I have heavy sympathies for the environment. I was in Boy Scouts and did lots of camping and hiking (I still do a good bit of hiking). I was instrumental in getting my 8th grade yearbook to have an “environmental” theme. My Eagle Scout project was setting up an aluminum can recycling program at my church. I cut my six-pack wrappers into pieces so they don’t kill turtles or whatever.
I have solar panels on my house (I alone among all of my progressive liberal arts college classmates do). I put them up myself with literally my own blood and sweat (and Home Depot and some nice subsidies. Thanks suckers!).
I like nature and I like the fact that we as taxpayers help to support public nature spaces (public parks, State Parks, National Forests, etc.). I like that I will be leaving these things clean and usable for the next generation.
But I also have heavy sympathies for the Teddy Roosevelt “We keep healthy populations of animals around so that sometimes we can shoot them” flavor of environmentalism, what I guess you could call conservationism (from the Latin that means “to guard”).
See, I have serious misgivings that the purpose of nature is to stay exactly like it is at this moment, and I definitely don’t think that nature is there for us NOT to use for our own betterment.
Back in Boy Scouts, one of the things we had to do (for our First Class badge, I think) was to make a “useful camp gadget.” Sadly, a “pokey-stick” to beat my younger brother with did not count, and so we learned how to lash together lean-tos for shelter, tripods for cooking, bench things to sit on over pits we used as latrines, spike fences, etc..
We used ropes and sticks to build these things, and here’s the thing: using nature to build things made me feel much more “in touch” with the environment than just sitting in my tent or walking through the woods. Maybe that’s because I don’t just want to be a tourist of the nature, peeping in at its secrets like some kind of filthy pervert. I want to get my hands into it, feel the dirt under my fingernails and bends its limbs to my desires (like a, uh, filthy pervert).
Working in concert with nature, whether it’s building a fence out of cedar (the best smell ever), playing with my dog, or using snowballs to crush my enemies (or my unsuspecting wife) really makes me feel alive. It’s a friend, you know? You do stuff with your friend, you don’t just stare at it and make sure nobody ever touches it.
Nature is not some cruel Medusa wishing no interaction with the world and trying to keep all things as they are permanently. Nature likes us utilizing her, she enjoys us playing in her, with her, near her.
And similarly, we have a responsibility to help shape her and be a good steward of her. Upkeeping a park, caring for rose bushes, not littering; all of these things are a few of the roles that we play in our symbiosis with her.
But none of this means that the chronological snapshot that we have of her at this moment is how she always was or always needs to be. There’s a huge difference between outright pollution and defilement of nature and “climate change.”
Here’s the thing, I hate it when I see pollution. When someone dumps garbage in a forest, has large amounts of chemical run-off go into rivers, or puts up Wrigley Field, I get mad. The destruction of nature for the sake of destruction is an awful, terrifying thing.
On the other hand, if you told me that the place where I live in America’s Heartland was going to get more like Hawaii or California (warmer weather, more carbon dioxide and so more trees, more moisture in the seas and in the atmosphere) I’m going to have a hard time getting upset. If you tell me that some islands will become buried by water, but that large swaths of land in Canada and Russia will become arable, I’m going to see that as a positive trade off, or, at the very least, not entirely negative.
Lots of things can change in the environment: seas can rise and fall, ice can melt or expand, new lands can be opened up or covered with ice, average rainfall can go up or down. But none of these, in and of themselves, is evil or bad. They are all just changes. New land can be farmed, dykes can be built, city populations can be moved.
Sure, some of these are inconvenient, but they are not life-threatening. Only our response to them might cause injury or death.
Luckily we humans are the most adaptable, most capable of survival species in the world. No place on earth is untouched by human habitation, which means that even if the world gets warmer (or cooler), we have strategies to deal with it.
Moreover, potential difficulties encountered by humans in the future because of these changes is in no ways commensurate with the very real, very pernicious dangers proposed by many environmentalist groups. Sure, we can get rid of fossil fuels, but then a bunch of old people are going to die of heat exhaustion in the Summer or of hypothermia in the Winter. We can mandate that electricity be produced only by solar and wind power, but that really just dooms anyone who has a heart attack or needs a ventilator at night.
“But,” I hear you say, “we’ll still use fossil fuels in hospitals.” What about farming? If we go back to 1800’s-levels of farm production, who suffers? (Hint: poor people). What about transportation? What about Industry?
But the environmentalist/eugenics movement has long advocated getting rid of the poor (either through direct sterilization or feticide) for the following purposes: a) to prevent the poor from using up resources the wealthy covet, b) to make sure that most of nature remains undisturbed and permanent, like statues in a museum, and c) to make sure that only those people who are already living in wealthy nations have access to technological and industrial progress.
Maybe that’s why I’m a conservative. I don’t think the answer to poverty is sterilization or homicide, and I don’t think that nature wants us to treat her like a statue of Hera: beautiful, but remote and never to be touched.