MVS, I should make it clear that this post isn't really about fixed anchors at all, but about how I think about the relative merits of publc policy--which is all I was driving at in my first post in this thread, far removed from any specific discussion about bolts (which I agree is an inane discussion for the most part). Read at your own risk.
I thought my arguments were reasonable and clear. But I'm realizing that they weren't clear--I hope they're still reasonable, but we'll see if it makes sense without all the vitriol of my last post (I read into what Chief was saying perhaps a bit much):
Consider two possible environmental policies, designed to address the impact from two different activities.
-Policy A imposes costs of $80 on society (i.e. people don't get to do whatever they want anymore) and generates benefits of $100 for society (preservation of "wilderness" or whatever).
-Policy B imposes costs of $5,000 on society (i.e. LOTS of people don't get to do what they want to do anymore) and generates $11,000 in benefits for society (lots of preservation or whatever).
Assuming that our regulatory agencies or government are able to regulate more than one activity at once, it's fairly clear from a cost-benefit standpoint that we should regulate both activities (i.e. both policies make sense to pursue).
My point about the Chief's signage argument arises from this:
It's possible that there are greater benefits to signage than there are costs. By simply saying "but this structure exists, so our's should be able to also," we're ignoring the benefits side of the cost-benefit calculation. And that is as important as the costs. A simplistic "size of the impact" debate misses a lot of nuance about benefits (like economic growth/jobs) that we ought to consider when making public policy.
That said, the law is the law, so if the law prohibits signage and walkways, they shouldn't be there. At minimum the law should be changed to allow them (if that's not the case now). So Chief's point is taken here--if the law says signs shouldn't exist, they shouldn't exist.
Now consider a slightly more realistic scenario where our agencies/government can't do an unlimited number of things -- they have a finite set of resources with which to monitor and enforce policies.
The same two policies are on the table:
Policy A: Costs $80, Benefits $100
Policy B: Costs $5,000 Benefits $11,000
Policy C (prevent Brazilian deforestation): Costs $10 billion, Benefits $100 Billion
Which one should the agency choose to pursue? If they pursue Policy A (banning bolts in our little parable), it makes sense to be outraged, because Policy B (banning oil wells, deforestation or some "big" impact) is clearly a better policy from the standpoint that it maximizes social welfare more. This much should be clear from the relative costs and benefits.
This is where things get more interesting. Pretend Policy A is a no-bolting policy and Policy C is a policy preventing deforestation in the Amazon (remember, I was responding to an image posted of Brazilian deforestation). Does the fact that Policy C is not being pursued affect the cost-benefit calculation of Policy A?
Simply put: no. Because USFS/BLM/whoever decides between Policy A and Policy B and has no input into Policy C. Pursuing Policy A (banning bolts or some other low-level intervention) does not prevent them from pursuring Policy C--Policy C was not possible for them to pursue to begin with.
Thus, my point that alluding to greater environmental destruction elsewhere is not a valid argument against a ban on bolts. The ban on bolts stands or does not stand on its own merits, regardless of what is happening in the Amazon, because Policy C and Policy A and the pursuit of either has no effect on the cost/benefit equation of either one.
More broadly, the only way that "Impact Z" (take your pick) could be taken as evidence that "Impact B" (bolts) should be allowed, is if we believe two things:
1. Banning (and monitoring and enforcing that ban) Impact Z would be more beneficial to society as a whole than banning Impact B
2. Banning Impact B will take sufficient resources in time/money/political capital that it will actually prevent the agency/government from simultaneously banning Impact Z.
The Amazonian rainforest does not pass test #2. Signage in wilderness areas may not pass either one, but that is not clear, because I don't know all the details of USFS/BLM resources or the relative costs/benefits of bolts and signs respectively.
(again, if Chief's point is that the law prevents both Impact Z and Impact B as it stands now but one is selectively enforced, then I agree, that is a big problem--I don't wish to quibble with that reasonable argument).
So what about my comment regarding wellpads that seems to have pissed Chief off? I think this is fundamentally a miscommunication between him and I.
I view environmental preservation and economic growth/development as a fundamental trade-off. Because there is a trade-off between the two, a spectrum exists in which some people on one side support absolute preservation at the cost of zero growth. On the other side of the spectrum exist people who want to drill for oil everywhere, with no preservation. Both sides are clearly crazy, of course.
I exist somewhere in the middle. Our relative positions aren't relevant because people exist all over the spectrum. For me, drilling wells on public land in most cases is too far toward the pro-drilling side of the spectrum. Chief, I take it, finds this hypocritical because I use oil. But it's not, and here's why.
I am open to drilling for oil in other places. More importantly, I am willing to pay the higher price of gasoline that would result from a ban on drilling on public lands. Again, I am willing to pay the marginally higher cost of gasoline if we were ban drilling on public land. Therefore, there is no hypocrisy in my use of oil. It is only hypocritical if I advocate for a complete ban on oil OR if I simultaneously want to restrict oil drilling AND complain about the high price of gasoline. I don't fall into either category.
You're welcome to feel differently about drilling, but my opposition to some specific wells does not demonstrate that I should be held to a higher "use no oil or you're a hypocrite" standard.
I assume that Chief would oppose drilling for oil in Yosemite or in his favorite backyard crag on the East side of the Sierra. For him, at that point the costs outweigh the benefits of lower prices/less foreign dependence. We can all come to different cost/benefit calculations based on the relative valuation we place on "lower/higher gas prices," "less/more foreign oil dependence," and "less/more preservation of specific places." These calculations are tinged by our personal interests--I care about wilderness with climbing potential especially. My uncle that owns a small trucking company has a different set of priorities.
My point was that OUR view of what is reasonable (i.e. bans on fixed anchors don't strike me as very reasonable) probably isn't representative of the views of all Americans, as should be obvious. So, it's simple to say that Impact A is okay because its obviously less harmful than B, but it's not clear that everyone else in America sees it that way.
This is why I have a hard time with relative assessments between "impacts" or policies. Because everyone comes to different conclusions, reasonably enough. My point in bringing in wellpads was not that drilling is bad (I use more oil than the average American probably). But rather, it was that we should be careful in making blanket statements about the smallness of our own impact and justifying it on that ground, because other people feel the same way about their own impact. Oil workers probably think wellpads are justified because they're small, remote and generate lots of benefits--and damn, look at that strip mine over there that is much worse. At the same time, I know people who participate in deforestation nearly as bad as that in the Amazon (deforestation most Americans would shake their heads in disgust at), and THEY think it's worth it. Hell, I met a guy in Kenya who had been a poacher and he rationalized it to me. Are our assessments of our own impact objective? Probably not, because we receive a disproportionate share of the benefits from bolting a cliff and don't pay the full cost (minimal as it is). The poacher receives a disproportionate share of the benefits of killing the rhino, and society as a whole pays the cost.
It should be clear I'm no environmental extremist. All that said, this is probably a bad policy. I don't really know, and I don't actually care about the specific policy as such. I shouldn't have interjected my little diatribe about how to weigh costs and benefits or think about these things in policymaking, but c'est la vie. Bottom line: what's happening in the Brazilian Amazon is not relevant, and I doubt that what is happening on scrub BLM land in Utah is relevant to the policy under debate here either. If we're going to discuss this, let's have a discussion of the relative costs and benefits of bolts themselves, and maybe monitoring/enforcement costs, because that's what actually should matter. But honestly, there are lots of other things we should discuss instead (and in my case, I've got work to do now that I've been avoiding).