Environmentalism: A Modern Idolatry
Kevin L. Clauson
Utopian Environmentalism offers radical prescriptions for contemporary "crises," but it does so contrary to Biblical reality.
I. The Environmental Message in Pop Culture, Politics, and Religion
To view modern culture, politics and religion, one would quickly get a sense that "the environment" is the latest object of worship by many in the Western World. Although, most committed environmentalists would claim to be much too sophisticated to be following in the footsteps of some ancient pagan or animistic religion, their new "progressive environmentalism," in reality, is simply a re-packaging of old pantheistic errors combined with a much more dangerous set of public policy proposals than previous versions of environmentalism.
Consider the pervasive influence of the environmentalist movement in recent years. The entire plot of a very popular motion picture -- Star Trek IV -- was built around a "save-the-whale" theme of global proportions: essentially, if two whales enclosed in a spaceship by an advanced civilization are not safely returned to earth, then the earth will be destroyed by a built-in destructive mechanism. And Star Trek IV is not an isolated message in the faddish entertainment industry. Daily, the entertainment media increase their fare of environmentally-centered television programs and movies. (Note Ted Turner's network promotion of his own Better World Society and its agenda).
The political world also offers reflections on the environment message. President George Bush (who campaigned 1988 saying he wanted to be the environmental president -- as well as the education president!) announced in December of 1989 that the United States would seek to sponsor an international conference on global warming as a prelude to a treaty on the same. In the last two or three years, political leaders have introduced legislation to control emissions, the greenhouse effect, deforestation, and other "evils."
The religious world is not immune either. Pope John Paul II, according to a recent article, "warned...that the world was caught in an environmental crisis that violates human rights and lays bare the depth of man's moral crisis'... [T]he ecological collapse facing the earth is everyone's concern, the Pope said, and he lamented that existing international bodies and treaties were not up to the task of producing a broad plan of action... His views were expressed in a document called Peace with God the Creator, Peace With All of Creation.'" The above are but a few of the numerous examples found in the current media. The list could go on.
II. The Environmentalist Movement
A. A Brief History
Historian Paul Johnson suggests that modern environmentalism cannot truly be called a reform movement at all, since it began in the 1960's as an ecological panic. The modern movement has roots in the earlier Conservationist and Preservationist movements which arose at the turn of the century. Conservationists like Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot were mostly wealthy and "conservative" (in political terms, a "progressive conservative"); they believed the "exhaustion-of-resources" notion and so held that the federal government should play a prominent role in carefully managing land and natural resources because large corporate enterprises were depleting these resources. Preservationists, on the other hand, wanted simply to slow down or halt rapid industrialization and development, at least in the West.
Modern environmentalists have certainly borrowed from both the early Conservationists and Preservationists, but they are much more philosophically consistent than their more staid predecessors. Modern environmentalists add neo-Marxist theory (with a "human face" of course), and a belief in much more bureaucratization and regulation than the earlier movements ever advocated. Because modern environmentalists are utopian-minded, they have tried, sometimes successfully, to control various regulatory agencies and federal courts in order to impose their much more consistent utopianism on the public. This utopianism reached its political zenith during the presidential administration of Jimmy Carter when many environmentalists came into policy-making positions.
Like most utopian visions, modern environmentalism is based on perfectionism; the view that man is good by nature and perfectible, and that existing evils are the product of a corrupt social system. The environmentalist utopianism is both Marxian and anti-technological/industrial. (Earlier Marxists believed strongly in technological progress.) Modern environmentalists reject capitalism -- i.e., voluntary economic exchange within the boundaries of law, civil law based on God's standards, since such capitalism spurs the technological progress which modern environmentalists oppose.
Some environmentalists even blame Christianity, its "cultural mandate," and its widespread influence on Western Civilization for the supposed ecological crisis. This claim is not surprising since the utopian environmentalists are at root religiously pantheistic; and thus, they must be explicitly or implicitly anti-Christian. Since pantheism is the most profound and basic influence on modern environmentalism, it deserves closer examination.
B. The Religion of Environmentalism -- Pantheism.
Pantheism is an ancient religious outlook held explicitly (e.g., by many in the so called "animal rights" movement) or implicitly by many environmentalists today. The fact is that most modern environmentalists (as opposed to those who simply want to control harmful pollution, for example) have a religious world view to undergird their agenda. The most amenable religious outlook, whether environmentalists admit it or not or whether they even understand it completely or not, is pantheism.
Pantheism, in a nutshell, makes no distinction (or at most a very unclear distinction) between the Creator and the creature. According to pantheism, god is not transcendent. In practical terms, god is in all, and all is part of god. Because the entire creation and god are one, there is a close relation to animism. Animals, trees, flowers, insects, and human beings are all part of god, and god is "in" all of them. A consistent pantheist (and it is doubtful there are or can be very many) would hold that plants and animals are, in a sense, simultaneously our "brothers" and god. To harm them in any way is to harm our kinsmen -- creation and god.
Pantheism deifies and idolizes nature and at the same time leads to a departure from reality and a withdrawal from any meaningful tasks in subduing the created world for God and the material benefit of man. Economic and technological progress halt. This is not an academic exercise. Literally millions of people throughout the world, rejecting Christianity and its view of man, creation, and God, either partially or completely accept the idolatry of pantheism. They adopt an agenda and a vocabulary (e.g., "appropriate technology", "small is beautiful", "soft energy path", etc.). They manifest their religion through such "good works" as guarding animal rights, stopping the deterioration of the ozone layer, saving the whale, eliminating pesticides, or in a more all-encompassing way, saving "spaceship earth." In short, pantheism confuses the creation and its Creator and deifies the creation by locating God in the creation as well as locating the creation in God. Thus, pantheism idolizes nature and provides a consistent religious base for environmentalism. Since men will force their observations and "data" to conform to their religious world view, we must briefly examine the false "science" undergirding environmentalism (or we should say serving the environmentalist idol).
III. Ecological "Crises" and Pseudo-Science
Environmentalism has used science and so-called scientists to serve its philosophy. The movement has disseminated sensationalistic and falsely so-called scientific information to justify extreme government intervention. The following discussion provides some notable cases.
Since the late 1960's and early 1970's, environmentalist scientists have been predicting various ecological doomsdays. Although these doomsday predictions purport to have a basis in reality, they are eschatologically erroneous, such as those made most popular among evangelicals by supposed Christian writer Jeremy Rifkin.
The overpopulation "crisis" was and is a common environmentalist weapon. Some environmentalists have claimed that the population "crisis" has caused famines, such as that recently found in Ethiopia, despite clear evidence that the real causes have been State oppression and socialistic economic policies. Others such as Garrett Hardin have reduced the population "crisis" to a simple equation: (Population) X (Prosperity) = Pollution (presumably of such magnitude as to lead to the end of the world). From this equation he extrapolates the following ethical conclusion: "If the space required to grow four redwood trees could be devoted to growing food for one person we should say directly and bluntly that four redwood trees are more important than a person."
We will examine the specific kinds of political proposals advocated by Hardin in a moment, but for now we can say that "overpopulation" is a myth. Thomas Sowell calculates that if all the men, women, and children in the whole world -- about 4,415,000,000 (as of the date of his calculation) were placed in the State of Texas (alone), with a land area of 262,134 square miles, every person would have 1,700 square feet, and every family of four (average) would have 6,800 square feet, roughly the size of a typical middle class home with a front and back yard.
We see from this that the notion of overpopulation has no basis in fact. If overpopulation were a cause of poverty, then we would see nations such as Japan and Hong Kong desperately poor (both have minimal natural resources, little land area, and are heavily populated) and nations such as India, Communist China, and the U.S.S.R. very prosperous (abundant natural resources and immense land areas). Yet this is not the case.
B. The Greenhouse Effect
The somewhat new doomsday crisis is the "greenhouse effect -- global warming" scenario. In fact experts speculating on the impact of the greenhouse effect "predict rising sea levels inundating wetlands, beaches, and coastal cities; forests shifting northward; new drought belts; worsening air pollution; and more catastrophes such as fires, insect plagues and floods."
Many scientists, however, question whether there really is a warming after all. Some researchers note that "the Northern Hemisphere actually experienced a cooling period between the 1940's and the 1970's, which led to predictions in the 1970's that we might be headed for a new Ice Age." The point here is that there is scant scientific evidence for a catastrophic global warming (nor for some mythical "Ice Age" either). Suffice it to say regarding global warming: "What confidence can we have in the global-warming predictions when less that fifteen years ago the idea that another Ice Age was pending was popular enough for a book, The Cooling, to be written and to receive respectful scientific comment?"
Environmentalist pseudo-scientists have endorsed other falsehood which have nurtured an ecological hysteria. Several years ago, for example, John Higginson hypothesized that the "environment" made up about eighty percent of the factors which cause cancer. Many environmentalist scientists and activists picked up on this and similar studies, and said that pollution causes eighty to ninety percent of all cancers. What they failed to mention was that when Higginson referred to the environment he was talking about one's personal environment. In other words, cancer is caused by the high protein diet we eat, the cigarettes we smoke, the alcohol we drink, even worse by the way we both smoke and drink (in combination), for excess alcohol and cigarette-smoking operate synergistically. Stress and tension also seem to contribute to cancers. Industrial pollution is not a major cause of cancer and yet environmentalists continue to spread that falsehood.
D. Pesticides -- DDT
Yet another instance of environmental pseudo-science involves the ban on DDT, a pesticide which had enormously reduced parasitic threats to food production and had allowed expansion of agriculture in underdeveloped areas. After exhaustive investigation, George Claus, with degrees in botany, microbiology, and medicine, has shown that the studies which led to the banning of DDT completely failed to provide any evidence that DDT was a carcinogen or that it constituted a hazard to wildlife. Banning DDT was a purely political decision "based on pseudo-science or ignorant bungling" according to Claus and Bolander. The ban on DDT was a victory in the utopian campaign against modern technology.
A further example of environmentalist pseudo-science is the allegation that open land is being turned into parking lots and development at such a rapid rate that it is being dangerously depleted. This allegation is made despite the fact that the total acreage in the U.S. devoted to wildlife areas and state and national parks has increased from eight million in 1920 to seventy-three million in 1974, and despite the fact that all the land used for urban areas, plus roadways still amounts to less than three percent of the land area of the United States.
Each of these "dire" predictions is part of a series of alleged ecological crises. What we learn from these few examples is that environmentalism, like any false worldview, has attempted to make the "facts" fit its philosophical and religious presuppositions. Environmentalism must be challenged not only on its "science" but on its inevitable religious components as well.
IV. The Political Economy of Environmentalism
Politics and economics are of course based upon religious and philosophical presuppositions. In this section we will briefly look at how environmentalists would use (or have used) the coercive powers of the State to serve their religion.
A. Public Policy and Presuppositions
Environmentalists have been quite successful in recent years in using congressional law-making, bureaucratic rule-making, and federal court decision-making to implement their vision. Modern environmentalists also have an even more radical agenda for governmental action. Nevertheless, environmentalists have already intervened in the public policy realm and effected sweeping, vague, and open-ended Congressional mandates. A vast amount of legislation has poured out of the Congress since the 1960's, as even a short list of statutes illustrates:
This is only a small sample of federal statutes and does not include the regulatory "legislation" (administrative rule-making authority) "pursuant to" the Congressional statues.
- Clean Air Act of 1970 (Amended 1977 and 1986)
- Federal Water Pollution Control Acts of 1972
- Wilderness Act of 1964
- Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act of 1975
- National Environmental Policy Act of 1969
- Safe Water Drinking Act of 1974
- Noise Control Act of 1972
- Energy Supply and Environmental
- Co-ordination Act of 1974
- Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976
- Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1976
- Endangered Species Act of 1973
- Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976
Such regulatory "discretion" is actually law-making in the form of "rules" and "regulations" by newly-created environmental bureaucracies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These bureaucracies not only make law in the guise of implementing Congressional policy, but also combine legislative, executive, and judicial functions in an unelected, insulated institution. This concentration of authority creates a formidable weapon against "evil destroyers of the environment." The bureaucratic rule-making method has been used for everything from specifying quantities and concentrations of literally thousands of emissions (substances released into the air) and effluents (substances released into the water) to banning numerous pesticides and setting standards for the use of laboratory animals.
All of this law-making unavoidably violates traditional Western and American jurisprudence (based on Biblical notions of "due process") by assuming harm either without any "proof" or with so-called "proof" in the form of highly questionable government testing of substances; firms are essentially guilty without proof or trial.
However, the environmentalist public policy agenda is much more radical than its achievements thus far. Consider the greenhouse effect again:
"self-appointed guardians of the environment are urging immediate steps to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases' -- especially CO2, but also methane, nitrous oxides, and CFCS (chlorofluorocarbons), which are believed to trap heat radiating from the earth. They urge cutting back on fossil-fuel use by such measures as special taxes on carbon-dioxide emissions, increased funding for alternative energy sources, incentives for solar and nuclear power [although other environmentalists also oppose nuclear power], an end to deforestation, and the doubling of the current fuel-efficiency standards... thus the stage is set for very strong measures to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. These measures would give governments greater power, would force people to make large sacrifices, and would probably limit innovation."
What we see from all of this is that environmentalists, driven by their Statist-oriented religion (the neo-Marxian component and utopian components coming through), are pressuring the central government, already exceeding its Biblically-mandated functions by its pervasive laws and regulations, to expand its powers even more drastically. This is a kind of secular salvation, since environmentalism sees the "salvation" of the world resting only in government action (immediate and radical). At the same time, such Draconian prescriptions ignore economic reality.
B. Economic Costs: Results of Utopian Perfectionism
Environmentalism wants a pristine environment at all costs. Note that a mythical perfect period in terms of the environment has never existed in the human economy. It would be a mistake to say that there has been no overall improvement in environmental quality due to the massive government intervention discussed earlier; the point here is that such improvement has been achieved by government injustice and at great cost.
1. Administrative Costs: "Government Failure"
So-called administrative costs include visible government taxing and spending through large public resources and restrictions on economic liberty. The resulting bureaucracies are insulated from public feedback and thus often push their activities into the realm of negative returns in order to expand their budgets; in other words, bureaucracies have a tendency toward political and economic gnosticism, since they are mandated by law to know what is good for other people -- and many environmentalist bureaucrats may actually believe this.
However, if more government intervention produces a better environment, then why, as Sovietologist Marshall Goldman notes, are there serious "environmental problems" (i.e., real, not imagined, harm to individual health and/or property) in a place like the Soviet Union. After all the government owns or controls all property and its uses. Yet Goldman found pollution to be a much more serious problem in the U.S.S.R. than in the U.S. Goldman suggests that this is the result of the "monument-building mentality of Soviet planning bureaucracies, an incentive structure typical of centralized public bureaucracies.
So we see that when the State takes on illegitimate functions the result is a government machinery more responsive to its own internal interests.
On the other hand we, may find bureaucrats who are religiously zealous about "environmental protection," leading to ideologically motivated, dramatic interferences with legitimate private property rights. "Government failure" then (a term coined by modern "public choice" theorists), in whatever form -- covetousness and legalized theft or gnostic statism -- is the end result of an unbiblical response to the environment.
2. Economic Costs: TANSTAAFL and Economic Irrationality
The environmentalist lobby has imposed immense costs on individuals and enterprises, large and small. Environmentalists generally do not like to talk about the subject of economic costs, claiming that it is an immoral subject, and that one cannot simply put a price on a clean, healthy, safe, or beautiful environment (with these characteristics being themselves defined by environmentalism -- which of course imposes a utopian standard).
Despite this economic irrationality however, there "ain't no such thing as a free lunch," -- TANSTAAFL The costs that have already been imposed and which are even now being imposed cannot be ignored. Furthermore, the current environmentalist agenda, pursuing its utopian, perfectionistic, and pantheistic social ethic, accepts even more economic irrationality. The following are recent examples:
These are particular "horror stories," but they are not at all isolated or atypical examples of the impact of environmentalism. Nor do these specifics give us an idea of the more pervasive costs in the economy. Economist Murray Wedenbaum, former head of the President's Council of Economic Advisors, estimated in the late 70's that the EPA rules forced industry to spend an extra $70-100 billion per year. The Council on Environmental Quality itself estimated that industry would spend an extra $40 billion/year for quality control by 1985. The generic results of burdensome environmental regulations are as follows.
- Domestic steel prices have been forced up an estimated $8.00 a ton because of environmental regulations, making the U.S. Steel industry less competitive.
- The American lead smelting industry has been virtually destroyed by utopian standards.
- One independent oil driller had to pay $1400 to have forty acres searched and certified free of Indian arrowheads.
- Water pollution regulations have reduced the metal and fishing industries from 70,000 factories to 5,000.
- Between 1972 and 1980 the price of a Douglas fir was forced up 500% due to bureaucratic regulations.
- Standard Oil of Ohio spent five years and $50 million and filed over seven-hundred permits for a pipeline before finally giving up in 1979.
- One housing development in San Mateo County, California was forced by environmentalist pressures to reduce the number of townhouses and apartments in the development from 12,500 to 2,200, increasing rents from the original $280-$360/month (contemplated) to $310-$480/month. The plan was finally abandoned altogether.
Do environmentalists recognize the impact of their zealotry on the economy? Most certainly they must. Nevertheless, as with any anti-Christian religious system, "the truth is suppressed in unrighteousness." The economic costs are explained away or alleged to be an immoral consideration, thus granting environmentalism the moral high ground. Now we must demonstrate the legitimate role of government, distinguishing justice from environmentalism, and seizing back the moral high ground.
- greater industry concentration ("monopolization") as smaller firms which cannot easily absorb the compliance costs, suffer and die while larger firms survive.
- less innovation since less money is available for research, development, and modernization. A National Science Foundation study in 1972 showed that small firms -- those most vulnerable to harsher environmental regulations -- produce twenty-four times as many industrial innovations per research dollar as large firms; moderate-sized firms produce eight times more.
- higher costs for consumers. However an economic myth must be exposed here. All of the additional costs imposed by regulations cannot necessarily be passed on to consumers because of competition from close product substitutes. These leave the firm to absorb some costs.
- lower productivity because firms which must absorb some costs often do not modernize, or do not invest as much, or cut production costs where necessary.
- more unemployment since one way to cut costs to make up for environmental regulation compliance costs is to cut labor costs, often the highest production cost in a given firm.
V. Justice Versus Environmentalism
Justice, properly understood, is derived from God's Word. It involves the application of Biblical standards to both individuals and civil governments. Environmentalism, on the other hand, is essentially the outworking of an idolatrous religion which perverts the proper role of civil government and denies legitimate liberties provided by God's Word. The question is, what should be the Biblical role of the civil government in relation to the environment? To this question we now turn.
A. The Externality Argument and Biblical Civil Government
Economists often use the term "externality" to mean a cost imposed on an innocent third party which the parties responsible for the cost should compensate. The legal system would simply say that if/when an innocent person or his/her property is harmed (in some way) by the unjust actions of another, then compensation is due the innocent party. Environmentalists often claim that there are "externalities" (negative side effects or "spillovers") in society as a result of economic and industrial activity. With this we can agree so long as the parameters of a so-called externality are properly understood in light of common law principles based on God's Word. Therefore, this author and most Christians do not in the least deny that sometimes harm is caused, whether negligently or intentionally, to innocent people or their property. But to prevent the externality argument from being twisted by environmentalists, we must raise several issues.
1. How pervasive are so-called "externalities"?
Environmentalists seem to see externalities everywhere, from experimenting with lab animals, to using pesticides, to killing seals, whales or snail-darters (or whatever), to cutting down a tree or a forest. But the externality concept is just an economic adaptation of legal responsibility. It was (and technically is) a very narrow concept referring to tangible, measurable harm to a person or property which the person or persons who cause the "real" harm should pay for compensation.
The common law, for example, illustrates the offense of nuisance -- unlawful interference with another's use and enjoyment of his property. This involves real, tangible harm for which the offender must compensate the plaintiff. But most of the time environmentalists appeal to the concept of externalities, they are not referring to real tangible harm. If a property owner destroys Indian arrowheads on his own property or if he cuts down a redwood tree on his own property, he does not cause real, tangible harm to environmentalists or to anyone else for that matter. While he may cause "psychic" or "aesthetic" harm he causes no legitimate harm to anyone. "Psychic harm" or "aesthetic harm," popular with environmentalists, are concepts which are very nebulous and inconsistent with Western jurisprudence.
2. If we admit that there are real externalities (that is, injustices for which the wrongdoer must compensate the harmed party), is the regulatory method the only or best way to deal with them?
The fact is that the Regulatory method inherently violates Biblical standards of civil justice since it assumes wrongdoing without due process; it combines legislative, executive, and judicial functions; it involves "gnostic" rule by experts; it arbitrarily denies liberties; and it often involves retrospective law-making. However, regulation is not the only alternative. For centuries, Western society has employed the adjudicatory method -- that is, reliance on the courts and the common law with parties seeking redress of wrong doing through due process. The alleged "wrongdoer" -- the "destroyer of the environment" is innocent until/unless he is judicially proven guilty. Even if we grant that the courts today are overloaded (and perhaps corrupt), this does not mean that the adjudicatory method is wrong; it is the Biblically correct system for determining wrongdoing.
3. Are there non-government mechanisms (non-regulatory and non-adjudicatory) that can effectively prevent real harm to persons or property without governmental involvement?
Clearly such methods abound. In fact, many of these methods have been used for decades long before the EPA ever existed. Private insurance, if working in a free-market environment, can and will force people to be more careful (or face higher premiums or no insurance at all). Moral self-government, a much-neglected component of societal stability, plays a crucial role (though this role may decline as Christianity and its influence wanes in a society). Pressures from the market will often cause firms to do things differently; this could even mean private pressure from private environmentalist groups (however misguided both parties may be). For example, some laboratories have reduced or modified use of test animals due to pressures. The point here is not that the pressures of the responses are necessarily right but that the market works. More importantly, the market works to prevent real harm -- e.g., who would buy medicines if drug companies did not exercise extensive safety and quality control procedures?
So we see that injustices do occur in society. But injustice, as defined by Scripture, is much more concrete than the "injustice" described by environmentalism which is some ethereal "harm to the environment" or which is actually a denial of someone else's legitimate private property rights (e.g., the right to destroy one's arrowhead or redwood tree). If there are genuine externality injustices, how should the civil government respond?
B. What is the Proper Role of Civil Government in Regard to the "Environment" and Private Property?
God has ordained civil government to restrain and punish evil as defined by Biblical precepts. This means that when someone has been wronged, the civil government should intervene; it also means that civil authorities must protect private property rights when the use of those rights is not causing harm ("evil") as defined Biblically. These two principles will work out in different ways, meaning that in some cases the civil government will "protect the environment" and in other cases (probably more numerous) the civil government will guarantee the liberty of individuals the right to do what they wish with their "part of the environment."
1. Common Law and Nuisance.
When some person or firm interferes with another's use or enjoyment of his/her property rights (usually in a tangible way), this has been known in the Common Law system as nuisance. Nuisance is the legal principle which allows one to seek compensation when factory discharges into a river cause people to get sick, when industrial pollutants cause homes to deteriorate, when deforestation causes erosion to such an extent that mud or water is dumped onto another person's land, when noxious odors interfere with one's enjoyment of his own private property or when any number of other scenarios present themselves. Quite simply, if the facts indicate that an innocent party or his property is concretely injured by the unlawful actions of another, justice demands a righting of the wrong by the wrongdoer. This usually is done through a court and judicial proceedings where it must be proven that the alleged wrongdoer actually did wrong.
Furthermore, the prospective fear of lawsuits (along with the other non-governmental methods previously mentioned) will act to prevent the typical "rational" person from committing a nuisance (at least deliberately -- and even here the prospective fear of being sued will, along with the other factors, provide a powerful incentive for individuals or firms to exercise caution in economic enterprises). This simple judicial solution, which also offers a "deterrent effect", was used for centuries prior to creation of the EPA in 1969, and in fact still operates to some extent today.
2. Private Property Rights
What if we have a situation where no one's property rights are actually infringed? For instance, what if a person cuts down a redwood tree he owned, and another person with no ownership interest did not like that action (perhaps believing the cutter was contributing to deforestation and thus to global warming or perhaps just believing the redwoods are so lovely as to be "public treasures")? There are two possible right answers here. One is that because the redwood tree belongs to its owner, and the removal of redwood trees violates no Biblical standard, neither the civil authorities nor our hypothetical environmentalist can/should do anything at all. This would be a case of respect for the legitimate private property rights of the tree owner. Another possible answer is for the "environmentalist" to offer the "cutter" money if the cutter will preserve the redwood tree. Certainly the environmentalist has a right to make such an economic bargain, and clearly the cutter has the right to turn it down (although he may not, for the "right price").
If there are no property rights attached to some object -- e.g., a wild animal -- then the task of the civil authorities is to recognize private rights if/when they are established or to actually assign such rights.
Where we have public land, the alternative which many economists recommend is privatization of the land. So, for instance, we might find the federal government selling Yellowstone National Park to the highest bidder. Environmentalists reject such ideas (just as they reject private property rights generally) since they claim private owners would exploit the land and the environment. Economist Thomas Sowell disagrees:
Leaving property rights wholly undefined is even more disastrous than imperfectly defining them. Wild animals are often hunted to extinction precisely because they do not belong to anyone. They can by fiat or metaphor be said to belong to "the people," but unless it is feasible to apply force to exclude poachers [or any type of "overuse" -- K.C.], there is no property right in reality. It is precisely those things which belong to the "the people" which have historically been despoiled -- wild creatures, the air, and waterways being notable examples. This goes to the heart of why property rights are socially important in the first place. Property rights mean self-interested monitors. No owned creatures are in danger of extinction. No owned forests are in danger of being leveled [e.g., timber firms which "cultivate" trees on private land -- K. C.]. No one kills the goose that lays the golden eggs when it is his goose. Even chickens who lay ordinary eggs are no danger of being killed before their replacements have been provided. No logging company is going to let its own forest become a mass of stumps, though it may do that on public land'.
Sowell simply drives home the point that contrary to the popular environmentalism, private ownership creates an incentive for owners to conserve, preserve, and practically use resources. And such private ownership is even open to environmental groups -- a point to be considered since environmentalists and their organizations tend to be a wealthy elite.
VI. Conclusion: Environmentalism, Idolatry, and the First Commandment
The Environmentalist movement is founded on a false religious system. Consistently adhered to, it is explicit idolatry. It is a violation of the First Commandment: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me... nor serve them..."Furthermore, this false religion stands in opposition to the Christian mandate to "subdue the earth" for the glory of God -- to use the resources God has provided to improve the material circumstances of His creatures in service to His Kingdom. This is significant since it points out the differences between Environmentalism and Christianity. Environmentalists see either a static world ruled by fear of "desecrating" nature or a doomsday-ecological crisis world without hope. In either case modern environmentalism opposes Biblical culture and thus opposes the advance of Christianity.
Environmentalism may be the issue of the 1990's. If the environmental movement is politically successful, we can expect massive new regulatory interference with many just economic activities and private property rights. The challenge to environmentalism, however, is not just economic and political. Christianity has the moral high ground. Accordingly, we must begin by exposing the hopeless religious presuppositions of the environmentalist idolatry.
- Lynchburg News and Daily Advance, Lynchburg, VA, Dec. 6, 1989, p. A-3.
- Lynchburg News and Daily Advance, Lynchburg, VA, Dec. 6, 1989, p. B-7. Perhaps a significant point to be noted here is that the first two citations were found on the same day in a relatively obscure newspaper in the writer's city of residence; surely, the environmentalist message is rampant.
- Paul Johnson, Modern Times (New York: Harper and Row, 1983), p. 661
- See generally Rael and Erich Isaac, The Coercive Utopians (Regnery Gateway, 1984).
- See statements by numerous environmentalists in Edith Efron, The Apocalyptics, (NY: Simon & Schuster, 1984); Charles Maurice and Charles Smithson, The Doomsday Myth, (Hoover Institute, 1984); Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource (Princeton University, 1982); and various works by Paul Ehrlich and Barry Commoner.
For an incisive response to the doomsday idea, see Paul Johnson, The Enemies of Society, (NY: Atheneum, 1977), particularly around page 88 where he discusses the new environmentalists' "ecological eschatology": "The four last things are to be the poisoning of the air, the exhaustion of the soil, the final consumption of the earth's natural resources, and mass-starvation of an overpopulated planet."
- Garrett Hardin & John Baden, eds, Living on a Lifeboat, (San Francisco; W.H. Freeman, 1977).
- See Thomas Sowell, Knowledge and Decisions (NY: Basic Books, 1982); see also R.J. Rushdoony, The Myth of Overpopulation (Fairfax, VA: Thoburn Press).
- Sowell,Thomas, The Economics and Politics of Race (NY: William Morrow, 1983), p. 209 and the works of P.T. Bauer.
- James Shaw and Richard L. Stroup, "Getting Warmer?", National Review, July 14, 1989, p. 26.
- Ibid. p.27.
- Ibid. p.28.
- See Edith Efron, The Apocalyptics: Politics, Cancer, and the Big Cancer Lie (NY: Simon & Schuster, 1984).
- Ibid., Epilogue.
- See Richard Stroup and John Baden, Natural Resources: Bureaucratic Myth and Environmental Management (San Francisco: Pacific Institute, 1983); Charles Baird, Rent Control: The Perennial Folly (Washington D.C.: Cato Institute, 1980); and Bernard Frieden, The Environmental Protection Hustle (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1979)./
- Shaw and Stroup, National Review, pp. 26-27.
- Marshall I. Goldman quoted in Seneca and Taussig, Environmental Economics (NY: Prentice-Hall, 1979) 2nd ed., p. 109; see Goldman, The Spoils of Progress: Environmental Pollution in the Soviet Union (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1972).
- See James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, The Calculus of Consent (Ann Arbor, Mich: U. of Michigan Press, 1962) for the classic introduction to so-called public choice theory and the related concept of "government failure" (as opposed to "market failure").
- See Allyn Douglas Strickland, Government Regulation and Business (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1980) and Charles Baird, Rent Control for these and other examples of regulatory impact.
- Murray L. Wiedenbaum, Government - Mandated Price Increases (Washington D.C.: American Enterprise Institute, 1975).
- See Wiedenbaum, Government - Mandated Price Increases and Sowell, Knowledge and Decisions for a fuller discussion of these economic/market principles.
- Isaacs, The Coercive Utopians, p. 53.#6
- Sowell, Knowledge and Decisions; pp. 124-124.
- For some examples of ideas propounded by individuals who blame Christianity or Western Christian Civilization for their perceived ecological crisis, see Edith Efron, The Apocalyptics. Note this quote by Lynn White on p. 28: "More science and more technology are not going to get us out of the present ecological crisis until we find a new religion, or rethink our old one. The beatniks, who are the basic revolutionaries of our time [1967-K.C.], show a sound instinct in their affinity for Zen Buddhism, which conceives of the man-nature relationship as very nearly the mirror image of the Christian view. From Lynn White, Jr., "The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis", Science 155 (1967): 1204, 1206. For more on the natural relationship between eastern religions and environmentalism by one holding to a variation of Buddhism and an environmentalist, see the "Cult Choice" E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful.
Kevin L. Clauson, B.A., B.S., M.A. (Marshall University), J.D. (West Virginia University) is the Chairman of the Government Department at Liberty University, VA and President of Christ College, VA.
Copyright © by Covenant Community Church of Orange County 1990
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