April 22, 2005 -- Today is a religious holiday that should make us all into atheists. April 22, 2005, marks the 35th anniversary of Earth Day. For many people it's simply a day to think warm and fuzzy thoughts about clean air, crystal lakes, verdant forests and soaring eagles. Until the 1990s May Day marked the worship by the communists of an abstraction called the "workers" at the expense of real flesh-and-blood workers and every other human being on the planet. The result was human carnage.
Now Earth Day marks the worship by eco-extremists of the planet itself at the expense of all we humans who inhabit it. If the cult continues to grow, the results will be the same as that wrought by the Reds.
There is nothing wrong with individuals wanting to keep woods, flowers, ponds and the like on their own private property for their own enjoyment, nor with wanting to reduce the real, measurable damage caused to humans, for example, by air and water pollution. In any case, the worst pollution problems have pretty much been dealt with in past decades.
But today the eco-extremists have converted legitimate concerns into a cult. Tell someone you don't recycle, for example, and they treat you like someone might have a century ago if you made fun of Jesus. When recycling makes economic and environmental sense, a market develops for the recycled items and there is no need for government involvement. (As a kid I collected newspapers to sell to recycling centers to earn spending money.) But often recycling imposes millions of dollars in net costs and harms the environment. What with fleets of trucks to collect your bottles, which you're first supposed to waste water washing out, and those energy-gulping facilities that grind up or melt down the glass, it is often better just to bury the stuff.
Much has been written about the inability of environmentalists to show how many alleged problems actually harm humans. Does reducing the amount of some substance in the water from two parts per billion to one part really make any difference?
Much has been written about the bad science behind many environmental programs and serious problems those programs create for humans while delivering microscopic benefits. DDT is not the danger some made it out to be, but failure to use it to eradicate disease-carrying insects has resulted in thousands of deaths.
What requires more attention is the fundamental values problem with environmental extremism. The ultimate source and standard of all values is human life. Rocks and mud, oceans and mountains, fish and fowl are of no intrinsic worth in and of themselves. They're neither good nor evil. They just are. It is in relation to we human beings that things are of value.
The eco-extremists have converted legitimate concerns into a cult.
We must use our reasoning minds as individuals to discover the means of our survival and flourishing. An animal is of value because we can use it for food or admire its beauty. Water is of value because we can drink it or swim in it. Rocks and trees are of value because we can build houses with them for our shelter or climb them for our enjoyment. Swamps might not be of value because they are at just the spot on which we want to build a house.
And, of course, "we" does not mean some abstract collective. It means each of us as individuals. That's the point of private property. We each should be free to own and use assets for our own good as individuals.
Eco-extremists take human individuals out of the picture. They speak of the value of eco-systems, habitats and wetlands without reference to humans in general or to specific individuals who might own and make use of material assets. In effect, the eco-extremists create an Earth cult that puts humans second. Many eco-extremists now say as much openly, for example, labeling people as pollution on the planet. There's even a Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. Its creed: "Phasing out the human race by voluntarily ceasing to breed will allow Earth's biosphere to return to good health."
Most individuals who celebrate Earth Day by cleaning up trash beside the road no doubt mean well. But they and all of us must recognize that the philosophical premises on which one acts will lead inevitably to certain consequences over time whether one intends them to or not. The premises behind the eco-extremists are anti-human and, if acted on consistently, would lead to worse carnage than that wrought by communists. On Earth Day we should reflect not on the planet but on the inhabitants who can make it of value.
Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.