Property Rights Foundation of America®

Understanding Greenism
by Jigs Gardner


In the early 1980s when I lived in Nova Scotia, the Green movement, of which I was a member, was challenging a pulp company over its plans to spray some of its plantations with herbicides, and one day I received a Green newsletter about the campaign. As I read it, I was struck by its rancorous tone. My uneasy perception was significant, as I would realize later, but something else claimed my attention. The newsletter cited a study showing a rise in miscarriages in an area where the herbicides had been used, but I happened to know the study was seriously flawed and had been discredited for some time. Shocked that the group would push what was known to be a fraud, I was puzzled: surely there was plenty of other evidence against the herbicide, but when I thought about it, I couldn't come up with anything. What did I really know, I wondered, and I was forced to admit that all I had in my mind were opinions; I didn't really know a thing. I set myself to study the subject, and before long I learned not only that my opinions about this specific issue were baseless, but that the whole edifice of belief was false. I must be one of a very small number of people who have had their minds, their whole outlook changed by a factual argument.

What is of real interest, the point of this Prologue, is what happened next. I wrote to the pulp company to offer my services. They had a very poor information packet about the issue, and I rewrote it for them, but it was never used, and in that act our relations were epitomized. Over the next few years I struggled to put some backbone into the pulp company's responses to the Greens, but it was hopeless. The executives were afraid to take even the mildest defensive steps. Of course, corporate officers are known for their spinelessness, but this cowardice was something special. For reasons that I did not understand then, Greens held the whip hand over them. The essay that follows is an attempt at an explanation.

The opponents of Greenism have concentrated on specific issues, fighting battles almost wholly reactive and defensive. Only occasionally is Greenism itself, the entire phenomenon, attacked, and then inadequately. It is said, in tones befitting a great revelation, that Greens are really after wealth and power, as if that were not a goal of any social movement. There has been, so far as I know, no attempt to analyze Greenism, to understand its motive forces and the sources of its strength.

The first step in understanding is to realize that it is not a synonym for environmentalism but its antithesis. Greenism is the enemy of environmentalism, and we must practice to disassociate the terms. Human beings of necessity have always been environmentalists because life itself is inherently polluting, a fact we cannot evade. If we had not been aware of it, if we had not tried to avoid pollution, the human race would have died out long ago, victim of its own waste-generated pestilence. Consider the history of garbage disposal. The treasure troves that tell archeologists so much about our ancestors' everyday lives are "middens," waste heaps that inescapably accompany mankind. In the beginning, we simply threw gnawed bones over our shoulders onto the pile at the back of the cave; later, we heaved everything out the kitchen door of our hut; we tried ravines and rivers; a town dump sufficed for awhile, succeeded by a supervised landfill, and now we incinerate garbage to generate electricity.

As we strive, not merely for subsistence but to improve our lives, to create wealth and greater amenities, we also create dangers, problems, pollution. The solution at one stage of development becomes a problem at the next stage when our growing wealth allows us to indulge new found sensibilities, to banish or abate what now seems a noxious affliction. This cannot be overstressed. Wealth, knowledge, and improved practices go hand in hand. Measures to protect or develop environmental amenities are due to our growing affluence since the end of World War II. The notion that environmentalism began with Earth Day in 1970 is ludicrous.

Environmentalism is an evolutionary process seeking appropriate solutions to tangible problems. Greenism exploits such problems to prevent their rational solution. When a municipality, for example, faces a garbage disposal problem, it is beset by Greens trying, by endless hearings, meetings, petitions, and litigation, to prevent adoption of any sensible solution, especially if it's high-tech (like an electricity-generating incinerator). They will allow only elaborate recycling and composting schemes, inefficient, impractical, expensive and retrograde.
The Green strategy of induced conflict and cost escalation undermines the basis of environmentalism—wealth creation. Nothing reveals how much Greenism is the enemy of environmentalism. In fact, Greens condemn prosperity and technology as evil in themselves:

We've already had too much economic growth in the U.S. Economic growth in rich countries like ours is the disease, not the cure.
Paul Erlich

The only real good technology is no technology at all.
John Suttleworth, Friends of the Earth

Beside preventing reasonable solutions to real problems, Greens devote much of their energy to the creation of false problems, nonexistent crises which can be solved only by draconian, astronomically expensive means. "Global warming" is their most grandiose hoax so far, and their solution is a virtual shutdown of industry in the developed world. That suits them fine, because it is only by reversing the flow of history, it is only by becoming poor that we can live environmentally pure lives:

Capitalism must come to an end
P. Sarkar, Global Times

The only hope for the planet [is] that the industrialized civilizations collapse.
Maurice Strong

Everything civilized must go.
John Davis, Wild Earth

The trouble with citing such quotations is that no one of any sense takes them seriously: they can't really mean it, they must be exaggerating, and so on. Or else it is thought that Greens are merely enemies of technology, latter day Luddites, cranks who are always with us, easily dismissed. But their animus against technology, against civilization, against change and growth and development is neither self generated nor an end in itself; it is the logical consequence of their remarkable conception of Nature, essentially benign: if we leave Nature strictly alone, all will be well. Every intrusion into the natural world—forestry, wildlife management, mining, highway construction, etc.. etc.—is bad because it disrupts the delicate ecological web and defiles Natures' purity (hence the "invasive species" nonsense: supposedly these plants were introduced by man and now must be exterminated to restore purity). That's why the Green utopia is wilderness with a primitive society in the natural clearings. least half of the land area of the 48 coterminous states should be encompassed in core reserves and inner corridor zones...Eventually a wilderness network would dominate a region and this would itself constitute the matrix, with human habitation being the islands.
Reed Noss, "The Wildland Projects," Wild Earth, 1992

We must reclaim the roads and the plowed land, halt dam construction, tear down existing dams, ,free shackled rivers, and return to the wilderness tens of millions of acres of presently settled land.
David Brower in a hunter-gatherer society was on the whole healthier, happier, and more secure than our lives as peasants, industrial workers, or business executives.
Dave Foreman

When we see such statements, we are at a loss. That grown men should utter such absurdities baffles us. The key is the contrast between maturity and childishness, because now we can recognize where we've heard similar sentiments—out of the mouths of babes, as it were. How many times have I listened to small children wistfully say something like, "Why can't we make all the cars go away and then we'd just have grass and horses?" A childish, sentimental concept of Nature leads to childish ideas of society. And equally juvenile moral polarities. If Nature is benign and its inviolate purity is crucial to our fate, then how we stand toward it determines our moral standing. If we go hiking we're "saving the planet" and our moral glow is palpable, but those who prefer all terrain vehicles must be evil scum. Those pulp company executives were victims of a rancorous moral crusade which they could never understand: they thought the dispute was about forestry! Selfrighteousness validates Green class snobbery. Juvenile it may be, but the Green concept, potent with its simplistic, absolute morality and justified snobbery, generates formidable social force. This is the secret of its power.

If this analysis is correct, then the way we fight our battles with Greenism needs revision. The arguments have usually been confined to the immediate issues and we have not attacked the animating vision behind it all. Of course, the first job is to confront specious Green claims with facts, to show, for instance, the actual pattern of global temperature variations over time, and we must always speak directly to the ostensible issue before we tackle Green motives. In the 1980s, I did some writing for loggers opposing the Green shutdown of the West coast forest industry. Their main argument was that there would be a catastrophic loss of jobs, but I pointed out that this was irrelevant: the green argument was that their logging practices were destroying "the ecology," and that was the argument they had to meet. So long as the public believed that, they wouldn't care a pin about jobs. We must always confront the argument with factual refutations; anything less is futile. But once the argument is joined, we should bring out the underlying Green ideas, the principles that shape their arguments. The appalling stupidity of the Green concept of Nature is obvious when, for example, forestry or wildlife management are the issues, just as class snobbery underlies many land use squabbles. It is our job to dispute the factual arguments and to show the dubious origins of Green ideas.

If Greenism were an isolated phenomenon, if it were the only contemporary example of a movement bent on destruction masked by utopian promises, it would not be so formidable, but the '60s which spawned it was a decade rich in irrationality, and wave after wave of crazy ideas emerged then and are still with us, promoted by the same leisured class of narcissists. Every one is destructive of our institutions—lawful government, the family, education, marriage, private property—and Greenism fits the pattern: the provocative theses, the moral outrage, the unappeasable appetite. This is a bad time for reason, even for common sense.

Jigs Gardner
12 Angier Hill Rd,
Essex, NY 12936

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