“Environmentalism has become anti-globalization and anti-industry. Activists have abandoned science in favor of sensationalism.” — Dr. Patrick Moore, founder of Greenpeace.
The truth of Moore’s statement was on display again this Thursday. Following on the heels of Michael Pollan’s UW lecture in which he argued industrialized food is not actually food, environmentalist Paul Ehrlich spoke on the latest in a series of eminent environmental apocalypses.
“The battle to feed all of humanity is over,” Ehrlich wrote in 1968. “In the 1970s and 1980s, hundreds of millions of people will 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 at home, hopefully through changes in our value system, but by compulsion if voluntary methods fail.”
Have decades of increasing agricultural productivity, abundant food production and declining death rates discredited Ehrlich’s claims in the eyes of environmentalists? Has the demonstrable power of human capital, technology and industry to lift people out of poverty and the stark contrast in quality of life, material wealth and environmental conditions between industrialized and unindustrialized nations caused environmentalists to question their views?
On the contrary. In his current book, “The Dominant Animal,” Ehrlich continues his sensationalistic predictions about a future of science and technology: “Science and technology might eventually permit 12 billion people to live sustainably on earth, but most likely in the style of factory (‘battery’) chickens.”
If the image of living like factory chickens doesn’t sufficiently scare you, he’s quick to offer other, even less attractive scenarios. He warns of an “increasingly inhospitable world as natural and agricultural systems collapse” and “not far behind: possibly severe economic disruption, famine and massive migrations of environmental refugees.”
Why should we believe such outlandish predictions? Is there scientific justification for such claims? After all, Ehrlich’s book is chock-full of scientific facts and theories. From evolution to perceptional systems to anthropology to political theory to cultural analysis to economics, his scientific claims run the gamut. But science is not a hodgepodge of interesting facts; science requires a method.
Fundamental to Ehrlich’s approach is the refusal to deal on an intellectual level. All science and argumentation counter to his views are simply ignored or chalked up to biological causes or psychological motives.
For example, the fact that people remain unconvinced by endless “the sky is falling” scenarios and point out the climate is not cooperating with environmentalist prognostications is summarily dismissed by Ehrlich as resulting from an inadequate perceptual system.
“Several aspects of our perceptual system provide some insight into humanity’s general failure to come to grips with environmental problems. … Perception tends to hold the environmental backdrop constant. … It is very difficult for people to react to global warming … because our perceptual systems can’t detect … the change.”
Ehrlich feels no need to defend his ideas on their merits. He simply denigrates those who disagree as being ill-fated products of evolution. Like a frog in a pot of hot water, if only those “deniers” could break free of their perceptual habituations they would be enlightened environmentalists.
Blind to intellectual opposition, Ehrlich completely ignores scientific arguments that run contrary to his views, explaining them away as a product of “a well-financed, fundamentally right-wing campaign [to] spread disinformation on global heating.”
If environmentalists like Ehrlich are using the fa?ade of science and giving lip service to technology in order to lend credence to their real agenda, what is that agenda? Ehrlich explains:
“It is probably in vain that so many look to science and technology to solve our present ecological crisis. Much more basic changes are needed, perhaps of the type exemplified by the much-despised ‘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.”
This, in a nutshell, is environmentalism: turn away from science and technology and return to the mystical, the emotional and impoverished. In short: return to nature.
But what environmentalists claim to be champions of science and technology? Don’t they just want clean air and water? Again, Ehrlich explains: “It should be remembered that abundant energy is no panacea for the world’s ills. A bulldozer run on hydrogen produced from a wind farm can still decimate a tropical rain forest.”
Despite all the rationalizations about cheap and abundant “alternative” energies, it is the bulldozer and everything it represents that environmentalism is against. It is not abundance that it seeks but rationing. It is not clean energy it seeks but less development. It is not man’s command of nature it wishes to advance but protecting nature from man.
Jim Allard ([email protected]) is a graduate student in the biological sciences.