Thursday, June 05, 2008

There's lots to celebrate on World 'Environment' Day

Since it's World Environment Day, let's celebrate all the many achievements made in improving the human environment over the last three millennia -- in other words, in improving the surroundings of man, and making the external conditions of human life better.  If the concept "environment" is to have any meaning, then this is it.  After all, taken literally, as Ross McKitrick points out [pdf], the phrase 'the environment' as popularly used is a "vacuous truism."

[It] includes everything between your skin and outer space, and as such it covers too much to be meaningful. I can understand being “pro-environment,” since this amounts to being in favour of the world’s existence. The difficulty is trying to picture someone being against it...

I think he's too kind there.  He's right however to say that this popular usage of the term 'environment'  is "insufficiently precise," and amounts only to a bland generalisation waiting for someone to fill it with nonsense and scaremongering:

... [U]sing the general word “environment,” instead of more specific terms, tends to detach any ensuing discussion from the prospect of measurement with real data. We can measure specific types of pollution, biological conditions, resource scarcity, etc. But there is no way to measure the “environment” as a whole...  In the absence of specific measurement, or even agreement on what we ought to be measuring, the discussion too readily seems to get framed in the language of crisis.

He sure got that right.  If we want to be specific, if we want the term 'environment' to actually mean something, then it's not this bland generalisation we should refer to, not the preservation of things that have no value at all to man, but the valuing of things that do.

If the concept 'environment' is to have any meaning, then this is it -- and contrary to the claims of self-declared 'environmentalists,' mankind has been hard at work since time began making our environment better.  This is, after all, why most of us get up and go to work in the morning: to make our immediate environment better for ourselves.  As George Reisman puts 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 non-value of man, can man's improvement of his environment be termed destruction of the environment.
 

We've been improving our environment since recorded time began, since the first man and woman shooed a bear out of its cave and began building a fire on which to roast it; from the time our benefactors first began making beer back in Mesopotamia; from the time when we began planting crops to eat, and breeding animals to serve our needs; from the time we began building roads and bridges to take our goods to market; and mines and factories and power stations to produce goods to be taken there ... what we've been doing all this time -- or at least, what our predecessors were doing, since we've been falling down on the job, has been making our living environment better.  Which means taking what nature has provided, and putting it in a more useful relationship to ourselves. 

This is what it means to live as a human being -- what it means to improve the environment -- not denouncing our productive ability and seeking forgiveness from Gaia for having the temerity to inhabit her surface, but transforming nature's bounty to our ends.

Frank Lloyd Wright's 'Taliesin East' To make the point another way, just reflect for a moment on the survival prospects of a bare naked human being in a place like the deserts of Arizona, or the tundra of Siberia, or in the cold, rainy drizzle of a West Coast winter.  None of these environments offers much immediate comfort to that naked beast. But now see what happens when we improve these environments for human habitation: We build sheltering houses to keep out the rain, and to combat the extremes of temperature we build fires and install air conditioners, and truck in the fuel to keep these running.   And, since self-sufficiency in desert or tundra is not possible, and even in moderate Frank Lloyd Wright's 'Taliesin West' climates hardly desirable, we truck in food too to fill up our cupboards.  Instead of sleeping on the ground we install beds; instead of relying for conversation on the same stories that have been told for thousands of years, we stock a library, or install a flat screen television hooked into as many channels as we can afford; instead of relying on random berries to get us merry, we build liquor cabinets and buy fridges and stock them with all the necessaries of good living.

This is what it means to improve the environment, and this is what human beings have been doing and working towards since recorded time began.

And since it's World Environment Day, let's just pause for a minute to reflect that the doctrine of so called environmentalism that World Environment Day promotes  puts this all at risk. The doctrine that says trees, rocks and mud puddles (and snails) take precedence over living, breathing producing human beings puts at risk the wealth, success and livelihood of every human being on the planet.

So in this context, let's pause to give credit to the Chief Executive of Exxon Mobil, who proudly declares  that his company views it as its "corporate social responsibility" to continue to supply the world with fossil fuels.

If only New Zealand's Energy minister could say the same with respect to his portfolio.
NB: I'm indebted to George Reisman for most of these important points.

UPDATE: Poneke says it more plainly:

The posters boldly proclaiming KICK THE HABIT were mildly puzzling. ...  Today’s campaign is World Environment Day, and the habit we’re meant to kick is carbon dioxide. I kid you not. How extraordinarily bizarre. The United Nations is campaigning against carbon dioxide, was the news. Verily, the lunatics have taken charge of the asylum. Carbon dioxide, as every schoolkid knows, is what we exhale as we breathe, and which is absorbed by trees and other plantlife to enable them to grow, giving out the oxygen we need to live. Declaring war on carbon dioxide is declaring war on ourselves, and the trees. Without it, there would be no environment, or at least, no environment as we know it, Jim.

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15 Comments:

Blogger David said...

The best thing the anti-CO2 ecomentalists could do on Environment Day is stop producing it. (Ie, they should all stop breathing altogether, in order to avoid being hypocrites.)

In a lighter vein, John Clarke (was Fred Dagg) in this funny interview has some comments on the environment.

6/05/2008 12:25:00 pm  
Blogger Matt B said...

The lack of specificity in the use of the word "environment" is revealing. It points to two motives for its users:

1) Signaling. Being pro-environmental is not so much about caring for the environment as it is about being in the club. Talking about the environment signals agreeable personal values (in certain crowds, anyway), and there is no need to be specific.

2) Anti-capitalism. If environmentalism is simply an excuse to regulate and suppress private economic activity, there is no need to be precise about what environmental problem those new housing regulations or RMA processes are actually solving. Probably none, actually, but is fine because fixing the environment isn't the point.

6/05/2008 02:06:00 pm  
Blogger Rich said...

Youse lovers of products, progress and capitalism might want to check out these links to balance out your point of view on the "environment"

http://www.harpers.org/archive/2004/02/0079915

http://www.mnforsustain.org/quinn_d_new_renaissance.htm

Judging from your article, man only became man when we started planting crops?
What about the 3 millions years prior, is this of no significance?

Capitalism, communism, socialism or any human system are all subject to the same laws of the environment (see natural selection or the law of life)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_Life

When humans expand their numbers and consume resources they are systematically converting the biomass of the planet to humans, human food or human products, hence why the extinction rate is 1000 times higher than normal. Therefore reducing biodiversity and destroying the infrastructure that supports life on the planet

So what happens when human convert the entire planet (see recently the amazon jungle conversion to bio crops) to stuff of intrinsic value to man. What is left after another 200 years down the track? Humans and human food – which has virtually no survival value at all.

6/05/2008 03:30:00 pm  
Anonymous Sus said...

Rich: very silly to lump capitalism in with communism and socialism.

Capitalism is simply supply meeting demand. No demand - no supply - no problem.

Problems occur with interference to that simple equation. Socialism and communism are prime examples of interference, introducing artificial factors that in turn require more artificial measures.

The moral of the story is that people generally solve problems when they're left alone.

6/05/2008 04:45:00 pm  
Anonymous Jake L. said...

I just read this train-wreck of an article, and my oh my.

“mankind has been hard at work since time began making our environment better”

And the Reisman quote:

"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."

I can’t help but look at this with wide eyes, shaking my head… ARE YOU SERIOUS?

You seem to have a twisted view of environmentalism, as if every one of them was a radical. The ‘doctrine’ of environmentalism is not about putting “producing” humans at risk, it’s about living in harmony with the planet, about balance in nature. It’s not about forcing man to live in caves or put the life of an animal above that of a human, it’s about being respectful and not shitting in your own nest. Whether you like it or not, you are fundamentally connected to the earth and its environment in every conceivable way.

You seem to be taking a World Bank lets-put-a-dollar-value on people and all living things, with man at the apex of the pyramid. Man is not separate nor the master of nature, and history is ripe with examples of man not respecting the balance and suffering the consequences. I could point at Easter Island and pretty much anywhere in China these days but the idea of man not being the master of the universe probably doesn’t sit right with your world view.

And that quote you end with….

“Declaring war on carbon dioxide is declaring war on ourselves, and the trees. Without it, there would be no environment, or at least, no environment as we know it, Jim.”

HAHAHAHA

Again… YOU CAN’T BE SERIOUS!

Do you think the plant’s struggled to breathe a few thousand years ago when most of the world was not deforested and CO2 levels were significantly lower? Do you really believe that there is any way we could lower CO2 levels enough to actually stop plant growth and by extension production of oxygen for us to breathe?

Wow. I actually feel sad for you for believing this. This site is a parody right? It has to be.

It’s cool, I can take a joke. It’s a parody right?

If not, it’s insulting to ones intelligence. I think I can actually hear the IQ’s dropping as I type… it’s like a slide whistle zooming towards those base tones…

6/05/2008 05:46:00 pm  
Blogger Luke H said...

Jake, PC's (and Reisman's, and Poneke's) exaggeration of the position of environmentalists is not intended as a parody, but as an attempt to show what real issues are at stake, what is being ignored, and the philosophical implications of extending "pro-environment" thought to its logical conclusions.

Such exaggeration to make a point is common in leftist, environmentalist and feminist circles, to name just a few.

It is a simple writing technique, you don't need to get so hung up on it.

6/05/2008 06:24:00 pm  
Anonymous Jake L. said...

A writing technique? Yeah I guess you're right. Nazi propaganda was excellent in its word-smithery too. No need to get hung up on that either.

"...exaggeration of the position of environmentalists is not intended as a parody, but as an attempt to show what real issues are at stake, what is being ignored, and the philosophical implications of extending "pro-environment" thought to its logical conclusions."

This is not a logical extension of environmentalism, but an extension of a twisted perception of what environmentalism means. It's obviously coming from a eugenics angle, which is so ludicrously removed from what modern environmentalism is about I can't help but laugh.

"Such exaggeration to make a point is common in leftist, environmentalist and feminist circles, to name just a few."

My friend, with brash, uniformed generalisations like that you have no place in a serious discussion on any of these issues. Good day to you.

6/06/2008 09:55:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

A "twisted" view of environmentalism, Jake?

An "exaggeration"? A "parody"? I think not. You aver that "This is not a logical extension of environmentalism, but an extension of a twisted perception of what environmentalism means," but you have no advance not one shred of anything in support of your claim.

I like to think I do provide evidence when I make a claim -- which is why I provided the links I did.

May I invite you to investigate them?

If you wish to continue to insist, for example, that mine is a "twisted" portrayal of environmentalism, then may I invite you to consider 1)the effect of environmentalism on New Zealand's production of electrical power and its consequent effect on industrial production (on which we all depend); 2) the effect of environmentalism on the world's production of oil and its consequent effect on oil prices; 3) the effect of environmentalists' demands for biofuels prodution and the consequent effect of exploding food prices; and 4) that the dire results of this virulent anti-industralism are entirely of a piece with the misanthropic statements of mainstream environmentalists, which are not just toxic at the amount of 'parts per million' or 'parts per hundred' but at least 'parts per ten.' Comments for which they've received approbation instead of condemnation from their followers and foot soldiers, and which are reflected in the likes of the ABC's Planet Slayer game, which tells kids at what age they need to die to save the planet.

6/06/2008 11:00:00 am  
Blogger Rich said...

Jake, you are wasting your time here, its like arguing with a Christian fundamentalist, PC is set in his world wide view and there is no argument that will change his mind.

Let me summarise his point of view.

Human exceptalism, that is the biological realities that govern nature do not apply to man.

Humans are superior (because they make stuff like nuclear bombs, computers etc). Because they are superior this gives them the right to do want they want with the environment.

PC marvels in the magnificence of capitalism and worships the output from it, dams, products, progress etc and nothing should get in the way of this way of life. The environment is just a subsystem of the economy that should be exploited to facilitate growth.

PC what is you view on species extinction?

“Scientists have a name for the total amount of plant mass created by Earth in a given year, the total budget for life. They call it the planet's “primary productivity.” There have been two efforts to figure out how that productivity is spent, one by a group at Stanford University, the other an independent accounting by the biologist Stuart Pimm. Both conclude that we humans, a single species among millions, consume about 40 percent of Earth's primary productivity, 40 percent of all there is. This simple number may explain why the current extinction rate is 1,000 times that which existed before human domination of the planet”

6/06/2008 11:45:00 am  
Anonymous Jake L. said...

PC, as Rich notes, like a Christian fundamentalist, you are obviously set in your world wide view and there is no rational argument that will change your mind. It's just sad that there are so many people like you in the world that take the deluded view that man is the superior being. Read much Nietzsche mate?

Me not adding a shred of evidence? Mate, the stuff you link to is hardly credible. You link to "capitalist magazine" and one of your own posts which again has no actual evidence from respectable sources. It's just opinion mate. You're basing your opinion of someone else's opinion. If you wrote this blog like an opinion piece, questioning things like the environmental movement instead of filling your pages with statements dressed up as fact then you might invite something more interesting, a real debate perhaps.

But that's not what you do nor what you want is it. Dogmatism will get you nowhere my fried, you'll just be left to stangnate while the world collapses under the weight of business as usual.

I'd love to stay and argue with you and point out how ridiculous your "evidence" is, and offer up some counter evidence, but really, you're clearly too close minded to accept anything but what dribbles out of the fruity right-wing propaganda machine's flaccid phallus. So, I'll leave you to it and stop trolling.

Have a nice life under that rock. try not to scuttle out too often to bug the saner portions of humanity.

6/06/2008 12:17:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

Jake/Rich, you say "like a Christian fundamentalist, you [PC] are obviously set in your world wide view and there is no rational argument that will change your mind"

However, since you've offered no rational arguments to date -- or even properly addressed the points that have been given to you -- your position viz my resistance to rational argument is itself one based only on faith.

Ironic, don't you think?

Rich, there's no need to "summarise" my point of view so innacurately. I can summarise it myself:
* Exploit the Earth or Die.
* Putting Humans First.
* The Toxicity of Environmentalism.

6/06/2008 12:53:00 pm  
Blogger Matt B said...

Why is it that it is fundamentalists who so frequently accuse their opponents of being fundamentalists? Creationists, religious and now environmentalists do it. I'll take a wild guess, which is that there is a negative correlation between IQ and belief in those things, and ideology is the explanation most appealing to the uninformed.

Yes, that was an insult Jake and friends.

You are wrong about the fundamentalism of your opponents for a very simple reason, which is that your opponents demand robust evidence of catastrophe before very substantially interfering in peoples' lives whereas you do not.

Laugh maniacally all you like, but posts of the sort you've put here tend to confirm what many skeptics think of environmentalists, which is that they are unable to hold a rational, informed conversation in defense of their own views.

6/06/2008 01:31:00 pm  
Blogger Rich said...

"which is that your opponents demand robust evidence of catastrophe before very substantially interfering in peoples' lives whereas you do not."

Is this not relevant evidence of catastrophe? A extinction rate 1000 times higher than normal rates?

"According to a 1998 survey of 400 biologists conducted by New York's American Museum of Natural History, nearly 70 percent believed that they were currently in the early stages of a human-caused mass extinction,[20] known as the Holocene extinction event."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extinction

"Both conclude that we humans, a single species among millions, consume about 40 percent of Earth's primary productivity, 40 percent of all there is. This simple number may explain why the current extinction rate is 1,000 times that which existed before human domination of the planet”

6/06/2008 02:14:00 pm  
Anonymous Jake L. said...

I'm no fundamentalist, far from it Matt.

And PC, all my arguments are quite rational. You just reel off blatantly
myopic statements and link to tripe.

"* Exploit the Earth or Die.
* Putting Humans First.
* The Toxicity of Environmentalism."

Mate, did you even read what I wrote earlier?

You should also look up the meaning of irony. An overused and little understood word. Rather like Environmentalism, Socialism and Communism via the keyhole view of this blog.

6/06/2008 02:39:00 pm  
Anonymous JimW said...

Jake - It's just sad that there are so many people like you in the world that take the deluded view that man is the superior being.

So, where is your argument to refute that man is not superior to everything else on this planet? C'mon state an argument and stop frothing idiotic comments such as the one above. Descriptive opinionated comment is not argument.


Jake - This is not a logical extension of environmentalism, but an extension of a twisted perception of what environmentalism means. It's obviously coming from a eugenics angle, which is so ludicrously removed from what modern environmentalism is about I can't help but laugh.

And you've just stated an opinion and not an argument here. So, where is your argument Jake?

6/06/2008 04:34:00 pm  

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