What makes environmentalists so hated by many conservatives? What is an environmentalist? A good definition of an environmentalist is a person who enjoys drinking clean water, breathing clean air, living in a neighborhood that is not in proximity to toxic waste. That, from my perspective, makes me an environmentalist. It also makes just about every sane American an environmentalist. These are simple goals that are not easy to implement for two basic reasons; excessive rhetoric and corporate greed.
Rhetoric, in that many of the more radical environmentalists believe that it is not possible for man to live at peace with the environment. Many of the more radical types believe that man should regress to a pre-industrial state and the needs of nature should be placed above the needs of man. Radical environmentalists have gained considerable influence in the United Nations. They have pushed for and succeeded in getting many important treaties and programs passed and implemented. These treaties include:
Biosphere Reserve Program - In existence for over 25 years, it allows the designation of large areas of land as 'biosphere reserves', as outlined in the Convention on Biodiversity. These reserves are of three different types. 1) Protected areas - basically off limits to humans in order to protect endangered species and ecosystems. 2) Buffer Zones - surrounds protected areas and are used for research, educational activities and public recreation; 3) Transition areas - described as open ended areas of cooperation where managing agencies and other with a stake in the area link the goals of economic development, conservation and cultural values.
The World Heritage Treaty - This treaty embodies the concept of linking together the conservation of nature and culture. It seeks to ensure that human cultural advancement is not done at the expense of nature. It allows for important cultural and historic monuments and areas are to be held for all mankind or the 'global commons' (that is, under UN management).
The Wildlands Project - A concept first proposed by Earth First! founder Dave Foreman, originally it was put together to help humanity 'protect and restore the evolutionary process and biodiversity'. It essentially sets apart large areas of land and prevents any human interaction, especially of an industrial nature. These areas are to be linked with corridors that allow some human activity.
The Biodiversity Treaty - Seeks to protect the earths biodiversity as defined in the treaty as "The viability among living organisms from all sources including inter-alia terrestrial marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part. This includes diversity within species between species and of ecosystems." This is a far-reaching treaty proposed in Rio in 1992. The treaty includes provisions for monitoring and dispute arbitration.
The Desertification Treaty - seeks to curb the degradation of arid land on a global scale. Establishes national, regional and sub-regional frameworks and programs to counter this phenomenon. Areas to be considered are dry lands, semi-arid grasslands as well as deserts. It also seeks to prevent the long-term consequences of desertification, such as mass migration, animal and plant life extinction and climate change.
The Kyoto Accords - Also know as the 'Global Warming' Treaty. Presupposes a controversial scientific view that the Earth is warming and that the cause is mankinds impact on nature. The treaty inhibits industrial development in Western nations by curbing investment in the developed world, and encourages development in the developing and third world without the same environmental protections that already exist in the developed world. Critics argue that the treaty would not decrease global warming or pollution, as large industrial corporations would simply shift from nations like the US, that have fairly strong environmental laws, to nations that have little or no environmental protections and where according to the same treaty, the same type of development is allowed.
These treaties have had an enormous impact of the entire concept of property rights as many have discovered first hand. Private land has been seized, quarantined, water denied inhabitants of ecologically sensitive regions. Many people have discovered first hand just how real the impact of these treaties is and how much real power the environmental lobby has gained. These and many other projects and public policies are having an impact on how and where people are allowed to live. Many feel these measures are necessary in order to have what is known as sustainable development. This is one of the major concepts behind major movements in modern environmentalism. As the Earths population continues to grow, resources are becoming increasingly scarce. The question is: how does civilization continue to progress, provide for the human needs of its ever increasing population, deal with the depletion of the Earth's resources and at the same time, provide clean air, water, and environment that is safe, livable and sustainable?
It is time to evade the usual hyperbole, evasion and doctrinal biases and embrace a balanced view of what environmentalism is and is not. But first we must gain a little perspective as to who is pushing what agenda. For our purposes here, we will link the issues of environmentalism and increasing population. When dealing with the issue of environmentalism, extremism seems to rule the dialogue rather than reason. Activists traditionally on the left shout at those on the right and cast dispersions on them, casting conservatives, major corporations in the role of polluters and the primary impediment towards progress. It views Corporate America and its use of its vast financial resources, as a primary hindrance in solving the earths increasing environmental and population problems. Those on the right often view the more vocal and adamant environmentalists as luddites who wish to push the world, technology and progress to a pre-industrial age, or view them as Malthusian1 maniacs who wish to elevate nature above man and would save a sucker fish before they would help their fellow man. While the existence of individuals who may fit these extremes may exist, it is incumbent on us not to be sidetracked by these mutually disparaging views.
However those on the left are correct in believing that corporations need to be held accountable for actions that seriously harm the environment. Examples of corporate pollution, driven by greed and a disregard for the health, well-being, and quality of life for their consumers, neighbors and employees are abundant. Lawsuits have shown clearly that, many corporations have shown a reckless disregard for human life when it comes to environmental issues. Toxic waste being dumped into water supplies, illegally dumped dangerous materials poisoning the land, exceeding clean air standards... the list goes on. Much of the contempt that environmentalists have for corporate America has been well earned.
Yet to rail irresponsibly against modern corporations is to rail against the enormous progress that has been made as a direct the result of corporate innovation. It rails against millions of Americans who earn their livelihood from these economic behemoths. It is also, as many of environmental groups have discovered, a largely losing battle. Is does not come without at least some victories, but it is a battle that keeps the status. power and presence of the modern corporation largely in place. Common sense environmentalism is at an important crossroads, as it must make its voice heard to the world at large but the 'voice of the people' or more correctly, the mass media, is controlled by the perceived antagonists in the battle, the multinational corporations.
The Environmental movement needs to take into account harsh realities of the debate, namely that money can buy support or at least silence many who can and would like to contribute to the debate, But because most Americans work for a large corporation and because over 90% of the mainstream media is directly controlled by a multi-billion dollar corporation and are heavily influenced by the advertising dollars that come from corporations, the real debate will only take place in the general public on terms set down by the corporations.
The Future of our rights as human beings to reproduce, own property, and live in a healthy world will depend on how that debate is finally settled.
1 Named after a British economist who wrote An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), arguing that population tends to increase faster than food supply, with inevitably disastrous results, unless the increase in population is checked by moral restraints or by war, famine, and disease.