Property Rights Foundation of America®

Presented at the
Tenth Annual National Conference on Private Property Rights
Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc.
Albany, N.Y. - October 14, 2006

ENVIRONMENTALISM AND ITS CONSEQUENCES

BONNER R. COHEN
Senior Fellow, The National Center for Public Policy Research, Washington, D.C.

Thank you very much, Carol. It is a great honor to be here this morning. Originally, as Carol said, I was set for a somewhat shorter presentation. She wanted me to speak for about five minutes just before lunch, just to let you know what my book, The Green Wave: Environmentalism and Its Consequences, is all about, but for the reasons that Carol just outlined, my five-minute presentation will now metastasize into roughly a thirty-minute presentation. So if it sounds disjointed and disorganized, don't worry. It is. That said, let me begin by seeking out a way of explaining why it is that we are here today.

Carol has outlined, I think, very eloquently the problems that we face on a grand scale, but let me break this down to an individual case and then work from there.

One of our speakers here today is a gentleman by the name of Jim Chilton. I don't want to steal his thunder, but let me tell you what happened very briefly to Mr. Chilton, who I'm sure will go into greater detail on his particular case later on. But, one day in the year 2002, Mr. Chilton did what a lot of us do, he read his newspaper. And he happened to see a little notice in his paper put in there by a group called the Center for Biological Diversity pointing out that there was environmental destruction, environmental degradation on land owned by the U.S. Forest Service. That piqued his interest and so Mr. Chilton went to the web site of the Center for Biological Diversity and, lo and behold, he saw that the land in question was land to which he had a grazing right from the U.S. Forest Service.

But what was interesting, when he looked at the photos posted on the web site, they bore very little resemblance to the land that Mr. Chilton knew so well. What the Center for Biological Diversity had done is carefully select the photos that it posted on its web site so as to give the impression that Mr. Chilton was an environmental criminal, that he was engaged in grazing practices which were destructive of the environmental.

Mr. Chilton, of course, knew that that was not the case. What was he to do? He was a rancher in the West. I'm sure the thought may have passed his mind, does he reach for his six-shooter or does he reach for his telephone. After giving it considerable thought, although I'm sure the six-shooter was extremely tempting, he went to his telephone, he called his lawyer, and, in the finest American tradition, he sued them. And unlike so many other ranchers in the West, he actually won. He sued them for defamation. He won a $600,000 award, including $500,000 in punitive damages.

Mr. Chilton had just had an encounter with the modern environmental movement. No doubt he has had many before, and he will probably have many in the future, though I do suspect the Center for Biological Diversity is going to be somewhat more circumspect in dealing with him in the future than it did four years ago. It is this entity, the modern environmental movement, which is the subject of my book, which came out two months ago.

The modern environmental movement is something that has been with us for approximately 35 years, although one could trace back the philosophical origins of the environmental movement, some of the thinking that goes behind it, that drives it, back a couple of hundred years. It is essentially one of the things that developed in the sixties, in the early seventies that was part of what was known as the New Left at the time.

The opening gun, so to speak, in the modern environmental debate was also a book, published in 1962 by Rachel Carson. You all know it well. It was called Silent Spring. The premise of Silent Spring was that man-made chemicals were not only destroying the planet, but presented a serious health threat. The exposure to those chemicals posed a serious health threat to human beings, as well. Her thoughts made their way over time, not just into almost every environmental regulation that we have, both at the federal and at the state level, but they also provided kind of intellectual justification for a host of environmental organizations, which came to life in the sixties and in the seventies, which were created for the purpose of defending the public against the harm posed to them by man-made chemicals.

At the same time, there was a second part of the environmental movement, the one that really concerns us here today, and one with which Mr. Chilton had his encounter three or four years ago, and that is part of the environmental movement that deals with, shall we say, land-related issues.

Here such traditional conservation organizations as the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, Ducks Unlimited, and a host of others, organizations which were created decades ago for traditional conservation purposes, have undergone a radical transformation over the past thirty years and have gone from being conservation organizations to being environmental organizations. The difference between an environmental organization and a conservation organization is a dramatic one.

Environmental organizations have as their goal the imposition of their particular view of the world on the rest of us, and it is that particular view of the world that I took a look at in my book, I am hardly the first person who has done this. Many other people, such as Alston Chase, Jarol Manheim, and others have done that. Ron Arnold and others have done the same. But I think it is worthwhile to take a look at this, because I think it is at the root of so many of the problems that we encounter.

In the world of modern environmentalism, human beings who live in rural areas are creatures that disturb the environment. Nature, in their view, is something that must be constantly held in balance. How many times have we heard over the past decades about a "fragile environment," a "delicate balance of nature," and how important it is to maintain that balance of nature and how important it is to forego any and all activities which would disturb the delicate balance of nature and cause damage to the fragile ecosystem. "Ecosystem" here is a very key term.

Ecosystem is a term which was coined back in the 1930s by a relatively obscure Scotsman. It languished in well-deserved obscurity for several decades until it was rediscovered by enterprising environmental activists in the late sixties and early seventies. It has become, shall we say, the metaphor for what the environmentalists attempt to do. If you have an ecosystem, which must be constantly kept in balance, then you must undertake steps that keep it in balance. Those steps include keeping rural people as much as possible off land, so that they will not disturb nature through forestry, through mining, through ranching, through farming, through the growing of trees, and what have you. Any excuse that environmental activists can find to justify protecting the environment, protecting the ecosystem, is then used through the various means at their disposal, be they wetlands regulations; imposition of the Endangered Species Act; invasive species regulations, the evil offspring of the Endangered Species Act, as we'll hear from Fred Grau this afternoon; heritage corridors, which Peyton Knight will talk about later on this afternoon; rails to trails; and other assorted schemes. As Ron Arnold so rightly put it many years ago, these schemes are all designed to carry out a rural cleansing, to drive people off their land, to make it impossible for people in rural areas to earn a living.

The schemes here are vast. As I said, there are wetlands, there are Wildlands projects, Buffalo Commons, what have you. But all of these things are designed, and the intellectual justification of this is we must protect the environment, we must protect the ecosystem.

But, ladies and gentlemen, as I'm sure you all probably know, there is a problem with the notion of an intact ecosystem. In nature there are no ecosystems. There is no such thing. No one can say where an ecosystem begins or ends in either time or space. And because there are no ecosystems, it is impossible to manage an ecosystem, because nature, quite contrary to the environmentalist vision, is not something that is in balance. Nature is never in balance. Nature is in flux. Nature is chaotic. Nature is random. What you see today is not what you're going to see tomorrow. Rivers change course. Meadows evolve into forests. Species, which we are told have this habitat and this habitat, only actually over time change the habitat or at least some of them do. It is impossible to freeze nature. You cannot do it. You cannot preserve it because that is contrary to the way in which nature works. Indeed, that is contrary to the way in which the universe works. Nature being, of course, a part of the larger universe.

So the vision that the environmentalists are trying to impose on the rest of us is contrary to how nature works and, if you predicate your actions, regulations, laws, assorted schemes from rails to trails to heritage areas and what have you, ultimately on the notion that you are protecting nature by preserving the balance, by protecting the ecosystem, you are actually working contrary to how nature functions, and the results of this can be absolutely catastrophic, not just for the rural people caught up in all of this whose livelihoods are regularly destroyed by the environmentalists, but also to nature itself. I'll get to that in a minute.

Earlier, I pointed out Rachel Carson. Let me pick up a thread here with her. You're talking about environmental policies, environmental divisions of the world, having catastrophic consequences. Let us not forget that, in the wake of Rachel Carson's book, we became, shall we say, environmentally conscious, and we began to take steps to protect human beings from the actions of human beings.

Thus in 1972 an EPA administrator, William Ruckelshaus, banned the use of the chemical DDT in the United States. DDT was the chemical which had been cited by Rachel Carson in her 1962 book, Silent Spring, as being one of the driving forces behind the harm that was accruing to human beings by coming into exposure with DDT and a host of other chemicals. It was decided that, if we can just ban the use of this chemical in the United States where once it had been used as a pesticide, but, frankly, it was not being used as much as more sophisticated pesticides that had come along, we could take a symbolic step that would be followed by people around the world. Even though, after a very thorough review by EPA, there was no scientific basis whatsoever for banning DDT, Mr. Ruckelshaus, who later explained that it was for political reasons, went ahead with the banning of DDT.

The United States is the most powerful country in the world, the most prestigious country in the world, so if its Environmental Protection Agency bans the use of DDT, isn't it in the interest of other countries around the world to also ban DDT? Indeed it was. And even though the World Health Organization had warned that banning DDT would have very tragic consequences in those parts of the world where DDT was not being used as a pesticide to spray on crops but rather was being used to fight malaria because of DDT's remarkable ability to kill mosquitoes and repel them, that banning DDT in the absence of a viable alternative to DDT would lead to the premature deaths of millions of people.

That is exactly what happened, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and in the Asian subcontinent, not for years but for decades beginning in the early 1970s. In many of these countries malaria had almost disappeared. It had almost disappeared because DDT was being sprayed in homes where it repelled mosquitoes. The people then were not bitten by mosquitoes, and they did not get malaria. Malaria rates had plummeted as a result of the use of DDT. But, thanks to the decision made by Mr. Ruckelshaus, enthusiastically supported by such organizations as Greenpeace, Environmental Defense Fund, today known as Environmental Defense, DDT was banned. Indeed originally Environmental Defense Fund was formed for the sole purpose of banning DDT. The ban on the use of DDT was employed around the world with, as I said, premature deaths of millions and millions of people. I think it speaks volumes about the moral content of the environmental movement that its first major success, the banning of DDT, had as a very predictable consequence, because science was ignored in the favor of fashion, the deaths of millions of people.

So here we have two things to look at in considering the modern environmental movement. That is, the enormous amount of harm that the movement did as a result of its very first success, and, secondly, shall we say, the other leg of the movement, the tremendous pressure, suffering, and what have you, to which rural land owners in the United States, particularly those in the West, but not just those in the West, have been subjected as a result of environmental regulations and environmental policies that have been imposed on them. And just as the banning of DDT and the similar regulations were something which were not based on available scientific evidence, so too is the environmental vision being imposed on rural America itself, contrary to how nature really works.

How have they been able to do all this? Forty years ago, for all practical purposes, there was no environmental movement. Well, the activists who came together in the sixties and seventies and in the early eighties were of a somewhat different breed than their leftist colleagues. These people are not liberals in the traditional sense of the word. They are not interested so much in the redistribution of income or civil rights or things of that nature, but rather they are self-described progressives, who are more interested in imposing their unique vision of the world on the rest of us. They are an elite group of people, well-educated in the sense that they certainly have impressive degrees, many of them, unfortunately, from law schools, which enables them to carry out all sorts of mischief, but very creative in how they go about their various activities.

They recognized early on that, if they were going to be a major force in, not just the United States, but elsewhere, they were going to need something called money. Money and lots of it. So under the guidance of some very creative thinkers such as Joshua Mailman, a name which you may not have heard of, and other likewise people they decided that they needed money. Ah, but how to get money in such quantities that would enable you to compete with what, in their view, was a capitalist society. Jarol Manheim is a gentleman I think all of you should be familiar with; he is a professor at George Washington University, who in 2004 published a remarkable, if not widely read, book called Biz-War. If you do nothing else as a result of the conference today but buy my book, please buy his book because it makes for fascinating reading. Mr. Manheim has delved into how the left got rich, and he has done an absolutely marvelous job of this, building in part upon the wonderful work that Ron Arnold has done but taking Ron's research a few steps further.
What the left ultimately did, and what the environmentalist left ultimately did, was create what Manheim refers to as a parallel universe or alternative power structure. Because, in their view, capitalist society, including the people in this room and elsewhere, is well-funded and is driven by elites who themselves are well-funded, and thus are able to dominate the culture, they would create their own alternative universe with their own sources of funding, with their own counter-culture, which they would then try to impose on the rest of us. They do this through a variety of ways, which I will just very briefly outline here.

They began by tapping into foundations, many of which, as you know, have undergone radical transformations over time, groups such as the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Mott Foundations, and others which began life doing one thing. Its instruments really are of capitalism and over time underwent a radical transformation, and now support the very causes that would have absolutely appalled their founders. Capture the foundations. The foundations are an enormous source of money. Insert your people into those foundations, and see to it that decision makers within those foundations give donations to selected environmental groups.

Create mutual funds into which people can invest their money. Get the proceeds of those funds, set up foundations with those proceeds, and support environmental activists. The Rainforest Action Network, a small San Francisco-based group, tries in its own way to get into the boardroom of companies by subjecting corporate giants such as Citigroup, Bank of America, General Electric, and others to public relations campaigns designed to get them to change their lending policies so that the companies invest in the United States, and particularly abroad, in ways that are compatible with the environmentalists vision, driven by the very ill-defined terms of "corporate social responsibility" and "sustainable development." A tiny group with a budget of just over $2 million, the Rainforest Action Network has actually succeeded in getting one corporate giant after the other to agree to redirect its lending practices in the Third World away from resource-based development in the traditional sense of the word into a sustainable development. Of course, to the detriment of the world populations in the Third World, just as here in the United States, monies and policies have been directed to the detriment of rural people here.

This is a remarkable development. It has been largely unnoticed by the major media, and if you look at how the environmentalists have succeeded in infiltrating and transforming—and it is one of the points I raise in my book—this all goes back to a gentleman who, frankly, is my favorite Communist. Yes, I actually have a favorite Communist. His name is Antonio Gramsci, and Mr. Gramsci was founder of the Communist Party of Italy. In the 1930s Mr. Gramsci had reached the conclusion that the proletariat was not about to rise up and overthrow the bourgeoisie and impose a dictatorship of the proletariat. This wasn't going to happen. That, indeed, if the left were ever going to seize power, it was going to have to undertake what he called the long march through the institutions.

Whether the environmental activists know it or not, they are superb students of Antonio Gramsci, because, if you look at how environmental activists have over the course of the last two to three decades infiltrated and transformed foundations, traditional conservation groups, and turned them into instruments of their own policies, they have indeed taken the long march through the institutions.

They don't just do this in foundations and activist groups that they have taken over. You can see this in the media. Think of National Geographic magazine. How many of us remember picking up a National Geographic magazine? I remember the first time I saw one when I was maybe six or seven years old in my elementary school library in Atlanta, and, oh, what beautiful pictures. National Geographic was once a wonderful magazine. Today it is an instrument of environmentalist propaganda. How did that happen? Because National Geographic magazine, among others, was effectively infiltrated and transformed by environmental thinking, by environmental activists, and became something other than what it had been.

Let me briefly wrap up. These are the kinds of things that I've looked into in my book. Please bear in mind that, in considering the consequences of what environmental activists have done in tapping into sources of money, the sources are absolutely enormous. Many of you may have read the five-part piece by Tom Knudson in the Sacramento Bee at the beginning of the decade. By 2001, donations to environmental groups around the country had reached $9.6 million a day. That includes Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. That was five years ago. I don't have comparable figures for the present, but you see what an enormous monster all of us are facing. We have environmental activists on the outside carrying out scare campaigns, we have environmental activists on the inside of agencies, federal, state, local, international. It is a gigantic monster that we are all facing, one which is extremely well financed, one which knows exactly what it wants, one which will, of course, suffer its occasional setbacks, but with the financial and intellectual resources at its disposal, and with the media, a mainstream media, which itself has undergone a kind of transformation. If you look at the mainstream media, they, too, generally accept the environmentalist vision and don't question it. The consequences of all of the above, whether it relates to private property, whether it relates to the debate on climate change, or to a host of other issues, means that we have our work cut out for us in the years and decades to come.

And with that I will close, and we look forward to hearing other speakers today. Thank you very much.

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