Recent news stories advise us of yet another contributor to the menace of global warming, this one arising from the flatulence produced by cows. The metabolic processes engaged in by our bovine neighbors produce methane, one of the greenhouse gasses against which the environmentalist faithful are ever vigilant. Methane is also produced through the breakdown of organic matter (e.g., manure, dumpsites) and, other life forms. In his book Gaia the renowned chemist, James Lovelock, analyzed how methane, produced in the guts of termites, is an essential factor in the self-regulating nature of the earth’s atmosphere.
The notion that "self-regulation" could account for the orderliness found in social, economic, or biological systems is a heresy to people-pushers of all doctrinal faiths, including the secular theology of high-church environmentalism. A people-pusher can be thought of as a person with a leash, in search of a dog. Like chameleons, they can undergo superficial changes to accommodate the circumstances in which they find themselves: the persecution of witches or infidels, the fostering of state socialism, or, modernly, the salvation of the planet. It matters not to the zealots of any particular denomination whether their belief system is grounded in substantive truth; only that it provide a plausible rationale for the imposition of authority over the lives of others. The disciples of environmentalism have shifted from being prophets of a coming "ice age," to "global warming," to the compromise position of "climate change" as the empirical basis for their claims continue to be called into question by scientists.
If flatulence from cows is to be regarded as a threat to be regulated — or even prohibited — by institutionalized people-pushers, what next? Shall Mexican restaurants or Texas barbecues become future targets? In their efforts to subject every facet of the diets and lifestyles of others to their detailed scrutiny, shall these sociopaths finally reveal their ambition to rule as a collective god over all of creation?
Ever since childhood, I have had a strong interest in geology. I long ago learned of the turbulent origins of the earth; of how plate tectonics and continental drift have shaped and reshaped the planet; of the effects occasioned by the invasion of comets, asteroids, solar flares, and meteors; of periodic polar reversals and ice ages; and, more interestingly, how the earth has been resilient enough to respond to such tumult. Many who share this understanding of what our planet has been through over billions of years can appreciate the late George Carlin’s treatment of those innocent souls who want to "save the planet" from such relative inconveniences as plastic bags and aluminum cans!
The volcanic activity that has introduced great quantities of gasses into the earth’s atmosphere must be attributed to the planet itself, and not to the presence of organic life. This conclusion is even more compelling when one considers the cause of most of the disruptive conditions that occurred during the Precambrian period (i.e., before life emerged on Earth). Thus, living systems cannot be held to blame for all "wrongs" to the planet in the environmentalists’ growing bill of particulars.
Of course, we must bear in mind that it is humanity against which the environmentalists rail in their secular version of original sin. How often do we hear it said that mankind must limit its involvement with the rest of creation lest we "upset the balance of nature?" That our species is to be severed from the rest of nature reflects the conflict-ridden character of this ideology. Likewise, continuing criticism of our "carbon footprint" reflects the attitude that we are collective trespassers upon the planet, with the environmentalists in the role of police inspectors in an ongoing crime scene search for evidence of our criminal intrusions against the property interests of some ill-defined owners.
But as mankind cannot carry out its wrongdoing against the planet without the complicity of other species, it is evident that — like the search for "terrorists" — a much larger net must be cast more broadly. When cows passing gas becomes yet another threat to arouse the global-warmingists, you begin to sense that this new orthodoxy has, at its core, a hostility to life itself. The life process — whether exhibited by humans, other animals, or plants — involves the transformation of all kinds of resources to serve the entropy-reducing needs of living beings. Life feeds on other life and, because none of us are one hundred percent efficient in this process, we invariably end up producing entropic byproducts — energy unavailable to productive use — that may be quite beneficial to other life forms. In such ways do plants emit oxygen which, in turn, is inhaled by animals who complete the exchange with the plant world by exhaling the carbon dioxide upon which they depend.
One would think, from such an example, that the symbiotic relationships that exist among so many species on the planet, might inspire even the environmentalist faithful to reconsider their hostility to life processes. A reading of Michael Pollan’s wonderful book, The Botany of Desire, might awaken them to how humans have entered into relationships with such plant life as tulips, apples, marijuana, and potatoes, to the mutual benefit of one another. Pollan’s description and analyses of how these species have served their self-interests through one another, is in sharp contrast to a Marxist’s interpretation of human "exploitation" of plant life. Has mankind "exploited" tulips and apples, or have these plants engaged in "exploitation" by making their qualities attractive so that humans would want to cultivate them?
Such questions will never be asked by environmentalists, of course, because to do so would be fatal to the people-pushers, who depend upon the nurturing of the mindset that our relationships with one another are irreconcilable. A world in which order is maintained by symbiosis, self-regulation, and cooperation would have no need for the structuring that is the universal solvent offered by the political classes for every condition to be exploited for their power interests.
And so, we are to forget that the carbon dioxide we humans — and other animals — expel in our continuing effort to survive becomes the nourishment for the plants that produce all of the oxygen and much of the food upon which we rely. We may soon hear from the apocalyptic wing of the environmentalist church that the relationship between "plant" and "animal" species is what poses a threat to the planet. It is not just we humans who are to blame, but the plants and animals of the earth who conspire with us to continue this destructive oxygen/carbon dioxide cycle. It is the life process itself, the environmentalists will soon be informing us, that threatens the stability of the planet.
Taken to their logical and empirical lengths, the environmental dogmas lead to endless wars against the efforts of the life force to manifest and sustain itself on Earth. But life is a disruptive force, forever transforming the environment into other forms. And all of this change, we are told, is a threat to the planet, which must now make adjustments — as George Carlin reminded us — to incorporate plastic bags into its being.
The assumption that underlies much of environmentalism is that maintaining equilibrium conditions is beneficial to a system. This is the same attitude that leads most established business interests to want to stabilize the conditions under which competition is to take place. My earlier book, In Restraint of Trade, documents this effort during the years 1918—1938. But with any living system — be it an individual, an enterprise, or a civilization — stabilization is the equivalent of death. In the words of the noted botanist, Edmund Sinnott, "[c]onstancy and conservatism are qualities of the lifeless, not the living." The only time your body will be in an equilibrium state is when you are dead; your biological system will have ceased to make life-sustaining responses to the changes in your environment. Not even the marketplace manifests equilibrium conditions. The laws of supply and demand tend toward equilibrium pricing — an increase in demand or a shortage in supply will raise prices which, in turn, encourages the greater production that will lower prices — but without ever achieving stability as a fixed state.
In contrast to those who insist on sterilizing the planet — vaccinating it from the virus of mankind — may I suggest an alternative metaphor, drawn from the biologist Lewis Thomas. In his wonderful book, The Lives of a Cell, Thomas proposes a more holographic metaphor that sees the Earth not in the mechanistic, fragmented image to which our politicized thinking has accustomed us, but as an integrated system. Like a cell that functions through horizontal interconnectedness rather than vertically-structured direction, the planet may be seen as a self-regulating, mutually-supportive life system energized by the spontaneity and autonomy of its varied participants. So considered, those who insist upon severing this interconnectedness and fragmenting life into categories of controllers and the controlled, pose the greatest threat to the viability of the planet.
Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law. He is the author of the newly-released In Restraint of Trade: The Business Campaign Against Competition, 1918—1938 and of Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival. His latest book is Boundaries of Order.