April 18, 2000
Earth Day 2000: Looking Back and Ahead
by Jacqueline R. Kasun
This year''s celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of Earth Day has every reason to be triumphal. Environmentalism has captured the hearts and minds of the public, the information networks, and the political establishment. And understandably so. Human beings love nature. Only a monster could want a polluted world without trees or animals.
The earliest cave paintings showed beautiful animals. Ancient poetry praised the wonders and beauty of nature -- "Leviathan" taking its sport in the sea, the cedars of Lebanon, the "coneys" among the rocks, and the hills that "clap their hands and sing" in the rain, in the words of the Psalms. The texts require kindness to animals and prescribe days and seasons of rest for men and beasts. At the same time, they strictly forbid the worship of nature and the human sacrifice that often accompanied it.
"As many as a half-billion people are expected to take part in some event to mark the thirtieth anniversary of Earth Day", announces one environmental publication. Plans include Sustainable Living Fairs, displays at libraries, schools and colleges, and speeches by politicians and environmentalists, all encouraged and sustained by Earth Day''s own
Beyond this and extending far beyond Earth Day itself, President Clinton''s Council on Sustainable Development, the United Nations Environment Programme, the World Bank, the U.N. Millennium Assembly, the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, the Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, the Audubon Society, and a host of other organizations will continue their efforts to save the planet.
Much has been accomplished. The air is cleaner over Los Angeles than it was thirty years ago. The bald eagle and the blue whale are coming back. Forests cover the same area, thirty percent, of the United States as in 1920 but the annual growth is three-and-a-half times greater. The National Wilderness Preservation System in the United States expanded from nine million acres in 1964 to 104 million acres in 1994 -- an area twice as large as both New England and New Jersey combined. The Clinton/Gore administration is in the process of adding another 40 million acres to this domain. And good news for the birth controllers, people throughout the world are having smaller families -- fewer than three children on the average, and, in Europe, only one child.
But much that the movers and shakers of environmentalism have called for has not yet come to pass, except in isolated instances. There remains, according to a contemporary college textbook, "the potential for catastrophic change in the global climate," accompanied by "rising sea levels," "inundation of ... low-lying areas ... desertification of ... grain-producing areas ... mass hunger ... and rapid loss of biodiversity."
The author, Steven C. Hackett, says the causes are "population growth and increases in ... consumption," "disproportionate consumption ... by the rich," capitalism, private property, and trade. And until all of these evils are transformed and controlled by true believers in the intrinsic rightness of the biospheric vision in the spirit of deep ecology, the planet will continue to be in peril.
A leading spokesman for the environmental movement and "sustainable economics," author Herman Daly, has called for a conversion of "half or more" of the land area of the United States to unsettled wilderness inhabited by wild animals; a giant forced reduction in trade and a change to self-sufficiency at not only the national level but at local levels also; complete population control with births limited by government licensing to levels consistent with a stationary or, better yet, declining population; and the abolition of private land ownership.
Daly also wants government controls to reduce output to "sustainable biophysical limits;" the resettlement of large numbers of the population in rural areas [remember Pol Pot]; increasing taxes on income, land use, energy, consumer purchases, gifts, inheritance, pollution, and the extraction of raw materials, so as to reduce both output and inequality; the abolition of direct elections, except for local officials, who would in turn elect higher officers of the government; and the prohibition of the movement of private wealth. If all of this sounds like a replay of the totalitarian philosophies of the twentieth century, that''s only because it is.
So keep in mind, as you sort your recyclables, that the real environmental effort -- "sustainable development" -- has hardly begun.
Jacqueline R. Kasun is a nonresident research fellow at The Independent Institute and Professor of Economics Emeritus at Humboldt State University.
|Jacqueline R. Kasun was Emeritus Professor of Economics at Humboldt State University.|