Friday, March 27, 2009

Mother Earth Is Not a Person

Ask 100 people if the earth needs to be protected and you will get 100 "of course" answers. Well, make that 99 "of course" answers, if I am one of the hundred so asked. Now, before you cancel your subscription to The Bulletin for publishing an essay by a barbarian, let me explain my position.

All environmental advocacy proceeds from the logical error of elevating nature from the status of property which may be privately owned to the status of persons to be protected by governmental law. Environmental laws are not necessary for the protection of privately owned property. Owners do not destroy their own property. You do not need a law to force you not to push your car off a cliff, burn down your own house, or poison your own water supply. But there are laws to protect your car, your house, and your water supply from others who may inflict such damage. These laws are not designed, per se, for the protection of these physical things - they are designed to protect you from the predation of others, because without privately owned property you will perish.

Thusly, others who may pour noxious poisons into the ground commit no crime as long as the poisons remain on their property. But when the poisons leach into the ground water and enters the water supply of another, that person has been harmed because his property has been harmed. Then the person so harmed may seek redress for this "tort" or harm. Notice that under this common sense rule, it is not enough to claim that something has harmed nature itself. The harm must accrue to privately owned property or to another person's body.

The chief advantage to regarding environmental predation as a tort which has been committed against another person rather than regarding nature itself as such a person is that courts will require objective evidence of real harm rather than that arbitrarily set environmental standards have been violated. All environmental advocacy today over global warming attempts to set some new arbitrary standard that must be attained without ever proving that anyone has been harmed by an act of another. Environmentalism has become nothing more than political advocacy for a straw man (or woman) - Mother Earth - whose demands can never be satisfied. As soon as the environmentalists lobby successfully for one new standard, such as permissible smokestack emissions from power plants, they demand that the standard be tightened even more.

This is the case in Pennsylvania over permissible levels of arsenic emissions from coal-fired power plants. Pa. utilities have met the stringent (and arbitrarily set, by the way) federal standard, but now the environmentalists want to reduce allowable arsenic emissions by a factor of ten without one shred of evidence that even one person anywhere has been harmed by the trace arsenic levels currently allowed into the atmosphere. Three hundred Pa. coal-fired power plants are out of compliance with this new proposed rule. Whether they can achieve compliance at all or, if so, at what cost, is unknown at this time. But either way Pennsylvanians will find their standard of living threatened by higher utility costs, which the state utility commission must allow the utilities to recover, or brown outs and black outs California-style.

Mother Earth has become a person, actually a ward of the state. The state decides when its ward has been harmed, according to standards set by those who do not own her. Since every human action can be regarded as causing her some harm, no matter how insignificant, there is no objective standard for ever determining that she is safe from man's very existence in her presence. The "carbon footprint" that supposedly every living person creates can be regarded as a harm to her. Thus, the environmental movement is inhumane in the sense that by its internal logic it must be opposed to the existence of people. This mindset has even permeated our popular culture. In the daily comic strip "Sally Forth," Sally and her husband are thinking about having a second child. Naturally they are concerned about the financial implications. Then a fellow office worker, to whom Sally has confided her worries, says that she also has to be aware of the child's potentially harmful carbon footprint. On the same day as this "Sally Forth" strip appeared, another strip had a similar message. The teenage boy of "Zits" is learning to drive, and both he and his mother are concerned about the teenager's potential carbon footprint. Although both comic strips' creators may have intended this as a joke, one cannot help but find the idea that man should not be allowed to drive or possibly even exist as appalling and not a little frightening. The last century experienced fascist and communist regimes that attempted to make the world better by exterminating those it deemed as undesirable.

The answer to this made-up problem is capitalism and freedom. Capitalism rightly regards natural objects as things to be privately owned by man. When left to freely acquire property and dispose of it for his own benefit, man will protect such property and apply it to useful purposes. He will not destroy it; he will take every effort to protect it. But when nature is not privately owned, it is neglected and plundered. Making Mother Earth a person under the protection of government leads to poor public policy, because government ownership is not the same as private ownership. The largest environmental disaster site in the United States is the federally owned former nuclear facility in Hanford, Wash. Each year government neglect is evident for all to see as the publicly owned western forests in the U.S. burn out of control. Ask any German about how well the communist government of the former East Germany protected the environment. U.S. government employees were as negligent in their stewardship of Hanford and our western forests as their East German communist counterparts were in polluting half the German nation. U.S. government employees succumb to the demands of politicians, who are not owners, to ignore the environmental consequences of building nuclear weapons just as they are to the demands of environmentalists, who are not owners either, that the Forest Service not build rudimentary roads into wilderness areas for fire fighting purposes.

Our environmental laws are unnecessary and counterproductive, stifling our industries while neglecting our commonly held resources. Our western lands should be auctioned off to private ownership. The Environmental Protection Agency should be abolished so that private industries can negotiate acceptable levels of pollution with those who may be affected by it. Pollution is a local issue. Mother Earth is not a person. Private ownership and freedom are the answer to failed attempts at collectivism and coercion, as in all other societal controversies.

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