Religion of Environmentalism 2

Michael Crichton has posted an essay about what he feels is the greatest threat in our time:

The greatest challenge facing mankind is the challenge of distinguishing reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda. Perceiving the truth has always been a challenge to mankind, but in the information age (or as I think of it, the disinformation age) it takes on a special urgency and importance.

We must daily decide whether the threats we face are real, whether the solutions we are offered will do any good, whether the problems we’re told exist are in fact real problems, or non-problems.

His comments seem particularly relevant today. In an age in which opinion seems increasingly splintered and fragmented between extreme viewpoints of the right and left, the educated, considered, comprehensive opinion seems to be an depressingly rare item. The raw amount of data generated by all sides in any debate forces an objective individual to wade through an enormous selection of materials in order to make an opinion, an activity which individuals increasingly do not have the time to do for every issue that may effect our society.

Crichton uses environmental activism as a case in point. While not against the goals of sustainable living, he takes issues with some of the positions and rationales behind them adopted by the environmental movement.

As an example of this challenge, I want to talk today about environmentalism. And in order not to be misunderstood, I want it perfectly clear that I believe it is incumbent on us to conduct our lives in a way that takes into account all the consequences of our actions, including the consequences to other people, and the consequences to the environment. I believe it is important to act in ways that are sympathetic to the environment, and I believe this will always be a need, carrying into the future. I believe the world has genuine problems and I believe it can and should be improved. But I also think that deciding what constitutes responsible action is immensely difficult, and the consequences of our actions are often difficult to know in advance. I think our past record of environmental action is discouraging, to put it mildly, because even our best intended efforts often go awry. But I think we do not recognize our past failures, and face them squarely. And I think I know why.

Crichton argues that an increasingly urban society with little practical knowledge or in many cases respect for the reality of nature has romanticized both our pre-technological past, and our ability to impact, understand, and control the vast ecosystem of interlocking systems that represents our environment.

There is no Eden. There never was. What was that Eden of the wonderful mythic past? Is it the time when infant mortality was 80%, when four children in five died of disease before the age of five? When one woman in six died in childbirth? When the average lifespan was 40, as it was in America a century ago. When plagues swept across the planet, killing millions in a stroke. Was it when millions starved to death? Is that when it was Eden?

Take a trek through the jungles of Borneo, and in short order you will have festering sores on your skin, you’ll have bugs all over your body, biting in your hair, crawling up your nose and into your ears, you’ll have infections and sickness and if you’re not with somebody who knows what they’re doing, you’ll quickly starve to death. But chances are that even in the jungles of Borneo you won’t experience nature so directly, because you will have covered your entire body with DEET and you will be doing everything you can to keep those bugs off you.

One way to measure the prevalence of fantasy is to note the number of people who die because they haven’t the least knowledge of how nature really is. They stand beside wild animals, like buffalo, for a picture and get trampled to death; they climb a mountain in dicey weather without proper gear, and freeze to death. They drown in the surf on holiday because they can’t conceive the real power of what we blithely call “the force of nature.” They have seen the ocean. But they haven’t been in it.

The television generation expects nature to act the way they want it to be. They think all life experiences can be tivo-ed. The notion that the natural world obeys its own rules and doesn’t give a damn about your expectations comes as a massive shock. Well-to-do, educated people in an urban environment experience the ability to fashion their daily lives as they wish. They buy clothes that suit their taste, and decorate their apartments as they wish. Within limits, they can contrive a daily urban world that pleases them.

But the natural world is not so malleable. On the contrary, it will demand that you adapt to it-and if you don’t, you die. It is a harsh, powerful, and unforgiving world, that most urban westerners have never experienced.

Crichton then goes on to argue that a reform of the environmental movement is required, to chain the goals of the movement to the criteria of thoughtfulness and reasonable proof. All in all it is a thought provoking call for reform in a movement that has been so strident at calling for reform.

2 thoughts on “Religion of Environmentalism

  1. Jim Norton Dec 27,2003 10:36 am

    All Crichton’s claims have been made before, and most of them have been debunked. RACHEL’S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY #406, back in 1994, wrote:

    MYTH No. 9: Environmentalists essentially practice pagan tree worship. Environmentalists are disconnected from what’s important to people. They’re anti-God and anti-American.

    FACT: This argument is based in as little truth as the absurd McCarthy-era witch hunts of the 1950s with suspected “communists” lurking behind every door. Today, more than 80 percent of Americans consider themselves “environmentalists,” and
    conservation is as patriotic as motherhood and apple pie. The conservation ethic has its foundation in Judeo-Christian faiths. The Book of Genesis tells of God giving humankind
    dominion over his creation. Those who suggest destroying natural resources destroy not only God’s gift, but the resources
    essential to the survival of humankind.

  2. Jason Shao Dec 30,2003 1:36 am

    I’m not arguing that the environmental movement is the same as tree worship, and to be honest I haven’t had the chance to research Crichton’s specific examples. If you have sources, I would love to read them.

    What I am saying is that environmentalism as a movement needs to become more pragmatic. Mercury in water is bad, but how low do we need to go? Many would say “as low as possible” but there are real costs to doing so. Why not spend that money feeding the poor? Caring for the sick? Which species are important to protect, and which are marginally different and might have died out anyway?

    In many ways I think environmentalism seems to look at the Earth as a static, unchanging place, placing any changes at mankind’s feet. In my view this misses the whole point, that the Earth is alive, and thus constantly changing.

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