At its best, the environmental movement is based on evidence, balances benefits with costs, and focuses on the good of humanity. This is just common sense, the classic values of prudence and conservatism. But, as with the Romantic-era critics of the Industrial Revolution, there is no small amount of aesthetics and even religion at the root of modern environmentalism, and its manic concern for global warming and associated demands for the West to jettison its economic and material progress.
Consider the little Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, who appeared at the United Nations on Monday. She’s clearly out of her element, having a bad time, and doesn’t really have much to say. But this media-generated global warming crusade has turned her into a modern-day Joan of Arc. We’re supposed to recognize her as possessing some deep insight into things, instead of realizing, like sensible people, that she is merely the mouthpiece for her narcissistic parents.
I’ve never met an actual person who holds Thunberg on this pedestal, but the media is memeing her fame into existence.
Similarly, we’re constantly called to undertake small pieties for the sake of the environment, enduring crappy straws and separating trash, even though massive pollution and CO2 production is coming from China and India and other parts of the third world.
It’s now gotten bad enough that presidential candidate Andrew Yang says beef should be taxed so that it’s prohibitively expensive. These policies are less about having positive effects on the earth as they are about enforcing effects on the individual—a reminder he is subject to a wise and benevolent managerial class.
What is missing from the discussion of the environment is the only measuring stick that would keep it from going off the rails: prioritizing the flourishing of human beings, particularly our countrymen.
If environmental cures have little to do with the good of man, there is little reason for man to adopt them. People like their cars, air conditioning, long life spans, first world medicine, straws, and meat. Millionaires like Leonardo DiCaprio won’t get rid of their yachts and private islands, even though they spend a lot of time lecturing the rest of us about eating bugs and not using straws.
Human flourishing and a sense of stewardship are perennial Western principles derived from Christian accounts of creation. In Genesis, when God made the earth and its plants and animals, he did so for the good of man, and man had dominion over them. The other extremes, whether pagan pantheism or atheist materialism, place the earth too high or too low in the scale of values, and misplace man accordingly. Men embedded within a civilization that is supposed to endure and control the earth properly conceive of themselves as caretakers for future generations and the world they will inherit.
Once upon a time, population control figured prominently in environmentalism. The Left became uneasy with it because of its association with eugenics and the implicit judgment in it of other, especially fecund, cultures. Conservatives became uneasy because population control can easily morph into the death culture of abortion and euthanasia. But just because the unborn should not be murdered and the elderly should be cared for, it does not follow that massive population growth is always and everywhere a good thing. A sensible environmentalism focused on the good of a people in our own corner of this earth would have to ask things like, “Will a bigger population be good for us?” And, “Is it good for us or the environment that the population grows artificially through the mass introduction of foreigners?”
Environmentalists often castigate the profligate Western world as a wasteful over-user of resources. This is unfair. While we are blessed by the infrastructure and culture provided by our ancestors, our resource use is relatively stable because our population is stable . . . . but for immigration.
If the western way of life is unsustainable and overuses resources, why would the same environmentalists support an immigration regime that transports billions from the fertile—though impoverished—Third World so they can be good consumers in the western world? Wouldn’t it be best if they followed the West’s example and had smaller families and, even better still, did so while remaining in the “low carbon footprint” places whence they come.
Even if you don’t buy the carbon footprint argument—and I’m very skeptical—there is no doubt that a growing population is often bad for our environment. Forests are razed, open spaces in decline, and we all must deal with the traffic and other problems associated with congestion. Among other impacts, billions of birds have disappeared from North America, in part due to habitat depletion.
Let’s be honest, a growing, consumerist America is not made more beautiful by a growing population, but often resembles a hypercapitalist hellscape. As Burke reminded us, for us to love our country, it ought to be lovely.
Stewardship over the environment is a conservative value. But the current environmental movement is not about stewardship. It has many dimensions—a displaced religious impulse, hostility to the western world, love of government control—but its lack of fidelity even to its own stated principles is manifest. True environmentalism would not arbitrarily decide on winners and losers between the first and third world, demand smaller families here while subsidizing larger families overseas, nor would it be so studiously indifferent to the combined impact of third world population growth and mass migration.
There are many dimensions to human flourishing, including the moral, social, political and ethical environments.
Of course, we shouldn’t be indifferent to the physical environment. Most conservatives recognize the impact of smog, species loss, polluted rivers and streams, litter, and other kinds of tangible harms to our physical environment.
We should preserve open spaces, wild animals, and clean air and water, not only for ourselves, but for future generations. But if that’s the case, we should be asking, what will be the impact on our environment, as well as the global environment, if the world’s population doubles in the next 50 years, with much of that growth coming from Africa and Asia.
Even more important, what will the impact on the world’s and our own environment be if even a fraction of those people decide to move here?