Pro-tip: Don’t attempt to dismiss concerns of environmentalists by claiming that the earth has been around for 6000 years, and that’s a long time, so surely this mine won’t cause any problems. I kid you not.
In Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Webcast, I discussed the principle of sustainability. The question was:
What’s wrong with the principle of sustainability? In the discussion of “sustainable agriculture” in your October 9th webcast, you didn’t explain the problem with the basic principle of the “sustainability movement,” namely “that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Doesn’t that just mean respecting rights? If not, what does it mean and why is it wrong?
My answer, in brief:
The principle of sustainability must be understood in its proper ideological context of collectivism, egalitarianism, and environmentalism. Understood that way, it’s clearly demanding that people not exploit finite resources for their own benefit, as they ought.
Here’s the video of my full answer:
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Alex Epstein and Eric Dennis of the Center for Industrial Progress discuss energy policy with environmentalist protestors at Occupy Wall Street:
This was the intellectual equivalent of watching Jackie Chan take on a bunch of amateur street fighters:
(Except that the OWS protestors never came anywhere near close to landing a serious intellectual blow on Alex and Eric.)
In Sunday’s Rationally Selfish Webcast, I discussed sustainable agriculture. The question was:
Is “sustainable agriculture” a legitimate concept? Many advocates of a paleo diet also advocate “sustainable agriculture,” including Robb Wolf and Mat Lelonde. Is sustainable agriculture a valid concept? What does (or should) it entail? Should consumers be concerned that their food producers practice “sustainable agriculture”?
Here’s the video of my answer:
If you enjoy the video, please “like” it on YouTube and share it with friends in e-mail and social media! Also, all my webcast and other videos can be found on my YouTube channel.
Also, someone posted a follow-up question on this segment, namely: What’s wrong with the principle of sustainability?
In your October 9th webcast discussion of “sustainable agriculture,” you didn’t discuss what’s right or wrong about the basic principle of the “sustainability movement,” namely “that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Is that a proper moral and/or political principle or not?
I’m glad that someone asked that, since I didn’t have time to discuss it in the webcast itself. So if you’d like to me to answer it sooner rather than later — and I hope so! — you can vote for it here.
What Is Sustainable Agriculture?
In preparation for Sunday’s webcast, I’ve been doing a bit of research on the definition of “sustainable agriculture” according to its advocates. Here’s what I found from the page What is Sustainable Agriculture? by the UC Davis Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. (It’s favorably by other members of the movement, including the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.) I’ve made the particularly notable segments bold. Read it and weep!
Agriculture has changed dramatically, especially since the end of World War II. Food and fiber productivity soared due to new technologies, mechanization, increased chemical use, specialization and government policies that favored maximizing production. These changes allowed fewer farmers with reduced labor demands to produce the majority of the food and fiber in the U.S.
Although these changes have had many positive effects and reduced many risks in farming, there have also been significant costs. Prominent among these are topsoil depletion, groundwater contamination, the decline of family farms, continued neglect of the living and working conditions for farm laborers, increasing costs of production, and the disintegration of economic and social conditions in rural communities.
A growing movement has emerged during the past two decades to question the role of the agricultural establishment in promoting practices that contribute to these social problems. Today this movement for sustainable agriculture is garnering increasing support and acceptance within mainstream agriculture. Not only does sustainable agriculture address many environmental and social concerns, but it offers innovative and economically viable opportunities for growers, laborers, consumers, policymakers and many others in the entire food system. …
Sustainable agriculture integrates three main goals–environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. A variety of philosophies, policies and practices have contributed to these goals. People in many different capacities, from farmers to consumers, have shared this vision and contributed to it. Despite the diversity of people and perspectives, the following themes commonly weave through definitions of sustainable agriculture.
Sustainability rests on the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Therefore, stewardship of both natural and human resources is of prime importance. Stewardship of human resources includes consideration of social responsibilities such as working and living conditions of laborers, the needs of rural communities, and consumer health and safety both in the present and the future. Stewardship of land and natural resources involves maintaining or enhancing this vital resource base for the long term.
A systems perspective is essential to understanding sustainability. The system is envisioned in its broadest sense, from the individual farm, to the local ecosystem, and to communities affected by this farming system both locally and globally. An emphasis on the system allows a larger and more thorough view of the consequences of farming practices on both human communities and the environment. A systems approach gives us the tools to explore the interconnections between farming and other aspects of our environment.
Holy Misintegration, Batman! Well… at least I’ll have fun taking that apart in Sunday’s webcast!
In Sunday’s Rationally Selfish Webcast, I answered the following question about whether to recycle or not:
Should I recycle? When I don’t have to go out of my way to recycle — if both bins are right in front of me, say — should I? And what if I am sharing an apartment with someone who will fish recyclables out of the trash and put them in the recycling bin? Are there cases where one should just recycle in order to avoid confrontations at home or work?
Here’s my answer, now posted to YouTube:
For more details on the economic efficiency (or lack thereof) of recycling consumer goods for raw materials, see Eight Great Myths of Recycling (PDF) by Daniel Benjamin — or rather, the updated version Recycling Myths Revisited (PDF).
On Saturday evening, I watched the Penn and Teller “Bullshit!” episode on recycling in preparation for Sunday’s webcast. It contained some good information, albeit probably not enough. Mostly, however, I was amazed at the lengths to which their two victims went in order to order to recycle using their slew of made-up bins. It was a remarkable demonstration of the power of morality.
For a more in-depth analysis of the economics of recycling, see the paper referenced in their show, Eight Great Myths of Recycling (PDF) — or better yet, the updated version Recycling Myths Revisited (PDF).
[Crossposted from Modern Paleo.]
I’ve love to write up some substantive commentary on the BP oil spill in the Gulf, but I’m sure that I won’t have time. So I must content myself with a few quick points, plus some links:
- The oil spill is clearly a horrid disaster for mankind and our environment, including for our marine food supply, recreation, science, and more. I can only hope that the leak is plugged, and soon. That will require serious money, determination, and ingenuity — not more grandstanding from politicians, activists, and the media. I hope that BP has what it takes to do the job, but I worry they don’t.
- If BP was negligent, then it ought to pay for the cleanup in its entirety, even if that means the company goes bankrupt. I suspect it will, given the vast damage done. Our government might subsidize BP or limit its liability, but I hope not. (Or rather, I hope that’s not already the case.) That would be a horrible injustice.
BP Would Be Toast in a Truly Free Market by Kevin Carson
- Environmentalists like to blame oil companies for such disasters, then call for further regulations on industry. Yet such disasters are the product of existing regulations that prevent oil companies from drilling in perfectly safe areas, including on land. People who want to prevent these kinds of disasters in the future should advocate for the repeal of environmental regulations in favor of strict adherence to property rights and tort law.
Environmentalism is Responsible for the Gulf Oil Spill by Jason Stotts
The Offshore Drilling Controversy: Remember Santa Barbara by Alex Epstein of ARC
- The oceans should be homesteaded as private property by the people and companies that create value from them. As with all private property, owners would have a strong incentive to maintain the value of the property. In some cases, that would mean protecting access for drilling or mining. In others, that would mean making the property useful for recreation, such as fishing, snorkeling, or sailing. In others, that would mean protecting and enhancing the value of the marine life for food or even study. Such homesteading might not have prevented this disaster, but it’s necessary to preserve and protect the value of the oceans in the long run.
Deep-Six the Law of the Sea by Thomas Bowden of ARC
For right now, I just hope the leak can be sealed off safely and effectively.
[This post was originally written for Modern Paleo.]
In the sidebar of the Modern Paleo Blog, you’ll find the following statement:
Modern Paleo offers writings by Objectivists on the principles and practice of nutrition, fitness, and health most conducive to human flourishing. We seek the best that modern life has to offer, informed by a broadly paleo approach.
One implication of that, perhaps unforeseen, is that Modern Paleo is no friend of environmentalism.
No, Objectivists don’t want polluted rivers and seas… but that’s because they’d be damaging to human life, whether directly (via our own consumption) or indirectly (via the food supply). No, Objectivists don’t want to pave the earth… but that’s because most of us find value in wild places, just civilized enough for the fun of hiking, biking, camping, hunting, and more. In essence, Objectivists value human life; we don’t regard nature as an intrinsic good, apart from human life. Yet we’re not blind to the fact that humans can only flourish under certain conditions. We need clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and nutritious food to eat.
The only way to ensure those values for ourselves — and future generations — is through ironclad respect for private property. All property should be privately owned, and the property owner should be able to do whatever he pleases with it, provided that he doesn’t cause undue harm to other people or their property in the process. Dumping toxic waste into a stream that runs through your property isn’t an exercise of your rights; it’s a violation of the rights of everyone downstream.
Human ingenuity — protected and nurtured by ironclad respect for property rights — is the only moral and practical solution to environmental problems like pollution, endangered species, and soil erosion.
About the problem of pollution, Ayn Rand wrote the following in her 1971 essay “The Anti-Industrial Revolution”:
City smog and filthy rivers are not good for men (though they are not the kind of danger that the ecological panic-mongers proclaim them to be). This is a scientific, technological problem–not a political one–and it can be solved only by technology. Even if smog were a risk to human life, we must remember that life in nature, without technology, is wholesale death.
As far as the role of government is concerned, there are laws–some of them passed in the nineteenth century–prohibiting certain kinds of pollution, such as the dumping of industrial wastes into rivers. These laws have not been enforced. It is the enforcement of such laws that those concerned with the issue may properly demand. Specific laws–forbidding specifically defined and proved harm, physical harm, to persons or property–are the only solution to problems of this kind. (Return of the Primitive)
Most people have a mistaken view of environmentalism. They see it as a movement whose goal is to protect the environment so that we, and future generations, may continue to enjoy it. Environmentalists might call for certain sacrifices–like stern priests calling upon us to do penance for our sins–but people take their word for it that those sacrifices will turn out to be for the good of “society.” People feel virtuous in paying more for those organic blueberries and spending time washing out tin cans and nasty cloth diapers, because they see it as a sacrifice for the “greater good.” And although “going green” may demand some cost and effort, it need not–on this view–be too burdensome nor demand personal hardships that are too great.
But in fact, the goal of environmentalism is not any alleged benefit to mankind; its goal is to preserve nature untouched–to prevent nature from being altered for human purposes. Observe that whenever there is a conflict between the goals of “preserving nature” and pursuing some actual human value, environmentalists always side with nature against man. If tapping Arctic oil reserves to supply our energy needs might affect the caribou, environmentalists demand that we leave vast tracts of Arctic tundra completely untouched. If a new freeway bypass will ease traffic congestion but might disturb the dwarf wedge mussel, environmentalists side with the mollusk against man. If a “wetland” is a breeding ground for disease-carrying insects, environmentalists fight to prevent it being drained no matter the toll of human suffering.
It is simply not true that environmentalism values human well being. It demands sacrifices, not for the sake of any human good, but for the sake of leaving nature untouched. It calls for sacrifice as an end in itself.
Objectivists reject the ideology of environmentalism precisely because we want to enjoy the best that modern life has to offer. We’re not seeking to re-enact the life of paleo man, particularly not when forced on us by an eco-fascist state.
Yet more global warming alarmists are linking environmentalism with religion. Here are a couple of recent discussions of this topic.
The first comes from Thaddeus Russell, someone who is concerned about AGW but dislikes the religiousity.
Here is an excerpt from his 12/19/2009 piece, “Blame the Smug Climate Warriors“:
…Many climate-change deniers and even some who accept global warming as a fact, like the authors of Superfreakonomics, have attacked what they call the “religion of climate change.” Al Gore is often singled out for raising the discourse on the issue to a supernatural level, thus taking it out of the realm of human questioning.
Though Gore’s books, speeches, and Oscar-winning film on the issue are chock full of secular scientific information, they are also laced with biblical references. And Gore himself has said that climate change is “ultimately a moral and spiritual issue.”
Gore recently told Newsweek that since the publication of An Inconvenient Truth, he has trained Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu clergy to spread his message.
He admitted that he uses a version of the “Inconvenient Truth” slide show that is “filled with scriptural references.” Moreover, “It’s probably my favorite version, but I don’t use it very often because it can come off as proselytizing.”
The Gore interview with Newsweek can be found in the 11/19/2009 story by Sharon Begley “The Evolution of an Eco-Prophet“. Here are a couple of excerpts:
Asked how he reconciles that realization with the wonkish content of the book, Gore at first seems stymied. But then, when I prompt him, he points to pages on the spiritual dimension of climate change, the idea that God gave man stewardship over the earth, and that preserving it for future generations is a sacred obligation. Then he opens his laptop to show a commercial by his Alliance for Climate Protection, in which the Revs. Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson make an odd-couple plea for “taking care of the planet.”
Gore allows that he’s been tailoring the slide-show training he gives to faith-based volunteer groups. “I’ve done a Christian [-based] training program; I have a Muslim training program and a Jewish training program coming up, also a Hindu program coming up. I trained 200 Christian ministers and lay leaders here in Nashville in a version of the slide show that is filled with scriptural references. It’s probably my favorite version, but I don’t use it very often because it can come off as proselytizing.”
In the Newsweek interview, Gore cites reason and the Enlightenment (!) as two of his major influences:
So, if efficiency is so great and saves so much money (leave aside the CO2 part), I ask, why don’t businesses do it? “You know, I was raised in an Enlightenment-influenced family,” Gore says. “Both my parents were such believers in the preeminence of reason, and I still believe all that.”
Al Gore is as much a defender of the Enlightment as President Obama is a defender of capitalism.