In less than a week, the vein of irony running through the universe has proved to be as active as ever. France spearheaded a global leadership effort and is actually following through with it, Al Gore was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and environmentalists protesting global climate change rejoiced when the lights went out across Europe last Thursday.
But if one understands the relationship between light and humanity, the last bit of information is particularly disturbing. Bridging as many centuries as it does cultures, light has frequently served as a positive archetype for human beings.
Be it the firelight protecting a nomad from a predator’s claws or the incandescent bulb extending the scientist’s work beyond the constraints of nightfall, man’s ability to harness light for his benefit is rightfully treated as moral. Specifically, electric light is a particular triumph. It’s safer than an open flame and does not expose the user to the unhealthy smoke that abounds with candles and oil lamps. What last Thursday’s demonstration effectively did was characterize the achievement of electric lighting negatively as a malaise that warms the earth.
It seems as if people are supposed to feel guilty for building tools and altering his environment for his benefit, even though both are necessar to survive.
The odd thing is, environmentalists complain when people make tools or alter their environment in their own selfish drive to survive, but when other animals similarly strive to survive in their own ways, it’s OK. For example, if a man builds a dam to prevent flooding or generate electricity, environmentalists say it’s wrong because it alters the salinity or the flow of the water downstream, thus threatening fish habitats. But if a beaver colony were to dam a river and do whatever it is beaver colonies do, that’s OK because such is the beaver’s nature.
Another example of this loathing towards man is displayed by environmentalists’ reaction to construction of an aluminum plant in Iceland. This development project, which takes place in a sparsely populated area in Iceland, makes economic sense. The International Herald Tribune described Iceland as wealthy, but “the prosperity is concentrated in Reykjavik.” Most Icelanders support the development of the like because they bring “jobs and money to the eastern fjords.”
The project makes environmental sense, too. The plant will be powered by clean hydroelectric and geothermal power, meaning its carbon dioxide output will be “less than for any other facility of this size elsewhere in the world.”
One would think environmentalists would react to this news positively, as the project is a poster child for so-called “green” development. However, their reaction has been quite the contrary: harnessing geothermal and hydroelectric energy threatens Iceland’s landscape, “putting a huge strain on the country’s rivers and thermal fields,” – the International Herald Tribune said this is the position of Hjorleifur Guttormsson, Iceland’s former energy and industry minister. This puts Icelanders in a prickly position: Iceland’s industries that seek to use the country’s clean electricity are now confronted by the caveat that the power may have a devastating environmental impact.
But what rational people would see as a solution – using another cheap energy source, such as coal, that won’t cause holes in the landscape – is a no-go in the environmentalist playbook because it pollutes the atmosphere.
So, to get this straight: Icelanders shouldn’t use geothermal and hydroelectric power because it destroys the environment but is clean, but they also shouldn’t use an excellent substitute such as coal, because coal is said to warm the earth. But what about wind power, you may ask?
I’m not even sure if Iceland has wind, but if wind farms were planned, environmentalists would surely attack them too – the argument would be made that they threaten birds.
If I sound ridiculous, consider the controversy surrounding the wind turbine in Altamont Pass, Calif. in 2004. As reported by USA Today, environmentalists filed lawsuits against the wind farm owners, citing that they wanted better protection for birds.
If it wasn’t clear enough, it’s not begging the question to recognize that in the purview of mainstream environmentalism, the notion of acceptable energy development and use is a myth, publicized to trick people into thinking environmentalism is benign. It is na’ve to think that treating animals and ecosystems as near-gods and treating men as parasites encourages man’s survival. If there is no middle ground to the view that is seemingly proffered by environmentalists, then humans shouldn’t be forced to make deadly compromises that trade off an “acceptable” amount of human misery for a “noble” ideal such as the protection of species.
It is as wrong to argue that the prevention of malarial deaths is less ethical than saving birds from DDT – just as it is wrong to argue that humans should be reduced to a subsistence level of existence for the sake of geographic formation.
Victoria Bekiempis is a sophomore majoring in history and French.