Tag Archives: environmentalism

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).♦♦ 

Man vs Fish

Environmentalists are typically viewed as seeking to protect human life from such health hazards as dirty air and polluted water. But that's a superficial assessment. The essence of environmentalism is the belief that nature must be protected, not for man, but from man. 

One of the more recent illustrations of this philosophy is provided by the current drought in California, where the government has imposed severe water-rationing measures. Not only have environmentalists opposed the construction of new reservoirs—none have been built in that state in the last 35 years—but they are diverting water from human use to the preservation of fish. Federal regulators have ruled that channeling some 1.2 million acre-feet of water to California farmers would have endangered the three-inch smelt. So the water, enough for more than three million households to live on for a year, went unused. 

The premise of environmentalism is that the reshaping of nature to fulfill human needs is an evil that must be stopped. Think of that as you enjoy your home with its indoor plumbing and electrical appliances, or when you drive your car along paved highways, or when you go to work in a high-rise office building—and ponder the alternative of life in pre-industrial, "unspoiled" nature.

(For more on environmentalism, see my chapter "The Philosophy of Privation" in Ayn Rand's Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution—http://amzn.to/1JQrxtv.)