Warming Up To Environmentalism
Gary Gibson, Minneapolis, Minnesota…
Camping doesn’t count as experiencing nature.
The natural world may look wonderful from a distance…or up close when experienced temporarily and with the benefit of modern camping gear…
But nature is in fact brutal and distinctly unpleasant. In “nature” lives are uncomfortable and unsure and notoriously short. Homes are cold, survival at birth relatively uncommon. And survival into adulthood isn’t too much fun either.
The environmentalists understand the achievement of their goals would at first make modern life cost more. Eventually they’d lower standards of living, too, replacing modern life with something closer to paleolithic life.
Of course, only a minority of masochists and ascetics seek poverty and misery. So the environmentalists generally turn to politics to ensure the ends that markets — i.e. human choice — tend not to.
In today’s feature article Jeffrey Tucker finds reason to warm up to environmentalism, however. And as you could expect, that reason has a lot to do with the market’s solution to satisfy the greenies. Read on below…
Whiskey & Gunpowder
by Jeffrey Tucker
March 26, 2012
Auburn, Alabama, U.S.A.
Warming up to Environmentalism
I’m starting to rethink the whole environmental craze in the culture, which is about as inescapable as pop music and jeans. It was born some 50 years ago and it has spread like a cancer ever since.
It’s always annoyed me that its most consistent dogma, pushed without evidence or argument, is that commerce, and all that is associated with commerce except on the smallest possible scale, is always and everywhere destructive to animals, plants, earth, air, water and (when they finally get around to this point) human health. So therefore, we should somehow eschew commerce, by hook or crook, in favor of some variant of asceticism.
This is, obviously, rubbish. Commerce is the heartbeat of civilization, the thing that makes possible prosperity, shelter, clothing, long lives, good lives, health, high and low culture, learning and every manner of fun. Without commerce, we lose all that we love and we are ground down to a primitive state of being, gathering and hunting and fighting for survival against the elements.
Nature on its own is terrifying and deadly — a relentless and mortal threat to all that is good. Looking at the big picture, the only kind of nature we really and truly like is that that has been thoroughly tamed by human hands. We only imagine otherwise because none of us has ever really faced real nature unarmed and unprepared — and those who have don’t live to tell about it.
Not only that, but environmentalist theory serves as the intellectual foundation of some of the greatest threats we actually face. It’s not globing warming; it’s the use of state power to dismantle the commercial society in the name of stopping climate change. Vaclav Klaus’ phrase and book is right: Blue Planet in Green Shackles.
So why am I coming around to environmentalism, despite its obvious absurdities and the threat it represents to the civilized life? Here’s why: Commerce has cracked the code. After years of struggle, the mighty capitalist machine has figured out how to use the environmental cultural ethos to sell its products at a profit. That’s good. Very good!
Let me just provide an obvious example that nearly everyone has experienced by now. When you check into a hotel these days, you will likely be asked if you are willing to participate in the “Green Hotel” initiative (the name varies). What this means is that the hotel will save water, reduce detergent use and otherwise save the planet by failing to wash your towel, provided you hang it back up again, rather than throw it on the floor.
Every patron readily agrees to this obvious cost-saving measure, and solely on grounds that he has done something pious and wonderful for Mother Nature. This is just great because the hotel now saves an average of $6.50 per night, per room, which means more money to invest in other things, pay employees or otherwise expand.
Now, if the hotel had dropped the whole environmental mask, this would never have worked. Imagine if the desk clerk said: “Sir, it would be great for our bottom line, saving this hotel vast sums, if we didn’t have to wash your towels or change your sheets. Would you agree to reduced service so that we can enjoy a higher probability to operate in the black?”
What would people say? Most people would see it as an obvious rip-off and complain. No one wants less service! But wrap the same thing in the holy cloak of green consciousness and everything changes. Now the hotel is able to call on the noble sentiments of the customer and elicit from him some sacrifice for the common.
This is nothing short of ingenious. Capitalism is so smart that it has conquered even the ultimate anti-capitalist ideology and managed to market it at a profit. Wonderful.
Of course, this has also happened in food. It is actually difficult these days to find anything to eat that isn’t pushed on us as organic, healthy, smart, socially conscious, fair-trade, earth-friendly and so on. For a long time, I tried my best to avoid such products in the same way I would try to avoid any appliance stamped “Energy Star.”
Finally I realized that most of this was hokum. Most these companies have taken the same old product and recharacterized it. That’s great. That’s what business is good at. It’s called marketing. It can take any shape. It wouldn’t matter if a large swath of the population suddenly converted to Rastafarianism, you would see this change reflected in the way products are marketed.
It’s this way with nearly everything you consume. Add the words organic or green-friendly to just about anything and you give it a new spin. This applies to just about anything in the physical world from mattresses to shoes to suitcases. Nothing escapes this designation.
As I say, I used to resist. Now I realize that there is not much point. Capitalism has captured this market and civilized it, and thereby robbed environmentalism of its teeth (except and insofar as it is embodied in politics).
You might say that this proves the sheer cynicism of the market economy. On the contrary. It underscores the obsessive, focused dedication of the market system to serving society in every conceivable way. It’s proof that most people have misunderstood the market. People tend to think that the market is about pushing things on us; on the contrary, it is relentlessly and desperately extracting information from us and searching for ways to meet our needs, whatever they are.
Now, you might say that this whole system is a fraud. These products aren’t really organic, not really healthy and green, not really taking us back to nature. It’s just the old stuff in new guise. All of that might be true enough, but in what sense is this contrary to consumer wishes?
We don’t really want to go back to nature. We don’t really want to eat food that is half-devoured by bugs or carries diseases or sleep on sheets that are scratchy and rough or wear shoes that are nothing more than slabs of animal skin. We want everything modern life gives us, but we want to believe that we are somehow not causing harm to anyone or anything in the course of our consumption.
I would suggest that capitalism is doing for us exactly what people want it to do. Authentic environmentalism would mean the end of life as we know it. The faux-environmental aesthetic that has been captured and domesticated by the market exactly matches what our culture really wants. The more difficult task lies ahead: defanging the politics of the environmental movement in the same way.
Executive editor, Laissez Faire Books
A Parting Shot:
“There’s no way the free market can take on something as big as GLOBAL WARMING,” says the politically-minded environmentalist who thinks coercion is a fine way to order human affairs.
“This time we definitely have you,” he continues, “Forget about juries, police and fire protection, roads and other infrastructure that you free market extremist guys are always claiming the free market could handle. The free market cannot prevent the earth from warming up.”
Probably not. And who’s to say politicians should prevent the earth from warming up either?
Who’s to say that the climate has only been the exact right temperature for the past couple of centuries? What about the previous glacial periods? Sure some species adapted to arctic conditions would lose out in a warming climet, but how many other species would benefit? And doesn’t this constant cycle of winning and losing the evolutionary game happen all the time as conditions on the earth — including climate — naturally change?
It amazes us that climate change is seen only as ruinous. If you mention that there could be more fertile land to feed more people, the environmentalist shut you up and imagine a world underwater (like in Kevin Costner’s laughable, career-destroying Waterworld) or a world completely frozen or a fetid swamp in which disease would run rampant.
They can’t agree on just how a changing climate would ruin the world. They just know that it would be all bad.
You get the impression that these politicians and environmentalists would have been crying “the sky is falling” if they were around 600 million years ago as the Cryogenian Period ended and the glaciers retreated. Or lamented the development of the first proto-mammal into its various descendants.
Maybe…just maybe…a warmer biosphere would not be the Seventh Level of Hell as the greenies fear. Maybe a warmer earth would be an improvement over a colder earth the same way a modernized 1938 Tudor mansion is an improvement over a drafty cave or single-room mud hut.
There are many like us, suspicious of all the state’s motives, but who either deny the climate is changing or who deny man’s role in it.
We do nothing of the sort. Further, we think mankind is doing life a service by warming things up (Go ahead and give yourselves a round of applause)!
Perhaps all of our descendants will prove incontrovertibly that mankind’s activities did indeed cause the biosphere’s temperature to increase. If so, they’ll thank us for it.
They will probably even develop other technologies to keep the climate on the warmer side since fossil fuels will likely no longer be the primary energy source… if they are used at all…
Fact is, fossil fuels take far longer to replenish (hundreds of millions of years) than they do to deplete. More sustainable and efficient sources of energy will have to become the norm. This means nuclear and geothermal, not wind or solar.
In the meantime oil, coal and natural gas will continue to reign…
(We imagine that if political types survive in the future, they’ll be blaming “the free market” for developing cleaner, more efficient technologies that are resulting in the dreaded Global Cooling.)
At the heart of the environmental movement are two very perverse motives. One is a hatred of humanity that casts all of man’s actions — especially those that lead to his increasing comfort and increasing numbers — as inherently destructive to the rest of the biosphere.
The other motive is the desire for control. A danger like climate change is posited as so big that only centralized regulation of every technology and nearly every commercial transaction is required to prevent catastrophe.
And haven’t you noticed how the climate paranoids have subtly changed their language over the last five years? They used to warn about “global warming”; now they say the real threat is “climate change,” which permits them far more wiggle room. No way can their predictions be wrong this time: one thing we know for sure is that that the climate will change!
We don’t think is by accident. No matter what the climate does — according to this kind of thinking — it’s the fault of man’s uncontrolled pursuit of improving his lot over the violent, brutish and short one that nature handed to him.
What’s funny to us is how the most vociferous environmentalists tend to live lives as comfortable as as any of us. Most of them (as far we know) aren’t living like Medieval farmers, Stone Age Canaanites or even modern Bantu Bushmen.
The greenies drive cars. Even if they eschew cars for bikes and trains, they will gleefully board airplanes to travel longer distances.
They turn up the heat in winter and crank the A/C in summer. They use light bulbs and laptops.
They try to make the rest of us feel guilty. But all of us — greenie, environmentally guilt-ridden and guilt free alike — keep living our comfortable modern lives. Our consciences eased by labels that say “organic” or “free trade”. Or by recycling a few cans and wearing a sweater with the heat turned on not quite so high.
But don’t fear. And don’t feel guilty. That’s our advice. The market is ever seeking ways to make everything profitable by satisfying human desires. Companies do exist to turn garbage back into things of natural beauty (Take a look at Penn & Teller’s episode of “Bullsh!t” that shows the what landfills end up looking like)… or into some useful thing. Meanwhile price automatically rations scarceness of resources, forcing economy when necessary…and driving new technologies and methods.
Don’t worry about living your modern life in comfort. And don’t be afraid to build your personal wealth by investing in commodities that make
We personally don’t worry that too much about the politicians and the environmentalists driving us all back into a Stone Age populated by a few million (over whom the politicians would lord like feudal chiefs). The forces of liberty and the markets are too strong, as is the desire for a better life than nature handed our pre-industrial ancestors.
Managing editor, Whiskey & Gunpowder