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Green rising: The dangers of political environmentalism

by David D'Amato

For those who genuinely value individual rights, the question of whether human beings are responsible for global climate change bears no weight on arguments concerning the role of the state in society; the answer to the question, no matter what it is, could not justify or legitimize any measure that would transgress an individual’s right to be free from the aggressive force inherent in statism. Assuming for the sake of argument that environmental conditions are changing, that the changes represents a serious danger to life, and that human action is a noteworthy cause of the changes, there is nevertheless no reason to believe that the use of violence, embodied in government policies, could provide a solution.

Still, accepting the possibility that comprehensive coercion and further disregard for individual rights could normalize earth’s temperature, securing a habitable planet for future generations, it’s not at all clear that this is a price free people should be willing to pay or should have to pay. As a matter of course, the world would be a far more verdant place if humanity lapsed into a pre-industrial way of life, rejecting technology and adopting the customs of, for example, some Amazonian tribes that today continue to live in much the same way as they did hundreds of years ago. Indeed, political environmentalists like Bill McKibben have argued that traditional notions of modernity and linear progress have obfuscated the reality that human beings actually have too much technology, proposing that we scale back our attempts to facilitate and streamline the appurtenances of human life.

As brimful with contradictions as the broader political movement it represents, McKibben’s book, Enough, bafflingly blames the “hyperindividualism of the West” for “the possibility that technology may replace humanity” and “undermine consciousness.” Political environmentalists largely see technology, in itself a conduit for creative energy that has hitherto made the world more sanitary, food more bountiful, and life longer and more enjoyable, as completely impotent in the face of the climate change menace. Like the Luddites who vainly struggled against the advancements of the Industrial Revolution, today’s political environmental movement is — contrary to its own insistence — thoroughly opposed to science and human flourishing, foretokening a “wholesale loss of meaning” to come with further technological breakthroughs.

Arguably beginning in 1962 with the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the political environmental movement has always styled the planet as a kind of god, possessed of its own spirit, and has always been willing us to cease improving the conditions of human life at its expense. Considering the earth an entity, the movement treats the “health” of the planet as an end in and of itself, ennobling elements of nature as values above and beyond the things that can be done with them to meliorate human life. Despite confronting the population with apocalyptic visions of rising seas drowning whole cities, political environmentalists unabashedly admit that their movement is not about humans or their future safety at all.

In his Respect for Nature: A Theory of Environmental Ethics, philosopher and environmentalist Paul Taylor writes, “Given the total, absolute, and final disappearance of Homo Sapiens, not only would the Earth’s community of life continue to exist, but in all probability, its well-being would be enhanced. Our presence, in short, is not needed. And if we were to take the standpoint of that Life Community and give voice to its true interests, the ending of the human epoch on Earth would most likely be greeted with a hearty ‘Good riddance!’” Environmentalists thus present human life, with all its shameful neglect and exploitation of the extra-human “Life Community,” as the unequivocal enemy of the highest ethical principles, openly embracing the idea of human extinction. If the political environmental movement held the preservation of human life as its goal, it would — rather than damning innovation — underscore the importance of continued technological development.

As understood by Pepperdine University economist George Reisman, “It is precisely modern industrial civilization and its further expansion and intensification that is mankind’s means of coping with all aspects of nature, including, if it should ever actually be necessary, the ability to control the earth’s climate, whether to cool it down or to warm it up.” It is an appropriate display of the suicidal absurdity of the political environmentalists’ arguments that the solutions they suggest would halt progress and truly freed markets in an attempt to create safer and cleaner interactions between man and his natural environment.

As philosopher Michael S. Berliner has pointed out, the dangers that can be associated with climate change (assuming that today any dangers can be proven at all) are nothing next to the peril of living in a world antagonistic toward technology and innovation. It therefore becomes impossible to consider the current political environmental movement as anything but an attempt to subjugate sovereign individuals to the newest in a long string of state-collectivist, totalitarian ideas hostile to mankind. In his Los Angeles Times review of McKibben’s The End of Nature, biologist David Graber writes, “Human happiness, and certainly human fecundity, are not as important as a wild and healthy planet. … [The ecosystem has] intrinsic value, more value to me than another human body or a billion of them. … Until such time as Homo Sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along” (emphasis added). Open contempt for human life in favor of a mystical object of praise is common to all philosophies that favor the total state, and the current green movement is no different, its participants yielding without thought or question to an ideology that promises nothing but desolation.

Though they fancy themselves sophisticated, cosmopolitan devotees to science, environmentalism’s followers seldom review the empirical data, preferring to approach the issue instead from the angle of politics. In avoiding the thorny numbers and charts that they claim to base their opinions on, political environmentalists can (like McKibben, Taylor, and Graber) ground their beliefs in the unquestioning devotion to Mother Earth, a religion acceptable to the supposedly “enlightened” and cultured classes. Most environmentalists are therefore no different from the Christian fundamentalists so constantly pilloried by the American Left, denigrating Western individualism and mainstream, technological culture as the cause of the withering of higher values. Illustrating environmentalism’s hatred for humankind, McKibben notes the common ground between traditional religions and the environmental movement, arguing that “environmentalists … tend to agree that man has made too much of himself, that we’ve indeed valued our species too highly.” As McKibben’s book suggests, the political environmental movement’s definition of “nature” is curiously devoid of any consideration of human nature, with its need to manipulate and control natural resources for its survival. Nothing could be more unnatural, indeed incompatible with the natural order, than placing the supposed “interests” of the amalgam of inanimate objects that we call earth above the inviolable rights of the individual.

That most environmentalists are so enthralled with political (i.e., coercive) answers to the alleged calamity of global warming — rather than far superior, voluntary, market-based solutions — connotes something important about the goals immanent in the movement. Political environmentalists inveigh against the technological evolution that has so empowered the individual because it challenges the statist, managerialist society they envision. Princeton University physicist William Happer — the former Director of the Office of Energy Research in the U.S. Department of Energy and hardly an anarchist — compared the environmental movement to a “religious cult,” arguing, “[Climate change theory has] been extremely bad for science. It’s going to give science a really bad name in the future. I think science is one of the great triumphs of humankind, and I hate to see it dragged through the mud in an episode like this.” As noted above, the primary focus of environmentalists is not and has never been science; it is instead politics, the movement developing a new vocabulary as a device for effectuating their view of the way the state should interact with economic life.

Any examination of environmentalism’s early history in the United States uncloaks a discomfiting association with aggressive nationalism and the idea that the “American character” is supernaturally linked to the unique features of the American landscape. Hailed as natural monuments to the democratic ideal, the national parks organized by the conservation movement were a convenient way for the federal government to grab huge expanses of land. To capture an appropriately populist feeling of accessibility, it was important to the movement that it should prevent anyone from ever owning the pristine settings it targeted for government takeover. It could come as no surprise then that Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, two extremely nationalistic presidents with a special loathing for individual rights, were early backers of the conservation effort, seeing it as another way to expand the scope of the state.

Elsewhere, too, the politics of environmentalism were entangled with mystical and xenophobic national pride. From its outset, and continuing the “Romantic tradition’s anti-Enlightenment irrationalism,” the Nazi Party was, argues Peter Staudenmaier, actively dedicated to naturalistic and environmentalist ideology. “The National Socialist ‘religion of nature’ … ,” Staudenmaier writes, “was a volatile admixture of primeval teutonic nature mysticism, pseudo-scientific ecology, irrationalist anti-humanism, and a mythology of racial salvation through a return to the land.” The National Socialists analogized the planet, with its myriad organic components all creating balance, to the Hegelian organism of society (which they, of course, understood to be synonymous with the state), and their reverence for the “motherland” was a foundational piece of their canon of racist ideas. Hearkening to the paganism of yore and reviving traditional mythology, the Nazis, as noted by Janet Biehl, “advanced the idea and practice of a ‘Nordic peasantry’ tied organically to the soil.” Demonizing free markets for “alienat[ing] men from their natural state,” the Nazis pushed for everything from animal rights to vegetarianism to “natural healing.”

The Party’s bizarre brand of national-environmentalism — immersed in the occult and fiercely ethnocentric — was not a new invention, growing out of the work of nineteenth century writers like Moritz Arndt and Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl. It may come as a surprise to many that early environmentalism in both the United States and Europe was part of a bricolage of progressive and nationalistic ideas that had very little to do with scientific worries about “sustainability.” Today’s Green Left is, however wrongly, thought to be made up of open-minded internationalists, with the racists and nationalists designated to the Right, but the environmental movement’s unsavory history cannot easily be severed from its present. Today, as in the past, environmentalism, in its opposition to individualism and free markets, has a distinct appeal for those who favor the total state. It isn’t as though those who advocate a greater role for government just happen to be more responsive to empirical data on climate change, therefore becoming Green. As noted above, their proposed solutions, all of which curtail freedom and expand government domination, would actually worsen the situation. The reason for statists’ predisposition to the environmental movement is instead related to the ways that political language is employed. In a post-twentieth century world, there are no longer many in mainstream political thought who’re willing to self-identify as communists or fascists, but their ideas haven’t changed.

“[I]t should not be surprising,” writes Reisman, “to see hordes of former Reds, or of those who otherwise would have become Reds, turning from Marxism and becoming the Greens of the ecology movement. It is the same fundamental philosophy in a different guise, ready as ever to wage war on the freedom and well-being of the individual.” To note just two examples of the love totalitarian rulers have for the movement, Soviet murderer Mikhail Gorbachev founded Green Cross International (an NGO devoted to environmental issues) in 1993, and Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, author of a three-volume set titled The Green Book, “is,” observes Eric Englund, “an unabashed Green Socialist.” Englund goes on to write that, by embracing the “view[ of] Libya as a collective organism with a ‘life’ of its own,” Gaddafi’s Green Book exhibits remarkable similarities to the Nazi brand of environmentalism, with opposition to true free markets as a central motif. It should be apparent that, in order to defend liberty, it is necessary to classify the environmental movement as political theory, and not scientific imperative. States have always couched their ambitions in the language of science, mixing it with emotional appeals to national or class pride. “Going Green” is nothing but heedless piety to fraud. Everyone should feel free — even morally compelled — to “reduce his carbon footprint” through voluntary undertakings like recycling or riding a bike, but government edicts that dictate what an individual may do with her rightly-owned property are no less than enslavement.

For those convinced by the Green hype machine and looking for ways to curtail the ruination of the environment, the proper starting point is paring down government, the single biggest environmental offender. “Government,” writes Dr. Mary Ruwart (Ph.D. in biophysics), “is the greatest single polluter in the U.S. This polluter literally gets away with murder because of sovereign immunity.” Controlling over forty percent of land in the United States, government — lacking the incentive for oversight that would accompany private ownership — has done more harm to the environment than any other entity. Government rents most of its land to ranchers, and, writes Ruwart, “studies as early as 1925 indicated that cattle were twice as likely to die on public ranges and had half as many calves as animals grazing on private lands.” The purported goals of environmentalism are therefore demonstrably ill-served by government ownership of land.

By the mid-1980s the U.S. Forest Service, after opening up the national forests to corporate logging interests, laid down eight times the length of the interstate system in logging roads alone. The military and the Department of Defense, through nuclear testing and weapons plants, have unleashed billions of dollars in damage through the release of radioactive and toxic chemicals. In addition, economist Gene Callahan points out, “[t]he U.S. government has subsidized many activities that burn carbon: it has seized land through eminent domain to build highways, funded rural electrification projects, and fought wars to ensure Americans’ access to oil.”

Lifting the assumptions granted above, that the earth is getting warmer and that human beings are the cause, the state’s arguments become even more dubious. First, the uncontested idea that the planet’s temperature is rising isn’t born out by satellite data showing, as argued by David Deming, “that that the mean global temperature is the same that it was in 1979 [and t]he extent of global sea ice is also unchanged from 1979.” Further, studies furnished by scientists on climate change are almost always commissioned and paid for by states. For example, Deming notes that “[t]he Obama report refers to — six times — the work of a climate scientist named Stephen H. Schneider. In 1989, Schneider told Discover magazine that ‘we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have.’ Schneider concluded ‘each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.’” Dr. Happer (among many other independent scientists) has explained that over the past decade global temperatures have actually dropped, but researchers who articulate such apostasy are blackballed at conferences organized by governments. It would be easy to forget that throughout the twentieth century scientists across the board believed the world was descending into a new ice age. By the 1970s, with clear consensus in the scientific community, Doug Casey recalls, “magazines were showing pictures of glaciers toppling over the buildings of New York.” Had the most “progressive” suggestions of that period been enacted, the U.S. government would have been responsible for directly aggravating the dangers described by today’s statists.

Complaints about the hubris of Western culture and “valuing our species too highly” should perhaps be directed at the idea that human beings could heat up the globe to such a degree as to threaten all of life. Abandoning both the natural and social sciences, the environmental movement, if its goals are allowed to succeed, will blight the world with the kind of society fit only for the animals it so reveres. But even more than its positive goals, political environmentalism is sure about what it stands against: reason, technology, free markets, individual rights. When politicians start talking about climate change, we would do well to listen closely to what they’re really saying.

Looking around today, there isn’t much of a libertarian or anarchist environmental movement to speak of, no one rising to confront what is the dominant orthodoxy among those who care about the environment, that the state’s regulatory edifices are the answer to the problem. To be sure, there is no conflict necessarily dividing anarchism from environmentalism and no reason that libertarianism ought to be confined — as within the debate — to making apologies for unaccountable corporate polluters. The state, from its corporate economy to its supposed environmental protection bureaucracies and measures, is not the mode through which honest, conscientious environmentalists’ concerns can be reached.

It is indeed the state that has created and fostered the very impunity that has characterized corporate destruction of the natural environment, most recently in the BP crisis. The problem is not environmentalism as such, but political environmentalism. Where free individuals owned property rightly — with genuine recognition given to their titles and with those titles derived from bone fide homesteading or exchange — pollution would be dealt with as a violation of property rights. Any peaceful attempt to protect or restore the environment is to be applauded, but ignorance cannot excuse environmentalists’ participation in the political process, and it simply won’t do to ignore the fact that today’s environmental movement has been almost entirely co-opted and taken advantage of by champions of the total state. It has been some of the worst states and the most misguided and evil ideologies that have availed themselves of environmentalist language.

That is no coincidence, and every concession to the state as the proper means to the end of a cleaner, safer earth only emboldens statists. Advocacy for government action, no matter what its form, is perforce an attack on technology and innovation insofar as it demonstrates a lack of faith in them as solutions. Experiment and an upheaval of the current state-corporate order are the route to both the destruction of state-capitalism and to a healthier environment, the twin objectives being logically and empirically fused.

It is important not to blame sincere, earnest environmentalists, largely exploited by political environmentalism, for the turpitude of the state solutions. At the same time, anarchists need to encourage them to abandon the political process and embrace the voluntary answers to the global environmental predicament.

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