Allow me to supply the “footprint”—more accurately, the massive crater—of evidence concerning the nature of environmentalism that is to be found in my book Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics. I will do so by quoting a few relevant passages from it. These are passages that are replete with verified references to statements by prominent environmentalists. They also contain a fundamental logical argument demonstrating implicit endorsement of those statements by everyone who accepts the basic environmentalist premise of an intrinsic value of nature.
Mr. McCaffrey simply ignores these passages, the statements they quote, the proof of the existence of the statements, and the logical argument demonstrating the applicability of the statements quoted to the whole of the environmental movement insofar as it proceeds on the premise of nature’s intrinsic value. Instead, he arbitrarily decides that statements that demonstrate the actual nature of environmentalism are simply to be disregarded, allegedly representing mere “exaggeration for literary and pedagogical effect” (p. 139). In effect, he argues, they’re only a kind of joke, not meant to be taken seriously. In this way, he gives environmentalism a free pass, as it were, on its expressions of a desire for mass human death and of enjoyment at the prospect of human terror. He then claims that he’s left looking for a “footprint” of something that in his mind does not exist for no other reason than that he’s decided to ignore its existence.
Here are the passages. They constitute a subsection of my book, titled “The Toxicity of Environmentalism and the Alleged Intrinsic Value of Nature (pp. 80-83).”
“The environmental movement’s blindness to the value of industrial civilization is matched only by the blindness of the general public toward the nature of the environmental movement’s own actual values. Those values explain the movement’s hostility to industrial civilization, including its perversion of the concept of efficiency. They are not known to most people, because the environmental movement has succeeded in focusing the public’s attention on absolutely trivial, indeed, nonexistent dangers, and away from the enormous actual danger it itself represents.
“Thus, not so long ago, as a result of the influence of the environmental movement, a popular imported mineral water was removed from the market because tests showed that samples of it contained thirty-five parts per billion of benzene. Although this was an amount so small that not many years ago it would have been impossible even to detect, it was assumed that considerations of public health required withdrawal of the product.
“Such a case, of course, is not unusual nowadays. The presence of parts per billion of a toxic substance is routinely extrapolated into being regarded as a cause of human deaths. And whenever the number of projected deaths exceeds one in a million (or less), environmentalists demand that the government remove the offending pesticide, preservative, or other alleged bearer of toxic pollution from the market. They do so, even though a level of risk of one in a million is one-third as great as that of an airplane falling from the sky on one’s home.
“While it is not necessary to question the good intentions and sincerity of the overwhelming majority of the rank-and-file members of the environmental or ecology movement, it is vital that the public realize that in this movement itself, which is so widely regarded as noble and lofty, can be found more than a little evidence of the most profound toxicity—evidence provided by leaders of the movement themselves, and in the clearest possible terms. Consider, for example, the following quotation from David M. Graber, a research biologist with the National Park Service, in his prominently featured Los Angeles Times book review of Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature:
This [man’s “remaking the earth by degrees”] makes what is happening no less tragic for those of us who value wildness for its own sake, not for what value it confers upon mankind. I, for one, cannot wish upon either my children or the rest of Earth’s biota a tame planet, be it monstrous or—however unlikely—benign. McKibben is a biocentrist, and so am I. We are not interested in the utility of a particular species or free-flowing river, or ecosystem, to mankind. They have intrinsic value, more value—to me—than another human body, or a billion of“While Mr. Graber openly wishes for the death of a billion people, Mr. McKibben, the author he reviewed, quotes with approval John Muir’s benediction to alligators, describing it as a ‘good epigram’ for his own, ‘humble approach’: ‘Honorable representatives of the great saurians of older creation, may you long enjoy your lilies and rushes, and be blessed now and then with a mouthful of terror-stricken man by way of a dainty!’41 [41. Bill McKibben, The End of Nature (New York: Random House, 1989), p. 176.]
Human happiness, and certainly human fecundity, are not as important as a wild and healthy planet. I know social scientists who remind me that people are part of nature, but it isn’t true. Somewhere along the line—at about a billion years ago, maybe half that—we quit the contract and became a cancer. We have become a plague upon ourselves and upon the Earth.
It is cosmically unlikely that the developed world will choose to end its orgy of fossil-energy consumption, and the Third World its suicidal consumption of landscape. Until such time as Homo sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along.40 [40. Los Angeles Times Book Review, Sunday, October 22, 1989, p. 9.]
“Such statements represent pure, unadulterated poison. They express ideas and wishes that, if acted upon, would mean terror and death for enormous numbers of human beings. These statements, and others like them, are made by prominent members of the environmental movement.42 [42. Another example is that of Christopher Manes, the author of Green Rage: Radical Environmentalism and the Unmaking of Civilization (Boston: Little, Brown, 1990). He and the Earth First! organization he supports regard famine in Africa and the spread of AIDS as environmentally beneficial developments. The founder of Earth First!, David Foreman, has described mankind ‘as a cancer on nature,’ and has said, ‘I am the antibody’ (in New York Times Book Review, Sunday, July 29, 1990, p. 22). Another representative of Earth First! writes: ‘Only a very few of human pathogens are shared by other partners on our planet. Biological warfare will have no impact on other creatures, big or small, if we design it carefully’ (in Forbes, October 29, 1990, pp. 96–97). And Paul Ehrlich, one of the oldest and most prominent leaders of the environmental movement, who is supposedly entirely respectable, criticizes the ‘preoccupation with death control,’ by which he means, ‘preoccupation with the problems and diseases of middle age.’ In his view, such preoccupation, and its consequent lengthening of human life expectancy, ‘will lead to disaster.’ (Ehrlich, The Population Bomb [New York: Ballantine Books, 1968], p. 91).]
“The significance of such statements cannot be diminished by ascribing them only to a small fringe of the environmental movement. Indeed, even if such views were indicative of the thinking only of 5 or 10 percent of the members of the environmental movement—the “deep ecology,” Earth First! wing—they would represent toxicity in the environmental movement as a whole not at the level of parts per billion or even parts per million, but at the level of parts per hundred, which, of course, is an enormously higher level of toxicity than what is deemed to constitute a danger to human life in virtually every other case in which deadly poison is present.
“But the toxicity level of the environmental movement as a whole is much greater even than parts per hundred. It is certainly at least at the level of several parts per ten. This is obvious from the fact that the mainstream of the environmental movement makes no fundamental or significant criticisms of the likes of Messrs. Graber and McKibben. Indeed, John Muir, whose wish for alligators to ‘be blessed now and then with a mouthful of terror-stricken man by way of a dainty’ McKibben approvingly quotes, was the founder of the Sierra Club, which is proud to acknowledge that fact. The Sierra Club, of course, is the leading environmental organization and is supposedly the most respectable of them.
“There is something much more important than the Sierra Club’s genealogy, however—something which provides an explanation in terms of basic principle of why the mainstream of the ecology movement does not attack what might be thought to be merely its fringe. This is a fundamental philosophical premise which the mainstream of the movement shares with the alleged fringe and which logically implies hatred for man and his achievements. Namely, the premise that nature possesses intrinsic value—that is, that nature is valuable in and of itself, apart from all contribution to human life and well-being.
“The antihuman premise of nature’s intrinsic value goes back, in the Western world, as far as St. Francis of Assisi, who believed in the equality of all living creatures: man, cattle, birds, fish, and reptiles. Indeed, precisely on the basis of this philosophical affinity, and at the wish of the mainstream of the ecology movement, St. Francis of Assisi has been officially declared the patron saint of ecology by the Roman Catholic church.
“The premise of nature’s intrinsic value extends to an alleged intrinsic value of forests, rivers, canyons, and hillsides—to everything and anything that is not man. Its influence is present in the Congress of the United States, in such statements as that made by Representative Morris Udall of Arizona: to wit, that a frozen, barren desert in Northern Alaska, where substantial oil deposits appear to exist, is ‘a sacred place’ that should never be given over to oil rigs and pipelines. It is present in the supporting statement of a representative of the Wilderness Society that ‘There is a need to protect the land not just for wildlife and human recreation, but just to have it there.’43 [43. New York Times, August 30, 1990, pp. A1, C15.] It has, of course, also been present in the sacrifice of the interests of human beings for the sake of snail darters and spotted owls.
“The idea of nature’s intrinsic value inexorably implies a desire to destroy man and his works because it implies a perception of man as the systematic destroyer of the good, and thus as the systematic doer of evil. Just as man perceives coyotes, wolves, and rattlesnakes as evil because they regularly destroy the cattle and sheep he values as sources of food and clothing, so on the premise of nature’s intrinsic value, the environmentalists view man as evil, because, in the pursuit of his well-being, man systematically destroys the wildlife, jungles, and rock formations that the environmentalists hold to be intrinsically valuable. Indeed, from the perspective of such alleged intrinsic values of nature, the degree of man’s alleged destructiveness and evil is directly in proportion to his loyalty to his essential nature. Man is the rational being. It is his application of his reason in the form of science, technology, and an industrial civilization that enables him to act on nature on the enormous scale on which he now does. Thus, it is his possession and use of reason—manifested in his technology and industry—for which he is hated.
“Indeed, the doctrine of intrinsic value implies that man is to regard himself as profaning the sacredness of nature by virtue of his very existence, because with every breath he draws and every step he takes he cannot help but disturb something or other of alleged intrinsic value. Thus, if man is not to extinguish his existence altogether, he is obliged by the doctrine of intrinsic value to minimize his existence by minimizing his impact on the rest of the world, and to feel guilty for every action he takes in support of his existence.
“The doctrine of intrinsic value is itself, of course, only a rationalization for a preexisting hatred of man. It is invoked not because one attaches any actual value to what is alleged to have intrinsic value, but simply to serve as a pretext for denying values to man. For example, caribou feed upon vegetation, wolves eat caribou, and microbes attack wolves. Each of these, the vegetation, the caribou, the wolves, and the microbes, is alleged by the environmentalists to possess intrinsic value. Yet absolutely no course of action is indicated for man. Should man act to protect the intrinsic value of the vegetation from destruction by the caribou? Should he act to protect the intrinsic value of the caribou from destruction by the wolves? Should he act to protect the intrinsic value of the wolves from destruction by the microbes? Even though each of these alleged intrinsic values is at stake, man is not called upon to do anything. When does the doctrine of intrinsic value serve as a guide to what man should do? Only when man comes to attach value to something. Then it is invoked to deny him the value he seeks. For example, the intrinsic value of the vegetation et al. is invoked as a guide to man’s action only when there is something man wants, such as oil, and then, as in the case of Northern Alaska, its invocation serves to stop him from having it. In other words, the doctrine of intrinsic value is nothing but a doctrine of the negation of human values. It is pure nihilism.”
And it is the philosophical sum and substance of environmentalism.
Summary and Conclusion
All of the above serves as the clearest possible refutation of McCaffrey’s claim that “when discussing all the hatred and vitriol which supposedly flows from the environmental movement, Reisman’s claims are rarely substantiated with textual evidence. We must simply take Reisman at his word when he states that the environmental movement believes this or that. Even worse, we are not even given criteria to judge the relative weight of any reference Reisman makes to the environmental literature.”
As I said at the beginning, Mr. McCaffrey simply ignores the passages from my book that I have reproduced, the statements they quote, the proof of the existence of the statements, and the logical argument demonstrating the applicability of the statements quoted to the whole of the environmental movement insofar as it proceeds on the premise of nature’s intrinsic value. The premise of nature’s intrinsic value constitutes the intellectual equivalent of a steel cable, as it were, which ties virtually the whole of the environmental movement to the collection of concrete blocks constituted by its effusions of hatred for the human race. The connection is such that it makes my references “to the environmental literature” carry a weight sufficient to sink the whole movement. McCaffrey obviously does not understand this and does not want to understand it.
As I have shown, McCaffrey arbitrarily decides that statements that demonstrate the actual nature of environmentalism are simply to be disregarded, allegedly representing mere “exaggeration for literary and pedagogical effect.” In effect, he argues, they’re only a kind of joke, not meant to be taken seriously. In this way, he gives environmentalism a free pass, as it were, on its expressions of a desire for mass human death and of enjoyment at the prospect of human terror. He then claims that he’s left looking for a “footprint” of something that in his mind does not exist for no other reason than that he’s decided to ignore both its existence and the fact that it permeates the environmental movement. In this way, he pretends to have a hard time finding something that’s blatantly obvious. His difficulty is the result of nothing but his own choice not to see.
Mr. McCaffrey’s claims here are simply untrue. They are so profoundly in contradiction of the facts, that they make it difficult to believe that he ever even bothered to read the passages I have quoted from my book, which he certainly had a responsibility to read.
The suspicion that McCaffrey did not read those passages is reinforced by a comment of his in a footnote: “Reisman does occasionally temper his criticisms of environmentalism with qualifying statements to the effect that not all environmentalists are ‘poison’ (1996, p. 81, 82–83), proposing instead the odd claim that only ‘several parts per ten’ are poisonous (p. 138, n. 20).’” If it came out the blue, so to speak, a reference to “several parts per ten” would, indeed, seem odd. But it clearly did not come out of the blue. It was made in the context of a discussion that here and there referred to toxicity levels of varying degrees of concentration. Describing matters in such terms would have seemed odd only to someone who was not aware of the context established by that discussion, which Mr. McCaffrey apparently was not. Mr. McCaffrey has placed himself in the unfortunate position of literally not knowing what he is talking about, for the simple reason that never took the trouble to find out.
Interestingly, the rest of McCaffrey’s footnote serves both to reinforce the conclusion that he did not bother to read what he should have read, and to raise the further question of whether McCaffrey even understands the nature of swallowing poison. He appears to think that it is unclear why swallowing a drink that is poison at the level of 3 or 4 parts per 10, might not allow one to swallow nutrition at the level of 6 or 7 parts per 10 instead. He writes: “Yet even this qualification belies his ultimate conclusion: ‘The problem is that the mixture is poisonous. And thus, when one swallows environmentalism, one inescapably swallows poison’ (1996, p. 82). It is not clear why accepting environmentalist principles necessitates accepting bad principles at the expense of good, and not, for example, the other way around.” I do not believe that it is possible for anyone to have read the relevant passages of my book and for this not be clear.
There are various other claims that Mr. McCaffrey makes in his article, and which constitute the rest of its substance, that are equally incorrect. But they appear to be the product merely of confused thinking, plain ignorance, and insufficient powers of analysis on his part, rather than any obvious, blatant contradiction of readily available facts. However, it would be an unprofitable use of my and my readers’ time to attempt to unravel them, since they are likely to so little noticed by the world as to leave Mr. McCaffrey as the sole beneficiary of the process, an outcome to which I feel no need to contribute.
*George Reisman, Ph.D., is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics, Senior Fellow at the Goldwater Institute, and the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996; Kindle Edition, 2012). His website is www.capitalism.net.