Mosaic / September 29, 2010

Eco-conservative makes case at Knox

A few years ago, environmentalist Dan Dagget was liberal in his views and would have fit in with the Knox campus values, but on Tuesday night he stirred opposition among students and professors with his conservative lecture “From Ecoradical to Conservative Environmentalist.”

Dan Dagget was once named one of the top 100 grass-roots activists. He participated in Earth First! and has written books including “Beyond the Rangeland Conflict: Toward a West that Works” which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and “Gardeners of Eden: Rediscovering Our Importance to Nature.” About his motivation for giving this lecture, Dagget said, “I like to speak to college groups… they have a lot of energy and are open-minded.”

Tim Kasser, professor of psychology, is part of the Presidential Task Force on Sustainability that brought Dagget to campus as part of this year’s Equinox lectures. “We tried to bring in people this year who talk about sustainability from different perspectives,” Kasser said.

The approximately hour-and-a-half long lecture took place in the Francois Room of SMC, and on the previous Monday Dagget gave a smaller presentation to business Professor John Spittell’s Business and Society class.

The presentation included stories of Dagget’s environmentalist adventures, both liberal and conservative, and followed with his arguments for the latter. After his presentation, students and professors had the opportunity to ask Dagget questions; the last question, about the merits of applying the ideal free-market to the environment, lead to a parry between Dagget, professors and students. Speaking about the debate during the Q&A session, Kasser said, “I’m pleased there was a discussion at the end, but didn’t feel it was disrespectful.”

One of the students who attended the lecture, Sam Lewis ’11, said, “It was worth it, in principle, that they tried to bring in someone who was not typically leftist,” and felt that he learned something about both conservative and liberal environmentalist views and practices.

Jaime Spacco, professor of computer science, came in part to escape the Computer Science wing of SMC and also because he was interested in a conservative presentation on a liberal campus. “There’s the potential to present something that’s surprising,” Spacco said, adding that “[Dagget] was libertarian, not conservative.”

Both students and professors were taken aback by the presentation. Spacco said, “I was hoping he’d get more into what other places, other industries [are doing].”

Dagget’s presentation highlighted his experience with ranchers in Arizona. During the question and answer segment, students, prompted by the lack of discussion of the local farm economy, asked what should be done in the Midwest. Dagget pressed his “Do the right thing; get the right results” position. “If we want to get rid of the guy making corn, when you put the new guy in, evaluate him based on results,” Dagget said.

Dagget presented some disillusioned views of liberal environmentalist policies. At one point he stated, “Liberal environmentalists manage according to prescriptions, policies; [it] measures effectiveness by ability to make prescriptions happen. Conservatives judge what they do based on results.”

Daniel Conceicao, a visiting instructor of economics, had pointed issues with Dagget’s logic.

It was Dagget’s final question that spurred a debate between the students, faculty and the environmentalist. Conceicao said, “The beginning showed interesting cases… [Liberal] policies seemed to be bone-headed. In those cases we can learn we need to evaluate our policies.” But Conceicao argued there was a logical problem in Dagget using a few specified examples for his overall argument that free-markets left alone by the government could solve environmental problems. Conceicao said, “We can’t just use the nice examples and generalize from there,” and Conceicao believed that, “a longer discussion on the merits and flaws of the capitalist system would be useful.”

Junior Elizabeth Cockrell, who is studying environmental economics, shared the same views as some fellow students and professors. She believed it was good to get Dagget’s viewpoints of conservation efforts because he was conservative, and Knox is a very liberal campus. Somewhat off-put by the lecture, she said, “I think he was very defensive and he critiqued liberal viewpoints but he was closed-minded to the students’ liberal viewpoints or liberal critiques of his ideas, [yet] at the same time expected the students to be open minded.” Cockrell said, “He made a good point saying liberals look at how we can regulate this, and conservatives look at how we can solve the problem. We would be best served by combining the two and working together.”

Renni Johnson

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