Mike Gemmell is the founder and president of Restore Our American Republic (ROAR). Prior to founding ROAR, he was a geologist specializing in groundwater resource development, a technical writer, and a freelance writer addressing environmental and other cultural issues. For more information on his professional background please see: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michaelmgemmell.
(Originally published in Liberty for the 21st Century, 1995, ed. Machan & Rasmussen)
To many observers, the resolution of environmental issues with the libertarian principles of private property, personal liberty, and limited government appears a hopeless goal. If we are overheating the planet with CO2 emissions, destroying the ozone layer, overpopulating the earth, and destroying species, how can such a limited perspective cope with these problems? Moreover, how can it be that the Western perspective of continuing improvement in our standard of living became, in the space of thirty years, a cruel delusion?
In the case of virtually all environmental problems, perception does not equal reality. The reality is that since the revival of the environmental movement thirty years ago, environmental policy has been based on the perception that human beings are destroying the planet. Historically, science has been an enterprise based on the premise that knowledge gained by understanding nature’s laws can be used to better human life. Modern environmental science has been based on a very different philosophical perspective that can be summarized as follows:
- Nature has intrinsic value independent of human well-being
- Nature is a collective entity of which man is only a part, with no higher status than any other entity in nature
- Since man’s status is no higher than that of other plants and animals, conscious modification of the environment is destructive and morally wrong
The purpose of this essay is to identify how this philosophic foundation underlies each major area of environmental science and how its existence has led to destructive environmental policies. In addition, a replacement philosophy, one with a pro-human standard of value, will be used as a basis for recommending fundamental reforms in environmental policy. The remainder of this essay will uncover how the environmental philosophic and scientific status quo has affected policy in the major branches of environmental concern, including natural-resource use, waste disposal issues, risk from industrial chemicals, global climate issues, and biodiversity/ecosystem/endangered species.
We all want a clean, safe environment in which to live, one in which we can enjoy natural beauty while still enjoying the material gifts available from a technologically advanced civilization. We can have both if we use a pro-human standard to guide our actions in environmental policy.
The last quarter century has seen dozens of pronouncements about how exploding population growth and excessive consumption of natural resources are leading the world to the brink of destruction. In 1972, a MIT study entitled The Limits of Growth concluded that the human race had perhaps only 100 years to live unless it immediately ended economic growth. This study was in turn largely based on Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb: Population Control or Race Oblivion? In 1980 the Global 2000 Report to the President was submitted to President Jimmy Carter. That document dominates the thinking behind much of environmental policy to this day. The letter of transmittal of Global 2000 states:
“Our conclusions summarized in the pages that follow, are disturbing. They indicate the potential for global problems of alarming proportions by the year 2000. Environmental, resource, and population stresses are intensifying and will increasingly determine the quality of human life on our planet. The trends reflected in Global 2000 suggest strongly a progressive degradation and impoverishment of the earth’s resource base.”1
Fortunately, Global 2000’s conclusions have been thoroughly dissected and disproved by economists like Julian Simon. Simon points out that Global 2000 projects a five percent increase in the rate of consumption of nonfuel minerals to the year 2000, while another portion of the report notes, “the real price of most mineral commodities has been constant or declining for many years.” In addition, Global 2000 shows an upward trend for energy consumption, which it uses to predict future shortages, but fails to mention that the price of energy has fallen during the period of increasing energy consumption.
To dramatize his opposition to the conclusions of Global 2000, Julian Simon, in 1980, bet Paul Ehrlich on the long-term price trends of five metals of Ehrlich’s choice. Ehrlich contended that the price a unit amount of the metals (chrome, copper, nickel, tin, and tungsten) worth $1000 in 1980 would increase in price while Simon contended it would fall. The time period for the bet was ten years. In 1990, Ehrlich sent a check to Simon for $567.07, the amount the metals had fallen in price.
Industrialists do face genuine problems with resources from time to time. The timber industry, for example, has had to upgrade its forest management practices to prevent the depletion of timber resources in the United States. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, due to an abundance of land and low-priced timber, replanting of tree seedlings was not practiced. But as population increased, it resulted in increased pressure on land use, and the planting of tree seedlings became necessary. In 1934, Weyerhauser began planting and introduced the concept of sustained yield. Through constant research the company has been able to increase its initial yield rate of seventy-five percent up to ninety-five percent. Because of this research, annual growth in privately owned forests has exceeded harvest every year since 1952.2
The rationale for the environmentalists’ views on resource economics can be discerned in the following statements by economist Paul Ekins:3
- “Much of the planet’s accumulated wealth, its fossil fuels has now been spent.”
- “Energy once spent is dissipated forever.”
- “Renewable energy sources must be developed to replace fossil fuels.”3
These views reveal several fallacies. First of all, viewing resources as “accumulated wealth” is incorrect, as they do not become wealth until someone learns how to transform them into a useful commodity. Secondly, if energy is “dissipated forever,” it cannot be renewable.
These contradictions are the result of the environmental philosophic perspective that conscious modification of the environment destroys it. Modification, according to this perspective, destroys the flow of energy through nature. Because of nature’s impenetrable secrets, i.e., its intrinsic value, the knowledge to effectively transfer energy or resources cannot be obtained. However, if we use energy sources that require no modification of nature, such as renewable energy, we are acting as the other creatures in nature’s garden. Unfortunately, this form of energy doesn’t allow us to progress economically beyond the status of a medieval village.
Countering this flawed rationale demands adherence to objective standards in natural resource affairs, not appeals to nature’s intrinsic value. We live in a natural, knowable world, one that consists of discrete entities. These entities possess specific characteristics. The evidence does not indicate we are a part of a collective organism. To transfer energy from one place to another requires a tracing of cause-and-effect relationships. In resource and energy issues, our best matchmaker for nurturing these relationships is the science of thermodynamics.
The first, second, and third laws of thermodynamics have to do with energy states and the transfer of energy. The first law states that energy is conserved in any system. It may be transferred from state to state and place to place, but it cannot be destroyed. The second law of thermodynamics has to do with randomness or entropy. It states that systems insulated from external influences tend to go to maximum randomness. The third law of thermodynamics unites the first two laws and allows predictions of the direction and rate of system change based on its energy and entropy values.
These laws of nature are constantly acting on all natural and biological systems at all times. For instance, a living organism does not have the stability of an inanimate object such as a rock. It takes energy to maintain its life functions; the more complex the organism, the more energy is needed. A continuous expenditure of energy is necessary for a living organism to maintain itself and hold off the forces of entropy that tend to break it down.
Sciences such as thermodynamics, together with property rights, are what made it possible for Weyerhauser to increase its seedling yields and for Julian Simon to win his bet with Paul Ehrlich. Once we identify what we value, we can take the time and effort to discover how to best direct nature’s energy to protect that value. By establishing boundaries, via property rights, around aspects of nature we most value we can develop standards to measure whether we are efficiently using natural resources. Energy and resources are values that must be defined by using a pro-human standard. Appeals to nature’s intrinsic value or its fragility, lack scientific rigor and should be rejected. Man does have a nature (a thinking nature) that allows him to modify and transform nature to sustain human life. We should celebrate this.
Industrial Chemicals and Risk
The first textbook on technology was written by the maverick physician Paracelsus and published, posthumously, in 1567. Paracelsus was the first person to relate dose to toxicity noting that all things are poison and nothing is without poison. It is only the dose that makes something a poison. Paracelsus knew that standards for evaluating the risks of chemicals must be defined within a rational context. When an appropriate context is defined, exposures from industrial chemicals can be compared with those from natural ones and decisions concerning their use made in a rational fashion.
The 1972 banning of the pesticide DDT was a classic case of not comparing risks from industrial activities to nature’s activities. DDT was known for decades to be cheap, effective, and
of low toxicity. By the early 1950s, it had become the overwhelming pesticide of choice because of its effectiveness and low cost. At the same time, it was considered a “miracle chemical” in preventing an estimated two million deaths each year from malaria. A large part of its effectiveness was its exceptional stability in the environment, up to two weeks under optimal conditions before it would start to break down.
The fact that DDT could accumulate in the biosphere was alarming to environmentalists who viewed any man made chemical suspiciously and one that did not break down quickly even more so. The leading environmental organization fighting to ban DDT was the Environmental Defense Fund. Their chief scientist, Charles Wuster, revealed his antihuman bias when asked whether banning DDT might require other even more toxic chemicals to achieve the same benefits. When asked this question he responded: “So what? People are the cause of all the problems. We have too many of them; we need to get rid of some of them; and this is as good a way as any.”4
Environmental Protection Agency Director William Ruckleshaus stated in 1970: “DDT is not endangering the public health and has an amazing and exemplary record of safe use.”5 However, in 1972 Ruckleshaus overruled the recommendation of his own hearing examiner, Edmund Sweeny, and banned DDT without reading any of the transcripts. After leaving the EPA, Ruckleshaus entered an agreement with the Environmental Defense Fund to sign membership solicitation letters.6
The following facts add a needed perspective when considering the evaluation of risk from industrial or natural chemicals:
- Five to ten percent of any plant’s weight is from natural pesticides.
- These pesticides are as toxic or nontoxic (depending on your perspective) as industrial pesticides
- Ninety-nine percent of toxic chemicals are natural, not man-made.
A standard that evaluates risks must compare man-made hazards to natural ones to have any basis in reality. The Human Exposure Rodent Potentcy (HERP) index, developed by Bruce Ames and his colleagues at the University of California, makes such comparisons.7 The HERP index compares theoretical values from natural animal testing (dose needed to cause tumors in fifty percent of tested animals, known as TD 50) with typical concentrations found in the environment. This value applied to a cup of coffee (catechol), and trichloroethylene (TCE) at 267 micrograms/liter8 yields values of .002 and .006, respectively. In other words, by this standard, drinking a cup of coffee entails a risk factor that is approximately three times higher than the risk factor associated with the consumption of a liter of water containing 267 micrograms of TCE. This does not mean it is time to abandon everyone’s favorite source of caffeine. It does mean, however, that the use of any chemical or substance entails some risk. The risk may be trivial, but it does exist.
The greatest risk to human life is to do nothing. By taking this course of inaction, we have the option of dying from starvation or exposure, to name two possibilities. To live we must act to direct nature’s energy and resources to serve human life while at the same time reducing risk as we gain greater understanding and control of nature’s resources. Our best friend in performing this function is technology. The higher the level of technology, the greater the efficiency of the process of transferring energy, and consequently, the smaller the amount of waste produced.
The issue of waste disposal is closely related to risk. The misperception concerning municipal solid waste disposal is the result of environmentalists ignoring what technology does and how it reduces waste and risk. This ignorance is unfortunately echoed by Vice President Al Gore in his book Earth in the Balance: “the volume of garbage is now so high that we are running out of place to put it.” Apparently Mr. Gore neglected to talk with Clark Wiseman of Gonzaga University who calculated in a study sponsored by the organization Resources for the Future that all municipal solid waste in the United States for the next five hundred years could be contained in a landfill three hundred feet deep and twenty miles long.9 A big landfill to be sure, but still one that would take up less than 0.01 percent of the continental United States. Even so, other innovations could easily reduce solid-waste volumes even further. Rather than simply burying the wastes, as is currently done, we could actively ferment them to reduce their volume and toxicity.10
There will always be waste from any natural or man-made process. Some wastes such as municipal solid waste are relatively easy to isolate. Other waste products, such as air pollutants, are more difficult to isolate. This is where a standard that compares risk between nature and human influences can be used to develop a more objective evaluation of pollution controls. Unfortunately, this sort of comparative standard has been missing from air pollution standards for constituents such as Volatile Organic Carbon (VOC)/oxidant, sulfur dioxide (SO2), and total suspended particles (TSP), among others. Each of these constituents showed declining levels prior to implementation of air pollution controls.11 The possibility of nature as a polluter was not considered. However, a check on the VOC levels has indicated that it is. From 1974 to 1988, VOC levels were reduced by more than 40 percent in American urban areas. Ozone levels, however, commonly assumed by environmental regulators to be related to VOC levels, increased slightly during that time.12
A better approach to air pollution control would be to use the HERP index or its equivalent for TSP, VOCs, or any other constituent of concern. A more objective evaluation of risk, such as the HERP index provides, would greatly decrease the enormously expensive air pollution controls in use today. This, in turn, would lead to greater economic health and a correspondingly higher level of technological development and therefore to progressively smaller volumes of waste and lower levels of risk to human health.
Developing a comparative standard for natural verses industrial chemicals is the fundamental requirement for an objective approach to risk assessment and waste management. A comparative standard provides the means to objectively evaluate the effects of Man’s versus nature’s actions.
Global climate control issues have always been among the core issues of environmentalism. Today the focus is on global warming and ozone depletion in particular. Twenty years ago environmentalists’ concern was over the coming of the next ice age. A lack of objectivity is evident in Stephen Schneider who, in the 1970s, was a proponent of the theory of an incipient man-made ice age:
“…to [reduce the risk of global warming] we need to get some broad-based support, to capture the public imagination. We need to offer up scary scenarios…Each of us has to develop what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.”15
One way to be effective and honest is to consider some pertinent facts:
- CO2 has been increasing in the atmosphere. The CO2 content in the mid-nineteenth century was between 260 and 280 parts per million (ppm), compared with approximately 340 ppm today.
- Global temperature rose approximately one degree Celsius from 1900 to 1940; fell approximately one degree Celsius from 1940 to 1965; and showed no net increase during the 1980’s.
- Most of the temperature rise in the early twentieth century occurred before the rise in CO2 concentrations occurred.
- Termite contribute ten times more CO2 to the atmosphere than industry.14
Scientists with an environmentalist philosophical perspective have ignored both nature’s direct contributions, as in the case of termites, and its feedback mechanisms. James Hansen of NASA, for example, stirred up a media frenzy in 1988 with his statement that based on his model projections he was ninety-nine percent sure that 1988 would be the warmest year on record and that global warming had arrived. Hansen, however, failed to consider the effect of the oceans as a factor in global climate. Unfortunately for Hansen, nature cooled down later that year severely damaging his credibility. In addition to the oceans which act as heat sinks, major feedback mechanisms include cloud reflectivity (albedo) and release of cloud-condensing aerosols by phytoplankton.
Those promoting concern over ozone (O3) depletion also suffer from the misconception that Man’s contributions overshadow those of nature. Ozone has been a prominent issue since 1984, when an ozone “hole” was found over Antarctica. In April 1991, the EPA announced that ozone concentrations over the United States had been reduced by four to five percent. It then alleged that 200,000 deaths from skin cancer could occur over the next fifty years due to ultraviolet light intensity at the earth’s surface.
As with global warming, a look at some facts concerning ozone depletion is instructive:
- There is a five percent natural decrease in ozone content as one travels south from Los Angeles to San Diego, and a seasonal variation of up to twenty-five percent over Denver
- Ultraviolet light measurements taken at eight measuring points from 1974 to 1988 showed a decrease rather than an increase at the earth’s surface.
- Ozone concentrations decreased by 0.47 percent from 1978 to 1985 and increased by 0.28 percent per year from 1985 to 1990.15
The ozone alarmists also neglected to check on nature’s feedback mechanisms. Under changing conditions, reactions can be pushed (temporarily) in one direction or another. This occurs with the Antarctic seasonal “ozone hole.” During the Antarctic night, due to a lack of sunlight and drop in temperature (-80oC), the ozone layer thins by approximately fifty percent. But when the seasons change and the ozone layer receives light, the reactions shift and the “hole” repairs itself. The three equations below are typical of the feedback mechanisms that operate to moderate the change in ozone concentrations:
O2 + ultraviolet (<242 nanometers) = (primarily) 2O above 20 kilometers
O + O = O2, O + O2 = O3 and
O3+ ultraviolet (<320 nanometers) = O + O216
Scientists who are biased by the environmentalist philosophical perspective fail to compare nature’s contributions to that of man. This bias causes them to jump from one data fragment to another, without establishing the proper context for scientific evaluation. Since their science is flawed they are forced to substitute tactics for scientific rigor.
The world viewed through the eyes of reason is knowable. The law of identity and its corollary, the law of causality (cause and effect), have been known explicitly since Aristotle, and have worked for Aristotle and every other human who has taken heed of them, since the first day of human existence. Since no entity or system operates in a vacuum, the expression of these laws in the scientific realm gives rise to feedback mechanisms. All natural systems (physical, biological, and chemical) have feedback mechanisms that tend to stabilize their functioning within certain ranges. The global systems have the ability to moderate much larger forces, than what man can produce. Even when some men went on an orgy of destruction, torching Kuwait’s oil fields during the Persian Gulf War, the global climate systems showed nary a blip of change.
Man’s pursuit of a progressively improved existence will inevitably lead to a greater understanding of nature’s laws. This knowledge will be used to achieve greater control over nature via the development of successively higher levels of technology. Higher technology equals greater control over the aspects of nature we actively use, which in turn means less waste. For instance, a 1000-megawatt coal-fired power plant produces seven million tons of CO2 per year, while the equivalent nuclear power plant produces none.17
A rational policy on global-climate issues does not require any sort of global cooperation to control CO2, chlorofluorocarbon, or any other constituent. In fact, it does not require any government action at all, except perhaps a roll back of the many laws and regulations that restrict the development of energy and advanced levels of technology.
A philosophical perspective that treats human action as natural is the key to clearing away the needless confusion regarding nature’s feedback mechanisms. Nature has many wonders in its possession, but its greatest creation is the human mind. We may be able to destroy ourselves by abusing that gift, but we cannot destroy the planet.
Ecosystem Preservation, Biodiversity, and Endangered Species
Biodiversity and ecosystem preservation are the issues that represent the “vison” of what environmentalists believe our society should strive to be. An early piece of legislation developed to implement this viewpoint was the Endangered Species Act, passed in 1973. Biodiversity and ecosystem preservation have become, in recent years, the framework for EPA policy. The EPA’s August 1993 National Performance Review on Ecosystem Protection states:
“As of this writing, eight hundred fifty-three species of plants and animals are listed as endangered or threatened, and eighty seven million acres of public and private land have been placed under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”18
For a country founded on the idea that the individual’s right to dispose of his property reigns supreme to become one where the importance of ecosystem preservation allegedly justifies the confiscation of eighty seven million acres, requires a fundamental change in philosophical outlook. That change in outlook is made explicit by David Garber in his review of Bill McKibben’s book, The End of Nature:
“This [‘man’s remaking the earth by degrees’] makes what is happening no less tragic for those of us who value wildness for its own sake, not for what value it confers upon mankind. I, for one, cannot wish upon either my children of the rest of Earth’s biota a tame planet, be it monstrous or – however unlikely – benign. McKibben is a biocentrist, and so am I. We are not interested in the utility of a particular species or free-flowing river, or ecosystem, to mankind. They have intrinsic value, more value to me than another human body, or a billion of them.” 19
The view of nature as having intrinsic value is actually a negation of the concept of value. For something to be a value, it must be a value to some living thing. Values are the objects of goal-directed behavior, which can only be engaged in by living organisms. Food may be a value in the case of animals, while human beings adopt more sophisticated ones. The worth of any value is dependent on the valuer’s identity and context. An industrialist may see an open field as a place for a factory, whereas a farmer may see it as a location for an apple orchard.
The acceptance of nature as having intrinsic value opens the door to other arbitrarily constructed ideas that form environmentalism’s philosophical foundation. Another portion of its foundation is the idea of “Gaia” or “Mother Nature” as being a literal megaorganism. John Muir illustrates the idea:
“The world, we are told, was made especially for man – a presumption not supported by all the facts… Why should man value himself as more than a small part of the great unit of creation?”20
Muir’s view subordinates living organisms, those we can directly perceive, to a megaorganism we cannot directly perceive. He substitutes an arbitrarily conceived megaorganism for the interactions of different organisms acting within the framework of natural law. The unit of value should be the individual living organism, not an arbitrary construct. And man being the most highly evolved organism in nature, should value himself over other entities.
The third component that comprises the foundation of environmental philosophy is ethics. Since man is part of creation it follows that he should act as the other members do adapting to rather than consciously modifying, the environment. To consciously modify nature is morally wrong, says John Muir:
“How narrow we selfish, conceited creatures are in our sympathies! How blind to the rights of all the rest of creation!”21
The implication is that man has to be reduced to the level of an animal to achieve moral stature.
Considering that this philosophical triumvirate is the foundation of environmentalism, it becomes understandable how environmental science has degenerated in the area of endangered-species studies. Philosophical objectivity necessarily precedes scientific objectivity. Without it, science inevitably degenerates.
The science underlying the Endangered Species Act is a perfect example of what happens to science when it is based on a faulty philosophical foundation. This science is flawed in three crucial areas: 1) inadequate definition of species, with an associated lack of standards to evaluate whether they are endangered; 2) inadequate baselines on endangered populations; 3) a general lack of documentation for allegedly endangered species.
As Montana State biologist David Cameron and others have observed, defining species can be quite difficult. Evolution teaches that life adapts constantly and in many cases it is difficult to determine exactly where the dividing line is between different species. The issue of inadequate base lines has caused the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to adopt a case-by-case basis for defining endangered species. The lack of adequate information is evident in many recovery plans:
- Desert Slender Salamander: “No information is available on the historical distribution of the desert salamander…”
- Flat-Spired Three-Toothed Snail: “We do not consider surveys to be extensive enough to provide reliable population estimates.”
- Louisiana Pearlshell Mussel: “…practically no information on the life, history, population levels, and habitat requirements for this species…”
- Noonday Snail: “Essentially nothing is known about the snail’s biology. …No estimates of population size have been made since the exact range has never been determined.”22
When pressed about this lack of scientific rigor Edward Wilson editor of Biodiversity, states:
“The masses of species on the verge of extinction is [sic] absolutely undeniable. There are literally hundreds of anecdotal reports.”23
The question of why anecdotal reports are relied on rather than rigorous research, Wilson leaves unanswered.
A review of the geologic record again reveals environmentalism’s flawed perspective. Mass extinctions appear repeatedly in the geological record with the two most spectacular examples being the end of the Paleozoic era (225 million years ago) and the end of the Mesozoic era (65 million years ago). By the conclusion of those eras, approximately ninety percent and seventy-five percent, respectively, of the species on the planet had become extinct.
To stop the destructive policies concerning ecosystems and biodiversity, environmentalism’s foundation must be replaced with one that allows humans the right to thrive on the planet. Living organisms select values for the purpose of sustaining life. In the case of nonhuman life, the selection occurs at the perceptual level, meaning adaptation to the environment. We humans, with our conceptual capacity, can choose to consciously modify the environment to sustain life. With a pro-human standard, ecosystems, endangered species, and biodiversity issues can be addressed in a rational fashion. A pro-human environmental philosophy is one that recognizes that the initiation of force is anathema to human life. Decisions concerning what aspects of nature to use or preserve need to occur within the context of the free market. The free market provides a framework for people to objectively evaluate what their hierarchy of values really is.
Clearly, preservation of nature in a relatively untouched state is a value to many people. The desire to “get away from it all” drives thousands of people to America’s national parks every year. Full privatization of the park system would create a large marketplace for evaluating nature’s value. Until that step is taken, an approximation of the free market can be achieved by charging user fees that cover the full cost of maintaining national parks. This would prevent the deterioration that has occurred in many parks and allow for multiple uses of the parks for activities such as logging.
Private nature reserves are a fully pro-human method for evaluating nature’s value. In Zimbabwe, for example, a market-based program has been used to maintain wildlife populations. The Nyaminyami District Council each year sells permits that govern hunting of selected sites. These permits generated $120,000 in 1989, thus the council has every incentive to avoid selling an excess of permits and thereby deplete the species. Another example is the permits sold by White Mountain Apache Reservation in the United States. By managing the wildlife for profit the managers of the preserve are able to sell approximately fifty permits per year for bull elk. The permits are sold for $15,000 each.24
Nowhere is the driving principle of environmentalism, nature’s intrinsic value, more prominent than in the quest for biodiversity/ecosystem preservation through endangered species protection. It is the ultimate vision of environmentalism. But the attempt to implement this vision has led to the trampling of individual rights and increased human misery. It is time to end the decades of destructive environmentalism by implementing policies that are consistent with the celebration of human life.
In every area of environmental policy, actions based on environmentalism’s philosophical foundation have led to political and economic destruction. Environmentalism came to be a significant force in modern-day American culture as a result of a philosophical and moral vacuum present at the time that Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring generated a renewed interest in environmental issues. This vacuum was created by the culmination of philosophical developments occurring over a number of centuries. To understand fully how to counter the appeal and effects of environmentalism, we need to examine the historical context in which it evolved.
Ideas concerning man’s place in nature are ancient. A key figure in the modern rise of environmentalism and ecology was eighteenth-century French philosopher Jean-Jacques-Rousseau (1712-1778). His philosophical perspective is strikingly similar to modern-day environmentalists:
“The more we depart from the state of nature, the more we lose our natural tastes…All is good coming from the hand of the Author of all things; all degenerates in the hands of man.”25
Rousseau’s ideas influenced Marx, Hegel, and other European intellectuals, including Ernst Haeckel. In 1886, Haeckel coined the term ecology which he defined as the science of the relationships between organisms and the environment. Haeckel and his followers were a major influence in incorporating the ecological ideal in German culture. Their influence grew until, by the 1930s, the ecologists’ influence had reached its peak in Germany. In the political sphere, the German ecologists lobbied successfully for antivivisection laws, creation of nature reserves, implementation of organic (biodynamic) farming, and the redistribution of large land holdings to the German peasants in the Back-to-the-land movement.26
Haeckel preached self-sacrifice for nature and advocated a totalitarian state. His followers saw this hope come to fruition with the rise of Nazi Germany. The “Blood and Soil” ethic developed by the ecologists was an integral part of the Nazi ideology.
A large dose of German and European philosophy was imported to America in the period following the American Civil War when many American intellectuals studied abroad. Another dose came following World War II. Although the European ecology movement collapsed in Germany with the end of World War II, the Soil Association was founded in 1945 in England. The Association published the journal Mother Earth to promote its concerns about soil erosion, soil fertility, pollution, and chemical-based agriculture. This group kept ecological issues alive during the 1940’ and 1950’s and influenced American biologists such as Rachel Carson in 1962 and Barry Commoner.27 The publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson in 1962 marked the rise of environmentalism as a cultural force in the United States and around the world.
As interest in environmental issues was growing among American intellectuals, ideas it shared in common with collectivist ideologies were spreading within American culture at large. Collectivism in America took the form of the welfare state initiated by the administration of Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt and his brain trust showed their disdain for individuals:
“We are turning away from the entrusting of crucial decisions…to individuals who are motivated by private interests.”28
By the 1960’s, American culture had deteriorated badly as these ideas became public policy. Ideas that would be used as the basis for environmentalism’s philosophical triumvirate were widespread within the culture. In addition to the anti-individualist ethics described above, an undercutting of philosophy’s epistemological foundation was evident:
“In epistemology and natural science it’s been pretty well proven that there’s no such thing as objectivity. There are only different patterns of subjectivity…”29
And in the area dealing with man’s relationship to the external world (metaphysics), a change from the perspective of the America’s Founding Fathers was evident:
“Whether we like it or not, modern life has become so highly integrated, so inextricably socialized, so definitely organic, that the very concept of the individual is becoming obsolete.”30
With the widespread acceptance of these ideas into America, people such as student radical Tom Hayden were starting to act on them by the 1960s:
“First we will make the revolution and then we will find out what for.”31
Most of the openly irrational movements of the 1960s died out quickly as their true nature became evident. But ecology and environmentalism were different. They were not just against something, such as technology and industrial civilization:
“The road we have long been traveling…a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster.”32
They championed the preservation of benevolent nature:
“the other fork…offers our last, only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth.”33
One final catalyst was needed to spread the acceptance of environmentalism widely within the culture of the United States. It needed the sanction of a respected institution to give it widespread legitimacy. It received it from the scientific community, or rather those people such as Rachel Carson, Paul Ehrlich, and authors of the “Limits to Growth” study who claimed to represent the scientific community. With this sanction, environmentalism was catapulted onto the national and international stage virtually overnight.
Now, thirty years later, people are beginning to see that environmentalism is inherently destructive. As a result, a backlash is building. In June 1994, the Supreme Court placed new limits on the ability of governments to require developers to set aside part of their property for environmental uses. In the legislative arena, several bills in Congress, known by environmentalists as “The Unholy Trinity” are gathering steam. The first issue concerns “takings” legislation. Property-rights advocates are proposing that any government action that lowers the value of private property requires compensation and that the rules for such compensation be set by Congress. The second issue is cost-benefit analysis and comparative-risk assessment. Advocates are arguing that all government laws and regulations be subjected to cost-benefit analysis and comparative-risk assessment. The third issue is unfunded mandates. The principle behind unfunded mandates would prevent the federal government from forcing mandates on the states unless money is attached to enforce them. As of this writing, legislation concerning unfunded mandates passed in early 1995. Property takings and cost-benefit legislation is pending.
These bills get to the heart of the environmentalist’s political agenda. The Sierra Club, National Audubon Society, Greenpeace and a number of other prominent environmental organizations have issued a citizen action guide with arguments to use against this legislation. The Sierra Club pamphlet: “How to Defend Our Environmental Laws,” is accompanied by a letter that concludes with a genuine alarm: “Two decades of environmental progress are in danger of being rolled back. Now is the time for action.”
Beneath the environmental vision is the deep antihuman bias that drives the environmental movement. The greens have a deep fear of modern civilization. They fear cheap energy, technology, and the free enterprise system in general. They fear it because of the constant change its dynamic nature requires of us.
What is needed to combat the destructive nature of environmentalism is a replacement philosophy that recognizes that human beings are different from any other form of life. We have a need to find meaning and purpose in life because we possess a conceptual faculty. We cannot live at the perceptual level as animals do. We must not only be allowed to modify our environment, but we must celebrate the fact that we can do so consciously. By the intelligent use of our conceptual faculty we do not destroy the value of the environment, but rather we create value as measured by the standard of enhancing human life.
To replace the destructive image of man brought to life by Rachel Carson and others, we need to use the principles mentioned above to further develop the “man-the-creator” image. There are many real-life examples that illustrate this image, but the story of the men behind the mini-mill of Nucor Steel is one of the best.
The story of Nucor Steel begins with a man named Ken Iverson who imagined revolutionizing the sheet metal rolling process. Iverson dreamed of replacing the two-step process of casting and rolling sheet-metal with a single step process, a ream that eluded metallurgists for over one hundred years. Richard Preston chronicled that dream and the technology used to make it come to life:
A machine as long as four football fields that can swallow melted automobiles and spit out sheets of glistening steel, a daring device that turns garbage into gold. Their army? A diverse collection of hot metal men who live to create the fiery blasts and white light that happens when everything works just right to produce steel. Their dreams? To not only beat big Steel at its own game but also to bring America’s steel industry back from Japan and maybe even begin to restore some of the 300,000 jobs lost in that industry over the past decade.34
Ken Iverson and Nucor Steel probably did not have the conservation of nature’s resources foremost in their minds. Yet the process they created allowed for a six-fold increase in the efficiency of resource and energy utilization in the production of steel. The process not only uses less raw materials, but also is being used to recycle the large volumes of existing scrap steel in the American Midwest.
There are no contradictions in reality. The economic well-being created by industrial civilization and the wise use of nature’s resources are inherently compatible. But neither well-being nor wise use happens automatically. We must choose appropriate values and standards by selecting the pursuit of human happiness as the all-encompassing value, and the systematic upgrading of human life as the standard for achieving it. When we do this, we will have finally humanized environmentalism.
Notes and Bibliography
- Julian Simon, The Global 2000 Report to the President of the United States, in The Resourceful Earth (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1984), 45. References by Simon are to Global 2000 Report to the President, Vols. 1, 2 and 3 (Washington, D.C.: US Government Printing Office, 1980.
- Joseph L. Bast, Peter J. Hill, and Richard C. Rue, Eco-sanity: A common-sense Guide to Environmentalism (Lanham, Maryland: The Heartland Institute, 1994), 45. Also, Michael Crouse, Loggers World (Chehalis, Washington: Michael Crouse Publishers, 1991).
- Paul Ekins, The Gaia Atlas of Green Economics (New York Doubleday Dell, 1992), 28, 52, 90.
- Quoted in Richard Sanford, Environmentalism and the Assault of Reason, Rational Readings on Environmental Concerns, ed., Jay Lehr (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1992), 20.
- Quoted in Elizabeth Whelan, Toxic Terror (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1984), 59-85.
- Wheland, Toxic Terror, 59-85.
- Lois Swirsky Gold, et al., “Rodent Carcinogens: Setting Priorities, “Science 258” (1992), 261-265
- As a point of comparison, a concentration of 5 micrograms per liter for TCE is commonly used in underground cleanups.
- Bast, Hill, and Rue, Eco-sanity, 27
- Lee and Jones, “An Alternative to Municipal Solid Waste Landfills,” Biocycle 31 (5): 78-83.
- Hugh Ellasaesser, “Trends in Air Pollution in the United States” (Guest Scientist Lawrence Livermore Laboratories, California, unpublished paper, 1992), personal communication.
- Warren Brookes, “Will Senate Declare War on Family Autos?” Human Events (February 1990)
- Quoted in George Reisman, “The Toxicity of Environmentalism,” in Rational Readings on Environmental Concerns, ed. Jay Lehr, (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1992) 826.
- Dixy Lee Ray, Trashing the Planet: How Science Can Help Us With Acid Rain, Depletion of the Ozone , and Nuclear Waste (Among Other Things) (Washington, D.C.,: Regnery Gateway, 1990), 206.
- Petr Beckmann, Access to Energy, 15, no. 11 (1988) and (1991).
- Hugh Ellsaesser, interview with author and via personal correspondence.
- Ray, Trashing the Planet, 133.
- Robert Gordon, Costs of the Endangered Species Act as Revealed in Endangered Species Recovery Plans (Washington, D.C., National Wilderness Institute, 1994), 60
- Reisman, Rational Readings, 819.
- Quoted in Roderick Frazier Nash, The Rights of Nature (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), 33.
- Nash, Rights of Nature, 3.
- Gordon, Costs, 18.
- Quoted in Charles Oliver, “All Creatures Great and Small: Species Preservation Out of Control,” Reason: 11 (1992), 25.
- Terry Anderson, “Zimbabwe Makes Living With Wildlife Pay,” ) (Wall Street Journal, October 1991), 25.
- Ray, Trashing the Planet, 80.
- Anna Bramwell, Ecology in the 20th Century: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 292.
- Bramwell, Ecology, 195-236.
- Quoted in Leonard Peikoff, The Ominous Parallels (New York: Stein and Day, 1982), 279.
- Peikoff, Ominous Parallels, 307.
- Peikoff, Ominous Parallels, 290.
- Peikoff, Ominous Parallels, 306.
- Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (Greenwich, Connecticut: Fawcett Crest, 1962), 277.
- Carson, Silent Spring, 277.
- Richard Preston, American Steel (New York: Prentice Hall, 1991), 278.