By Jeffrey E. Foss
Note: This is a slight update of a lecture by our Climate Realists colleague Dr. Jeffrey Foss, philosophy professor emeritus at the University of Victoria, given in December 1999. The talk caused a controversy—as Foss notes, he was attacked by environmentalists for embracing science rather than nature, and by scientists for not embracing environmentalism.1 In fact, as you will see below, Jeff proposed an environmentalism that embraced humanity as a creation of and friend of nature, rather than, as so many environmentalists believe, nature’s enemy. Jeff died in March, 2022. He will be missed by all of us.
I love nature, and I believe that the natural world must be protected from the depredations of human beings—let’s be absolutely clear about this from the start.
Nevertheless, I also believe that humans are part of nature, hence that there is no contradiction between the flourishing of nature and the flourishing of human beings. Unfortunately, environmentalism, as we all know, pits us against nature, painting us as Mother Nature’s misbegotten children, convicting us without trial or jury as born enemies of our planet.
This is especially obvious when it comes to so-called “Climate Change,” the doctrine that tells us that human flourishing will cause apocalyptic warming. Every day we are asked to sacrifice the plentiful fossil fuels that have made possible our recent escape from starvation, hard physical labor, disease, ignorance, tyranny and world wars.
It is falsely drummed into us that our very escape itself is destroying “The Environment”—a horrendous crime for which we must pay penalties, suffer punishment, shrive and repent. Storm, flood, and disease are fictionalized as nature’s way of striking back at us for our environmental sins.
Environmentalism usurps the role of religion in assigning guilt and demanding sacrifice. It has made us believe in—that is, place our faith in—the sacredness of the environment. It commands us—and our children—to sacrifice an endless list of blessings we have worked so hard to get, like houses with yards for kids, cars and the freedom to travel, things made of plastic like running shoes and cellphones, oranges in winter, meat any time, even a decent burial.
Worse, our kids are taught that having kids of their own hurts Mother Earth—whose children we are. Our cities and farms and ships and cars and planes—everything we make or use or eat or wear—all are unnatural and wrong. We are all told to lower our expectations, to live small, to fade back into primordial insignificance—all for the environment’s sake.
That environmentalism leads to such results is not at all surprising once we realize the fundamental equation that drives it:
The Environment = Earth minus Humankind
The environment (from the French, environs, meaning “surroundings”) is for environmentalists, then, everything that surrounds us—the world, but minus us. Environmentalism is the socio-political movement that aims to protect and advance the environment. Hence, environmentalism aims to protect and advance everything but us. Environmentalists declare the environment as pristine, good, holy—leaving us as the sole source of evil on this planet.
An imaginary chasm between humans and nature
The fundamentally false equation of environmentalism declares an imaginary chasm between humans and nature that bears bitter fruit. And as a wise man once said, “By their fruits shall ye know them.” Though it wears the protective coloration of Bambi and cartoon polar bears, environmentalism is a self-destructive psychopathy, an enemy of humankind.
Fortunately, this psychopathy is curable by daily doses of simple truth. One such truth is that every organism, whether animal, plant, or micro-organism, survives by making use of its environment. Environmentalists smear this basic truth by substituting the word “exploit” for the words “make use of,” but call it what you like, there is no other conceivable way for life to exist. Life just is a flow of materials and energies. Homo sapiens life is no exception to this fact.
To illustrate, take any species, say, for instance, the industrious Canadian beaver, Castor canadensis, and ask this question: “How many Canadian beavers are there?” The answer is easy if we simply take the beavers’ point of view: “As many as possible.” Ever since they first evolved, beavers have done their level best to dam every dammable bit of water running through trees so that they could make homes in the ponds thus made—and have as many beaver kits (their kids) as they could.
In the process beavers cut down trees from sea to shining sea to make their dams and homes, while eating as much pond weed, bulrush, cattail, water lily, etc., as they could get their tiny hands on. In short, Canadian beavers have been “exploiting” their environment for millions of years before we arrived on the scene to exploit ours. Yes, ours. We are part of their environment, just as they are part of ours.
Long may we coexist!
Both we and the beaver have been blessed with cooperation, industry, and intelligence: the common blessings of higher evolution. Bird nests, beaver lodges, and human houses are all 100% natural. Hydroelectric dams are products of biological evolution, just like beaver dams.
You cannot leave the city to be closer to nature, because the city is completely natural. You can, of course, leave the city to go into the countryside or even to the wilderness—thank goodness—but then you just go from one amazing part of nature to another. Human settlements have always and only co-existed with the rest of nature. If that coexistence were not possible, then we would not be here.
Intelligence is nature’s greatest gift
Surely intelligence will emerge wherever conditions permit life to exist and evolve. Why? Because intelligence is of great advantage to life. When informed by eyes, ears, nose, or whatever senses, and in command of feet, hands, mouth, or whatever movable bits, intelligence confers a quantum leap in an animal’s ability to survive and reproduce. More than this, much more: The activity of intelligence constitutes an animal’s consciousness of itself within its environment. Life can now be enjoyed or suffered, the world can be loved or hated, we can laugh or cry.
Surely consciousness is, in ways we are just beginning to understand, the key to the mystery of life, the underlying destination of billions of years of ever-moving atoms, stars, planets, sunlight, and chemistry, the missing piece in the puzzle of existence. Our existence was contained in the instant of the Big Bang, or else we could not be here.
As the Earth’s most intelligent species—by far—we ought to give serious thought to the opportunities and hazards that lie before us. Shouldn’t we treasure and protect nature because we are of it and in it? Isn’t it, therefore, a mistake to drive a wedge between us and nature? Aren’t our riches just one small part of the riches of life as a whole?
That is why I am not an environmentalist. That is why I reject adolescent apocalyptic fears of global warming, rising oceans, hurricanes and their ilk. Likewise for old men’s tales of sixth extinctions, population explosions, acid rain, peak oil, nuclear annihilation, and other global scares.
Now is not the time for Homo sapiens to lose its nerve or heart. Let us not head back towards our primitive form of life as hunter-gatherers. Now is instead the time for us to grow in strength and intelligence, to shoulder the responsibilities conferred on us by growing strength and maturity. It is up to us to provide intelligence for the whole of life. (This is presumed by environmentalists themselves in their domineering despair, by the way. But let us instead follow the light of hope rather than retreat into the darkness of self-negation.)
For both ourselves and our uncounted cousins—including the charming beaver—let us realize once and for good that we are the only species aware of this whole planet and the river of life it maintains. Only we can care about it—and we do.
So we must grow and prosper in strength and knowledge, and make ourselves fit to serve as the brain and brawn of our beloved Terra.