Radical Environmentalism: Nature’s Worst Enemy?

In the past, radical environmentalists on the left have rarely proposed any serious solution to environmental destruction. More often than not, their “solutions” amount to little more than feel-good policies that create as many significant problems as they purport to solve, for both man and nature.

For instance, in the early 1960s some developing countries in Africa “had nearly wiped out malaria” by using a chemical called DDT. Then in 1962 Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, marking the birth of the modern environmental movement of the left. Silent Spring vilified pesticides like DDT, and indirectly those who used them, as killers of both wildlife and nature. Environmentalists subsequently led a crusade to ban the use of DDT and largely succeeded. This environmental “victory” cost millions of human lives.

As early as 2006, malaria was killing about one million people per year, mainly children in Africa. From 1996, when South Africa banned the use of DDT, to 2000, the total number of malaria cases in the country jumped from about 30,000 to almost 65,000 and malaria-related deaths went from 163 per year to 458. In 2000, South Africa again began using DDT to fight malaria, and by 2006 (the most recent data available) malaria cases had dropped to about 12,000 and deaths totaled 83.

Due to the inhumane results of the environmentalist-driven ban on DDT, the World Health Organization switched its position on DDT in 2006 and began to encourage the use of the chemical.

Today, as evidenced by several recent news reports, the modern environmental movement continues to come up with environmental policy “solutions” whose defining feature is to create more problems for nature and mankind.

For conservative observers of the modern environmental movement on the left, the fact that environmental policy “solutions” are yielding such poor results should come as no surprise. This is what happens when we base public policy on ideals that are divorced from human reality. (For a deeper discussion of this aspect of modern environmentalist thought, read the Sutherland essay Getting the Environment Right.)

Radical environmental thinkers craft policy ideas using an intellectual framework that is based on fiction. For instance, most thinking people realize that, inevitably, some of the environmental impacts of human progress will be negative. This truth is a product of a human reality in which everything people do as they progress in life interacts both with other people and the environment around them. Some things we do will be good for nature, and some won’t.

But this is a fact of human existence that radical environmentalists such as Rachel Carson, in the words of her biographer, “refused to accept.”[i] Grounded in their fantasy that the human race can live in perfect harmony with nature, radical environmentalists come up with a wish list of policies to “save the planet.” But these utopian ideas must then be applied to human reality, in which there is sometimes a tradeoff between environmental harmony and human progress – even in the pursuit of “environmentally friendly” policies like encouraging renewable-energy development.

When you approach environmental policy from such an unrealistic perspective, you are going to create unintended consequences that will harm both the environment and human beings. What’s more, if you make naïveté a foundational aspect of your worldview and policy thinking, you will rarely, if ever, be able to realize how your ideas will impact the real world and the people living in it. This is why radical environmentalism is an enemy both to nature and mankind.

[i] J.E. de Steiguer, The Origins of Modern Environmental Thought (Tucson, AZ: The University of Arizona Press, 2006), 34.