Monday, April 25, 2005

More on Ecofascism and Related Topics

My post from last week on ecofascism has generated a decent amount of good discussion, some of which is here on this blog and some of which is on Lawyers Guns Money, which gave this post some nice publicity. I want to go into some of the more interesting points that people brought up in the comments, particularly those of Everett Volk at The Public Trust who was probably the most critical of the ideas in the post and therefore the most interesting to respond to.

I first want to make clear that of course most people who consider themselves environmentalists are not inclined toward fascism or other right-wing movements. However, to interrogate this further, we need to first split those who consider themselves environmentalists because they give money to the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society each month and those who are active environmental activists. The masses who sign petitions, join the big organizations, recycle, and vote based on environmental principles are certainly environmentalists, but they are often of a different breed than the activists. Truly committed activists led me to worry much more about potential connections between environmental organizations and right-wing movements. The principles behind Deep Ecology are almost inherently anti-human. Like Ron (another LGM commenter on the post) I too have had conversations with people who wish that 20% of the population would disappear. Once in such a conversation, I suggested that the person presenting this argument set an example and kill themselves. The point being of course not that I wanted to person to kill themselves but that those who say this are almost always talking about population declines taking place in the overpopulated nations of the developing world. Or to be more blunt, they're talking about a 20% decline in the population of brown people. This argument that one often comes across with Earth Firsters and readers of Deep Ecology thus often has a strong element of racism in it, even if it's within the person's subconscious. And this is deeply worrisome. German ecofascism had and has a strong element of this--Anglo-Saxon nations are of a pure stock and need to reproduce but the dirty foreigners are overcrowding the earth and spreading their pollution into the Fatherland, thus we need to get rid of them.

I would like to say that these kind of thoughts could never become mainstream in America, but if you read the propaganda of the Zero Population Growth people and realize that they are on the verge, through allying themselves with animal rights people (an anti-humanist group almost by definition), of taking over the Sierra Club, you understand that in fact it could happen here. This is what worries me.

As Roderick Nash points out in Wilderness and the American Mind, the concept of wilderness has been central to America's interaction with the environment ever since the Puritans arrived. I find Nash's arguments a bit flawed due to a very selective definition of interactions with nature, but nonetheless one can't deny the centrality of wilderness to American thought. As I pointed out in the first post, I find the concept of wilderness to be a major problem in American environmental thought. Everett Volk defends the preservation of wilderness in his LGM comments and that's fine. There is nothing inherently wrong with the protection of wilderness. I support the idea that certain lands should be set aside from large-scale human impact. But I have great difficulty seeing the validity of an argument that we should prioritize wilderness protection over any other environmental goal.

I would like someone to justify wilderness protection in a way that does not use any kind of New Age language about people's spirit's, people's need to explore, etc. I simply do not recognize those arguments as legitimate for several reasons, including that a) I am a very non-spiritual person and so put no stock in those arguments, b) that the supposed need to explore the world reeks of imperialism and the language of conquest, and most importantly, c) that such arguments also have racial and class overtones because they restrict wilderness access and therefore the supposed rejuvenation of the spirit that comes with it to middle and upper class white people, something which I find deeply troubling. I do not know how you can prioritize wilderness protection in a human way because it is something restricted from the majority of humanity. Nor can I understand an argument that makes wilderness a central tenet of environmentalism from an ecological perspective because with the vast majority of wilderness areas, the protected lands are among the most impoverished ecosystems. If we really wanted to focus on protecting ecosystems, we would do all we could to reinvigorate the Chesapeake Bay, estuaries, cold water marine fisheries, and lowland coastal forests over those of the high Cascades and Rockies. Of course there are many committed activists working on these issues but the focus of the work of the big environmental organizations is not in these places. It's too much in wilderness, national parks, and big wildlife.

Finally, I disagree with the argument that one value in protecting wilderness is that we need to pay attention to non-anthropocentric values. My disagreement here stems from the fact that it is impossible to separate humans from nature--in fact to do is both politically and environmentally irresponsible. Every decision that humans make is anthropocentric because each decision we make affects both humans and the rest of the world's organisms. These supposedly non-anthropocentric decisions are not so at all; rather they value a certain kind of human interaction with nature and human lifestyle over others. It's cloaked in a non-human centered language, but in fact is the promotion of a particular kind of human control over the environment that I cannot agree with.