I am a sinner but unrepentant. You see, I don’t practice environmentalism, and I don’t believe in it. I don’t recycle and I don’t conserve-except when it pays to do so. I like clean air-really clean air, like the kind an air conditioner makes. I like the bug-free indoors. I like development, as in buildings, concrete, capitalism, prosperity. I don’t like swamps (and that goes for any “wetland,” even the ballyhooed “Everglades”) or jungles (“rainforests”). I see all animals except dogs and cats as likely disease carriers, unless they’re in a zoo.
When PBS runs a special on animal intelligence, I am unmoved. I’m glad for the dolphins that they can squeak. I’m happy for the ape that he can sign for his food. How charming for the bees that they organize themselves so well for work. But that doesn’t give them rights over me. Their only real value comes from what they can do for man.
According to modern political and religious doctrine, all these views make me a sinner. The mainline churches long ago became quasi-Manichaean, heralding blessed poverty and swearing never to disturb blessed nature with the stain of human action. And we all know about the vogue of New Age religions. Public-school kids are taught the religion of eco-sentimentalism.
Even the new Catholic Catechism seems mushy on the subject. “Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute…it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation” (par. 2416). I have no idea what this means. It seems like a sop to the new paganism. Do killer bees and killer bacteria have “integrity” worthy of “religious respect”? To my mind, nature is only valuable if it serves man’s needs. If it does not, it must be transformed.
Even in free-market circles, I’m expected to herald the beauty and moral integrity of nature before I discuss property rights and markets. In fact, “free-market environmentalists” insist that we accept the goals of the greens, while only rejecting some of their statist means as the best way to achieve those goals. I don’t buy it. The environmentalists are targeting everything I love, and the struggle between us and them is fundamental.
Only the Randians can be counted on to make any sense on this issue. They assert what used to be the Christian position only a few decades ago: namely, that man occupies the highest spot in the great chain of being. The interests of no animal, no species, no living thing, should be permitted to trump the need for human flourishing. But for such outrageous talk, the Randians have been banished by many libertarians on grounds that their strategy is all wrong.
One wise Randian once implored me to closely examine the word “environment.” What does it refer to, he asked? Well, you can tick through the list of environmental concerns: air, water, animals, trees, the ozone, etc. But where does it stop? What are the boundaries of what is called the environment? What it really means, he said, is: “anything but man.” He was right. A perfect environment would be a world without people. How monstrous to allow the greens to take even one step towards this goal!
Not just Rand, but also St. Augustine believed that the purpose of nature is to serve man:
Some attempt to extend this command [“Thou Shalt Not Kill”] even to beasts and cattle, as if it forbade us to take life from any creature. But if so, why not extend it also to the plants, and all that is rooted in and nourished by the earth? For though this class of creatures have no sensation, yet they also are said to live, and consequently they can die; and therefore, if violence be done them, can be killed. So, too, the apostle, when speaking of the seeds of such things as these, says, “That which thou sowest is not quickened except it die;” and in the Psalm it is said, “He killed their vines with hail.” Must we therefore reckon it a breaking of this commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” to pull a flower? Are we thus insanely to countenance the foolish error of the Manichaeans? Putting aside, then, these ravings, if, when we say, Thou shalt not kill, we do not understand this of the plants, since they have no sensation, nor of the irrational animals that fly, swim, walk, or creep, since they are dissociated from us by their want of reason, and are therefore by the just appointment of the Creator subjected to us to kill or keep alive for our own uses.
How glorious, St. Augustine also wrote, to see human habitations spreading where once unchecked nature reigned. That’s my view too. I don’t care how many homilies I hear about the glories of nature, from the pulpit or Congress or the media, I’m against it, unless it has been changed by man into something useful or otherwise valuable. Things that grow are for food, clothing, decoration, or lawns. All swamps should be drained. All rain forests turned over to productive agriculture.
Not being a do-it-myselfer, my favorite section of the hardware store features bug killers, weed killers, varmint traps, and poisons of all sorts. These killer potions represent high civilization and capitalism. The bags are decorated with menacing pictures of ants, roaches, tweezer-nosed bugs, and other undesirable things, to remind us that the purpose of these products is to snuff out bug life so it won’t menace the only kind of life that has a soul and thus the only kind of life that matters: man.
The only problem with pesticides is that they aren’t strong enough. “Fire-ant killer” only causes the little buggers to pick up and move. Why? Some time back, the government banned the best pesticide of all: DDT. As a result, the country is filled with menacing, disease-carrying flying and crawling insects. Whole swaths of formerly wonderful vacation property has been wrecked because we are not permitted to use the only substance that ever really worked to wipe these things out. In the third world, many thousands have died since the abolition of DDT thanks to increased malaria and other bug-borne diseases. All this because we have decided that bugs have a greater right to life than we do. All this because we ignore a key tenet of Western thought: all things not human are “subjected to us to kill or keep alive for our own uses.”
Such thoughts can get you arrested these days because environmentalism is our official religion. Consider the Styrofoam question. I refuse to hold a paper cup with hot coffee, not when a perfectly wonderful insulated cup is available. When I demand the coffee shop give me Styrofoam, they shrink back like Dracula before the crucifix. I explain that Styrofoam takes up less than 0.001 percent of landfill space, and that inked paper is actually more poisonous for ground water, so maybe they better not subscribe to the New York Times, but it doesn’t matter. For them, paper cups are holy and Styrofoam is the devil. Evidence just doesn’t matter.
We know where environmentalism actually came from. The left once claimed that the state could make us better off. The bigger the government, the more prosperous we would be. When that turned out not to be true, they changed their tune. Suddenly, they began to condemn prosperity itself, and the place of the oppressed proletariat was taken by oppressed members of the animal, plant, and insect kingdoms. We have adopted poverty as a policy goal, complete with its own civic code of ethics.
From time immemorial until the day before yesterday, Western man has seen nature as the enemy, and rightly so. It is dangerous and deadly. For the sake of our own survival it must be tamed, cut, curbed, controlled. That is the first task of civilization. The first step to civilization’s destruction is the failure to understand this, or to call this attitude a sin.
Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. edits LewRockwell.com.