CAUSES OF THE RIOT

4th Nov 1999

The June riot in the City of London had a cause far more dangerous to the future of capitalism than the terrorism of the IRA. The riot was driven by environmentalist ideology which unlike terrorism is widely accepted, and stands against a whole way of life rather than a single government policy. A quote from the Observer makes both points: "We condemn the violence, but the wider truth stands. If you believe the earth is endangered by contemporary capitalism things are getting worse not better. Friday was a salutary reminder of that fact." While the same paper would stop at condoning the bombing of a commercial building by the IRA, it finds the 2M damage by rioters 'beneficial' and implicitly supports the long term destruction of capitalism as a whole.

While the Observer is not the most representative of papers, the power of environmentalism in the culture cannot be doubted. 'Green' laws and regulations are flourishing. They directly affect, amongst others, planning permission, road building, house building, farming, quarrying, chemical manufacture, cement making, iron making, textile treatment, animal testing and waste disposal. They indirectly affect the whole economy, through measures such as the green tax on fuel (making petrol five times dearer than in the US) and the proposed energy tax. Since the summits at Rio, Montreal and Kyoto, environmentalism has become a global policy shaper. It is no wonder rioters take to the streets in the name of such an influential cause - they simply want to accelerate what governments have begun. But is their cause valid? What is environmentalism and why is it so influential?

It used to be concerned with a few minor issues such as lead in petrol and whale hunting, but now environmentalism is a complete ideology whose fundamental belief is that modern industrial society causes changes to the natural world that endanger it. This belief comes in part from the following ideas: that burning fossil fuels causes doom-laden global warming; that GM food threatens butterflies; that pollution from factories damages trees; that modern enterprises destroy endangered species; and that our energy resources are so depleted we need to recycle our waste and curtail our industry. All these ideas help lead environmentalists to their conclusion that mankind must be stopped as far as possible from altering nature. Article 7 of the Rio Declaration says that "to achieve sustainable development and a higher quality of life for all people, States should reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and consumption and promote appropriate demographic policies." By unsustainable they mean any industry that cannot be continued indefinitely because it alters nature using an irreversible process, which encompasses most of them. What would have been unthinkable in less industrialised times is now taken very seriously. Witness the notion of an 'eco-warrior' and of people 'doing their bit' for the environment as for a war.

Regardless of whether the ideas listed above are scientifically valid, it is the ethics added to those ideas which gives environmentalists their fervour and influence, and which clashes most fundamentally with capitalism. The key ethical idea behind environmentalism is that nature has intrinsic value. Greenpeace declares: "Ecology teaches us that humankind is not the centre of life on the planet, Ecology has taught us that the whole earth is part of our body, and that we must learn to respect it as we respect ourselves." Respect means leaving it alone. In contrast, capitalists believe that men should use the natural world for their own purposes, and turn it into property to keep or trade. They have no obligation to the planet but only to respect the rights of other men. The two systems are fundamentally opposed because they have fundamentally different ways of measuring value. To environmentalists the standard of value is the preservation of nature, to capitalists it is the promotion of individual men.

A country's social system can only be based on one or the other of these principles. A mixture leads to conflict in the streets, fields and court rooms which cannot be resolved except by endorsing one of them for the duration of that case. A state of such uncertainty makes men less likely to risk new enterprises and is thus a victory for environmentalism.

Fortunately for mankind, there is one crucial fact overlooked by environmentalism which reveals their standard of value as false: man is part of nature too. Just as plants and animals survive by attaining the values that nature has set for them, so does Homo sapiens. In his case, man must use the rational faculty given him by nature to prolong and enhance his life. Living on a merely physical basis is not enough - he must constantly use his mind to improve his condition, by understanding and adapting what he finds around him. No part of man's nature requires him to sacrifice his values to those of other species or to future generations. In their constant demands that mankind stop using nature, the environmentalists implicitly demand that man ignores his own nature - they expect him to survive without pursuing values. Yet even environmentalists cannot help but use the environment and benefit from the goods produced by capitalism. If environmentalism were consistently practised it would lead to the destruction of all men's values, and finally of man. Hence the rioters had no qualms about trying to destroy the City.

The hypocrisy of environmentalism can further be seen in the fact that they only blame human beings for changing the world. If a plague of mosquitoes threatens other species with malaria, the environmentalists do not cry out against the mosquitoes for having a lack of 'respect'. Instead they try and stop men from using DDT in their own defence.

Their bias against mankind also blinds environmentalists to the solution of genuine issues about the environment. Since they see man as an evil exploiter of nature per se, they cannot accept the idea that problems such as pollution are solvable by technology rather than completely halting the human activity which produces it. In a choice between using a cleaner process and closing a power station, or between building a new road and cutting back on cars, they will always push for the latter. In fact, because man's rational faculty is what enables him to change nature in vast ways, so too can it provide the best solution to the unwanted side effects of his actions. When environmentalists do crusade for new technology, such as wave power, their only motive is to preserve nature regardless of the human cost, such as the inability to use power intensive machinery. To environmentalists, technology's purpose is not to enable man to master nature, but to make him its slave.

Another solution to their own 'problems' that environmentalists overlook is that offered by the bedrock principle of capitalism: private property. Just as a legal system based on individual property rights is the best way to settle disputes among men, so it also provides the best way for them to preserve parts of their environment. In order to bring what they value under the protection of the law, men can make it their private property through purchase or improvement. The National Trust is a good example of how nature can voluntarily be preserved in this way.

Environmentalists, on the other hand, circumvent the hard work of obtaining property by acting as if they are the legal custodians of the whole planet. They make cases against people who use any part of it in a way they dislike, and disregard the choices of the actual legal owners, as in the case of Brent Spar. This is simply a denial of property rights and the promotion of public 'ownership' a la communism, except that 'the good of the planet' has replaced 'the good of the people'.

Environmentalism is also like communism in that the state comes to be in ultimate control of men's property, which is another reason that power-lusting politicians are so keen to endorse it. One article from Rio even sounds eerily reminiscent of mindwashing Marxism: "The creativity, ideals and courage of the youth of the world should be mobilised to forge a global partnership in order to achieve sustainable development and ensure a better future for all".

So much for environmentalism's anti-man ethics. As for its science, that usually consists of hasty generalisations driven again by the idea of nature's primary value. The Rio Declaration even admits as much: "Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation". Here are some scientifically certain, pro-man claims to counter those of global leaders and the disaster-mongering media.

There is no evidence that GM crops cause significant changes in other species so as to endanger man. Destroying crops used in scientific investigations is certainly not beneficial to him. Species come and go regularly whatever man does and if a small number of endangered animals die the impact of their loss will be in proportion to their number, that is low. Those who really care should buy the habitat of the species they wish to keep and rear them. Dangerous climate change is far from being proven fact, and if it ever is, increased solar radiation is far more likely to be the cause of global warming than CFCs or deforestation. If the sea ever does rise and pose a threat, the answer will be to build flood-barriers, not abandon fossil fuels now and live more primitively. Enforced recycling is unnecessary since if a thing has actual value people will pay to remove it. Water and air pollution are not global catastrophes but localised problems best dealt with by improved technology or compensation.

Spurred on by the unscientific, sensationalist media, and their own desire for control, politicians fervidly act on environmentalist hyperbole by passing new laws. The first test an environmentalist claim should pass before being enshrined in legislation is "which man's values are at stake?" The second is "prove the damage and its cause". If it fails the first, the claimants should be advised to buy what they value then rely on existing property law. If it fails the second, it should be written off as an unproven theory.

While environmentalist claims are not thus challenged, all of us are made to suffer in two significant ways. Firstly, we are controlled by rules and taxes which unnecessarily limit our freedom. Secondly, we are made to feel guilty for living, which limits our happiness. If we accept the environmentalist ethics, then every time we enjoy some product of contemporary capitalism we are made to feel angst for the 'harm' we've done to nature. Such a conflict between desire for values and shame at causing harm does not make a healthy mental state. Those who rioted could not stand the conflict and so came down firmly on the side of nature. It is time the rest of us came down firmly on the side of man.

- Henry Afton