Going green for the wrong reasons

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September 16, 2010

9:54 PM

I am a humanist, a lover of people, and I am an anti-environmentalist. That does not mean I am a proponent of pollution or climate change, since neither would be a benefit to humanity or to me. By environmentalism, I mean the philosophy that places the welfare of nature and animals above the welfare of human beings. Environmentalists justify their claims through morality, makes them think they are morally elevated over the rest of us who are concerned primarily with our own human interests. Yet, most of us take it at face value that they are right, that our natural ways of thinking are wrong, and that to be an environmentalist is to take on a moral, ethical cause. We should ask: How can a philosophy that is inimical to human progress and survival be considered moral? Let me clarify with an example with which we all are familiar, especially as residents of the City of Williamsburg. Assume that the College of William and Mary officials decide that we should build another Residence hall in the woods surrounding Lake Matoaka.

This would be great for students at the College who could look forward to more favorable housing, for the architect chosen to design the building, for whichever construction company is contracted to build it, for the employees of the construction company — the employees’ families — and for the economy. However, there would arise a cry from the environmentalists, whom we have been taught we must listen to, scolding us not to harm the trees, dig up the ground, or destroy the habitats of the animals that live there. Why not? Their answer is simple: They wish to preserve it for future generations, and we should respect the lives of the animals that call the woods their home.

As for future generations, how can you logically ascribe rights to people who have not been born yet? Shouldn’t the people living now be able to make use of their resources and transform their environments to their needs? As for the animals, we have a right to their homes because they don’t have homes, they have habitats. Animals adapt to their environments; man must create his own. Nature does not provide man with anything previously listed; it is, to an extent, anti-human. If you don’t believe me, ask someone who’s homeless. If people respected nature to the extent that environmentalists advocate, humanity would have stagnated in the Stone Age.

Now there is more to environmentalism than just building things. One has to consider clothing, recycling, what we eat, where our food comes from, and the ways through which the food was processed to be ready for consumption. All of those issues are highly relevant and require another article to give them sufficient analytical criticism. My sense of ecology and environmentalism — as a science, not as a philosophy — is not to present a sense of obligation or moral duty, but to evaluate it using a system of hierarchical values. By values, I mean that which you would act to gain or to keep. Depending on where ecological health stands on your hierarchy, you will be willing to invest more or less effort in it. The idea is not to think of environmental science as a sacrifice or to give up something of a higher value for a lesser non-value, but instead as a value for which you have a selfish investment. The next question to ask then, is how do we find value in something that, at first glance, seems to have no obvious value except to change it? The answer is to attribute value to it based on the virtues that you have and that are reflected by nature. It is not enough to say that because it is pretty, it needs to be preserved. I value independence, individuality and self-sustainability —virtues that I admire in others — as well the environment. So, to an extent, based on my own standard of hierarchal values I have a moral responsibility to the environment, not because some eco-moralist thinks I should.

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