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Current Affairs - December 29, 2021

My parents’ neighborhood is full of shady old oak trees. They are majestic and ancient and they keep the streets cool. In many Florida housing developments, there are hardly any trees at all, so when you walk down the street on a hot summer day (or increasingly, a hot winter) you feel as if you are boiling alive. Walking under a beautiful canopy of oaks is a much more pleasant experience for us humans. Numerous other living things also benefit from these trees, which form the backbone of the local ecosystem..

Because oak trees are remarkable living things, cities have long placed restrictions on what you can do to them. Developers who would like to destroy some quaint patch of nature often found that they were barred by regulation, and people could not just destroy the trees on their property if the city had protected them. But Florida now has a Trumpian Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, and things are a little different under Republican rule. In 2019, DeSantis signed a new law prohibiting cities from restricting what property owners can do to their trees. So long as an architect or arborist hired by the developer calls the tree a “danger,” the owner of the property can do what they want with it.1

This is part of the Republican Party’s never-ending war on “regulation.” In the right-wing theory of freedom, it is illegitimate for the government to tell property owners what they can do with their property. If the government prohibits building on land with a historic oak tree on it, the government is effectively devaluing the land, and a person’s right to maximize profits from their property is considered sacrosanct. For the more extreme libertarian (or, more accurately, propertarian) Republicans, such regulations are tantamount to the government stealing from people. If you require me not to chop down a tree, and therefore force me to forgo the money I would get if I did chop the tree down, you are no better than a thief.

Now, then, thanks to DeSantis and the Florida Republicans, the question of whether a centuries-old oak tree survives comes down to whether a developer can make more money by keeping it or by cutting it down. The free market will decide the trees’ fate. And the market does not place a particularly high value on the lives of trees. ...
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