]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]         GREEN FOR DANGER        [[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[
                                                           (7/1/1989)
           Editorial, THE SPECTATOR (London), 3/18/1989

     'You damage the earth just by living on it.'  This was not the 
Ayatollah passing judgment on some hapless miscreant, but the Sunday 
Times apostrophising its readership.  There followed a list of 
polluting activities, which included practically everything except the 
production of newspapers which are several inches thick with their 
numerous sections weighing several pounds.
     The recent timely panic over the ozone layer, and the upsurge of 
concern over the fate of the rain forests of Brazil, must have brought 
comfort and a sense of vindication to those environmentalists who have 
been preaching in the wilderness for 20 years.  They may harm their 
cause by indulging in Rousseau-like or other political fantasies.
     For more than two centuries, Western man has from time to time 
longed to escape the complexities and ambiguities of his world for the 
simple, 'natural' life of the South Seas, the jungle, the desert, the 
tundra, the savannah.  There, he believes, live men who, understanding 
the pitfalls of civilization, have rejected it.  Instead of trying to 
dominate nature they wisely consider themselves part of it, husbanding
only what can be replaced.  Next on the scale of virtue come peasants.  
These are men who live by the rhythm of the seasons, who do not use 
chemicals, who spend their spare time in ecologically harmless 
industry.
     When we come to ourselves, how delightful to find that we are the 
guiltiest of all, despoiling the earth, polluting it, introducing 
disease into the several gardens of Eden, creating desire where none 
existed before, luxuriating in vulgarity, wretched in our self-
inflicted loss of contact with nature!  The solution is to learn from 
nomads and peasants, build ourselves huts in the woods (if we can find 
any) and live off the land, freeing ourselves from the treadmill of 
getting and spending.
     This vision has all the earthy political reality of a fete 
champetre painted by Fragouard.  Offered the chance of getting and 
spending, even at a very low level, most men who have passed their 
lives in contact with nature accept it with alacrity.  The shanty 
towns of cities in poor countries are testimony to this fact, 
inexplicable as it may be to devotees of the simple life.
     There are, of course, countries in which the urge to consume has 
been restrained, partly by economic incompetence, partly by 
puritanical intellectuals who believe -- and are prepared to impose on 
others their belief -- that there are worthier aims in life than 
consumption.
     But these countries are not encouraging as models: Albania and 
Burma, for example.  Part of Ayatollah Khomeini's inchoate hatred of 
the modern world is directed against the urge to consume what he 
considers corrupting trifles: but how much savagery has been required 
to try to curb that urge!
     A further fantasy of the environmentalists, the steady-state 
economy in which there is no economic growth, would require elaborate 
central control enforced by generous doses of political repression.  
Moreover, the record of centralized economies in the matter of the 
environment is not encouraging.  The worst pollution in Europe occurs 
not in the most efficient economies, but in the least.  The Soviet 
Union has managed to combine low production and a low standard of 
living with vast open spaces utterly devastated by the rank 
indifference to environmental pollution that inevitably occurs where 
there is no private or countervailing interest to consult.
     As for the underdeveloped world, the sudden vogue in North 
America and Western Europe for environmental protection is likely to 
be interpreted as just one more plot against it.  Not only do we 
export our pollution there by increasingly delegating the messiest 
production to its factories, but we blame the inhabitants for trying 
desperately to reach our standard of living.  Having aroused 
expectations from life which we have come to take for granted, we now 
try to export the idea that these expectations are unsustainable.  
This does not mean, of course, that fears about the Brazilian jungle 
are unjustified; but it does mean that the Brazilians are the more 
likely to use the tu quoque argument, with some justification.
     We do not need a world authority to apply puritanical, self-
denying and unworkable ordinances to the poorer nations.  Rather, 
environmental regulation should be a stimulus to economic competition 
and technical investiveness.  It was the price rise in petroleum that 
led to more fuel-efficient cars, not the arguments, however well-
founded, of whole-earthers.  The environmental peril in which we find 
ourselves should not be just another arrow in the quiver of aspiring 
totalitarians.

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