Anti-Humanism Infects Environmental Movement

Original Article

The environmental movement has long indulged a tinge of misanthropy at the fringes. For example, advocates for a “deep ecology” argue that each facet of the natural world (including humans) are equal, and must be given “equal consideration” when reaping the bounty of the land.

Deep ecologists adamantly oppose our materially prospering from the exploitation of natural resources. Indeed, they demand that we sacrifice our own material thriving in order to make common cause with flora and fauna. Deep ecology even advocates for a collapse of human population to one billion. Alas, such explicit anti-humanism has chewed its way from the radical edges to the environmental mainstream in both its advocacy and policy agendas, all in the name of “saving the planet.”

This problem is epitomized vividly by Noah, Darren Arnofsky’s radical environmentalist film. Arnofsky’s “Creator” doesn’t decide to destroy humanity because of man’s unrighteousness, but to — yes — save the earth. You see, after being kicked out of Eden, man became industrial: strip mining minerals, exhausting the soil, and generally despoiling the environment. Noah’s family is not to “be fruitful and multiply,” but to save the animals and die off so that Earth can again become a paradise.

Such anti-humanism has become the norm in contemporary environmentalism. Sir David Attenborough, for example, has called humans “a plague on the earth.” Similarly, the environmentalist rock star David Suzuki has called human beings “maggots” who crawl around “defecating all over the environment.” These antihuman ideas are deployed to convince us to adopt human-harming public policies. Reasonable people can differ on the persuasiveness of the evidence for man-caused global warming. But surely, human flourishing should not be sacrificed in the cause.

Yet, that’s precisely the future for which many warming alarmists yearn. Thus, a 2009 article in the New Yorker by David Owen promoted economic decline. Owen lauded a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions caused by the worldwide recession. But he worried that “the environmental benefits of economic decline, though real, are fragile because they are vulnerable to intervention by governments…which want to put people back to work.” Owen argued that saving the earth from overheating would require us to “accept policies that push us back toward the [economic] abyss.”

That’s exactly what will happen if we grant flora and fauna the “right to exist, persist, maintain, and regenerate vital cycles,” as advocated by the “nature rights” movement. Taking a page out of the Deep Ecology playbook, activists argue that nature be given equal consideration to the needs of humans whenever we want to develop the land. The economic consequences of such a policy should be obvious.

Bolivia and Ecuador, as well as some 30 U.S. municipalities legally recognize nature rights. Demonstrating its mainstream appeal, U.N. secretary general Ban-ki Moon favors the idea.

If nature rights can be envisioned as a shield against resource development, the fast-growing “ecocide” movement is the sword that would punish it. Ecocide would criminalize large-scale development as the “fifth crime against peace,” an evil deemed equivalent by its advocates to genocide. The Eradicating Ecocide Global Initiative website says: “Ecocide is the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.” Note that “peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants” includes everything from grass, fish, and insects to mice, snakes, and people.

Switzerland has declared the intrinsic dignity of individual plants in its constitution. A river in New Zealand has been granted full rights of “personhood,” as an “integrated, living whole.” The Department of Interior refused to permit residents of the remote Alaskan fishing town of King Cove to cut a one-lane gravel road through the wilderness for use in emergency medical evacuations. Why? Because Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said, “I have to listen to the animals.”

Anti-human environmentalists have declared war on humans, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us should meekly go along. We are not cancers! We should oppose Green anti-humanism wherever it is advocated precisely because we support good earth stewardship policies that promote liberty and allow us to reach the level of prosperity required to properly protect the environment.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.