by Dr. Tim Ball on February 7, 2011

in Atmosphere,Land,Philosophy,Politics

A tongue-in-cheek comment in my university was that if we could just get rid of the students, it would be a great place to work. Clearly, some environmentalists think if we could just get rid of all the people on the planet it would be a great place to live. Generally over-population is a major part of the environmentalists’ argument that humans are causing all the problems, including climate change. Satire is a good measure of this position typified by the bumper sticker that says, “Save the Planet, Kill Yourself.”

Relationship between population and resources has been an issue throughout history. All predictions to date were wrong, including Thomas Malthus in the 19th century, who claimed the population would outgrow the food supply. The most recent flurry of alarmism over population growth was a key piece of the ideas of the Club of Rome and the now discredited book Limits to Growth. It received momentum through Paul Ehrlich’s book The Population Bomb. The ideas were combined with sustainable development at the 1994 world conference on population in Cairo. Here it is in ‘bureaucratese’ from Section 3.1:

The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and Agenda 21, adopted by the international community at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, call for patterns of development that reflect the new understanding of these and other intersectoral linkages.

There is also general agreement that unsustainable consumption and production patterns are contributing to the unsustainable use of natural resources and environmental degradation as well as to the reinforcement of social inequities and of poverty with the above- mentioned consequences for demographic parameters.

Although the discussion was about health and development, there was little doubt the underlying theme was the need to reduce population, especially in the developing world. It was the wrong approach. The error of left-wing politics is to ignore how population declines with increased development. It’s a process called the “demographic transition” in which the death rate declines, then the birth rate declines, and population numbers decline. It is evident in every developed country, and unless supplemented by immigration, as many developed nations are now practicing, can cause other problems.

Environmentalism in its more virulent form is anti-humanity, and anti-evolution. It holds that human progress is not a natural evolution but an unnatural aberration. Ron Arnold, Executive Vice-President of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, said,

Environmentalism intends to transform government, economy, and society in order to liberate nature from human exploitation.

The 1990 Greenpeace Report on Global Warming said, “Carbon dioxide is added to the atmosphere naturally and unnaturally.” What do they mean by “unnatural”? It is a Freudian slip disclosing an underlying thought, but it also introduces a profound contradiction. If what humans do is not natural, then by inference we are not natural. If we are not natural, then by default you must conclude a greater authority put us here – but of course they don’t want that either.

Somehow evolution, survival of the fittest and the most adaptable, doesn’t apply to humans. Some actually express this view. David Graber, a research biologist with the National Park Service said,

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 – 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.

What contract and with whom? What happens if the virus wipes out Graber and his like? Perhaps Christopher Manes, the author of Green Rage, would decide because he says, “a large percentage of humanity is (an) ecological redundancy.” Getting rid of everyone permanently solves the problem – David Foreman, former chief lobbyist for the Wilderness Society, says the optimum number is zero. (Presumably he’s the last to go.)

Canadian David Suzuki, a former genetics professor might see the irony, although I doubt it. He said,

Economics is a very species–chauvinistic idea. No other species on earth – and there are may be 30 million of them – has had the nerve to put forth a concept called economics, in which one species, us, declares the right to put value on everything else on earth, in the living and non-living world.

First, he is wrong because all other species do put a value on everything else – it is food or it is not food. Doesn’t get more basic than that. Second, the 30 million number is wrong, but so are the statistics Suzuki uses about the rate of extinctions. Then it is another of those confounded species-chauvinistic ideas and doesn’t apply to those who know the truth. Suzuki traveled across Canada selling a book (how economically driven) claiming 2 species an hour were becoming extinct. I challenged him to name them and the 46 others that disappeared everyday. I suggested we have a daily obituary column lamenting them. It won’t happen, because it simply doesn’t happen. It does imply we are arrogant mass-murderers, as well as economists. Of course, no other species had the nerve or ability to develop concepts like economics. Conceptual thought is another of the evolutionary advances humans made. Or is it? Again we confront the conundrum – apparently our advances are not evolutionary; we are not playing according to the ‘natural’ rules.

The English TV comedy series Yes Minister had a wonderful episode in which the most efficient and economical hospital was one that had no patients. Well, environmentalists don’t harbor those views lightly. Ingrid Newkirk of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said,

Mankind is a cancer; we’re the biggest blight on the face of the earth. If you haven’t given voluntary human extinction much thought before, the idea of a world with no people in it may seem strange. But, if you give it a chance, I think you might agree that the extinction of Homo Sapiens would mean survival for millions if not billions, of Earth-dwelling species, Phasing out the human race will solve every problem on earth, social and environmental.

It’s too bad the dinosaurs or all the other species that became extinct long before Homo Sapiens came on the scene did not know of this.

Before you conclude Ms. Newkirk is alone in this extreme view, consider Richard Conniff’s comment in Audubon. “Among environmentalists sharing two or three beers, the notion is quite common that if only some calamity could wipe out the entire human race, other species might once again have a chance.” The Roman adage In vino veritas (“in wine, there is truth”) applies, although apparently Ms. Newkirk did not need such liquid courage.

I struggled for years with the role or function of extremists in society. I realize now their job is to define the limits of an idea or ideology. Most people are environmentalists, and we should resent those who have usurped the concept or the title. Everyone cares about the environment; the question is how far we pursue the concept. Those who are anti-humanity and anti-society, or don’t believe evolution applies to humans, have the ultimate in arrogance. Is there any other species that would advocate its own demise?