Monday, 7 April 2008

'The Toxicity of Environmentalism'

I first read George Reisman's article 'The Toxicity of Environmentalism' back in the early nineties, and over the weekend I heard it for the first time, recorded at a its delivery at the University of Minnesota in 1991.

Galt it's good.

It could have been delivered yesterday.  Seventeen years after he told a stunned audience they were part of a "so-called intellectual mainstream of the Western world [that] has been fouled with a whole array of intellectual toxins resulting from the undermining of reason and the status of man" -- intellectual toxins that "can be seen bobbing up and down in the 'intellectual mainstream,' just as raw sewage can be seen floating in a dirty river" -- his analysis of why the scaremongering predictions of environmentalists would be proved wrong has proved correct; his dissection of the environmental movement's toxicity (toxic not just at the level of parts per million, but "at the level of parts per ten") is still accurate; and his analysis of the fundamental premise of environmentalism -- ie., the intrinsic value of nature -- as fundamentally anti-human is still right on the money.

Yes, this post describing his talk is long, and the article and talk are even longer, but the seventeen years that have passed since its inception have only proved its veracity.

That the scaremongering predictions of environmentalists have and are being proved wrong gives Reisman no claim to any power to predict the future.  As he says:

    The reason that one after another of the environmentalists' claims turn out to be proven wrong is that they are made without any regard for truth in the first place. In making their claims, the environmentalists reach for whatever is at hand that will serve to frighten people, make them lose confidence in science and technology, and, ultimately, lead them to deliver themselves up to the environmentalists' tender mercies. The claims rest on unsupported conjectures and wild leaps of imagination from scintillas of fact to arbitrary conclusions, by means of evasion and the drawing of invalid inferences. It is out and out evasion and invalid inference to leap from findings about the effects of feeding rats or mice dosages the equivalent of a hundred or more times what any human being would ever ingest, and then draw inferences about the effects on people of consuming normal quantities. Fears of parts per billion of this or that chemical causing single-digit deaths per million do not rest on science, but on imagination. Such claims have nothing to do either with actual experimentation or with the concept of causality.

Causality is the all-too frequently overlooked key to rejecting the majority of the scaremongering science in advance.

When, for example, genuine causes of death, such as arsenic, strychnine, or bullets, attack vital organs of the human body, death is absolutely certain to result in all but a handful of cases per million. When something is in fact the cause of some effect, it is so in each and every case in which specified conditions prevail, and fails to be so only in cases in which the specified conditions are not present, such as a person's having built up a tolerance to poison or wearing a bulletproof vest. Such claims as a thousand different things each causing cancer in a handful of cases are proof of nothing but that the actual causes are not yet known--and, beyond that, an indication of the breakdown of the epistemology of contemporary science. (This epistemological breakdown, I might add, radically accelerated starting practically on the very day in the 1960s when the government took over most of the scientific research ... and began the large scale financing of statistical studies as a substitute for the discovery of causes.)

Reisman is particularly scathing on the subject of global warming, and remind yourself when you read this that he was saying this in 1991:

    The environmental movement maintains that science and technology cannot be relied upon to build a safe atomic power plant, to produce a pesticide that is safe, or even to bake a loaf of bread that is safe, if that loaf of bread contains chemical preservatives. When it comes to global warming, however, it turns out that there is one area in which the environmental movement displays the most breathtaking confidence in the reliability of science and technology, an area in which, until recently, no one--not even the staunchest supporters of science and technology--had ever thought to assert very much confidence at all. The one thing, the environmental movement holds, that science and technology can do so well that we are entitled to have unlimited confidence in them is forecast the weather--for the next one hundred years!
It is, after all, supposedly on the basis of a weather forecast that we are being asked to abandon the Industrial Revolution...

This is not the act of "prudence and caution" so often cited as exemplifying the so called 'precautionary principle'; it would be neither prudent nor cautious to throw away the almost unlimited boon that past generations bestowed on us by virtue of the Industrial Revolution.  To abandon industrial civilization, and the enormous increase in wealth, health and life expectancy it brought, simply to avoid predictions of bad weather -- predictions that we now know were flawed from the outset -- would be quite simply insane.

   If we destroy the energy base needed to produce and operate the construction equipment required to build strong, well-made, comfortable houses for hundreds of millions of people, we shall be safer from the wind and rain, the environmental movement alleges, than if we retain and enlarge that energy base. If we destroy our capacity to produce and operate refrigerators and air conditioners, we shall be better protected from hot weather than if we retain and enlarge that capacity, the environmental movement claims. If we destroy our capacity to produce and operate tractors and harvesters, to can and freeze food, to build and operate hospitals and produce medicines, we shall secure our food supply and our health better than if we retain and enlarge that capacity, the environmental movement asserts.
There is actually a remarkable new principle implied here, concerning how man can cope with his environment. Instead of our taking action upon nature, as we have always believed we must do, we shall henceforth control the forces of nature more to our advantage by means of our inaction. Indeed, if we do not act, no significant threatening forces of nature will arise! The threatening forces of nature are not the product of nature, but of us! Thus speaks the environmental movement.
All of the insanities of the environmental movement become intelligible when one grasps the nature of the destructive motivation behind them. They are not uttered in the interest of man's life and well-being, but for the purpose of leading him to self-destruction.

That's the key to his argument.  Here's the kernel:

    Such statements [as these from David Graber & Steve McKibben et al hoping for "the extinction of the human species"] represent pure, unadulterated poison. They express ideas and wishes which, if acted upon, would mean terror and death for enormous numbers of human beings.
   These statements, and others like them, are made by prominent members of the environmental movement. The significance of such statements cannot be diminished by ascribing them only to a small fringe of the environmental movement. Indeed, even if such views were indicative of the thinking of only 5 or 10 percent of the members of the environmental movement - the "deep ecology," Earth First! wing - they would represent toxicity in the environmental movement as a whole not at the level of parts per billion or even parts per million, but at the level of parts per hundred, which, of course, is an enormously higher level of toxicity than is deemed to constitute a danger to human life in virtually every other case in which deadly poison is present.
    But the toxicity level of the environmental movement as a whole is substantially greater even than parts per hundred. It is certainly at least at the level of several parts per ten. This is obvious from the fact that the mainstream of the environmental movement makes no fundamental or significant criticisms of the likes of Messrs. Graber and McKibben.

The point is analogous to the one made frequently about the silence of so-called 'moderate Muslims' in the face of atrocities committed in Allah's name: if they truly opposed the extremists, then why the silence?  But this only explains Reisman's title - his talk goes much further. In order to survive, man either exploits the earth or dies.  In doing so, what we actually do is improve the environment, not destroy it:

    It is important to realize that when the environmentalists talk about destruction of the "environment" as the result of economic activity, their claims are permeated by the doctrine of intrinsic value. Thus, what they actually mean to a very great extent is merely the destruction of alleged intrinsic values in nature such as jungles, deserts, rock formations, and animal species which are either of no value to man or hostile to man. That is their concept of the "environment." If, in contrast to the environmentalists, one means by "environment" the surroundings of man--the external material conditions of human life--then it becomes clear that all of man's productive activities have the inherent tendency to improve his environment--indeed, that that is their essential purpose...
    Thus, all of economic activity has as its sole purpose the improvement of the environment--it aims exclusively at the improvement of the external, material conditions of human life. Production and economic activity are precisely the means by which man adapts his environment to himself and thereby improves it.
    So much for the environmentalists' claims about man's destruction of the environment. Only from the perspective of the alleged intrinsic value of nature and the nonvalue of man, can man's improvement of his environment be termed destruction of the environment.

Consider in this context the implications of environmental restrictions on producing energy and (here in NZ) the more-than-decade-long stranglehold on the construction of new power plants, which amount to a full-scale manifesto for anti-industrialism:

    The essential feature of the Industrial Revolution is the use of man-made power. To the relatively feeble muscles of draft animals and the still more feeble muscles of human beings, and to the relatively small amounts of useable power available from nature in the form of wind and falling water, the Industrial Revolution added man-made power....
    This man-made power is the essential basis of all of the economic improvements achieved over the last two hundred years. Its application is what enables us human beings to accomplish with our arms and hands the amazing productive results we do accomplish. To the feeble powers of our arms and hands is added the enormously greater power released by these sources of energy. Energy use, the productivity of labor, and the standard of living are inseparably connected, with the two last entirely dependent on the first...
    In total opposition to the Industrial Revolution and all the marvelous results it has accomplished, the essential goal of environmentalism is to block the increase in one source of man-made power after another and ultimately to roll back the production of man-made power to the point of virtual nonexistence, thereby undoing the Industrial Revolution and returning the world to the economic Dark Ages. There is to be no atomic power. According to the environmentalists, it represents the death ray. There is also to be no power based on fossil fuels. According to the environmentalists, it causes "pollution," and now global warming, and must therefore be given up. There is not even to be significant hydro-power. According to the environmentalists, the building of the necessary dams destroys intrinsically valuable wildlife habitat.
    Only three things are to be permitted as sources of energy, according to the environmentalists. Two of them, "solar power" and power from windmills, are, as far as can be seen, utterly impracticable as significant sources of energy. If somehow, they became practicable, the environmentalists would undoubtedly find grounds for attacking them. The third allowable source of energy, "conservation," is a contradiction in terms. "Conservation" is not a source of energy. Its actual meaning is simply using less. Conservation is a source of energy for one use only at the price of deprivation of energy use somewhere else.
    The environmentalists' campaign against energy calls to mind the image of a boa constrictor entwining itself about the body of its victim and slowly squeezing the life out of him. There can be no other result for the economic system of the industrialized world but enfeeblement and ultimately death if its supplies of energy are progressively choked off.

The reason for the anti-industrial thrust of environmentalism is the anti-human principle of so-called "intrinsic values" -- the idea that condemns a man for example for the crime of cutting a path through his farm down to the local beach, a home-builder for the crime of seeking to build in and enjoy a pristine landscape, and a power company for the crime of seeking to produce more power from an already existing power plant -- "something which provides an explanation in terms of basic principle of why the mainstream of the ecology movement does not attack what might be thought to be merely its fringe":

    [The idea of 'intrinsic value' of nature] is a fundamental philosophical premise which the mainstream of the movement shares with the alleged fringe and which logically implies hatred for man and his achievements. Namely, the premise that nature possesses intrinsic value--i.e., that nature is valuable in and of itself, apart from all contribution to human life and well-being...
    The premise of nature's intrinsic value extends to an alleged intrinsic value of forests, rivers, canyons, and hillsides--to everything and anything that is not man...
    The idea of nature's intrinsic value ... implies a perception of man as the systematic destroyer of the good, and thus as the systematic doer of evil. Just as man perceives coyotes, wolves, and rattlesnakes as evil because they regularly destroy the cattle and sheep he values as sources of food and clothing, so on the premise of nature's intrinsic value, the environmentalists view man as evil, because, in the pursuit of his well-being, man systematically destroys the wildlife, jungles, and rock formations that the environmentalists hold to be intrinsically valuable. Indeed, from the perspective of such alleged intrinsic values of nature, the degree of man's alleged destructiveness and evil is directly in proportion to his loyalty to his essential nature. Man is the rational being. It is his application of his reason in the form of science, technology, and an industrial civilization that enables him to act on nature on the enormous scale on which he now does. Thus, it is his possession and use of reason--manifested in his technology and industry--for which he is hated....
    When does the doctrine of intrinsic value serve as a guide to what man should do? Only when man comes to attach value to something. Then it is invoked to deny him the value he seeks. For example, the intrinsic value of the vegetation et al. is invoked as a guide to man's action only when there is something man wants, such as oil, and then, as in the case of Northern Alaska, its invocation serves to stop him from having it. In other words, the doctrine of intrinsic value is nothing but a doctrine of the negation of human values. It is pure nihilism.

That, dear reader, is the essential reason that anti-capitalism and anti-reason are linked; it is the chief reason the local Green Party's MPs appear far less concerned with "a wild and healthy planet" than they are with nannying, nationalism, nihilists and the nationalisation of NZ's children; and in point of fact it's the primary reason that yesterday's reds are now reincarnated as today's greens.  The link is clear enough, and was confirmed for me by a self-described communist who eagerly abandoned the Alliance to hop aboard the Greens when their new political vehicle looked ripe for takeover.  Says Reisman on this point:

    In my judgment, the "green" movement of the environmentalists is merely the old "red" movement of the communists and socialists shorn of its veneer of science. The only difference I see between the greens and the reds is the superficial one of the specific reasons for which they want to violate individual liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The reds claimed that the individual could not be left free because the result would be such things as "exploitation" and "monopoly." The greens claim that the individual cannot be left free because the result will be such things as destruction of the ozone layer and global warming. Both claim that centralized government control over economic activity is essential. The reds wanted it for the alleged sake of achieving human prosperity. The greens want it for the alleged sake of avoiding environmental damage. In my view, environmentalism and ecology are nothing but the intellectual death rattle of socialism in the West, the final convulsion of a movement that only a few decades ago eagerly looked forward to the results of paralyzing the actions of individuals by means of "social engineering" and now seeks to paralyze the actions of individuals by means of prohibiting engineering of any kind.

If you've never read Reisman's essay 'The Toxicity of Environmentalism' -- and even if you have -- then now's the time to download and print it out and read or re-read it.  Print out a copy and share it around [here's a PDF version to make it easy; and here's a pre-printed pamphlet]. It could have been written yesterday; understanding his main point will help determine tomorrow.


  1. damn that's good stuff. thanks for the direction PC.

    LGM insert sociopathic diatribe below....3,2,1...

  2. I've only read the pdf abstract, but...people can think animals have intrinsic value without claiming that they are the ethical equivalent of a person.

    Most vegetarians don't eat meat for ethical reasons...

  3. greg

    I agree with Prof Reisman's view.

    Why does that bother you?


  4. Man is the best thing since sliced bread (although dinosaurs will get a longer innings)!!!


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