In an Alex Gregory New Yorker cartoon featuring two cavemen, one notes to the other, “Something’s just not right—our air is clean, our water is pure, we all get plenty of exercise, everything we eat is organic and free-range, and yet nobody lives past thirty.” Although the cartoon was originally meant as a satire, a Citizens Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE) publication shows why this joke carries a hard edge among environmentalists.
Written by CARE Executive Director Marita Noon and Research Assistant John McCulloch, “Environmental Utopia” attempts to demonstrate that radical environmentalism imposes disastrous costs on society. In the end, Noon and McCulloch argue that “extreme environmentalism has just as many downsides as the progress-at-any-cost-extreme,” and the necessary policy balance comes when citizens realize that they “cannot have the energy we want without some elements we do not want.”
Environmentalist groups such as the Sierra Club, Earth First!, and Greenpeace, and the Western Watershed Project oppose coal plants, logging, carbon emissions, nuclear energy, and livestock. Even alternative fuels such as ethanol cannot escape the prohibition of such groups; Earth First! Journal writer, Kyler Simmons describes the “pursuit of ethanol” as “simply the continuation of an exploitative, colonial system that steals resources from the world’s poor communities to maintain the consumer lifestyles of the First World.” According to Simmons, author of “Full Tanks, Empty Stomachs: Ethanol and Eco-Colonialism,” America’s attempts to manufacture and purchase ethanol have directly resulted in the destruction of rainforest, food deprivation in poor countries, neocolonial empire-building, and the creation of new American “energy colonies.” He declares that the only solution to the worlds’ energy problems is “a dramatic reduction in our energy and resource consumption.”
Environmentalist groups often use moral reasoning to justify their causes, such as “personal, spiritual and strategic efforts to defend the Earth” (Earth First!), “protect our communities and the planet” (Sierra Club), and “The Health of Our Planet Lies in the Balance” (Greenpeace USA). The Sierra Club is opposed to development near highways, because car exhaust causes “numerous adverse health effects including cancer, asthma, and heart attacks.” Their publication, “Highway Health Hazards” proposes that Americans should counteract this dilemma by increasing public transportation, designing denser living areas, and integrating business and residential areas. On the surface, these suggestions seem reasonable; however, the Sierra Club advocates government intervention to manufacture these circumstances. Government intervention is often compulsory—you might lose your freedom to determine the size of your yard or the length of your commute. In addition, the Sierra club website pushes for environmentally-friendly highway practices, including “a narrow footprint, reduced speed limit, restrictions on truck traffic and billboards, and a land purchase to help protect the wetlands.” In other words: drive slower, suffer through more traffic, and take circuitous routes designed to circumvent wildlife. Also, restrictions on truck traffic—a prominent method for product dispersal throughout the U.S. — may translate into less product availability and higher costs at the store.
Noon and McCulloch identified other dramatic consumer costs that the radical environmentalist ‘magic wand’ would impose on society:
• The absence of petroleum products would result in decreased life spans, because “most products synonymous with emergency medicine could not be produced without
plastic. . .” Disposable plastics also provide significant increases in sanitation.
• 94% of houses in the United States incorporate wood into their structure. Without logging, how would Americans build houses? In addition, tree harvesting is an essential component of sustainable forest management.“Under a limited fuel supply scenario” absent selective tree harvesting, Noon and Muculloch argue, “catastrophic fires would be the norm. . .larger and more intense since mechanical equipment could not be used to suppress them.”
• Without the energy to fuel transportation or electricity—and without the metal to make household appliances— humans would have to move close to freshwater sources, rendering cities and population-dense areas impractical. Even with horses, humans would be geographically restricted, and we would return to the premodern era.
• Incidentally, the authors point out that much of the energy used to produce electricity, which environmentalists favor, comes from coal and nuclear power, why they don’t. [corrected from whey, 9/11/07-mak.]
Political Philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes presciently recognized the causal relationship between civilization and industry as far back as the 17th century. Hobbes’ 1660 publication, Leviathan, described life in the state of nature as “the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal.” In this bleak world of man against man, “there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain. . . no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force. . .no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death.” Such a life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
Bethany Stotts is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.