In Moral Defense of Forestry
By Peter Schwartz (Delivered to the California Forestry Association, Napa, California, January 28, 2000)
There is a serious injustice being perpetrated against your industry. You in the forestry business are facing ever-increasing restrictions on your activities. You face growing opposition by environmentalists on what you can do, where you can do it, how you can do it. Why? Why are these obstacles being continually placed in your path? It is not because the environmentalists have better political contacts than you do, and not because they have more skilled PR people.
The environmentalists, in my view, have one fundamental power: it is the power of a moral principle.
The environmentalists claim you have no moral right to cut down trees simply to make a profit. They claim that morality is on the side of protecting the redwoods and saving the spotted owls. They gain support among politicians and among the public for one reason: they are able to assert that their goals are morally virtuous, and that yours are not.
Now, in reality the exact reverse is true. The act of transforming the trees of a forest into houses and furniture and books--the act of transforming raw nature into human values that enhance human life--is a highly moral activity, while the attempt to block such activity is not. All of you here are engaged in the creation of human values--while the environmentalists are engaged in the opposite.
And that is what I'd like to discuss today. I'd like to talk to you about this battle--which is a battle of ideas taking place between forestry and environmentalism.
I am far from an expert on the forestry business--but I do know about environmentalism. So let us look at this movement and see what it stands for, and how, therefore, it can most effectively be fought.
Now, please bear in mind that when I talk about environmentalism, I do not mean a movement that seeks clean air and litter-free roads. That is not what environmentalism is. Any rational human being understands how such conditions are desirable because they are beneficial to him. One would not enshrine the environment if one were simply opposed to dirt. If, for example, you value clean clothing, you do not declare yourself to be a . . . "clothingist"; if you regularly vacuum your carpet at home, you do not become a "carpetist." You clean them, not for their own sake, not for some intrinsic value in them, but only because they advance your welfare. What environmentalism advocates, however, are policies divorced from any connection to human welfare. Let me explain why I say this.
If you look at the conflicts between the interests of man and the so-called "interests" of nature, it becomes clear that the first are invariably sacrificed to the second by environmentalists. Whenever there is a hydroelectric dam to be built, it is the welfare of the snail darter or the Chinook salmon that is inviolate, and the welfare of man that is dispensable. Whenever there is a choice between cutting down trees for human use and leaving them in place for the spotted owl, it is the bird's home that environmentalists save and human habitation that goes unbuilt.
Huge tracts of Arctic land are off-limits to productive enterprises, in order not to disturb the caribou and the ice floes. Mining is prohibited when it disturbs the movements of snakes. Mosquito- and alligator-infested swamps (euphemistically called "wetlands") are deemed sacred, not to be defiled by manmade drainage. (Even land that is actually growing crops can be christened wetlands, if some bureaucrat decides that vegetation typically found in swamps could have grown there had the crops not been planted.) The most beneficial projects, from housing developments to science observatories to hospital complexes, are halted if there is any danger--if there is any allegation of danger--to some piddling species.
The incalculable damage inflicted on human beings by such prohibitions is immaterial to environmentalists. They have abandoned even the pretext of holding human happiness as their ultimate purpose. In its place, as the open secret which the public is unable to take fully seriously, is the premise that nature must remain unchanged as an end in itself. It is the premise that nature must be protected, not for man, but from man.
You probably remember the controversy years ago when it seemed that a new cancer-fighting substance, called Taxol, could be extracted from the bark of the Pacific yew tree. At the time, the director of the National Cancer Institute described Taxol as "the most important new drug we have had in cancer for 15 years."1 But environmentalists argued that the trees were scarce and should remain largely untouched.
Al Gore, in his book Earth in the Balance, declares himself incapable of choosing between people and trees: "It seems an easy choice--sacrifice the tree for a human life--until one learns that three trees must be destroyed for each patient treated. . . . Suddenly we must confront some tough questions."2
According to an official of the Oregon Natural Resources Council: "The basic issue in our mind is that the yew [tree] is a finite resource. . . . Our concern is that there will not be any left the way we are approaching this."3
Not be any left--for whom? Certainly, his concern was not that the people dying of cancer at the time would lack trees for their treatment; those were the very people being denied available medicine by the environmentalists. Nor was his concern that future cancer victims would go untreated; he certainly did not endorse some crash program to plant new trees--and to cut down every single existing one that was needed for its Taxol. Toward whom, then, was this official's concern directed? Toward no one. Toward no human being, that is. Environmentalists wanted to preserve those trees for the sake of the trees. It wanted all the people suffering from cancer simply to renounce this potential cure. It wanted them to accept the inviolability of the yew tree.
Environmentalists view man as the enemy. Their aim is to keep nature pristine, free from the predatory invasions of man. It is not human welfare that sets the standard by which they make their judgments.
For example, author Tom Regan argues that medical research on animals, designed to discover cures for human diseases, should be abolished. He says: "If it means that there are some things we cannot learn, then so be it. We have no basic right not to be harmed by those natural diseases we are heir to."4
David Foreman, founder of the organization you are very familiar with, Earth First, puts it more bluntly: "Wilderness has a right to exist for its own sake, and for the sake of the diversity of the life forms it shelters; we shouldn't have to justify the existence of a wilderness area by saying, 'Well, it protects the watershed, and it's a nice place to backpack and hunt, and it's pretty.'"5
David Graber, a biologist with the National Parks Service, revels in denouncing human beings as trespassers upon nature. He describes himself as among those who "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 ecosystem, 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. . . . Until such time as Homo sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along."6
Taking this illogic one step further, there are now--as you all know--"eco-terrorists," who use violence against loggers and other "intruders" upon nature's domain. A spokesman for the Green Party of West Germany says: "We in the Green movement aspire to a cultural model in which the killing of a forest will be considered more contemptible and more criminal than the sale of six-year-old children to Asian brothels." And according to an activist with Earth First, injuring or even murdering such "forest-killers" is justifiable self-defense: "The holocaust against the environment and its species is the same as any holocaust against humans."7 (It is no accident that the Unabomber was openly sympathetic to the goals of this group.)
But if "wilderness has a right to exist for its own sake"--then man does not. Man survives only by altering nature to satisfy his own needs. Man cannot survive, as animals do, by automatically adapting to the natural surroundings in which he happens to find himself. Nature's vast wilderness, if passively accepted, is inimical to his survival. Man must transform the naturally given into a truly human environment. He must produce the values his life requires--he must grow food and build supermarkets, chop down trees and erect condominiums, mine ore and design jet planes, isolate organisms and manufacture vaccines. None of these values exists ready-made in nature. Man brings all of them into being only by changing his "natural environment."
To live as a human being requires that one regard nature as nothing but a means toward one's ends. Every cart, rowboat and space shuttle man has constructed violates the "right" of land, sea and air to maintain their "natural states." Every conscious decision to enhance human life--every attempt to rise above the animals--entails the subduing of nature and the repudiation of environmentalist doctrine. Man's life depends upon his productiveness. In Ayn Rand's words, it depends on a "process by which man's consciousness controls his existence, a constant process of acquiring knowledge and shaping matter to fit one's purpose, of translating an idea into physical form, of remaking the earth in the image of one's values."8
But if man lives only by a process of remaking the earth--what is the implication of the environmentalist demand that he renounce this process?
Environmentalism insists that we give up the value of material comfort and the expectation of material progress. We must distrust modern science and modern technology, since they only distance us from nature. We must live "in harmony" with nature. We must forgo nuclear power and genetic engineering, luxury cars and food additives, Styrofoam cups and disposable diapers. We must stifle our inventiveness and shrink our cognitive horizons. Our ancient ancestors managed to get by without all these artificial gadgets--so must we. But the only type of existence in true "harmony" with nature is: an existence devoid of the man-made. Which would mean an early death for most people; for the others, it would entail a life of back-breaking, sunup-to-sundown toil and bare subsistence.
The Worldwatch Institute, an environmentalist think tank, offers a stark concretization of this ideal: "The Eskimo's scrupulous use of every scrap of seal or walrus in the face of absolute scarcity might serve as a symbol for all in the years ahead. Conspicuous and excessive consumption of energy and food should be discouraged by law and by social pressure, thus reducing demand."9
All the condemnations you have heard against "excessive consumption"--all the exhortations to "recycle," to "conserve energy," to "save the earth"--have, as their motivation, a vision of the crudely primitive state of this Eskimo. That is his environmentalist nirvana--which he seeks to make yours as well.
This is why you are being subject to more and more controls over your productive activities. This is why, for example, President Clinton has recently halted all road-building on some 40 million acres of forestland, to be henceforth protected as wilderness.
Now, it is true that there are people who support environmentalism but who do not seek to destroy production as such. There are many people who regard environmentalism as sort of a global sanitation service, whose aim is to improve human life, not cripple it.
But their misguided views do not change what environmentalism actually is. There are many destructive philosophies, whose adherents do not all recognize the essence of the philosophy they are endorsing. (And when the consequences become so evident that they finally do see where their philosophy leads, they cry that this was not their intent--but by then it is usually too late.)
The Forestry Association is tragically familiar with the effects of the Unabomber. Now, many environmentalists today dissociate themselves from him. They say he does not represent environmentalism. But doesn't he? His hatred of technology, his hostility toward any human intrusion on nature, his upholding of the value of nature as an end in itself, his desire to attack those who violate the so-called rights of nature--all this is implicit in environmentalism. What the Unabomber did was make it all explicit. He took the environmentalist ideology to its logical extreme--just as Hitler took National Socialism to its logical extreme, even as many of his initial followers were ignorant of the inevitable destination--just as Stalin took Communism to its logical destination. These militants were not betrayers of the philosophy they espoused; to the contrary, they were very faithful practioners.
The same is true of environmentalism. Granted, it is still generally unacceptable today to adopt the methods of the Unabomber. But a couple of decades ago, it would have been unacceptable to many environmentalists to start tearing down hydroelectric dams because they interfere with the flow of salmon. Yet that is now a fairly mainstream position within environmentalism.
Any ideology has certain fundamental premises--and it is those premises that propel a movement in a certain direction. As long as those premises are not repudiated, the fact that many adherents do not fully see the road ahead will not stop the logical consequences from occuring. Irrational ideas will have irrational consequences--it is only a matter of time.
But why do people accept such irrational ideas? Why do the citizens of a modern, industrial society not recoil in horror at the attempt to establish privation as a virtue, to establish the primitive Eskimo as an ideal? It is because of a certain moral claim--the claim that human production, or the "exploitation" of nature, is morally wrong.
Why should you be allowed to extirpate nature's wealth simply to gratify your desires--environmentalists ask? Who are you to assert such a right for your own selfish purposes? Who are you to declare that you have rights but nature does not? Why should sustaining your existence take precedence over some swampland's divine right to wetness?
There is only one code of ethics that could make such a viewpoint possible: the code of altruism, the code that brands the pursuit of self-interest as evil. Altruism is the doctrine that man has no moral right to exist for his own sake. It is the doctrine, not that you should be benevolent or that you should recognize the rights of your neighbor, but that the sole justification for your life is your willingness to sacrifice it to others.
This belief is environmentalism's most potent weapon. What, after all, is more manifestly selfish than the act of production itself, in which you remake nature to serve your values? At its core, environmentalism is the demand that you surrender your comfort, your well-being, your self. Stop caring about your desire to be happy--it admonishes--and start worrying about how to please the snail darters and the spotted owls.
Those of you familiar with the philosophy of Ayn Rand--a philosophy to which I subscribe--know her opposition to altruism and her advocacy of a radically different code: an ethics of rational self-interest. This system of ethics urges you to sustain your life by your own honest, independent, productive efforts. It urges you to deal with people by trade, by exchanging values to mutual advantage, neither sacrificing yourself to others nor others to yourself.
Obviously, this is a major subject which warrants a full discussion on its own. But since my main topic is environmentalism, all I want to do here is make you aware of these two opposing codes of morality--and to show you how the destructive doctrine of environmentalism rests on the code of altruism.
Environmentalism is altruism unadulterated and uncamouflaged. Before the advent of environmentalism, the call for self-sacrifice was made on behalf of other human beings, such as the poor and the sick. Now, in a faithful extension of the altruist maxim, the term "others" is merely being broadened. Now, we are being urged to sacrifice the human to the non-human. And if it is evil to live for your own sake, how can you resist such a demand? If self-abnegation is noble, what could be more praiseworthy than to subordinate your existence to that of bugs, weeds and dirt?
The premise of self-sacrifice is embedded in the deceptive meaning now attached to the very term "environment." Logically, there can be no concept of an "environment" that is not the environment of someone (or something)--any more than there can be property that exists independently of the owner of the property. "Environment" properly refers to the surroundings of some entity as they relate to that entity.
But that is not how environmentalists employ the term. They subvert it to denote an "environment" severed from any relationship to man. It is erroneous, they say, to believe that the only "environment" worth caring about is one that is useful to human beings. A vein of iron ore, or a forest or a sunrise should be valued, they insist, not because it benefits man, but because it "benefits" nature. These things have "value"--the environmentalist declares--apart from any connection to human beings.
Thus, even the alleged treasures of environmentalists--such as parks set aside as enclaves of uncommercialized, unindustrialized nature--are not permitted to be used as sources of enjoyment for man.
For example, when Yellowstone Park was devastated by fire in 1988, firefighting efforts were prohibited for weeks. Park officials allowed the fire to rage out of control, because it had begun naturally (through lightning). By the time firefighters were finally permitted to contain the conflagration, well over one million acres had burned, at a cost of 150 million dollars. Park officials viewed their primary responsibility during the disaster, not as preventing further damage by nature's fire, but as safeguarding the grounds against "unnatural" encroachments. As a news report in The New York Times described it: "They said they were trying to protect pristine areas from the destructive effects of bulldozers, fire engines and irrigation pipes."10
Yellowstone Park was regarded not as a value to man, but as a "value" to and for its natural self. So why not let it burn down, as long as the flames were part of its "natural" state? The head of the Glacier Institute put the philosophic issue this way: "It comes down to what we expect those lands to be. Is the park primarily for human use [and] recreation? Or is the park to be maintained in its original state, letting fires do what they're going to do?"11
In other words: is man morally entitled to use nature to benefit himself--or must he become nature's self-sacrificing servant?
Let us be clear on what this means. Many people believe that environmental conflicts are over different uses of land. They believe that business wants land, for, say logging or mining, while environmentalists want it for camping and skiing. But this is not the nature of the conflict. environmentalists do not want the land for some alternative use; they want it for non-use--for non-use by human beings, that is. Camping is a perfectly desirable activity, from which many people derive pleasure. This very fact taints it, according to environmentalism. Using nature for human purposes is morally unacceptable.
I should add a parenthetical point here. I am in favor of full, laissez-faire capitalism. In a free market, where all property is privately owned, the use to which any particular piece of land is put is determined by the owner of that property. In a free market, there will be land used for logging, land used for parks, land used for zoos--depending on what the market demands. Today, unfortunately, such decisions become problematic because so much land is controlled by the government.
But this is really a side issue. The fundamental fact remains that to the environmentalist, man is an unwanted trespasser on nature's domain, and has no right to use nature to satisfy his needs.
At root, environmentalism is a systematic campaign to make man feel puny. It is a screed against self-esteem. It tells man to proclaim his own insignificance and to tremble before the mountains and the insects. It tells man that he--like his primitive ancestors--must regard nature with mystical, quivering reverence. It tells man that nature is not to be commanded, only obeyed.
Environmentalism is actually a modern, secularized form of religion. It urges man to subordinate himself to nature, to serve nature, to worship nature as a God. It is an ideology that declares the human mind too feeble to grasp the complexities of an inscrutable world, or "ecosystem." It is an ideology propelled by the desire to have man prostrate himself before a greater power, the power of nature.
This mysticism is openly avowed within the environmentalist movement. For instance, Tom Hayden taught a course at Santa Monica College on "Environment and Spirituality." It began with a discussion of the Bible, and ended with the prospects for what he called a new "earth-oriented religion." Hayden explained: "We need to see nature as having a sacred quality, so we revere it and are in awe of it."12
This is the psychology exhibited by the notorious tree-sitter, Julia "Butterfly" Hill, who lived in a redwood for two years. She truly lives in fearful awe of nature, she regards it as something intrinsically valuable that people should venerate. Recently, she came to a state forestry board meeting clutching in her hands a plastic bag of mud. She had collected it, she said, from a hillside that had supposedly eroded after the removal of a tree.
That bag of mud, which she carefully preserved and cherished, perfectly illustrates the environmentalist's mindset--a mindset that worships a primitive, stagnant nature and abhors human production and progress.
You have probably heard of the loggers in Minnesota who are challenging certain enviromental regulations on the grounds that they constitute government recognition of what is really a religion. Now, I don't think this is the best way to fight environmentalism, and I doubt that the loggers will succeed. But I am very sympathetic to their arguments. Environmentalism has indeed adopted the essential elements of a religion.
Environmentalism is a creed of mysticism. While it often tries to display a veneer of science, it in fact rejects reason and science. It regularly makes claims that are divorced from any objective evidence. Consider, for example, the environmentalists' case against Alar.
Alar is a chemical developed in the early 1960s which improves the appearance of apples and delays their ripening. In 1989, it became the target of a campaign to ban it, orchestrated by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The NRDC announced that it had conducted tests revealing that Alar causes cancer in people. The news media heralded the story of a greedy manufacturer foisting his toxic product upon unsuspecting, apple-juice-drinking children. Alarmed farmers, grocers and parents began avoiding apples. The apple-growing industry lost over 200 million dollars. The manufacturer was compelled to remove Alar from the market.
But what was the scientific basis for these claims? The NRDC tests did indeed show that Alar produced tumors in mice--in doses equivalent to what a human being would absorb by eating fourteen tons of apples, every day, for seventy years! (And mice who were fed only half that amount--the equivalent of seven tons a day for seventy years--produced no tumors at all.)13
An earlier study of rodents by the Environmental Protection Agency also supposedly showed a link between Alar and cancer. Yet according to the EPA's own data, the mice in the study were given doses at least 148,000 times that of human exposure, as measured by proportional body weight.14
This is deemed sufficient grounds for panicking the public and crippling an industry.
Or consider the pesticide DDT. It was banned in the U.S. in 1972, largely because it was said to be carcinogenic. That conclusion was based on studies that found DDT to cause liver tumors in mice (and nothing at all in other experimental animals)--but only at doses 100,000 times higher than what a person would absorb by ingesting DDT through residues in food.15
It is now accepted practice in environmentalist circles to assume that if some quantity of a substance is harmful, then any quantity is. But is there any substance on earth about which this context-dropping claim cannot be made? Everything can become deadly in sufficiently large doses -- including water, or air, or organically grown soybeans. If a one-ton piano crashing down on you is fatal, does this imply that a one-ounce feather floating onto your shoulders once a day for 88 years is also a threat? Potatoes contain arsenic; lima beans contain cyanide; nutmeg contains a hallucinogen; broccoli contains a substance that causes cancer in animals.16 Should these be outlawed? None of the environmental "scientists" cares to publicize an obvious fact: the dosage level makes all the difference between safety and danger.
They don't care to publicize this--because they have an agenda other than the presentation of the truth. Dishonesty, as one of these pseudo-scientists explains, is their best policy: "We have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we may have. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being right."17
Virtually any claim about some industrial danger is given instant publicity by environmentalists, while evidence of the benefits (or of the falsehood of the allegation of danger) is systematically disregarded. This applies to claims ranging from the dangers of logging to the dangers of overpopulation. Paul Ehrlich, for example, has made a living out of issuing apocalyptic statements that the world is running out of food. In 1968 he wrote: "The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines--hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate. . . . We must have population control at home, hopefully through a system of incentives and penalties, but by compulsion if voluntary methods fail."18
Yet reality's repeated debunking of Ehrlich's predictions (to say nothing of the horrifying totalitarianism of his proposed "solutions") has not diminished his status as an influential prophet. His regularly updated scenarios of doom are still taken seriously by the environmentalists; his well-known book, The Population Bomb, has gone through more than two dozen printings.
With respect to DDT, the promoters of "eco-hysteria" ignore a study in which human beings were fed DDT every day for up to 27 months--with no harmful results. They ignore the fact that during the period of heaviest DDT use in the United States, from 1944 to 1972, deaths from liver cancer dropped 30 percent.19
And, most tellingly, they ignore the benefits of DDT (and the consequent harm created by its prohibition). They ignore the fact that before the advent of DDT, malaria was rampant. In SriLanka (then Ceylon), for example, there were 2.8 million cases of malaria in 1948. By 1963, because DDT had killed the insects bearing the disease, the number had dropped to 17! But in the late 1960s, the spraying was halted due to the growing attacks on DDT; by 1969 the number of malaria cases in Sri Lanka had gone back to 2.5 million. Similarly, in India, about 75 million cases of malaria occurred in 1951; ten years later (after DDT was introduced) the figure had fallen to 50,000; by 1977, however, it had risen to at least 30 million.20 Today, millions of people a year are dying from malaria as a result of environmentalists' hostility toward pesticides. (But of course the truth about DDT is unimportant when compared with the need for "being effective.")
The environmentalist utilizes science, not to discover the facts, but to distort them. After stripping away the facade of rationality, one will discover that the hallmark of the catastrophe claim is the half-truth and the out-of-context fact.
For example, environmental "scientists" claim that thousands of highly acidic and fishless lakes in the Northeast (the most severe cases of which are in the Adirondacks) are proof of the destructiveness of "acid rain" caused by coal-burning electric utilities. But they neglect to mention: that most of the acidic lakes in the Adirondacks were acidified by natural organic acids; or that the average Adirondack lake is more alkaline now than 150 years ago; or that highly acidic, fishless waters exist naturally in regions with no industrial activity, such as the Rio Negro in the Amazon Basin (a river system the size of the Mississippi River).21
Environmental "scientists" claim that man-made chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) have reduced the ozone layer, leaving us more exposed to the sun's ultraviolet radiation. But they neglect to mention: that during the period when the ozone layer was presumably diminishing, the levels of ultra-violet radiation at the earth's surface were falling;22 or that a 5 percent drop in ozone--which is of a magnitude that elicits grim calculations of increased skin cancers--would, according to those very calculations, result in a rise in radiation equivalent to that experienced by someone who merely moves 60 miles closer to the equator (say, from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles).23
Environmental "scientists" claim that overpopulation is exhausting the earth's capacity to sustain its inhabitants. But they neglect to mention: that such conclusive yardsticks as per-capita food production and life expectancy are showing continual increases24 ; or that life improves most where industrialization is strongest; or that finding space for a growing population is such a non-problem that if all 6 billion earthlings re-located to Texas tomorrow, the resultant population density (about 22,000 people per square mile) would be half the current density of, say, Paris.25
This whole warped approach is the antithesis of science and objectivity. It is not scientific truth that environmentalists seek to discover--it is not reality that they hold as an absolute--it is not reason that shapes their conclusions. Reason is only an obstacle to the goals of these so-called scientists. Theirs is an emotionalist campaign to taint everything that is non-natural--and they will employ any scare-mongering tactic to accomplish that.
I am not a scientist, nor have I comprehensively investigated all of these issues. I am not implying a categorical refutation of all the environmentalists' claims on scientific grounds. I am saying something much more fundamental: those claims warrant no cognitive attention--because they are not attempts at cognition. They are arbitrary vociferations. They do not represent efforts to reach objective truths. Therefore, as utterances issued not to illuminate reality but to distort it, they should not even be admitted into the realm of science.
(Yes, it may turn out that some allegation of theirs happens to be true--by accident, as a parrot's squawkings may coincidentally parallel some fact of reality. If this occurs, and one ascertains it by rational means, appropriate steps should be taken to alleviate the danger--steps that logically cannot include any renunciation of technological progress.)
If and when there is genuine evidence that something man-made is harmful to human health or damaging to property, the victim is entitled to legal remedies--on the basis of standard laws that have long existed. These are the same kinds of laws that prevent your neighbor from starting a fire or releasing tear gas in his back yard if it will travel into yours. If you can show you were hurt by someone's actions, your rights should be protected by law. But you must meet one requirement: you must be able to prove your case objectively.
To environmentalists, this requirement is an unacceptable impediment. They do not want to be bound by the strictures of logic and science in their efforts to stifle production. They simply want government regulators to accept their unproved assertions on faith.
The way to assess environmentalism, therefore, is not as a scientific issue, but as a moral one. And this brings us back to where we began. In response to all the claims about the harm posed by various productive activities, one must ask a basic question: "Harmful--by what standard?" For according to the standard of man's life here on earth, technology is beneficial--wealth is beneficial--material progress is beneficial. According to a rational standard, no actual threats to human welfare could justify the elimination of that upon which man's welfare depends--namely, production, technology and freedom. Any solution to actual, demonstrable threats must embrace improved production, better technology, more capitalism.
But environmentalists do not hold such a standard. What they find "harmful" is man's liberation from a life of primitive labor. To them, the "harm" lies in the very existence of technology, wealth and progress; it lies in the fact of industrialization per se. Paul Ehrlich, for instance, declares: "We've already had too much economic growth in the United States. Economic growth in rich countries like ours is the disease, not the cure."26
According to Earth First: "If radical environmentalists were to invent a disease to bring human populations back to sanity, it would probably be something like AIDS. It has the potential to end industrialism, which is the main force behind the environmental crisis."27
This is why environmentalists show no concern for all the suffering and deaths resulting from the absence of technology. This is why they do not care about their "ideal" Eskimo's lack of indoor plumbing, central heating, electricity, dentistry and heart transplant technology. This is why they are untroubled by the demonstrable evils resulting from all the houses and oil refineries and nuclear plants not built--not built, because of the environmentalist desire to protect nature from man.
This is also why, whatever dangers environmentalists claim to find, their answer is always to denounce progress and to search for "nature-friendly" alternatives. If acid rain is supposedly destroying our lakes, they direct us not to neutralize it easily with some alkaline--but to shut down the factories. If topsoil is supposedly being eroded, they direct us not to invent methods of more efficient farming--but to stop harvesting the crops. If there is too much traffic, they direct us not to build better highways--but to stop making the cars. Whatever the alleged problem, their incessant "solution" is: de-industrialize.
Environmentalists believe that "chemicals" are bad, additives are bad, artificial flavoring is bad, preservatives are bad, synthetic fibers are bad, logging is bad--that "interfering" with the processes of nature is inherently immoral. They condemn DDT--yet disregard the fact that we ingest 10,000 times more naturally produced pesticides than man-made ones.28 They praise societies that wallow in the filth and disease that characterize a non-technological "harmony" with nature--yet condemn those that enjoy the cleanliness and health resulting from modern sewage systems, washing machines, refrigeration and polio vaccines. Whatever is a product of human design, in other words, is by that very fact lethal; whatever is natural is by that very fact benign.
Environmentalism's goal is not the elimination of air pollution or filthy water--or anything else actually harmful to man. (If there are people truly animated by such concerns, they should not ally themselves with environmentalism, but should form a new pro-technology/anti-dirt organization.)
This is why it is a mistake to believe that the differences between your industry--any industry--and environmentalism involve only different means toward the same basic end. That is not true. The basic ends are radically different.
Environmentalists do not want to promote human happiness, nor even the "happiness" of other species. Those who are callously indifferent to the millions of people who die annually because DDT has been banned will not be moved to moral outrage at the "injustice" of some spotted owl losing its nest. What environmentalists desire is not the welfare of the non-human--but the privation of man.
As you in the forestry industry devise ever-improving methods of production, you are hit with ever-more constraints. Instead of being praised for your work, instead of being hailed for making all our lives better by creating the goods that make life easier, you are condemned--condemned for your very virtues. You are vilified because you do not leave nature untouched, as a sterile, inhospitable wilderness. You are denounced for the fact that you create value for human beings.
The environmentalists' ideology has taken hold not in spite of its opposition to the requirements of man's life--but because of it, because it has latched firmly onto the prevailing cultural premise of self-sacrifice. In their campaign for privation, this moral premise is their strongest weapon--against you, and against all their victims.
The only practical way to fight environmentalism is by disarming them of that weapon--i.e., by unequivocally defending the virtue of production.
You may have to give in at times on political matters, when you are confronted with the power of the state. But the one thing you should never surrender is the moral principle on which your industry rests. Do not try to appease your enemies by saying that you are in business only to preserve the wilderness. You aren't--and you shouldn't be.
You are in the business of reshaping nature to serve your ends. And you ought to say so proudly. You need to assert your moral right to be left free to continue generating the magnificent abundance that has lifted humanity out of the miserable caves and jungles of the primitive, pre-industrial era.
That is how you will ultimately prevail--as, in justice, you should.
1Dr. Samuel Broder, director of the National Cancer Institute, quoted in "Trees Yield a Cancer Treatment, But Ecological Cost May Be High," New York Times, May 13, 1991, p. A1.
2Al Gore, Earth in the Balance (Houghton Mifflin, 1992), pp. 105-106.
3Wendell Wood, quoted in "Trees Yield a Cancer Treatment, But Ecological Cost May Be High," New York Times, May 13, 1991, p. A14.
4Tom Regan, quoted by David Hardy, in America's New Extremists: What You Need to Know About the Animal Rights Movement (Washington Legal Foundation, 1990), p. 8.
5D. Petersen, "The Plowboy Interview," Mother Earth News, Jan./Feb. 1985, p. 21.
6David Graber, "Mother Nature as a Hothouse Flower," Los Angeles Times Book Review, Oct. 22, 1989, pp. 1, 9.
7Darryl Cherney, quoted in "Militant Environmentalists Planning Summer Protests to Save Redwoods," New York Times, June 19, 1990, p. A18.
8Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (Signet, 1957), p. 946.
9Robert Fuller, "Inflation: The Rising Cost of Living on a Small Planet," Worldwatch Paper no. 34, Jan 1980 (Worldwatch Insitute).
10"Ethic of Protecting Land Fueled Yellowstone Fires," New York Times, Sept. 22, 1988, pp. A1, A24.
12"Chronicle," New York Times, Aug. 3, 1991, p. 20.
13Dixy Lee Ray, Trashing the Planet (Regnery Gateway, 1990), p. 78-79.
14Eric W. Hagen and James J. Worman, An Endless Series of Hobgoblins (Foundation for Economic Education, 1995), pp. 10-11, 19.
15Ray, op. cit., p.73.
16Elizabeth M. Whelan and Frederick J. Stare, Panic in the Pantry, (Prometheus, 1992), pp. 66-76.
17Stephen Schneider, quoted in "Our Fragile Earth" by Jonathan Schell, Discover, Oct. 1987, pp. 47-50.
18Paul Ehrlich, The Population Bomb (Ballantine, 1968), p. xi.
19Ray, op. cit, pp. 72-73.
20Ibid, p. 69; also Julian L. Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2 (Princeton University, 1996), p. 261.
21Edward C. Krug, "Acid Rain and the Acid Lakes: The Real Story" (published in Heritage Foundation Backgrounder), April 19, 1990, p. 13.
22Michael Sanera and Jane S. Shaw, Facts Not Fear (Regnery, 1996), pp. 167-168.
23Sanera and Shaw, op. cit., pp. 168-169.
24Simon, op. cit., pp. 87, 320.
25Calculations based on data in Encyclopedia Americana, 1996, Vol. 21, p. 430.
26Paul Ehrlich, quoted in "Journalists and Others for Saving the Planet," by David Brooks, Wall St. Journal, Oct. 5, 1989, p. A28.
27From an Earth First newsletter, cited by Ray, op.cit., p. 168.
28Hagen and Worman, op.cit., p. 101.
Peter Schwartz is Chairman of the Board of the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, CA. Parts of this talk are taken from the chapter "The Philosophy of Privation" by Mr. Schwartz in Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution by Ayn Rand. This book examines the meaning of the New Left's hostility to industrialization, and presents today's manifestations of that same tribalist, anti-capitalist philosophy. Permission to use printed excerpts from the book was granted by Penguin/Putnam Inc. and by the Estate of Ayn Rand.
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Peter Schwartz, author of The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest, is a distinguished fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. The Institute promotes Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand--author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.
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