A Reality Check For The Eco-nuts

Something we must remind our more radical environmentalist brethren: The Earth is not a god. Unfortunately too many of them believe exactly that which in turn leads some of them to propose actions that are, on the face of it, genocidal.

The seventeenth-century philosopher Sir Francis Bacon argued that the human mind had been squandered on superstition: metaphysical speculation, theological disputation, and violent political delusions. Bacon’s greatest American disciple, Benjamin Franklin, agreed. It would be better, both believed, to focus on the conquest of man’s common enemy: nature. Bacon and Franklin were right, but they misjudged superstition’s staying power. Fast-forward to a conversation I had with the late Arne Naess, the Norwegian father of “deep ecology” and guru of the European Green movement. With a straight face, Naess told me that the eradication of smallpox was a technological crime against nature. For Naess’s deep ecology, the smallpox virus “deserved” and needed our protection, despite having maimed, tortured, and killed millions of people.

So in this guy's eyes, the smallpox virus has more value than human life. He sounds almost like some of the eco-nut characters in Michael Crichton's novel State of Fear. Those same eco-nuts got the chance to live (or die) by their philosophy when they were 'induced' to strip themselves of their clothing and make a trek across 100 miles of jungle back to civilization. They found out the hard way that their ideology didn't match up with the realities of the real world, finding out that their beloved Nature was indeed “red in tooth and claw.” But I have no doubt that they would have no problem with the rest of us having to live like that as long as they didn't have to do so.

Then there are ecological apocalypse prognosticators who always get it wrong.

Why do hysterical warnings about sustainability and depletion persist despite the failure of the crackpot 1960s and 1970s predictions? Because the non-impact standard—conceiving of the environment as a loving but finite God—sees the environment as having a limited “carrying capacity” of gifts, such as arable land, water, and crucial minerals, in addition to fossil fuels. The more people on the planet, the closer we are to maxing out that carrying capacity, the thinking goes.

Epstein argues brilliantly that the carrying-capacity superstition amounts to a “backward understanding of resources.” The fact is that nature by itself gives us very few directly supplied energy resources: most resources “are not taken from nature, but created from nature,” he maintains. Every raw material in nature is but a “potential resource, with unlimited potential to be to be rendered valuable by the human mind.” Right now we have enough fossil fuels and nuclear power to last us thousands of years. “The amount of raw matter and energy on this planet,” Epstein writes, “is so incomprehensibly vast that it is nonsensical to speculate about running out of it. Telling us that there is only so much matter and energy to create resources from is like telling us that there is only so much galaxy to visit for the first time. True, but irrelevant.”

Two hundred years ago one could believe that the fuels needed to keep society warm and to power industry were indeed limited. But they couldn't conceive of the power sources and natural resources available to today, something that would seem magical to them. We have also developed means of reusing some resources again and again and again, lessening the burden on natural resources. Better technologies and new discoveries have lessened the demand for some resources, and in some cases, eliminated them altogether. But that isn't good enough for some of these “Earth is a god” believers, and it never will be.

Too bad for them that 99.999% of the human population disagrees with them and their goals.