Man and the Environment

Bounteous tears have been shed as of late in the wake of China’s tsunamic news that it will officially end its one-child policy. Not tears of joy, mind you, but tears of sorrow. This doesn’t mean, of course, that the news isn’t welcomed by most sane and humane persons. It only means that devout environmentalists will no longer be able to point to China’s wisdom and success in enforcing its one-child policy, which really means that their chief proselytizing tool for the religion of environmentalism – namely overpopulation, so-called – has been dealt if not a serious blow, at least a momentary setback. Never deterred and like good pilgrims, our dear environmentalists are busy as bees circling the wagons.

Numbered among their ranks is a certain Sarah Conly, who, judging from the cautionary note she strikes in a recent op-ed for The Boston Globe, certainly wasn’t jumping for joy like a famous frog from Calaveras County when she first heard this terrible news. And doing her strict duty as a firm believer in the environment, she sought to remind unbelievers that China’s one-child policy was a positively “good thing”, even if the enforcement of it, as in forced abortions and sterilizations, wasn’t. But a little evil never detracts from a good thing for those who believe that the end justifies the means.

In many ways, Conly simply rehashes the usual arguments, pitting man against the environment, and like a good environmentalist, siding with the environment and against man. After lamenting that the world is full of 7 billion souls just like herself, and growing at an alarming rate, she states rather bluntly that “The sad truth is that trying to support this many people will bring about environmental disaster. We can see the damage that is already being done by our present population of “just” 7.3 billion. We all know about climate change with its droughts, storms, rising sea levels, and heat. But it’s also soil depletion, lack of fresh water, overfishing, species extinction, and overcrowding in cities.”

Her conclusion? Well, naturally, if more of us means less of nature, then we must reduce the number of us – first for nature’s sake (since we are to have no false gods before Mother Nature) and second for the sake of future humans who, though less in number, will be happier in a world with less of themselves in it.

From here her article turns from bad to worse, and for a moment one gets the sense they are reading the cliff notes version of Paul Ehrlich’s alarmist manifesto, The Population Bomb – though Conly’s version is admittedly less baleful in its commendable failure to recommend that governments add “temporary sterilants” to drinking water and staple foods (a recommendation seconded by Obama’s science czar, John Holdren, oddly enough), or, on a global scale, cut off aid to poor countries that have no hope of ever becoming “self-sufficient”, thus intentionally starving entire human populations in much the same manner that an exterminator might annihilate a colony of ants.

Conly doesn’t ever get this far along the broad and easy path, but she gets far enough, anyway. Exactly how far down that path she travels can be briefly outlined in four points which, taken together or separately, fashions her program for reducing the “surplus population” – to quote Dickens’ infamous miser, Ebenezer Scrooge.

1) Educate the uneducated about the need to have fewer children, which is here described as “the environmentally right thing to do”;
2) Provide free, widely and readily available contraceptives;
3) Bestow tax breaks on those who have fewer children or, conversely, impose tax penalties on those who choose to have more than one carbon copy of themselves;
4) If all else fails, impose “sanctions” on hardened environmental sinners, which we are assured will not be “physical in nature.”

So there you have it: Four easy rules for the environmentally friendly to foist upon the environmentally unfriendly, who are here defined as those who have too many children.

Now I know it can be hard for the average person to understand this kind of environmental fanaticism – by which even the size of families are to be severely limited through coercion – but that is only because the average person sees this world for what it is: A thing passing like a cloud on a beautiful summer day. Which is to say, most people are religious, only their religion isn’t earthbound. Most people can appreciate nature without sacrificing everything to it, including their children. For what good is nature without others to share it with? And what is earth compared to even one human soul?

I think it was the author of Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton – himself a trained anthropologist – who once said of environmentalism (especially at the height of the global warming mania) that it was a religion for the godless, offering its own religious myth of an original state of innocence, a fall, and the need for redemption. Indeed, environmentalists even have their own priest class, perhaps even a sacerdotal hierarchy, who, depending on their role and stature, preach the story of the fall and redemption according to the dogmas of environmentalism. (In that case, could we call Al Gore the first pope of environmentalism?)

According to environmentalists, the original state of innocence was that time before man’s arrival on the scene when primitive beasts freely roamed the munificent golden fields of earth; the fall was thus one and the same with the arrival of man and his destructive habits upon the environment, especially during the Industrial Revolution; and the offer of salvation is granted through the one true religion of environmentalism, which, as the sole mediator between man and Mother Nature, offers salvation to believers by faith in “sustainability” and the practice of good works such as recycling, driving a Toyota Prius, and, of course, the first and greatest of the commandments, limiting the number of children to one, maybe two.

But of course no religion could succeed if its doctrines were not preached – for faith comes by way of hearing. Thus, daily sermons and homilies are offered across the globe in classrooms, newspapers, books, documentaries etc., whereby the priests of doom remind man of his sinful condition before an angry and vengeful Gaya, whose resources we plunder and whose beauty we mask with the works of human hands. Repentance is thus required of the individual, and only after one is truly repentant are they then permitted to offer the right propitiations to the angry goddess, hoping to appease her wrath which builds with every fossil fuel we pour upon her silken skies. And if our propitiations are accepted, global temperatures will cool (though hopefully not too much), the air will be crisp, the water clean, and the oceans fishable again. In a word, it will be heaven on earth, and those who enjoy this state of bliss will be the blessed, experiencing the perpetual beatific vision of resplendent sunsets unblemished by the stain of carbon emissions.

So we see that at every step along the way man is portrayed as at best a nuisance, at worst a disease of the dust. And so great is man’s transgression in this regard that more than mere repentance is required of him. He must amend his life, change his ways, and now, oh yes, he must offer sacrifice. He must offer up as penance any notion or desire within himself to have more than one child (maybe two). He mustn’t upset the delicate balance of Mother Nature’s tranquility by procuring for himself a family large enough to fill the seats of the SUV that he also secretly and selfishly desires.

But of course none of this is new. There is a reason why we refer to men like Paul Ehrlich and women like Sarah Conly as “Neo-Malthusians.” For it was the 18th century Englishman, Thomas Malthus, who first gave the modern world its taste of overpopulation frenzy with his infamous and enduring work, An Essay on the Principle of Population. In that work of profoundest fiction, Malthus argued, among other things, that the human population runs while the food supply crawls, thereby leading to some future, catastrophic point of famine, pestilence and death. Or as he put it rather more succinctly, “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man”.

Reacting to the utopian optimism widespread at his time and as propounded by philosophical opponents like William Godwin, Malthus saw human reproduction as a hindrance to human progress. He thought that human and societal perfectibility was so much nonsense primarily because the poor and working class of the world tended to have children disproportionate to their measly income, thereby swelling the population beyond sustainability and causing famine, disease and ultimately death. Society could never achieve utopia as long as the poor and indigent continued to breed like rabbits. Man was thus both the victim and beneficiary of misery and vice which were the only things checking his irrational and uncontrollable breeding habits. In the end, through disaster, equilibrium would be restored.

For Malthus it was all a numbers game, or as Sherlock Holmes might say, “Elementary, my dear Watson.” Left unchecked by either positive or preventive restraints – such as abstinence, laws making marriage among the poor difficult to procure, war, famine and disease – human populations were doomed and predestined to increase exponentially while food supply could only increase arithmetically. It was a mere matter of basic economics as gleaned from the immutable laws of nature, in other words, and thus Malthus’ dire and depressing pessimism. For there is no way around the laws of nature!

Contrary to this, his great philosophical opponent, William Godwin, saw things quite differently. In an essay aimed primarily at rebutting Malthus’s arguments, he observed the obvious and neglected truth that “The human species is capable of improvement from age to age, by means of which capacity we have arrived at those refinements of mechanical production and science, which have been gradually called into existence.”

So simple a truth, I say, was neglected by Malthus and has been widely neglected by many of his heirs to this very day. That man, endowed with reason, can transcend seeming limitations through creativity and ingenuity is seldom taken into account by the Neo-Malthusians. Indeed, man alone among the beasts is capable of betterment, while, as Godwin puts it, “all other animals remain what they were at first, and the young of no species becomes better or more powerful by the experience of those that went before him.”

But such was not Malthus’s view of human nature – at least as far as the poor man was concerned – forgetting
that man, though a little lower than the angels, is also a little higher than the beasts. Man is not a mere
passive agent, utterly dependent upon and at the mercy of things as they are. Indeed, to quote Godwin’s critique
of Malthus’ work once more, “The main and direct moral and lesson of the Essay on Population, is passiveness.
Human creatures may feel that they are unfortunate and unhappy; but it is their wisdom to lie still, and rather
‘bear the ills they have, than fly to others that they know not of.’”

In the Malthusian view of things, man does not act to improve his situation, but is rather acted upon by forces greater than himself – at least for the poor man, anyway. Yet, somehow man continues to defy the odds. With ever greater technology and advancement in knowledge, our ability to provide for our own sustenance is greater even than our ability to reproduce. And in that sense, Malthus had it exactly backwards.

But if passiveness is the “direct moral and lesson” of Malthus’ theory, as Godwin suggests, it gives us no comfort that the exact opposite is true of the Malthusians (and their environmentalist heirs). Indeed, if anything, the chief characteristic of the Malthusian mindset is restlessness – a restless activity and meddlesomeness by which its adherents do not hesitate to tell their human peers how many children they shall be permitted before the punitive arm of the State intervenes and smashes them like a hammer.

Their prediction is always basically the same: It is impossible, mathematically speaking, for food and resources, which are limited, to keep up with population growth, which continues to increase at an ever-quickening pace.

Still, after centuries of botched predictions of this sort you’d think that the Neo-Malthusian cadre would relent even a little. For being so wrong so often ought to make one reconsider the soundness of their doctrine. But if anything, the constant failure has only emboldened and hardened the believers. Clearly their science has no predictive powers, but that is only because man, as a free agent and a rational creature, cannot be reduced to the methods of scientific experiment alone. By now the dire warnings and predictions of the Malthusians should have come true – if only man were anything like the other creatures that inhabit this earth.

So, while the myth of overpopulation remains a thorn in the Malthusian side – stubbornly failing to achieve the dire and catastrophic events predicted down through the centuries – the narrative has subtly and quietly changed for the Neo-Malthusian environmentalists who, perhaps sensing failure in the numbers game, have moved the goalpost away from famine and death and toward environmental disaster. For while Malthus was mainly concerned in propounding an arithmetical theory on population and its boom and bust cycles in alternating times of plenty and scarcity, his heirs and adherents today in the environmentalist camp are not concerned so much with overpopulation for the sake of man and his wellbeing as much as they are concerned with overpopulation for the sake of the environment and its wellbeing.

There can be no doubt that Malthus blamed the poor and indigent chiefly for the exponential rise in human populations and the concomitant misery such an unchecked rise creates – which is why he was so opposed to the English Poor Laws which sought to give aid and comfort to the very paupers he blamed for society’s ills. But today’s environmentalists are more egalitarian in their approach: It is not only the poor who should be limited in their reproductive capacity, it is all of us, for every human child, rich or poor, is a competitor with Mother Nature and a necessary usurper of her resources.

In that sense, today’s environmentalists are Malthusian only to a degree, and might better be described as the canonically irregular union between a Malthusian and a Marxian. For not only do today’s environmentalists think there are too many people, but those people who are rich actually pose a greater threat to the environment since they hoard, plunder and use more of the earth’s resources than those who are poor – and hence must the playing field be leveled between the two, with inequality ultimately erased, so that the few in number who remain on earth when environmental utopia is achieved will be endowed with little and therefore hindered in their ability to destroy the environment.

But herein lies the rub, I think. Those whose religion is environmentalism are those whose real god is nature itself. In losing God, they have found a goddess, and they have made an idol of her. In a sense, it is a return to pantheism. But when God is forgotten, so too is man’s dignity. For without God, man is but another creature on earth: a strange outlier, an anomaly, perhaps, but only different in degree and not in kind. And whence man loses his uniqueness, whence he is knocked from his pedestal, then he becomes not merely another creature on earth, but a creature to be dealt with. For it is obvious that not even the Tasmanian Devil, for all the wickedness his name implies, has wrought the destruction and misery which man has upon the face earth.

As such, man must decrease so that nature might increase. For the environmentalist, it is not the world that was made for man, but man that was made for the world. This is how Conly and her ilk can feel justified in calling for a global restriction on human births, limiting it everywhere and always to one. For the less man rears his ugly head, the more we shall see the beautiful face of our dear Mother, which today remains veiled behind man’s rapaciousness.

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