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The One Minute Case Against Environmentalism


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Environmentalism versus humanity


The premise behind the environmentalist movement is the belief that nature untouched by human influence has inherent moral value, and therefore the influence of man, and especially that of industrial civilization, is immoral. What leading environmentalists oppose is not the threat to human life posed by environmental destruction, but man’s exploitation of nature to improve its ability to sustain human life.


In the words of popular environmentalist Bill McKibben, “The problem is that nature, the independent force that has surrounded us since our earliest days, cannot coexist with our numbers and our habits. We may well be able to create a world that can support our numbers and our habits, but it will be an artificial world. . . .” The environmentalist attack on the “artificial” extends to all human manipulation of the environment. While few advocates of environmentalism recognize it as such, the ultimate goal of the environmentalist movement is the total destruction of industrial civilization, and the vast majority of the human race whose existence is made possible by it.


Environmentalism versus the mind


Human beings have evolved over millions of years to survive by using their reasoning mind. There is nothing “unnatural” about this. It is human nature to think and use technology to enrich our lives. We are as much a part of the “natural world” as any other creature. Instead of claws, fangs, or the heightened senses of animals, we have our minds and hands. The difference between our comfortable lives and the short, dangerous, and miserable existence that our ancestors eked out in trees, caves, and caverns is continually made possible by application of reason to the problem of survival.


Shackling man’s mind by preventing him from applying it to improve his condition would ultimately lead to our extinction. The genetic and biochemical tools which made the Green Revolution possible feed billions of people today. Farming machinery feeds billions more. Undoing the industrial revolution would eliminate the vast majority of productivity improvements in agricultural production and distribution. To the extent that we cripple technology, we cripple our ability to exist as human beings.


Capitalism is the solution to environmental destruction


The usual response to environmental destruction is a call for more government controls of industry. However it is the lack of property rights, not capitalism which is responsible for environmental destruction, as the history of socialist states aptly demonstrates.1


According to Roy Cordato2,


Environmental problems occur because property rights, a requirement of free markets, are not being identified or enforced. Problems of air, river, and ocean pollution are all due to a lack of private property rights and/or protection. Since clarifying and enforcing property rights is the basic function of government in a free society, environmental problems are an example of government failure, not market failure.

In a free society, environmental problems should be viewed in terms of how they impinge on human liberty. Questions should focus on how and why one person’s use of resources might interfere with the planning and the decision making abilities of others. Since, legitimately, people can only make plans and decisions with respect to resources that they have “rights” to, environmentalism that has human wellbeing as the focus of its analysis, must center on property rights.


Even if some environmental dangers are real, we would be much better equipped to deal with them by embracing prosperity and technological progress than surrendering to the indisputable danger of nature to those who give up their primary means of survival. As Ayn Rand put it,3


City smog and filthy rivers are not good for men (though they are not the kind of danger that the ecological panic-mongers proclaim them to be). This is a scientific, technological problem—not a political one—and it can be solved only by technology. Even if smog were a risk to human life, we must remember that life in nature, without technology, is whole-sale death.


References:


  1. Thomas J. DiLorenzo. “Why Socialism Causes Pollution” The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty, March 1992.
  2. Roy E. Cordato. “Market Based Environmentalism vs. the Free Market” June 4, 1999
  3. Ayn Rand. “The Anti-Industrial Revolution,” Return of the Primitive, 282. 1971


Further reading:




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