Protecting the natural environment has been the cause célèbre of nearly everyone, especially leftist elites, for the past 40 years. Everywhere we look: academics, politicians, celebrities, and the news media exhort us to protect nature from thoughtless human intrusion and greed. And who would not want to preserve the Earth’s beautiful and awe-inspiring array of life-forms and inanimate wonders? From sea turtles to dolphins, from majestic old growth forests to the ocean's magnificent coral reefs teeming with life; natural wonders bless the Earth with their beauty.
not all aspects of nature fill us with a benevolent sense of wonder;
typhoons, tsunamis, hurricanes, and tornadoes are also part of nature.
So are volcanoes, earthquakes, snow storms, heat waves, droughts,
floods, etc., etc. Such events destroy and devastate thousands of human
lives every year. Likewise, innumerable infectious diseases, such as
malaria, typhus, HIV, and hepatitis, all part of nature, have maimed and
killed millions of human lives across the centuries.
consider the simple truth these vastly differing phenomena tell us
about the natural world: sometimes it is good, and sometimes it is bad.
Good or bad for what? For human life. We frequently talk about nature as
if it were some unified, benevolent, god-like deity, for example:
Mother Earth or “Gaia”. Yet, when considering both the destructive and
the beneficial examples noted above, we can conclude that nature does
not really care one way or another about human life and well being; it
is oblivious to human welfare.
consider how human beings, as opposed to other species, survive and
thrive in the context of their natural environment. The first thing to
note is that every material value upon which human life depends must be
extracted or produced from the resources found in nature. Whether we
consider the most fundamental human physical needs, such as food,
clothing, and shelter, or the most developed human needs and
conveniences, such as modern medicine,electricity, and the internet, we
see that humans must rearrange the elements found in nature to create
the physical values that allow them to enjoy life and prosper. Even
fruit and vegetables must be planted, tended, and harvested. Thus, we
can say that to live and prosper, humans must transform the natural
environment into a human environment, or put another way, humans must
improve the natural environment.
most dramatic example of this point has been the industrial and
scientific revolutions of the past 200 years, which have essentially
consisted of applying reason to understand and manipulate the
environment for human benefit. To an unprecedented degree, people in
modern times have improved their survival and well-being by taking
various elements found in nature, e.g., wood, minerals, plants, animals,
etc., and then isolating and manipulating them. The unprecedented
increase in human population, living standards, and life expectancy over
the past 200 years derive specifically from the exponential growth in
our understanding and subsequent improvement of our environment.
these facts, it would seem that a philosophy of preserving nature
untouched, in a pristine state, as advocated by many environmentalists,
is a prescription for human destruction. It is certainly a mistake to
prevent human development of natural resources in deference to the
supposed needs of every other species on earth, as many environmental
thinkers desire. I am not referring here only to the sentiments of the
"deep ecology" types associated with radical environmentalist groups.
Consider for example, the following statements from several "mainstream"
life of an ant and that of my child should be granted equal
consideration." -- Michael Fox, vice president of The Humane Society.1
collective needs of non-human species must take precedence over the
needs and desires of humans." -- Dr. Reed F. Noss, The Wildlands
I were reincarnated, I would wish to be returned to Earth as a killer
virus to lower human population levels." -- Prince Phillip, World
time you turn on an electric light, you are making another brainless
baby" -- Helen Caldicott, Union of Concerned Scientists.4
happiness, and certainly human fecundity, are not as important as a
wild and healthy planet. I know social scientists who remind me that
people are part of nature, but it isn't true. Somewhere along the
line--at about a million years ago, maybe half that--we quit the
contract and became a cancer. We have become a plague upon ourselves and
upon the Earth."
is cosmically unlikely that the developed world will choose to end its
orgy of fossil-energy consumption, and the Third World its suicidal
consumption of landscape. Until such time as Homo sapiens should decide
to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come
along." -- David M. Graber, a research biologist with the National Park
Service, in a prominently featured Los Angeles Times book review of Bill
McKibben's book, The End of Nature.5
sentiments, if enacted, would certainly result in mass human death.
Indeed, some have argued that they already have resulted in the deaths
of millions from malaria, which followed the banning of DDT in the early
1970’s. Yet, we often hear such ideas put forward as moral ideals.
There seems to be a disconnect between our desire to have a good life
based on modern technology and our desire to enjoy nature left untouched
by human development. Why? One reason is probably because many people
take most of modern life's comforts for granted, not realizing that
these comforts had to be created by human minds and hands working to
improve the environment.
people seem to think that the values science and technology bring us
somehow already exist in nature. They either don't realize or won’t
admit the degree of human thought and effort needed to produce such
values. They don't realize that enjoying a hike in a forest, or a tour
of the Grand Canyon, or a scuba diving excursion, is dependent upon
bringing the right safety equipment (e.g., boots, canteens, scuba gear)
with them so that they do not perish during their adventure. Focusing
only on the beauty of the wilderness, people often forget that they
would not have the leisure time for nature walks if they did not have a
comfortable, climate-controlled home to return to after the journey was
over. The outdoors would not seem so pleasing to nature-lovers if, after
the day's hike, they could not take a nice warm bath, enjoy a good
meal, and read a good book or watch a good movie before going to sleep
in their clean, man-made beds. We can imagine that prehistoric man,
starving and suffering from diseases, rarely if ever, had time to enjoy
nature. More likely, he simply feared much of the world around him
because he did not understand it.
as indicated by the quotations above, take it for granted that
manipulating the environment to suit human purposes is immoral.
Moreover, they have been largely successful in pushing this idea into
the mainstream. They have managed to convince large numbers of citizens
and politicians that human beings will likely cook the earth to a crisp
through our release of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion. That
global warming might be a good (or even neutral) phenomenon rarely enter
their minds. They would run in horror from the suggestion that human
beings should purposely moderate the climate through technologies such
as cloud seeding. Instead, they would rather "let nature take her
course" and perhaps kill off a few million people by hurricane, tornado,
or tsunami. In fact, they frequently argue that reducing the human
burden on the planet is a necessity if we are to prevent imminent
this sounds like I am impugning environmentalists with wildly
exaggerated motives, and that all they really want is for humans to
thrive but at the same time to live “in harmony” with nature, consider
first that living in harmony with nature is a euphemism for not
disturbing nature. Given the basic requirements of human life and the
destructive aspects of nature discussed above, this is equivalent to
calling for human life be sacrificed to nature. This is, in fact, what
many environmentalists, such as those quoted above, earnestly desire.
Moreover, it is not just something they call for in theory. The same
environmentalists who want to end the burning of fossil fuels for energy
production also oppose the use “clean” alternatives power sources, such
as wind turbines, solar panels, and nuclear plants. The same
environmentalists who want to balance nature and human needs focus
exclusively on legally preventing farmers from farming, loggers from
logging, fishermen from fishing, builders from building.
considering all this, you might rethink the unquestioning support you
may have given to environmental causes. You might not , and you should
not, think that the environmental ideology is as benevolent as you once
did. Rather, the next time you encounter "green"-minded busy-bodies
encouraging you and your children to protect the environment, you may
want to reply that it is fine if people voluntarily agree to preserve
certain specific aspects of nature for their beauty or uniqueness to be
enjoyed; however, it is far more important for human life and prosperity
that we improve, not protect, the environment.
1. Michael W. Fox, Vice President, The Human Society of the United States, The Inhumane Society, New York, 1990.
2. "The Wildlands Project," Wild Earth, Special Issue, 1992, p.3.
3. Quoted in "Are You Ready for Our New Age Future?" Insiders Report, American Policy Center, December 1995).
4. Quoted by environmentalist Theodore Roszak in the Oregonian, June 14, 1992.
5. Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 22nd, 1989.