Delivered at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C., on April 20, 2001.
The environmentalist movement is consistently antagonistic to the requirements of human life on earth. On issue after issue, the environmentalists hold viewpoints that oppose man's survival needs. Man's nature requires him to continuously reshape his environment, e.g., to clear land for agricultural development, build houses and cities, engage in medical research to cure diseases, and so forth. But the greens oppose every productive activity on which human survival depends. The leading current example of this is their crusade to block development of oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). ANWR is an area so abundant in oil that Senator Frank Murkowski of Alaska, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, states that it could produce oil for decades, adding as much as $325 billion to the U.S. economy and reducing imports by well over one million barrels per day. Though geologists claim that ANWR holds over seven billion barrels, enabling it to add significantly to American energy production, its exploitation is currently blocked by environmentalist restrictions imposed for the sole purpose of protecting the wilderness, the caribou, the ice floes. Simply put, the question is, ice or oil heat--which is more important? The environmentalists are right that there is a profoundly important moral issue at stake: the requirements of man's survival vs. the value of nature as an end in itself. Because man's right to live as man is the highest value on earth it is morally imperative that the environmentalists be defeated. Nor is the green opposition to the development of ANWR's oil the only issue on which their beliefs and actions harm human life. Environmentalist restrictions are largely responsible for California's current energy crisis. Environmentalist groups in the state have attacked every form of energy production. Every attempt to build nuclear power plants has come under years of prohibitively expensive litigation. The use of coal is attacked because it is too "dirty," hydroelectric power is criticized because dam construction threatens the existence of some obscure species, even the biomass industry, which employs timber chips and forest leftovers as fuel to produce electricity, has come under litigation. The Honey Lake biomass plant was shut down last year because a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service originated by the San Francisco-based Earth Island Institute caused the suspension of the logging operations that provided the company its fuel source. Prior to the shutdown, the 20 biomass companies in California could collectively have generated 600 megawatts of electricity per year. The reason environmentalists seek to deprive Californians of power? To protect the late-succession/old-growth forests that are home to the California spotted owl and the Pacific fisher. Because of birds, human homes, work places and hospitals are deprived of power and exposed to all the attendant dangers.
"Green activists have worked for decades to stop the construction of major power plants in California -- and have succeeded. As a result, California generates less power per resident than any other state, and "imports" about one-quarter of the energy it consumes. Since 1985 only minor power plants have been built in California, adding only 6,000 megawatts to the state's supply--hardly enough to meet an increased demand for 10,000 megawatts. If plants generating an additional 4,000 megawatts had been built in the last decade, there would be no energy crisis today. By preventing entrepreneurs from building power plants, environmentalists choked the supply of power and set the stage for crises like the current one."1
Further, environmentalists today continue their decades-long assault on the automobile. Yesterday, Earth Day Network coordinated an "Earth Car-Free Day" in countries around the world, an event whose goal was to keep people from using their cars and seek alternative means of transportation. "Across the world, people will be staying out of cars, riding bicycles, walking or participating in open-air festivals on streets blocked from cars as part of this event," said Eric Britton, head of The Commons, one of the green groups organizing the protest. Part of the purpose, say the leaders, is to protest against air pollution and global warming.
For decades, environmentalists have argued that the car pollutes the air and causes the depletion of the earth's resources. Today they add the claim that its widespread use leads to global warming. As far back as 1970, in an essay entitled, "Warning: The Automobile Is Dangerous to Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Mind and Body," environmentalist Kenneth Cantor claimed that "the automobile and the American public are locked in a life and death struggle." He stated that "sixty percent of all pollutants added to the air in the United States come from the internal combustion engine. In 1967, 87.4 percent of the 14,000 tons per day added to the air above Los Angeles came from gasoline-powered motor vehicles." Cantor concluded that "the atmosphere around us has truly become a garbage dump." He went on to make similar claims regarding the relationship between automobile use and an alleged reckless depletion of the earth's non-renewable resources.2
Among other proposals, Cantor recommended that people use bicycles instead of cars, hitchhike and pick up hitchhikers, support programs aimed at reducing automobile use to one-tenth of then-current levels, take political action to defeat such "public abominations" as new freeways and highway bridges, eliminate the federal highway program and replace it with increased public transportation, and tax the sale of all new automobiles to fund the recycling of all old car hulks after the usable parts had been removed.3 These sentiments are echoed wholeheartedly by the environmentalist movement today. The so-called Earth Liberation Front recently declared war on the SUV, setting fire to a car dealership in Eugene, Oregon. "We can no longer allow the rich to parade around in their armored existence, leaving a wasteland behind in their tracks," they said. "SUVs destroy the earth."
It is clear that the development of ANWR's oil, the widespread use of the automobile and the construction of California power plants are in the best interest of human beings. ANWR will supply the United States with a vast new source of oil; additional power plants in California will provide electricity for millions of human beings currently suffering from shortages and rolling brownouts; and hundreds of millions of people around the world will continue to get to work, play or family gatherings most conveniently by means of their cars. Why do the greens oppose these human advances? Why do they combat similar innovations that improve man's life? Why, for example, were they against use of the Pacific yew tree, even though its bark is a source of taxol, which was considered an outstanding new drug in man's war against cancer? Why did the EPA ban DDT, even though its own hearings established that the pesticide is harmless to man and animals, but deadly to malaria-carrying mosquitoes? Why do they oppose medical testing on laboratory mice, even though such methods were instrumental in winning the battles against polio and diabetes, and are similarly necessary for research seeking cures for heart disease, AIDS and other diseases fatal to man? The answer is that they are not lovers of man. They value every other life form on earth as being above him, no matter if insignificant or even lethal.
David Graeber, a biologist with the National Parks Service, made clear in a Los Angeles Times Book Review essay both his contempt for man and his reverence for the natural environment as an end in itself. He states that he and his colleagues in the green movement "value wilderness for its own sake, not for what value it confers upon mankind. . . . We are not interested in the utility of a particular species, or free-flowing river, or eco-system to mankind. They have intrinsic value, more value--to me--than another human body, or a billion of them. Human happiness, and certainly human fecundity, are not as important as a wild and healthy planet. . . . It 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."4
And speaking of viruses, it seems that they have rights, too. According to Rutgers ecologist, David Ehrenfeld the world's remaining supply of the smallpox virus should not be exterminated, since it preys only on human beings.5
Graeber's claim that nature has "intrinsic value," that it is worthy of our esteem, even veneration, quite apart from any utilitarian purpose it might satisfy for us, is the key to understanding the environmentalist movement. Man, on this view, is an intruder, an eco-nuisance who inflicts harm on the sacred natural environment he inhabits. Observe the many attempts to turn environmentalism into a quasi-religion. Former New Left leader Tom Hayden taught a course at Santa Monica College entitled "Environment and Spirituality," in which he stressed that "we need to see nature as having a sacred quality, so that we revere it and are in awe of it." The Ecoforestry Institute, in a full-page ad opposing the logging of trees, claimed that trees have intrinsic value and argued that the protection of forests "is more than an economic or ecological issue. It is a spiritual one as well." Paul Ehrlich, notorious for his ceaselessly erroneous predictions of catastrophic death tolls from massive worldwide famines, predictably bases his claims in faith rather than science and reason. "It is probably in vain that so many look to science and technology to solve our present ecological crisis," he states. "Much more basic changes are needed, perhaps of the type exemplified by the . . . hippie movement--a movement that adopts most of its religious ideas from the non-Christian East. It is a movement wrapped up in Zen Buddhism, physical love and a disdain for material wealth." Carl Sagan issued a call for a religious crusade on behalf of environmentalist values. "We are close to committing -- many would say we are already committing--what in religious language is sometimes called Crimes against Creation," he said. Environmentalism "must be recognized as having a religious as well as a scientific dimension."6
The future of human civilization depends on understanding that the environmentalists are wrong--that they are mistaken systematically, on every point and issue. They are wrong scientifically, they are wrong logically and, above all, they are wrong morally. Take the scientific point first. Just as they were dead wrong regarding the alleged danger of DDT, they are similarly mistaken about both hazards they attribute to the automobile--the dual claims of increased air pollution and the waste of non-renewable resources. At the time that the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970, our air was becoming progressively cleaner, not dirtier, and had been doing so for a long time precisely because of industrial progress. According to Professor Matthew Crenson of Johns Hopkins University, sulfur dioxide pollution had been declining for decades. In 1971 he wrote, "In some cities the sulfur dioxide content of the air today is only one-third or one-fourth of what it was before World War Two." Measurements in 14 U.S. cities in 1931-32 showed an average particulate concentration of 510 micrograms per cubic meter. By 1957 it was down to 120 micrograms per cubic meter, and in 1969 the measurement stood at 92 micrograms per cubic meter. The major reason for this positive trend was the conversion to cleaner burning fuels, such as oil and gas, from coal or wood. Improvements in technology on a free market caused this trend, not environmentalist propaganda or governmental legislation.7
In keeping with this pre-environmentalist trend, auto emissions had also become cleaner. The auto industry had been working on the problem for years, and by 1968 cars with significantly improved emission characteristics were already being produced, and newer anti-pollution equipment was being tested. "By 1970, when the Clean Air Act was passed, auto emissions had already been reduced 70 to 80 percent from the level of two decades earlier." Indeed, environmentalist legislation worsened air quality in this country. It introduced the catalytic converter, which produces sulfuric acid. An EPA report in 1977 presented the results of a two-year study: a 25 percent drop in carbon monoxide emissions due to catalytic converters was accompanied by an increase of 50 percent in emissions of the oxides of nitrogen. A similar environmentalist travesty played out in the 1990s when the Clean Air Act of 1990 required many Americans to use gasoline oxygenated with MBTE and ethanol. MBTE produced so many complaints of headache and nausea from users that the governor of Alaska banned it after four weeks of use. The other additive, ethanol, produces ozone, which at low levels is a pollutant. "Even the EPA admits that ethanol produces more nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons than regular gas."8
The environmentalist attack on the automobile has centered on carbon monoxide emissions. The myth they have created and spread is that the air was significantly purer before there were any automobiles or factories. This is false. An important point is that 90 percent of the world's automobiles are in the northern hemisphere, but there is no hemispheric difference in carbon monoxide levels. Nor are carbon monoxide levels increasing on a worldwide basis. In 1978 the EPA suppressed a scientific study showing that up to 80 percent of air pollution was caused by natural, not man-made phenomena. It took a lawsuit filed under the Freedom of Information Act to pry the report out of them. One of the leading sources of air pollution widely ignored by the greens is volcanoes. According to Dr. William Pecora, former director of the United States Geological Survey, just three volcanic eruptions in the last 120 years (Krakatoa, Indonesia, 1883; Katmai, Alaska, 1912; and Hekla, Iceland, 1947) produced more particulate and gaseous pollution of the atmosphere than the combined activities of all the men who ever lived. There are many such examples. Swamps are by far the greatest source of methane pollution, and Public Works, the official publication of Oregon's Environmental Protection Agency, states that burping cows rank as the number one source of air pollution in America, disgorging 50 million tons of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere each year. It must be made clear that Mother Nature, not man's automobiles or factories, is by far the greatest source of air pollution.9
The scientific facts regarding the alleged depletion of "non-renewable" resources also contradicts the environmentalists' accusations. Starting in the 1970s and continuing today, environmentalist doomsayers have advocated a "limits to growth" doctrine which claimed that the world supply of such resources as aluminum, iron, petroleum and others would be exhausted in a matter of decades. A brief study of the facts resoundingly refutes such nonsense. First, a minor point: the amounts of most of these natural resources existing in the earth's crust, as estimated by the United States Geological Survey, are sufficient to last for thousands of years, even at increased rates of consumption. But the most important point is that by far the greatest natural resource is man's reasoning mind that enables him to identify the properties and potential functions of raw materials. In medieval Europe, for example, charcoal from wood was the main source of energy. When wood began to grow scarce and consequently more expensive, people sought other means of fuel. They eventually found it in chunks of black rock previously thought useless--coal. Centuries later, in the mid-1800s, some people feared that man was running out of coal. When the price rose, innovators were encouraged to seek other energy sources. For years, farmers in western Pennsylvania had been troubled by the presence of a viscous black liquid that damaged their crops and pastures. Nobody saw any uses for it, but finally some entrepreneurs saw possibilities in it and, in 1859, formed the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company of Titusville, Pennsylvania. Shortly thereafter, the firm was successful in digging for oil. Today we use fiber optic cables instead of copper wire for phone lines. Such glass fibers are derived from ordinary sand. Further, we know of the enormous resources contained in sea water, and of additional supplies buried beneath the ocean floor. We know of the huge supplies of fuel available from shale and tar sands Ocean thermal power, geo-thermal energy and bio conversion--methods of generating power from the sun-warmed surface waters of the ocean, from the enormous heat contained within the earth, and by converting organic materials, especially wastes -- are all feasible and represent the virtually unlimited power sources of the future.10
Environmentalists scoff that such claims are mere science fiction. These are the same mentalities who, centuries ago, could conceive of no possible uses for either coal or oil; who snickered at the thought that man might fly; who couldn't dream of space travel or nuclear power plants; and who would have regarded the idea that everyday sand could be employed to make fiber optic cables as the sheerest lunacy. The rational mind is man's greatest resource. When it has the freedom to innovate, it finds productive uses for every substance on earth, including waste by-products. Automobiles currently require gasoline, it is true, just as sailing ships required wood and canvas, and horses required hay and oats. What will be the transportation vehicles of the future--and what energy source will power them? Today, nobody could predict it, just as in 1700 nobody could predict automobiles, jet travel, nuclear-powered ships or manned missions to the moon. One prediction, however, is a certainty: if men possess the political/economic freedom provided by capitalism, then the innovations of the future will dwarf such recent advances as electrical power, television, rocketry and computer technology.
The environmentalists are mistaken logically, as well as scientifically. Their use of the term "environment" involves a deadly equivocation, an unwarranted switch in the term's meaning. "Logically, there can be no concept of an 'environment' that is not the environment of someone (or something). . . 'Environment' is a relational concept. It properly refers to the surroundings of some entity as they relate to that entity." But the theory of intrinsic value holds that the environment is to be valued, even worshiped, independent of its worth to man, indeed in contradiction to his interest. The environmentalist takes in the unwary with fallacious logic. "He initially counts on its correct meaning, so that people accept a need to care about the fate of the 'environment'--which they assume in some way is their environment and is linked to their fate. This is why the movement's focus is pointedly on the 'environment,' rather than on the non-relational concept 'nature.' But once a confused public has been taken in, environmentalists re-package 'environment' to denote something upheld as existing separately from human beings."11
Rationally, the environment is man's surroundings or milieu, to be used in accordance with his best interests. This leads to the moral error in environmentalism's argument, by far the most important issue of all. The intrinsic theory of nature's value holds that the environment is an end in itself, and that man's needs are to be sacrificed to it. So swamps, jungles, yew trees, spotted owls, snail darters, laboratory mice, chinook salmon, mosquitoes, even viruses are sacred, not to be disturbed; but human dams, houses, power plants are not to be built, and man's health and life expectancy are not to be protected. Environmentalism is the most virulent form of the self-sacrifice ethics ever spawned. Communists and Nazis claim that an individual must sacrifice himself to the people or the race, but at least they argue that it is other human beings who are to benefit from an individual's self-immolation. But the environmentalists argue that human life as such must be sacrificed to the interest of the non-human -- to the bugs, dirt and bacteria.
To fight the insanities of environmentalism it is necessary to recognize and uphold the right of an individual human being to his own life. Human life is the only moral absolute on earth. Anything else acquires worth only insofar as it benefits man. Trees are a value only because they provide man with shade, timber, fruit, beautiful vistas, and so on. Clean air is a value only because it promotes human health and longevity. Automobiles are a value because they greatly increase the personal range and comfort of a man's transportation. The extraction of oil from ANWR and the development of other natural resources are a value because they provide the raw materials with which to create modern industrial civilization. Science, technology and industry are valuable for one reason: they greatly raise man's standard of living and increase his life expectancy. The moral principle is that man's life is the yardstick by reference to which the worth of any object, person or event is judged.
By this standard, the value of science, technology and industry is enormous and indisputable. Developments in agricultural science and the creation of modern farming equipment has led to an abundance of food in the Western world and to the Green Revolution, which produced more rice and grain in many Asian countries. There has never been a famine in the history of the United States. When was the last time a famine occurred in any industrialized nation? Even raising such a question causes historians to scratch their heads, trying to remember. Yet a brief study of history reveals that famine was and remains a widespread occurrence in the non-industrialized countries. The great 20th century historian, Fernand Braudel, writes that France is believed to have suffered 10 general famines during the 10th century, 26 in the 11th, 2 in the 12th, 4 in the 14th, 7 in the 15th, 13 in the 16th, 11 in the 17th and 16 in the 18th. "Dearth and penury were continual. . . Famine recurred so insistently for centuries that it became incorporated into man's biological regime and built into his daily life." It was not wiped out in Western Europe until the close of the 18th century, i.e., during the period of the Industrial Revolution. In the non-industrialized nations of the Third World today the same heartbreaking conditions exist. According to various charitable organizations for children, though it takes but 72 cents a day to provide a child with adequate nutrition and medical care, 30,000 children die daily from malnutrition and preventable diseases related to it.12
Similarly, advances in medicine have steadily raised the human life expectancy. A female child born in the United States today has a life expectancy approaching 80 years; and a male child's is mid-to-high seventies. The human life expectancy in the industrialized nations is rising, the exact opposite of what would occur if any of the environmentalist scare stories regarding the harmful effects of industrialization were true. The life expectancy is significantly lower in the countries that are not industrialized.
Further, the inventions and innovations made possible only by technological progress have vastly enriched the men of the entire Western world. The electric light, the telephone, the automobile, the airplane, the radio, television, refrigerator, air conditioner, personal computer and Internet are merely some of the advances that have made us wealthy. The anti-technology, anti-industry nature of the environmentalist movement is what marks it as a phenomenon virulently anti-human life.
Since the good is that which benefits human life, the converse also holds true: whatever harms or destroys human life is evil. On this score, environmentalism is the most destructive doctrine ever devised. When put into actual practice, it causes harm, even death, to incalculable numbers of human beings. By conservative estimate, the ban on DDT and other pesticides has caused the death by malaria of tens of millions of human beings. The greens' war against taxol retards man's struggle to triumph over cancer, causing untold human deaths. The same will be true if they succeed in banning medical testing on laboratory rats and mice. Their restrictions on building power plants in California resulted in diminished electricity for hospitals, police stations, firehouses and other emergency facilities, threatening human life. Their fight against oil development in ANWR will result in diminished heating fuel, gasoline and other petroleum products upon which modern industrialized civilization and our living standard depends. As the most anti-human theory in history, environmentalism is necessarily the most inhuman. Its virulently anti-man essence leaves us with a stark choice: human life or environmentalism. There is no middle ground.
- David Holcberg, "Why Greens Are to Blame for Blackouts," www.aynrand.org.
- The Environmental Handbook, ed. by Garrett De Bell (New York: Ballantine Books, 1970), pp. 197-207.
- Ibid., pp. 210-12.
- David Graeber, "Mother Nature as a Hothouse Flower," Los Angeles Times Book Review, Oct. 22, 1989, pp. 1, 9.
- Peter Schwartz, "The Philosophy of Privation," in Ayn Rand, Return of the Primitive (New York: Penguin, 1998), p. 221.
- Ibid., pp. 230-31.
- Edmund Contoski, Makers and Takers (Minneapolis: American Liberty Publishers, 1997), pp. 193-94.
- Ibid., pp. 195-97.
- Ibid., pp. 201-04.
- Michael Sanera and Jane Shaw, Facts, Not Fear (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 1996), pp. 76-7, 79-81; Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981), p. 93; Herman Kahn, et. al., The Next 200 Years (New York: William Morrow and Co., 1976), pp. 68-76, 103-05.
- Return of the Primitive, op. cit., p. 228.
- Fernand Braudel, Capitalism and Material Life, 1400-1800 (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), pp. 38-40; literature from Childreach, www.childreach.org.
Andrew Bernstein is a senior fellow with the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.