The enviro-optimist believes in the human right to modify, improve, change or control the natural environment in order to make the world a better place. The eco- pessimist, on the other hand, fears that any human meddling with the natural order of things will damage the environment. Who hasn’t heard it endlessly repeated, even in selling everything from butter to face cream, “Natural is always the best;” “You can’t improve on mother nature.”
The fact is, of course, that humans started improving on what mother nature gave them as soon as they covered their furless bodies with animal skins and used fire to cook food and warm the campsite. Humans made another great change in the natural order of things when they started to domesticate animals for milk, meat, clothing and transport. Another enormous change in the natural order of things occurred about 10,000 years ago when people began to cultivate food. Agriculture created human settlements and made civilization possible. This considerably changed the face of the earth.
More important than the storage of food in human settlements was the accumulation of knowledge by means of writing that was fostered in the civilization process. The pen proved to be mightier than the sword. When that pool of knowledge became large enough to create a critical mass, it exploded in a century of science, technology and unprecedented progress – in agriculture, medicine, genetics, atomic science, chemistry, engineering, harnessing electricity and other energy sources, travel, communications, information technology and much more. Man’s restless, probing, innovative and creative mind that drove him to “meddle” with the natural environment by lighting a fire, domesticating animals and planting food crops has not changed, but his ability to modify, improve, change and master the natural order has greatly accelerated.
Here is the nub of the argument between the enviro-optimists and the enviro-pessimists. It all turns on whether one is optimistic or pessimistic about the human species. What is mankind’s rightful place in the cosmic order? Is the mastery over all living things and all natural resources the inevitable destiny of the human mind? Or do humans have this fatal flaw of interference that makes them “the cancer of the earth” as the eco-pessimists keep saying?
The whole Judeo-Christian tradition rests on
the belief that at the beginning of human history, mankind was given a mandate
to achieve rule and mastery over all living things and all the resources of the
earth (See Genesis -28; Psalm 8). Included in that mandate was
the duty of care – a point that critics of this tradition tend to
overlook. The Greeks reached the same
conclusion based on a philosophy of logic. They concluded that reason is above
animal instincts and mind is immeasurably superior to matter. Western
civilization inherited the religious traditions of Judeo-Christianity and the
intellectual capital of
In his book, Infinite in all Directions, scientist/author Freeman Dyson combines the intellectual tradition of the Greeks with the facts of modern science to argue that mind is ultimately greater than all natural mysteries because it has possibilities that are infinite in all directions. Julian Simon (The Ultimate Resource) would certainly agree.
In The Greens (p.39), Senator Bob Brown scathingly attacks the Judeo-Christian roots in Western thinking, as do many of his fellow travellers in the environmental movement. By the same token, the roots of their thinking goes right back (and many of their writers are quite open about this) to the primitive nature worshippers who submitted themselves to the vegetation deities that represented the forces of nature. In this tradition, man’s proper place was to live in reverent and submissive harmony with the mother nature goddess. It is a significant historical fact that those primitive societies which clung to their nature cults made no progress and never participated in the forming of great civilizations with literature and learning. Yet this is what the eco-pessimists would prefer to lead us back to, and some of their writers openly say so.
Julian Simon, author of The Ultimate Resource, was an environmental optimist because he was passionate about humanity and its potential. On the other hand, the literature of the environmental doomsayers reeks of despair about the human species. They don’t like people and they don’t trust them. If they had their way they would control them with mass planning and co-ercion. The whole idea of free enterprise and free people is anathema to them, because as they see it, the innovative, resourceful and creative human spirit is far too dangerous to be free. The eco-pessimists are so profoundly anti-human that their real enemy is the human race.