Thursday, March 28, 2024

The ‘Anthropocene’ and Hatred of Man

A vigorous debate has been going on inside the world of geology science. The question is, are we in a new geologic age marked by human influence on the planet? The answer—No. According to a New York Times report

The highest governing body in geology has upheld a contested vote by scientists against adding the Anthropocene, or human age, to the official timeline of Earth’s history.

The vote, which a committee of around two dozen scholars held in February, brought an end to nearly 15 years of debate about whether to declare that our species had transformed the natural world so thoroughly since the 1950s as to have sent the planet into a new epoch of geologic time.

On the face of it, this seems like a rather ho-hum subject for most people outside the scientific community. But an article applauding the decision drew my interest because it highlighted something I’ve long believed and said—the Environmentalist movement is fundamentally anti-human. In Scientists Just Gave Humanity an Overdue Reality Check. The World Will Be Better for It, NYT guest essayist Stephen Lezak is quite blunt: 

The world’s leading institution on geology declined a proposal on Wednesday to confirm that the planet has entered a new geologic epoch, doubling down on its bombshell announcement earlier this month. The notion that we’re in the “Anthropocene” — the proposed name for a geologic period defined by extensive human disturbance — has become a common theme in environmental circles for the last 15 years. To many proponents, the term is an essential vindication, the planetary equivalent of a long-sought diagnosis of a mysterious illness. But geologists weren’t convinced.

The international geology commission’s decision this week to uphold its vote of 12 to 4 may seem confusing, since by some measures humans have already become the dominant geologic force on the earth’s surface. But setting the science aside for a moment, there’s a reason to celebrate, because the politics behind the Anthropocene label were rotten to begin with.

For starters, the word Anthropocene problematically implies that humans as a species are responsible for the sorry state of the earth’s environments. While technically true, only a fraction of humanity, driven by greed and rapacious capitalism, is responsible for burning through the planet’s resources at an unsustainable rate. Billions of humans still lead lives with relatively modest environmental footprints, yet the terminology of the Anthropocene wrongly lays blame at their feet. Responding to the vote, a group of outside scientists wisely noted in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution that “our impacts have less to do with being human and more to do with ways of being human.”

[My emphasis.]

"A mysterious illness," “the [rotten] politics behind the Anthropocene label,” "the sorry state of the earth’s environments," and "greed and rapacious capitalism" is how the author refers to the “fraction of humanity [that] is responsible for burning through the planet’s resources.”  

But what did that guilty fraction of humanity give us? The Great Enrichment is how historian Deirdre McCloskey describes the explosive, almost miraculous improvements in the living standards, over the past 250 years, of the fraction of humanity that Lezak blames for the “mysterious illness” that gave us “the sorry state of Earth’s environment.” But that “mysterious illness” was Capitalism, which McCloskey believes is more accurately labeled Innovism. And that political system, which Lezak labels “rotten,” is the system of rightful liberty that unchained ideas, individual productiveness, and commercialism to bless the large portion of the world with vastly enriched lives. "Lives with relatively modest environmental footprints" is how Lezak approvingly thinks of the large portion of the planet that still lives in devastating poverty—and the near stone-age state to which the author apparently dreams of reducing the rest of us. 

The rate of economic growth of The Great Enrichment, McCloskey argues, will “in a few generations—if the virus, pollution, war, and tyranny do not intervene—bring everyone on the planet to a level of prosperity well above that enjoyed now in Western Europe.” Lezak does not cheer that potential glorious development. He wants to prevent it—and roll it back. He wants to keep those “Billions of humans [who] still lead lives with relatively modest environmental footprints” in their current state of poverty and misery.

This is the definitive cold-blooded Environmentalist view of human progress, and all you need to know about the motives of anyone who speaks of "saving the planet.” It is from a flourishing human life that the planet-savers aim to save the planet. Lezak is not an aberration or outlier. Humans live, survive, and flourish by impacting the planet. The Great Enrichment could not have happened, and can never expand, on an ideology of modest environmental impact. It could not exist by limiting the “burning through the planet’s resources” to what Environmentalists call a sustainable rate.* Humans can’t live “in harmony with nature,” as animals do. Man’s primary means of survival is his reasoning mind. Man needs to apply his reason to his labor in order to vastly improve the planet to live and flourish. We either sustain the planet in its wild, dangerous, unimpacted state, or we sustain humanity and human progress. It’s either/or. The Environmentalists choose planet sustainability. Humanitarians choose human life.

Scientists Just Gave Humanity an Overdue Reality Check. The World Will Be Better for It goes well beyond the powerlust that politicians who use Environmentalism to gain power over our lives. At least they retain some respect for human progress, even though their policies would ultimately make progress impossible. What I sense when I read cold rubbish like Lezak’s article is pure hatred, and the resentment and envy of productive achievement that leads to it. 

* [Earth doesn’t actually give us resources. It gives us raw materials with potential. Turning those raw materials into actual resources comes from human thought and ingenuity.]

Related Reading:

Earth Day: a Pro-Human Perspective vs. the Anti-Industrial Revolutionaries

Greta Thunberg's Hatred of Man

Related Listening:

The Anti-Industrial Revolution, by Ayn Rand


Infidel753 said...

Well, for one thing, it's hardly a matter of "since the 1950s". Some of the most major human impacts on the environment happened thousands or even tens of thousands of years ago -- the highest-impact human-caused mass extinctions were those produced by the first humans' arrival in Australia and the Americas. Nor is it a matter of capitalism. During the period of Soviet rule, the USSR was probably the worst environmental disaster area on the planet. The important variable is not the economic system but the political system. The USSR was not a democracy, therefore its rulers were not accountable to the people for the damage they did, therefore they had no incentive to minimize it.

Opposition to the rising prosperity of what are now the poorer countries of the world is not only a moral abomination, it hopelessly scrambles cause and effect. It's the poorest regions of the world where the worst environmental damage is happening right now, while the environment in the West and places like Japan has improved enormously as those places got richer (compare the levels of smog in any American city today with the 1970s, or the kind of pollution that prevailed during the industrial revolution). Most people in the tropics can't afford to prioritize the environment because they need to focus on getting a decent level of life for themselves, if not on sheer survival. Rich countries are rigorous in protecting the environment because they are rich and can afford to do that. If Brazil and the Congo and India eventually reach "a level of prosperity well above that enjoyed now in Western Europe", then they too will painstakingly protect their environment because they'll be able to afford it. If they stay poor, then endangered species, rainforests, and everything else will remain merely resources to be exploited to the hilt, because poor people don't have the luxury of renouncing such resources.

The environment is a serious concern, but using it to score cheap points in the transient ideological battles of the moment is not going to help anything. It just trivializes the issue.

principled perspectives said...

Well put. Thanks for visiting.