915, Roosevelt realized the elk had become a problem, and urged “scientific management.” His advice was ignored. Instead, the park service did everything it could to increase their numbers.
The results were predictable.
Antelope and deer began to decline, overgrazing changed the flora, aspen and willows were being eaten heavily and did not regenerate. In an effort to stem the loss of animals, the park rangers began to kill predators, which they did without public knowledge.
They eliminated the wolf and cougar and were well on their way to getting rid of the coyote. Then a national scandal broke out; studies showed that it wasn’t predators that were killing the other animals. It was overgrazing from too many elk. The management policy of killing predators had only made things worse.
Meanwhile the environment continued to change. Aspen trees, once plentiful in the park, where virtually destroyed by the enormous herds of hungry elk.
With the aspen gone, the beaver had no trees to make dams, so they disappeared. Beaver were essential to the water management of the park; without dams, the meadows dried hard in summer, and still more animals vanished. Situation worsened. It became increasingly inconvenient that all the predators had been killed off by 1930. So in the 1960s, there was a sigh of relief when new sightings by rangers suggested that wolves were returning.
There were also persistent rumors that rangers were trucking them in; but in any case, the wolves vanished soon after; they needed a diet of beaver and other small rodents, and the beaver had gone.
Pretty soon the park service initiated a PR campaign to prove that excessive numbers of elk were not responsible for the park’s problems, even though they were. This campaign went on for a decade, during which time the bighorn sheep virtually disappeared.
Now we come to the 1970s, when bears are starting to be recognized as a growing problem. They used to be considered fun-loving creatures, and their close association with human beings was encouraged within the park …
But now it seemed there were more bears and many more lawyers, and thus more threat of litigation. So the rangers moved the grizzlies away to remote regions of the park. The grizzlies promptly became endangered; their formerly growing numbers shrank. The park service refused to let scientists study them. But once the animals were declared endangered, the scientists could go in.
And by now we are about ready to reap the rewards of our forty-year policy of fire suppression, Smokey the Bear, all that. The Indians used to burn forest regularly, and lightning causes natural fires every summer. But when these fires are suppressed, the branches that drop to cover the ground make conditions for a very hot, low fire that sterilizes the soil. And in 1988, Yellowstone burned. All in all, 1.2 million acres were scorched, and 800,000 acres, one third of the park, burned.
Then, having killed the wolves, and having tried to sneak them back in, the park service officially brought the wolves back, and the local ranchers screamed. And on, and on.
As the story unfolds, it becomes impossible to overlook the cold truth that when it comes to managing 2.2 million acres of wilderness, nobody since the Indians has had the faintest idea how to do it. And nobody asked the Indians, because the Indians managed the land very intrusively. The Indians started fires, burned trees and grasses, hunted the large animals, elk and moose, to the edge of extinction. White men refused to follow that practice, and made things worse.
Crichton’s novel State of Fear is a must read for those who are unfamiliar with the lies, junk science, and crimes of the environmental movement. In Crichton’s view, just because a number of scientists are paid to say something is true doesn’t make it true.
“Human beings never think for themselves, they find it too uncomfortable. For the most part, members of our species simply repeat what they are told-and become upset if they are exposed to any different view. … We are stubborn, self-destructive conformists. Any other view of our species is just a self-congratulatory delusion.”—Michael Crichton, The Lost World
For more on the story, see Slaughter ban sending horses across borders: GAO says policy has led to ‘unintended consequences’.
For Michael Crichton’s speech “Fear and Complexity and Environmental Management in the 21st Century,” read the full transcript or watch the video.
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