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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/5101/the-rhetoric-of-the-environmental-movement/

The Rhetoric of the Environmental Movement

May 26, 2006 by

What is so disturbing about the rhetoric of environmentalism, writes Ronald Hamowy, is that it consistently displays an ignorance and simple-mindedness that is breathtaking. After all, environmental problems are, at bottom, economic problems. They have reference to the production and distribution of wealth, which is the subject matter of economic science. Yet most ecologists have only the most perverted notions concerning the application of economics to environmental issues. FULL ARTICLE

{ 13 comments }

Daniel M. Ryan May 26, 2006 at 7:27 pm

From Footnote 32:

…So sophisticated is Ms. Chawla’s reading of Native American anthropology that among the tribes to whom she explicitly refers in this context is the Netsilik, whose reverence for life includes one of the highest female infanticide rates in the world! However, this fact is clearly unimportant when compared to the broader claim that the Netsilik, like other pre-industrial societies of the world engage in “rituals and ceremonies which venerate and indirectly protect the environment,” while also providing “personal identity and self-fulfillment” [Linguistic and Philosophical Roots of Our Environmental Crisis," Environmental Ethics XIII (1991):](p. 261)….

Are the people who approve of the practices of that tribe trying to one-up the People’s Republic of China?

F L. Light May 27, 2006 at 10:22 am

Human Invaluably

Human invaluably this planet is,
Made better with mankind’s advantages.

Human invaluably this planet is,
Where peaceful fabrication flourishes.

Human invaluably this planet is,
Devoted to evolving practices.

Human invaluably the earth has been,
Subjected to resourceful discipline.

Human invaluably the earth has been,
Where man’s amelioration is no sin.

Human invaluably the earth has been,
Where minds of businesses dominion win.

Human the worthiest beings of wit and care
Have been in nature, proving reason fair.

Human in primacy our freedoms are,
By many grades of reason singular.

Human in primacy our freedoms are,
Which for self-interest most defilements bar.

Human in primacy, the world pertains
To man who better industries ordains.

Human in primacy, the world pertains
To man who over bestial nature reigns.

Human in moment great attainments are
For mental business in particular.

Human in moment great attainments are,
With mental consummations singular.

Human in primacy our fortunes are,
Not bestially misled, to beasts’ dissimilar.

F. L. Light

Angelo May 27, 2006 at 10:51 am

There is a passage in the article which has incomplete sentences and makes no sense. I’d like the following (toward the end of the article) explained or fixed:

“Rather, supposedly predictive studies done on laboratory animals form the basis of the evidence supporting the conclusion that a vast array of substances are carcinogenic. Yet, despite the claims made by government regulators and seized upon by environmentalists as unequivocal confirmation of the evils of technological society.”

Roy W. Wright May 27, 2006 at 12:03 pm

That should probably just be a comma at the end.

TokyoTom May 30, 2006 at 7:29 am

Professor Hamowy, you make some excellent points that I agree with concerning the “breathtaking” ignorance of many environmentalists over the economics of environmental problems which, as you correctly say, “are, at bottom, economic problems. They have reference to the production and distribution of wealth, which is the subject matter of economic science. Clean air, clean water, the preservation of wilderness and of species, indeed, all environmental concerns, including the amount and rate of use of natural resources and the size of the human population, are all issues amenable to economic analysis.”

Yet I am puzzled that you fail into the same pattern as Prof. Reisman in hyperventilating over the rhethoric of environmentalists, when after all, these people are simply ignorant as to the institutional factors of the problems that concern them and are engaging in familar rent-seeking practices. Of course I am sure you must understand that in criticizing these people you (1) are to some degree criticizing all members of modern society who support environmental regulations without a proper understanding of the economic underpinnings, and (2) do not mean to include many environmental leaders, who understand much of the economics (albeit mainly from a Pigouvian or Coasean view; although there are certainly groups like PERC and CEI who approach environmental problems from a Misean perspective). Why not simply try to educate them, instead of wasting your breath railing at them?

I am also puzzled why it is that you and other Miseans do not have a problem criticizing corporatism or statism, and say that governments tend to had out favors to rent-seekers and then to bollux-up regulations (and argue that private property rights and the law of common law torts historically were providing a satisfactory & evolving solution to pollution, until government policy favoring industrialization tipped the balance away from property rights), but then seem wholly surprised that the citizens comprising the environmental movement decided that they needed to seek a solution from government, just in the same manner that the corporations had done. This is just very puzzling to me: we set up a system of snowballing rent-seeking, and then are surprised when people who feel harmed by corporate rent-seekers also go to the courts, legislators and public opinion to similarly seek rents? Why is this not simply obvious to everyone?

The environmental movement was very effective at seeking government solutions to problems that were caused by industrialization in a setting where the industrialist had gamed the system in a way that passed alot of the pollution costs onto local communities and society as a whole. Government was happy to offer regulation – regulation that could have been avoided had the initial changes in laws and policies that favored industrialists over property rights and laws of trespass not been made.

Yes, the resulting environmental laws are economically burdensome and inefficient, but we are undeniably better off as a society despite the inefficiency – even while we can do much better by changing our laws and moving more towards property rights solutions.

On a global scale, the environmentalists have a point – outside of the boundaries of the various developed nations, poor nations are governed by kleptocractic regimes that steal rather than protect property rights (confiscating and selling off assets for their own benefit), and global commons like the atmosphere and oceanic fisheries are lacking property rights mechanisms altogether. The result is a rather madhouse rush aptly summarized as a “tragedy of the commons”. Environmentalists are right to see a problem, but they are simply wrong to misdiagnose it as greedy or evil human nature rather than a failure of property rights.

It sum, seems to me that railing at environmentalists as being akin to Nazis you throw much more heat than light, and hardly contribute in either clarifying the real problems or in moving the debate along.

Please allow me to also suggest as an aside that you hardly help your analysis while on the one hand acknowledging that environmental problems are real problems subject to economic analysis, and then trying to deny any link between chemicals and cancer. You should stick with economics, historu and philosophy; on the science of cancer your views seem embarassingly ill-informed. May I ask if you are funed by the tobacco industry?

Sincerely,

TT

Jude May 30, 2006 at 11:46 am

I don’t entirely agree with your critique of the rhetoric of the environmentalists. I think you are absolutely correct to say that when we say we have a right, it must suggest that there is someone with corresponding responsibilities to service those rights. Now anyone has responsibilities to not kill another person intentionally, anywhere and anytime, and in relation to any person. And so specifically, every one has a right not to be killed, and hence a right to life.

But I think there is another sense that we all have a right to life, but this is a general right, which may not be served here and now. Here is where I disagree. I think it is wrong, as you did, to say that other persons have no corresponding responsibilities. They may not have a specific responsibility to promote your life here and now, but there remains a general responsibility to service life. Life is a good to be promoted in all persons. There is the general responsibility to promote the good of life. We are however, free to choose whose life we wish to promote, and in what matter, and when.

Now, regarding the environment. We have a right, as you say, not to be killed. Translate that into the correlated discourse of responsibilities: we have a responsibility, a duty to never kill anyone intentionally. I think we can further determine that into propositions or precepts regarding how we should not harm the environment. Given that harming the environment eventually and seriously harms life, (to the extent that that is empirically true), I think we do have a responsiblilty to ensure that we protect and not further harm the environment.

I think the way to put it, the way to pin down the problem with wrongful human rights discourse is not to say that there are no responsibilities, but that these responsibilities, being there, do not require me to fulfill them in relation to you, here and now and in this way.

A responsibility to promote (and protect) life, and by derivation to promote and protect what is necessary for it, eg. the environment, can be fulfilled in many ways and to many persons. Only the things we cannot do have any absoluteless to them: no matter where you are, and in relation to who, you cannot kill a human being, nor destroy the environment which leads to the harming of human life.

David Spellman May 30, 2006 at 12:05 pm

The Population of The World

When I was in high school, my Freshman biology teacher regularly mentioned that the world was overpopulated. She did this so often that I finally asked her what the ideal population of the world should be. “Two million people” was her response. Now, I assume that she thought she should be one of the chosen few, but I have always wondered what she planned to do with the rest of us (I didn’t ask since I knew I was on thin ice to ask the first question).

The environmentalist movement is trying to persuade the world to adopt a less-technological post-industrial society to live in harmony with nature. Even if this were a good and virtuous goal, it presents a problem for the existing population: reducing the use of technology will reduce the carrying capacity of the world for human beings. This will precipitate the apocalyptic scenarios of global famine, pestilence, and death that some environmentalists predict, yea, even seemingly yearn for!

Could it be true that a cadre of people masquerading as environmentally considerate altruists is actually engineering genocide for billions of their fellow beings? Given the open antipathy expressed by many so-called “deep environmentalists” toward the species, I cannot ignore the possibility. When proposals are made for protecting the environment, we ought to ask ourselves, “What will be the outcome of persuing this policy for me individually? Is this calculated to eliminate me from the gene pool?” Alas, it is hard to decipher the ultimate consequences of global tinkering, so people can be easily decieved into acting against their best interests by rhetoric and emotional appeals.

Nevertheless, from a libertarian perspective we can at least say that every person should act individually for themselves rather than try to coerce others to do what they think is right. As the environmentalists themselves have said, “Think globally, act locally.” If someone believes the world is overpopulated, they are welcome to commit suicide. They are not welcome to kill me, neither directly by immediate violence nor indirectly by coercive policies that result in deadly catastrophe.

M E Hoffer May 30, 2006 at 12:15 pm

I’ve long wondered why Economists have long neglected the Ecology and why Ecologists have, often, not bothered to understand Economics. Obviously, to myself, anyway, Misean Economics is the exception to the first.

Similiar can be noted Re: Conservatives and Conservationists.

I remain amazed at the many, associated with this weblog, that, on one hand, are fullsome -phones for the “Free Market”, yet, on the other hand, are disdainfully dismissive of the Dam, the Natural Environment, that births the very possibility of the “Market”-so lauded.

Paging Mr. Jung, a Carl Jung, to the white courtesy phone…..

Paul Edwards May 30, 2006 at 12:47 pm

M.E.,

“I remain amazed at the many, associated with this weblog, that, on one hand, are fullsome -phones for the “Free Market”, yet, on the other hand, are disdainfully dismissive of the Dam, the Natural Environment, that births the very possibility of the “Market”-so lauded.”

I don’t follow you. Can you put this another way?

M E Hoffer May 30, 2006 at 1:16 pm

P.E.,

Sure~

In the context of TT’s point, in his post above: “Environmentalists are right to see a problem, but they are simply wrong to misdiagnose it as greedy or evil human nature rather than a failure of property rights.

It sum, seems to me that railing at environmentalists as being akin to Nazis you throw much more heat than light, and hardly contribute in either clarifying the real problems or in moving the debate along.

Please allow me to also suggest, as an aside, that you hardly help your analysis while, on the one hand acknowledging that environmental problems are real problems subject to economic analysis”

This: “at the many, associated with this weblog”, was to be indicative, moreso, of various “authors”, than “commentators”.

This: “are disdainfully dismissive of the Dam, the Natural Environment,”, may be hyperbolistic, though the aforementioned authors are, typically found, aligned against those who endeavor to give voice to that, Nature, which does not speak(our mother tongue)P.E.,

Sure~

In the context of TT’s point, in his post above: “Environmentalists are right to see a problem, but they are simply wrong to misdiagnose it as greedy or evil human nature rather than a failure of property rights.

It sum, seems to me that railing at environmentalists as being akin to Nazis you throw much more heat than light, and hardly contribute in either clarifying the real problems or in moving the debate along.

Please allow me to also suggest, as an aside, that you hardly help your analysis while, on the one hand acknowledging that environmental problems are real problems subject to economic analysis”

This: “at the many, associated with this weblog”, was to be indicative, moreso, of various “authors”, than “commentators”.

This: “are disdainfully dismissive of the Dam, the Natural Environment,”, may be hyperbolistic, though the aforementioned authors are, typically found, aligned against those who endeavor to give voice to that, Nature, which does not speak(our mother tongue)

This: “of the Dam, the Natural Environment, that births the very possibility of the “Market”

Dam, as in Sire/Dam, of Horses–Dam is the female.
Used, under poetic license, only to further the alliteration.

The rest, to me is axiomatic. We are, nothing but, of Nature. When we choose to degrade it, we degrade ourselves. The preservation of Nature is our greatest possible Selfish act.

I think that should do it. Further Q’s always welcomed.

M E Hoffer May 30, 2006 at 1:21 pm

sorry about that crazy format, the “posting” software “hates” the left-pointing arrow/ “less than” sign……….

where the post “restarts”, there was a “left-pointing arrow” followed by “oddly enough”.

Vince Daliessio May 30, 2006 at 1:31 pm

M.E. Hoffer says;

“In the context of TT’s point, in his post above: “Environmentalists are right to see a problem, but they are simply wrong to misdiagnose it as greedy or evil human nature rather than a failure of property rights.” It sum, seems to me that railing at environmentalists as being akin to Nazis you throw much more heat than light, and hardly contribute in either clarifying the real problems or in moving the debate along.”

There are basically two types of environmentalists – statist and free-market. The cause of statist environmentalists was wholly caused when the courts accepted the Coasian argument for pollution; i.e., that what matters is not property rights, but maximizing utility / minimizing total financial costs. Statist environmentalists believe that not only is such a system fair, but despite its failures more of the same should be performed to reduce pollution. In this way, they are simply the dupes of the very largest polluters.

In a true free-market society, polluters would be held strictly liable for their pollution. Any trespass on the property of others by their pollution would be grounds for action with unlimited potential for damages. This would provide a powerful incentive for companies not to pollute, as well as a fair remedy. This, under our current system, is not allowed.

TokyoTom May 30, 2006 at 10:19 pm

Vince, I am with you almost completely and it puzzles me that other authors and commenters cannot see the clear points that:

(1) there are many free market environmentalists (so the gross exaggerations of them is unjustified),

(2) those environmentalists who are statist generally are not so conversant with economics of any sort,

(3) statist environmentalists arose after governmental interference (encouraged by industrialists) truncated private property rights and corrupted the enforcement of such rights, and

(4) statist environmentalists are now merely playing the game as it currently exists – namely, a statist game of rent-seeking from government, where they serve as a partial counterbalance to a much more powerful set of rent-seekers, the corporations who are constantly at work corrupting politician & bureacrats and massaging the public debate.

Given that we now live in a rent-seeking world, it is completely imbalanced to criticize only environmentalists, while ignoring the larger set of rent-seekers who are at the core of problem to begin with and who are really tapped into the public treasury.

Besides, as I also note, the environmentalists are usually very correct that a problem exists – one for which government interference and corporate rent-seeking (or lack of appropriate property rights regimes abroad) are responsible – they just aren’t familar with sufficient economics to understand the sources of the problem and the best solutions.

Regards,

TT

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