Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center
Hard upon Passover and Easter Week comes the two high holy days for the Green Cult, last Saturday’s Earth Day, and next Saturday’s People’s Climate March. This two-bit nature-worship calls itself “environmentalism,” but like another pseudo-science that ravaged the modern world, Marxism, this “ism” is definitely a “wasm,” its contradictions, hypocrisies, and cognitive incoherence patent. But just as Marx’s poltergeist lives on in various collectivists ideologies, environmentalism exacts a huge cost from those who can least afford it.
Resource management is an obvious imperative for human beings. We are practically and morally obliged to use nature in such a way that we maximize benefits for all people, and leave for those who come after us the resources for maintaining and improving their lives. Our earthly home is not the wild, the untouched nature that excites our romantic sensibilities, but the garden. We develop and improve nature so that people can survive, but also have clean air and water, and find aesthetic pleasure and solace in its beauty. But nature per se has no intrinsic value or meaning. Nature is matter and the laws of physics, literally inhuman and meaningless. It is indifferent to us, this one species of millions, most of which have disappeared. We give meaning and value to nature, because we are conscious of our uniqueness and its necessary end. Thus nature’s importance rests solely on how it sustains and benefits human beings.
Until the modern world and the development of revolutionary technologies that freed us from nature’s cruelty, people rarely idealized nature. The hard task of providing food made our relationship to nature an adversarial one, and our efforts often failed. It wasn’t until improvements in agricultural techniques in the 18th century began to liberate more and more people from this drudgery. As late as the early 20th century the majority of people farmed. Today two people produce food for a hundred. Freed from the harsh and destructive forces of nature, we began to idealize it. Taking for granted a steady supply of abundant, nutritious, and safe food, protected from nature’s daily cruelty and violence, we indulge fantasies of “harmony” with nature, and curse our encroachments on it. We have turned what Joseph Conrad called a “the shackled form of a conquered monster” into a house-pet.
Industrial capitalism, of course, and its soul-killing technologies are the villains responsible for a modern world that pollutes for profit and ravages mother earth. This stance is blatantly hypocritical, since most of us today would not last five minutes without the technologies that have given us clean water, abundant food, and protection from nature’s fury. Idealizing nature is a luxury of the well fed who don’t have to wrestle sustenance from a harsh indifferent environment.
Worse yet, environmentalism has become the ally of post-Marxist leftism, since both find an enemy in free-market capitalism. Raymond Aron explains why: capitalism “has succeeded by means which were not laid down in the revolutionary code. Prosperity, power, the tendency towards uniformity of economic conditions––these results have been achieved by private initiative, by competition, rather than State intervention, in other words by capitalism.” That’s why at every G8, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank protest, the Greenpeace flag can be seen waving side-by-side with the hammer and sickle. Anything that undermines the politico-economic order that kicked Marxism into the dustbin of history is collectivism’s ally.
More perniciously, for secularized moderns who have abandoned traditional faith, environmentalism provides an easy, status-rich substitute. Like Christianity, environmentalism provides a meaningful narrative that separates the sheep from the goats, the enlightened, morally superior saved from the greedy, sinful damned. It has an original sin: the industrial capitalism that banished us from our natural garden and subjected us to the alienation of our “air conditioned nightmare.” It has its ritual celebrations like Earth Day, its sacraments like recycling our waste and buying electric cars, and its eschatology: the inevitable destruction of the planet caused by our wanton desecration of nature’s temple. This is the religion taught in our schools every day, even as the Judeo-Christian foundations of our civilization are banished from the classroom.
People can believe what they want, no matter how wacky the faith may be. But environmentalism has disguised itself as science, and as such has managed to create policies harming millions of people across the globe. Rachel Carson’s war against DDT ended up killing millions of Africa who were deprived of the insecticide that controlled malaria-bearing mosquitoes. The reactionary war against GMOs and “Frankenfoods” is preventing peoples in the developing world from feeding more people with less land and pesticides, and denying them nutritional additives in food that could prevent diseases like rickets. And now the “climate change” alarmists’ war on coal makes it harder to electrify those parts of the world still dependent on wood or dung for fuel, the use of which kills four million people a year.
The global warming cult is particularly destructive to economic development. About 1.2 billion in the world people do not have electricity, making it harder to obtain clean water, develop their economies, or even cook their food without damaging their lungs with smoke. In the rich West, the pipe-dream of renewable energy has boosted the cost of electricity, worsening energy poverty in states like California, where a million people spend more than 10 percent of their income on energy. The high cost of gas and electricity because of environmental regulations amounts to a regressive tax on the poor, who are hit the hardest. In sweltering San Joaquin Valley counties like Madera and Tulare, energy poverty rates are 15 percent, compared to 3-4 percent in cool, deep-blue coastal enclaves. Impoverished Kings County averages over $500 a month in electric bills, while tony Marin Country, with an average income twice that of Kings County averages $200.
The final insult of the Green Cult is its claims that science, not gratifying myths, lies behind its destructive policies. The claims of a “scientific consensus” on the truth of human-generated apocalyptic global warming, and the Inquisition conducted against “deniers,” gives the game away. Given that we still don’t completely understand the physical mechanisms that drive global climate, shutting down debate and demanding fealty to orthodoxy are the opposite of real science. Science has become successful by making skepticism its watchword, subjecting hypotheses to rigorous testing and criticism before accepting them as facts. The Salem-like persecution of those acting like scientists and questioning the climate-change hypothesis suggests that science has nothing to do with it. Ideology, status-mongering, or pseudo-religion are more important.
We need to stop recycling old romantic nature-love myths and start thinking about what benefits human beings across the globe. Economic development fueled by carbon-based energy has lifted billions out of poverty and malnutrition, an improvement the selfish rich’s war on carbon is making more difficult. Here at home, worsening energy poverty by regressive taxes, regulatory costs, and sluggish economic growth exacerbates the income inequality that most global-warming alarmists decry.
But the greater irony is that for those who truly care about the environment, making people prosperous is the proven path to taking better care of nature. We improved our environment when we didn’t need all our wealth just to eat another day. The developing world can do the same thing. We just need to stop letting selfish, self-indulgent, well-fed enviro-cultists determine policies whose costs they don’t have to bear.
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