Saturday, May 29, 2010

Objectivism Versus Environmentalism

By Diana Hsieh

[Note: This post is part of Modern Paleo's weekend schedule of blogging on Objectivism on Saturdays and free market politics on Sundays.]

In the sidebar to the right, you'll find the following statement:

Modern Paleo offers writings by Objectivists on the principles and practice of nutrition, fitness, and health most conducive to human flourishing. We seek the best that modern life has to offer, informed by a broadly paleo approach.
One implication of that, perhaps unforeseen, is that Modern Paleo is no friend of environmentalism.

No, Objectivists don't want polluted rivers and seas... but that's because they'd be damaging to human life, whether directly (via our own consumption) or indirectly (via the food supply). No, Objectivists don't want to pave the earth... but that's because most of us find value in wild places, just civilized enough for the fun of hiking, biking, camping, hunting, and more. In essence, Objectivists value human life; we don't regard nature as an intrinsic good, apart from human life. Yet we're not blind to the fact that humans can only flourish under certain conditions. We need clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and nutritious food to eat.

The only way to ensure those values for ourselves -- and future generations -- is through ironclad respect for private property. All property should be privately owned, and the property owner should be able to do whatever he pleases with it, provided that he doesn't cause undue harm to other people or their property in the process. Dumping toxic waste into a stream that runs through your property isn't an exercise of your rights; it's a violation of the rights of everyone downstream.

Human ingenuity -- protected and nurtured by ironclad respect for property rights -- is the only moral and practical solution to environmental problems like pollution, endangered species, and soil erosion.

About the problem of pollution, Ayn Rand wrote the following in her 1971 essay "The Anti-Industrial Revolution":
City smog and filthy rivers are not good for men (though they are not the kind of danger that the ecological panic-mongers proclaim them to be). This is a scientific, technological problem--not a political one--and it can be solved only by technology. Even if smog were a risk to human life, we must remember that life in nature, without technology, is wholesale death.

As far as the role of government is concerned, there are laws--some of them passed in the nineteenth century--prohibiting certain kinds of pollution, such as the dumping of industrial wastes into rivers. These laws have not been enforced. It is the enforcement of such laws that those concerned with the issue may properly demand. Specific laws--forbidding specifically defined and proved harm, physical harm, to persons or property--are the only solution to problems of this kind. (Return of the Primitive)
I'll post more on this topic in coming weeks, but I thought I'd leave you with an illuminating dissection of environmentalism as an ideology by Keith Lockitch of the Ayn Rand Institute:
Most people have a mistaken view of environmentalism. They see it as a movement whose goal is to protect the environment so that we, and future generations, may continue to enjoy it. Environmentalists might call for certain sacrifices--like stern priests calling upon us to do penance for our sins--but people take their word for it that those sacrifices will turn out to be for the good of "society." People feel virtuous in paying more for those organic blueberries and spending time washing out tin cans and nasty cloth diapers, because they see it as a sacrifice for the "greater good." And although "going green" may demand some cost and effort, it need not--on this view--be too burdensome nor demand personal hardships that are too great.

But in fact, the goal of environmentalism is not any alleged benefit to mankind; its goal is to preserve nature untouched--to prevent nature from being altered for human purposes. Observe that whenever there is a conflict between the goals of "preserving nature" and pursuing some actual human value, environmentalists always side with nature against man. If tapping Arctic oil reserves to supply our energy needs might affect the caribou, environmentalists demand that we leave vast tracts of Arctic tundra completely untouched. If a new freeway bypass will ease traffic congestion but might disturb the dwarf wedge mussel, environmentalists side with the mollusk against man. If a "wetland" is a breeding ground for disease-carrying insects, environmentalists fight to prevent it being drained no matter the toll of human suffering.

It is simply not true that environmentalism values human well being. It demands sacrifices, not for the sake of any human good, but for the sake of leaving nature untouched. It calls for sacrifice as an end in itself.
Objectivists reject the ideology of environmentalism precisely because we want to enjoy the best that modern life has to offer. We're not seeking to re-enact the life of paleo man, particularly not when forced on us by an eco-fascist state.

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