My Journey From Traditional Environmentalism to a People First Environmental Perspective
By: Mike Gemmell
I have written this memoir of my early professional life to help individuals and groups working in what I refer to as “the cultural persuasion business.” In the context of this memoir that term refers to individuals and groups who are:
Actively engaged in educational outreach in one form or another trying to persuade people to understand and get behind public policy measures intended to restore foundational ideas in America and cultural institutions based on those ideas, e.g., millennials who have been indoctrinated and manipulated by our educational system into believing that striving for a socialist political system is a positive direction for the U.S. to follow.
When I emerged from my college environment in 1980 I was what one might call a “semi-tree hugger.” I was not entirely opposed to civilization as such, but I was highly suspicious of heavy industry, capitalism, and Big Business. During my childhood we would normally go camping on our summer vacations, and because of that I spent a great deal of time in the outdoors, and learned to love it. Because of that love, I chose to study geology as a major when it came time to pick a profession.
With my Bachelors of Science degree I was able to enter the engineering/environmental consulting field in my hometown of Long Beach, CA for a company then-named Fugro, Inc. that through several incarnations over the years has finally become the Earth Technology Corporation. I felt reasonably comfortable in my role performing groundwater resource evaluation since I was not doing anything to support heavy industry, but instead was doing assessments of the environment to prevent the misuse of natural resources.
Meanwhile, My father, an electrical engineer, was working to found an engineering company with five other professionals that he had long professional associations with. The founding of his company occurred about the time I entered college.
By the time I was 24 I had a couple years of professional experience and was out of the house and living on my own. Even so, I spent many of my free hours at family dinners since my parents lived in the area. At one or more of those family gatherings my father must have heard some of my views concerning industry and capitalism that were distressing to him. Being the very wise man he was, instead of getting upset or browbeating me over them, he asked me to read a book that he had recently come across, A Time for Truth by former Secretary of the Treasury William Simon. Simon had a long and distinguished career on Wall Street before becoming Secretary of the Treasury during the Nixon Administration.
Given the fact that I had great respect for my father and thought the book sounded intriguing, I was only too happy to comply with his request. Simon’s discussion in the book where he defused the gas crisis of the 1970s by stopping the price controls on gas at service stations was eye-opening to say the least, and whetted my appetite for more. My next book was by Milton Friedman titled: Free to Choose. After reading that I was all but hooked on free market economics. But I still had one big problem:
How can our society have heavy industry and the pollution problems it can cause and adequately address those issues within a free market structure?
Lady luck was in my corner as I strove for an answer and presented me with two of the most extraordinary minds I have ever encountered: Edith Efron and Ayn Rand. To make a long story short, those two mega-minds started me on a life-long intellectual odyssey that among other things led me to the answer I was seeking:
Applying property rights to pollution issues while considering nature’s contribution to the equation was the key to understanding that: Environmental Quality and Economic Prosperity IS an Achievable Ideal. My colleague Jay Lehr and I have since designated this environmental perspective: “People First.”
Volatile organic carbon concentrations (VOCs) in the atmosphere can be used to show how this principle works in the area of air pollution. VOCs are a key component of air quality problems, but environmentalists in their bias against industry have ignored the contribution that nature makes via natural vegetation and thus greatly overregulated industrial emissions. Steve Milloy, Indur Goklany and other interested parties have been endeavoring to revise our pollution regulations because of this bias, an effort that extends into the present day.
Since those heady days of beginning my life-long intellectual odyssey, I have applied these insights in environmental issues and eventually extended my interests to areas of our culture needing an individual rights foundation to initiate reforms concerning business, education, and other areas.
Summary and Conclusions
Thanks to the patience of my wise and loving father and my extraordinary luck in stumbling across the works of two extraordinary minds exactly at the moment I was open and willing to accept a new philosophic perspective on the world— I was able to find my way out of the flawed perspective I had at that time. Over a period of years I was able to discover and extend my own insights in the arena of public policy from environmental issues to other cultural/political issues.
However, it is crucial to understand that the conditions I had to work with were exceptionally rare. Most people do not have all of these things fall into place at just the right time. This is why it is so very difficult to reach people who are psychologically invested in destructive ideological beliefs.
But there is good news here: a number of organizations and individuals over the last 30 years have sharpened their communication skills concerning these issues and opened up whole new worlds of insights for those who are ready to take a different look at the status quo.
As I write these words in December 2019 three organizations stand at the head of the class for those endeavoring to understand how to be cultural change leaders in promoting a pro-individualist perspective across a huge swath of political/cultural issues. They are: The Atlas Society , led by CEO Jennifer Grossman, the Ayn Rand Institute led by Yaron Brook, and the Center for Industrial Progress founded and led by Alex Epstein. Please contact these organizations to find out more about their operations and ongoing projects.
Mike Gemmell is the founder and president of Restore Our American Republic, LLC (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.