How Not To Fight Environmentalism

Environmentalists succeed largely because they are able to pretend that their goal is to protect nature for man, while the truth is that they want to protect nature from man. They regularly oppose projects that demonstrably benefit human beings, on the grounds that nature—fish, turtles, owls, trees, wetlands—will be damaged.

While at first environmentalists made some nominal claims about how people would ultimately be harmed, such claims have now become largely unnecessary. The environmentalists’ “package-deal,” which blurs the distinction between effects on nature and effects on man, has become entrenched in people’s minds. Consequently, many people now regard the value of preserving the “environment” as a given.

Even professed opponents of environmentalism accept this premise. Consider the campaign currently being waged by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a generally good, pro-capitalist organization. It is opposing the policies that are exacerbating, and perpetuating, the effects of California’s drought. Or rather, it is trying to oppose them.

The headline in its latest newsletter says: “PLF Fights government ‘Green’ Policies That Help Turn California Brown.” In order to protect the Delta smelt—a fish on the official endangered-species list—the government there has been diverting water away from reservoirs. But instead of categorically stating that human life is the source of our values, and that man has rights while fish, and the “environment,” do not, PLF is accepting the environmentalists’ main premise.

“We litigate for the urgent needs—human and environmental—that the feds ignore,” PLF declares. It complains that “the water cutoffs for the smelt hurt other species (along with millions of human beings).” Government bureaucrats, PLF says, must be “made to recognize that their responsibility extends to all species affected by their decisions—including human beings.”

To say that we should be concerned with both human and environmental needs, is to concede everything. It’s like saying that the reason to clean your house is that it is both good for you and good for your house. Which means that we have to “protect” the house from being dirtied, irrespective of any effect on you. But there is no intrinsic value to cleanliness as such, nor to a house as such, nor to nature as such, when divorced from its value to human beings.

And underlying the environmentalist ideology is the ethics of self-sacrifice. This is the ethics under which you have no moral right to your self-interest, but rather must subordinate it to the needs of any non-you—including the Delta smelt. 

With respect to environmentalist assertions, therefore, about the need to keep endangered species and free-flowing rivers and swampland unaffected by man, the proper response is threefold: first, an insistence that the life of rational, productive man be taken as the standard of value; second, an insistence that only after there is objective evidence of harm to human beings can any discussion even begin; and third, an insistence that the individual has no moral duty to sacrifice his well-being to that of animals and plants. (For more on the meaning of this ethics, see the chapter “The Goal of Self-Sacrifice” in my book, In Defense of Selfishness amzn.to/1sd2EQP).♦♦ 

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One thought on “How Not To Fight Environmentalism

  1. Michael Smith

    This article presents an excellent example of a serious error made by many alleged defenders of freedom and capitalism: conceding the opponent's premise, especially their moral premise. Nothing is more fatal in a debate — when your opponent has the moral high ground, you are always on the defensive, and it shows to any third party you might be hoping to persuade.  Republicans and conservatives have perfected this losing-by-conceding, which is why a blatant leftist-statist like Obama can win two national elections.

    By the way, I cannot give too strong a recommendation for Peter's new book, In Defense of Selfishness — if only Republicans and conservatives could challenge their own moral premises enough to be open to its ideas!

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