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Who will defend industry from eco-terrorism?

By Onkar Ghate
web posted January 30, 2006

The good news: a federal grand jury in Eugene, Oregon, has indicted 11 people on charges that they committed acts of domestic terrorism on behalf of the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front. Moreover, now one of the FBI's "highest domestic terrorism priorities," according to director Robert S. Mueller III, is to prosecute people who commit crimes "in the name of animal rights or the environment."

Nevertheless, it remains worrisome that we still dismiss such terrorists as deranged individuals who pervert the ideology of environmentalism. Even more worrisome is that few of us intellectually grasp, and then rise to defend, the irreplaceable values under attack by environmental terrorists. Their targets are not, fundamentally, a particular ski resort, logging company, meatpacking center or medical research project, but what these represent: human technology, human progress, human life.

Man's life is sustained--and made longer, healthier, happier--by industrial development and technological progress. The hospitals, antibiotics and chemotherapy treatments which keep our bodies free from disease--the pesticides, bioengineering and shopping malls which make possible our consumption of almost any food imaginable--the oil rigs, dams and nuclear power plants which keep our lights on and washing-machines running--the trucks, telephones and computers which make an hour of our time vastly more productive--the large homes, MP3 players and ski resorts which make our newfound recreational hours more enjoyable--it is these products of industrial civilization that are responsible for the vast increase in the quantity and quality of life that we enjoy today.

Imagine for a moment being transported back to Western Europe nine hundred years ago (or parts of Africa today). Imagine the daily, excruciating physical labor required to grow meager crops or to haul water from miles away--assuming there is no drought. Imagine the filth and disease, because there are no sewage systems. Imagine the pain and misery as rotting teeth go untreated, broken bones go untended, failing eyesight goes uncorrected. This is a glimpse of life without industry.

The individuals singled out for attack by environmental terrorists--namely, scientists, inventors and businessmen--are the creators of industrial civilization. As heirs of Newton, scientists discover truths about the workings of nature. As heirs of Edison, inventors use these truths to create new products which improve human life. As heirs of Ford, businessmen figure out ways to perfect and mass manufacture these products profitably.

These three categories of individuals represent the exploiters of nature, those who transform wilderness to support man's life. They find plains and forests, dangerous jungles and insect-infested swamps, in which man's life is precarious, and they build a human environment by creating houses, electric heaters and chemical pesticides. They teach man his method of survival: using his mind to reshape nature to his needs.

As monstrous as it sounds, it is precisely because these heroes are the sustainers of human life that they are targeted by those who are willing to take up arms for their cause, environmentalism.

Despite common belief to the opposite, the ideology of environmentalism is not concerned with improving man's life on earth. If it were, it would not oppose but champion industrial progress--luxury homes, dams, highways, bioengineering, food irradiation, etc.--and the individuals who create it.

Environmentalism instead champions wilderness (including wild animals). On this premise, science and technology are irredeemably evil. If the supreme value is a world untouched by human hands, then in logic man and industry are destroyers of value, to be eliminated by force if necessary.

Committed environmentalists openly voice this hatred of man and industry. The founder of Green Peace reflects: "I got the impression that instead of going out to shoot birds, I should go out and shoot kids who shoot birds." A biologist with the U.S. National Park Services states: "Until such time as Homo sapiens should decide to return to nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along." The head of the 1992 Earth Summit wonders: "Isn't the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn't it our responsibility to bring that about?"

Environmental terrorism is a consistent expression of environmentalism's worship of wilderness. By making the preservation of untouched nature the ideal, environmentalism necessarily makes man, who survives by exploiting nature, the enemy.

If we value our lives, we must never make common cause with environmentalism, no matter how appealing a particular environmentalist project may seem. We must fight not only against particular environmental terrorists but also against the ideology that inspires them. But even more important, we must fight for rational values: man's life and industrial civilization.

Dr. Onkar Ghate is a senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, CA. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead." Copyright © 2006 Ayn Rand® Institute. All rights reserved.

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