Radical Environmentalism: An Assessment

Robert Nisbet once remarked that environmentalism has become the third great redemptive movement in human history, following Christianity and Marxism. Indeed it already has its notions of sin, guilt and redemption, its sacred texts and venerated leaders. And like all false religions, radical environmentalism has its share of zealots.

Paul Ehrlich is one well known example of one whose concern about pollution and population problems has resulted in some pretty radical proposals. For example, he toyed with the idea of adding sterilising agents to water supplies or staple food to achieve compulsory birth regulation. He even called for “luxury taxes” on cribs, nappies, toys, etc., as a means of controlling birth habits.

Also in America, CNN owner and social activist Ted Turner, who has become a militant green, has recently proposed a plan to cut back the current 5 billion human beings to no more than “250 million to 350 million people”. Of course one has to ask, “How will this be achieved?” Will Turner and wife Jane Fonda lead the way?

But such madness is not exclusive to America. Closer to home, Australian Museum palaeontologist Dr Tim Flannery told a Canberra Parliamentary audience in March that Australia should aim for a population target of fewer than 10 million by the end of the century. What will become of the other 8 million Australians is anybody’s guess.

Finally, late last year Gosford councillor James Adams told an inquiry into population control that people who choose to have three children should be compulsorily sterilised and forced to pay the government $200 per fortnight. He also said that couples who choose to have no children should be given a “community service award” of $50,000 and $200 a fortnight until they are 45.

As G.K. Chesterton once said, “The danger when men stop believing in God is not that they will believe in nothing, but that they will believe in anything.” Environmental zeal can match that of any religious zealot, often with harmful consequences. Radical environmentalism tends to rely on emotion and doomsaying but is based on little scientific fact. Indeed, bad science, along with deliberate deception on the part of radical greens, coupled with a sympathetic media, has led to a number of government policies which have been counterproductive. By exaggerating the seriousness of environmental issues, intrusive, punitive government controls have been set up which may or may not solve the problem, but do a lot to increase the power of big government and do a lot to threaten property rights of individual citizens.

The government bureaucracies mushroom, regulations multiply, and tax payers’ dollars are consumed in the millions. A few examples illustrate this point:

–The rehabilitation of 222 sea otters was mandated after the Exxon Valdez oil spill at a cost of more than $80,000 per animal. (Five hundred sea otters were untouched by the spill.)

–The Stevens Kangaroo rat received exclusive rights to land worth $100 million (“and the rats didn’t even ask for it!”).

–It is estimated that the cost of the acid rain requirements of the 1990 Clean Air Act is $4 billion a year. The benefits come in at just $100 million.

Or consider some of these more localised examples:

–In Montana, a man who was confronted by four grizzly bears, shooting one that charged him, was fined $4000 for killing an endangered species, even though they are no longer endangered.

–In New Jersey a local environmental officer imposed a fine of $1000 on a man who poisoned a rat in his own back yard.

–In California the only homes saved in a recent forest fire were those whose owners broke the law by digging fire breaks around their properties, thereby upsetting the habitat of the endangered kangaroo rat.

Similar horror stories could be recounted here. Much of the problem stems from giving nature a higher set of priorities than it should, and by giving man a lower set. A well known Australian example is Monash University bio-ethicist Peter Singer. He has passionately argued for animal rights while taking a cavalier view of human rights (he is pro-abortion, pro-infanticide and pro-euthanasia).

The role of disinformation is quite important in all of this. A number of greens have admitted that truth sometimes must be sacrificed in the interests of the environment. Consider this comment by Paul Watson, co-founder of Greenpeace: “It doesn’t matter what is true; it only matters what people believe is true. . . . You are what the media define you to be. [Greenpeace] became a myth and a myth-generating machine.” And sections of the media have also held a poor view of truth, becoming partisans in the debate. As a Boston Globe environmental reporter put it, “There is no such thing as objective reporting. . . . I’ve become even more crafty about finding the voices to say the things I think are true. That’s my subversive mission.”

Or consider this comment from Charles Alexander of Time: “As the science editor of Time, I would freely admit that on this issue (the environment) we have crossed the boundary from news reporting to advocacy.”

Finally, consider scientists who have abandoned objectivity to promote their own pet causes. Pro-greenhouse scientist, Stephen Schneider, made these remarks: “It is journalistically irresponsible to present both sides [of the greenhouse, global warming theory] as though it were a question of balance. Given the distribution of views . . . it is irresponsible to give equal time to a few people standing out in left field.”

It is this troika of deceptive greens, activist journalists and biased scientists, that has skewed the debate and resulted in environmental overkill. What is needed is a return to common sense. The radical environmental movement is not about facts or logic. We must reaffirm the importance of good science and rationality. For too long we have allowed the environmental debate to be hijacked by radical environmentalists and their supporters. Rationality must return to the debate.

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