July 28, 2006

Ayn Rand Institute Fellow Misconstrues Environmentalism

I want to share a quintessential mistake of rhetoricians: This article, by Onkar Ghate - fellow of the Ayn Rand Institute, professor, and writer for Capitalist Magazine - is so horribly skewed and misinformative, it is hard to believe that the institute allowed it to be published in the first place:

After reporting the arrest of several ecoterrorists from the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) earlier this year, Ghate says:
Despite common belief to the opposite, the ideology of environmentalism is not concerned with improving man's life on earth. If it were, it would not oppose but champion industrial progress--luxury homes, dams, highways, bioengineering, food irradiation, etc.--and the individuals who create it.

Environmentalism instead champions wilderness (including wild animals). On this premise, science and technology are irredeemably evil. If the supreme value is a world untouched by human hands, then in logic man and industry are destroyers of value, to be eliminated by force if necessary.

Committed environmentalists openly voice this hatred of man and industry. The founder of Green Peace reflects: "I got the impression that instead of going out to shoot birds, I should go out and shoot kids who shoot birds." A biologist with the U.S. National Park Services states: "Until such time as Homo sapiens should decide to return to nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along." The head of the 1992 Earth Summit wonders: "Isn't the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn't it our responsibility to bring that about?"

Environmental terrorism is a consistent expression of environmentalism's worship of wilderness. By making the preservation of untouched nature the ideal, environmentalism necessarily makes man, who survives by exploiting nature, the enemy.

If we value our lives, we must never make common cause with environmentalism, no matter how appealing a particular environmentalist project may seem. We must fight not only against particular environmental terrorists but also against the ideology that inspires them. But even more important, we must fight for rational values: man's life and industrial civilization.

Ghate places all environmentalists (apparently including conservation biologists and ecologists) in the same boat, assuming that all accepting that title are no better than self-destructive anarchists with murderous intentions, wishing for the day that industrialized society collapses. While I was reading this essay, I kept waiting for some distinction to be made between the criminals from ELF that were apprehended and prosecuted and the conservationists concerned with protecting our wild areas and maintaining biodiversity through sound science and economics. Ghate acts like human beings aren't inhabitants of the biosphere.

Most environmentalists value human life above all, but feel it is our moral responsibility to protect the products of 3,500 million years of evolution on Earth. Most environmentalists want to make people's lives better, healthier by encouraging government and industry to consider cleaner, more efficient uses of energy. Most true environmentalists realize the power of capitalism and free enterprise to promote new ideas and create new jobs guided by less invasive measures of utilizing nature's resources.

Most of all, environmentalists are thinking ahead, realizing that human beings are capable of great things when reason prevails. Protecting our "cradle," as E.O. Wilson has called the Earth, is as rational a purpose of any I can think. Without science, the foundation of reason, conservation would not be possible.

Environmentalism and humanism are not mutually distinct; rather, much like other areas of thought, they intersect on several levels, from surface values to deepest philosophy. Ghate's essay is as ignorant as it is harmful. As a professor of philosophy and fellow of the Ayn Rand Institute, he should know better than to make sophomoric generalizations about anything.


  1. It serves a lot of people's ends to conflate radical environmentalism with conservationism, unfortunately, and the Randians are certainly in that camp. I heard one on the radio the other day explaining the melting ice caps were a good thing because it demonstrated Man's mastery of Earth's resources (personally, I thought it demonstrated incompetent stewardship).

  2. That's the most ridiculous and biased essay I've read in ages (Ghate's, not yours). About 01% of environmentalists probably do feel the way he describes, but that's certainly not the consensus. This issue sort of fits into what I posted from the Nat'l Geographic article. For a lot of people, the simple term "environmentalist" conjures up visions of eco-terrorists and people who chain themselves to trees to save an owl. I think for groups to make serious headway with issues such as global warming and fossil fuel use the term "environmentalism" really needs a radical overhaul. Or we need to start calling ourselves something different. Personally I think i'm going to start calling myself a conservationist instead of an environmentalist. May not matter much, but conservation is really what I'm interested in.

    It irritates me that this guy lumps me in with ELF and others who like to blow stuff up to "save nature." I think those tactics are absolutely wrong. And I also happen to like technology quite a lot! :-) Have a good weekend!

  3. Ironically many recent water-related disasters -- the Great Tsunami in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina last year, for example -- created more harm than they had to because our species has destroyed forests and coastal wetlands which would have buffered the effects of torrential rains or surging waters from the ocean.

    So you see, Mr. Objectivist, preserving natural environments can help preserve humans lives and property after all.

  4. Thanks for commenting, everyone; good points.