Adam Gaglio’s recent condemnation of environmentalism (The perils of environmentalism, 03/03/2009) was, ironically, a waste of paper and ink. To expand: Gaglio believes that the environmentalism movement is predicated on the notion that nature should remain pristine and wholly untouched by mankind. He frames the issue as a zero-sum game between human welfare and environmental health, and seems to think that environmentalism would condemn any despoiling of the environment to extract natural resources. While there are certainly “live in a tree, poop in a bucket” environmentalists out there, the mainstream environmentalist movement is not about the supremacy of unblemished nature over human needs. In fact, the majority of environmental causes are now framed in terms of increasing human welfare, in two distinct ways.
First, environmental regulations help ensure that primary goods are not squandered through inefficient machinery, that clean air and water are preserved and that environmental toxins do not rise to levels which could damage the ecosystem (upon which we depend). Thus, there is an immediate benefit to humanity from environmental policy.
The second consideration, which Gaglio mocks in his opening paragraph, is the preservation of resources for future generations. Overzealous consumption of natural resources and our generation’s polluting habits will negatively affect the welfare of subsequent generations. Although the moral primacy of human needs is the central thesis of Gaglio’s argument, his concern for human well-being is focused wholly on the current generation. Such logic is contradictory, as it states that future humans have no claim to resources, which is a decidedly anti-human sentiment.
Environmentalism, in its current manifestation, is about using resources efficiently and cleanly. The world is not, as Gaglio portrays it, a bipolar conflict between humans and nature and environmentalism is not a concerted effort to “return to the Stone Age.” Rather, environmentalism recognizes that humans are directly dependent on the biodiversity, natural resources and cleanliness of our surroundings for our continued survival, and that the preservation and cultivation of these resources is a moral and necessary goal.