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Why I Am Not Green: Love of nature meets skepticism of power.

The happiest months of my childhood were those spent on the family farm in a remote part of southern Vermont. That was before the state was discovered and largely ruined by skiers, tourists, and outlet shoppers from neighboring states, as well as upper-middle-class socialists, most of them from Boston and New York City and their environs. Later in life, I left New York and came out to Wyoming, where I've lived for the past four decades.

I settled in Kemmerer, a mining town of several thousand people in the southwest corner of the state, where I worked on a drilling rig for a year and wrote a book about the experience. Though the fossil fuel industry might be a reality for the foreseeable future, I believe the Industrial Revolution was the greatest catastrophe in the history of the human race, that its effects have devastated civilization, society, morality, culture, and the natural world. I dislike modern cities and loathe megalo-politan development, which I avoid whenever possible.

Since I discovered his books in 1980, I've been an admirer of Edward Abbey, the old-fashioned environmentalist curmudgeon (far too old-fashioned for subsequent generations of bureaucratic-socialistic-feminist-multiculturalist-open borders environmentalists, who don't read him). I exchanged postcards with Abbey for a decade but only met him two years before his death in 1989 at the age of 62. Ed was a monkey-wrencher who admitted to having sabotaged a few bulldozers in his time. But he was also a sterling representative of the Old America, a Jeffersonian republican whose motto was "Keep it the way it was," a passionate defender of wilderness and an equally passionate critic of Third World immigration.

I too am devoted to wilderness, where I've made hundreds of remote camps tens and scores of miles from human civilization, hiked as many miles carrying a pack on my back and a rifle in my hand in pursuit of large game animals, and ridden thousands of miles horseback in the Rocky Mountains and the desert canyons. Though not a native Westerner myself (I was born in Manhattan in the neighborhood of my alma mater, Columbia University), I am as territorial as a grizzly bear. I resent non-Westerners intruding upon the region and bristle at the sight of a license plate issued from anywhere beyond the Rocky Mountain states.

So how is it that I am not a Green, have never considered myself one, and am an "environmentalist" only in the broadest sense of the term? (For example, like Theodore Roosevelt and for the same reasons, I admire and defend ranchers.) I've pondered the question myself over the past 40 years, and found the answer--such as it is--in my own novels, all of them set in the rural West. It is that my subject and primary concern as a writer is people in society, not nature. In this sense I'm a humanist, not a naturalist, and would be even had I not converted to the Catholic faith 30 years ago and accepted the Church's doctrine that God made the world for man, whom in turn He made in His image. In a black-dog mood, it's true, I find myself wishing humanity would vanish from the face of the earth that it's been so relentlessly "developing," sub-developing, and otherwise plundering for the past century and a half. Still, I've not only resisted the Green temptation, I have a visceral aversion for Green parties and Green people, first and foremost politicians whose experience of nature is purely theoretical and doesn't extend to breaking a horse, tracking and field dressing an elk, building a campfire from scratch, and navigating the back country with the aid of a topographical map, a compass, an alert eye for landmarks, and an excellent visual memory. Politicians like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, with her Green New Deal, make me see red (or Red). So does President Emmanuel Macron, trying to steamroll the Paris climate agreement over the world's 190 recognized nations.

It seems obvious that the Green movement is not being honest with the rest of us about its motives in promoting its vast and fathomless agenda. Its immediate aim seems to be not to "save the planet" but to abolish capitalism, destroy the First World (meaning civilization), and replace free societies with un-free ones dominated by tyrants backed and encouraged by bureaucrats, "experts," and "specialists." Beyond that, they are apparently being dishonest with themselves (and everyone else) in their moral condemnation of industrial and postindustrial society. They give themselves away here with their censorious rhetorical style, which clearly implies that someone is to blame for the earth's warming climate, and that the someone is not them but other people, the evil capitalists--the financial class, the rapacious industrialists--and the greedy consumers created by capitalism who can never have enough of consumption. The human, social, and natural consequences be damned.

Obviously, Greens are as much the creatures and beneficiaries of the capitalist system as everyone else. Ye t they speak and act as if they have been its high-minded and unselfish critics all along, with no moral responsibility for the mess human beings have made of the natural world. They, of course, would never have set and followed this disastrous course, nor succumbed to the siren song of universal plenty and the Faustian dream of power. Yes, they'll admit, they've benefited in company with the rest of the world from the material goods industrialism has produced. But unlike ordinary people, they've never really enjoyed them. Instead they've practiced total detachment and would be more than delighted to do without their luxuries, little and big, for the future of The Planet. This is sheer angelism on the part of people whom--it is safe to assume--overwhelmingly do not believe in angels.

Angelism is a product of abstraction, as modern political thought from at least Hobbes onward has been abstract--meaning theoretical. For liberal politicians of the 21st century, "saving the planet" is a wholly disembodied concept involving grandiose assumptions about global planning, international cooperation, and often tenuous scientific findings that are, moreover, certain to be partial and contradictory. The same goes for scientists, whose imagined solutions for global warming are limited strictly to vague generalizations about drastically reducing carbon emissions "before it is too late," or stopping them entirely.

Scientists have taken on the role of politicians for themselves. As a result, there is now little difference, if any, between their strategy for saving the earth and that of the liberal political class. Because the broader imaginations of politicians and scientists, beyond their immediate fields of activity, have been shown to be limited at best, it is fair to assume that they cannot imagine what human existence would be like if their proposed restrictions were imposed.

It is also fair to suggest that none of them has ever given the matter a thought beyond smug anticipations of ridding the world of capitalism, industrialism, a free economy, inequality, and rich people who are not entirely accountable to, or dependent upon, government, politicians, and the bureaucracy in planning and managing their various enterprises. We may be equally sure that they are not seriously contemplating life without private jet travel, conferences thousands of miles distant in luxury resorts embedded in exclusive tropical paradises and heated and cooled to precisely the right temperatures, cruise liners several times the gross tonnage of the Titanic, Dover sole flown in overnight from the Channel, all plastics (developed from petroleum products and used in the manufacture of computers and a thousand other things), and so on and so forth. (A good novelist might be able to construct a compelling scenario, but politicians and scientists don't waste their valuable time reading books about people and things that don't exist.)

Their failure so far to propose reasonably specific, practical, and comprehensive plans to "save the planet" should tell us that, consciously or not, they don't believe such a thing is humanly realizable. How can anyone consider the unimaginable as a serious possibility? Surely the managerial classes aren't lacking confidence in their powers of social engineering to command unfathomable "human resources" to achieve vastly complicated social and political ends. But they have absolutely no notion, beyond the relatively simple one of reducing emissions by a certain percentage, of where and how to begin the job once the international conferences have been convened and dismissed, the learned scientific papers read, and the inspirational speeches delivered--except for more conferences.

The reason why any coordinated international plan to revolutionize the political, economic, social, and cultural structures of the world's nations is doomed to failure never occurs to those who have faith in such enterprises. Ye t it's obvious: the competitive instinct in nations, as in individuals, is always stronger than the spirit of cooperation. Little if anything remains, for example, of the New World Order, whose arrival was so confidently and even triumphantly announced 30 years ago. There never was any such thing as an Old World Order, of course, and the "New" one was merely the rhetorical invention of politicians, mostly American. Yet in the affairs of nations, there is no "order" at all, merely the ceaseless, ruthless, blind struggle, first for survival, then for dominance, like the striving of sea slugs on the seabed to which Edmund Wilson, at the height of the Cold War, compared international relations.

Climate change, whatever its cause or causes, appears to be progressing very rapidly--too fast for the international "scientific community" to develop a comprehensive, "sciencebased" plan to arrest it (assuming such a thing were possible), and too fast for 195 sovereign governments to agree upon even its broadest outlines and act on them. If that in fact is the case, the sensible course would seem to be for all of them, acting independently for the most part and in concert when possible, to adapt their lives to a force of nature that, however powerful, is of a magnitude hardly unprecedented in pre-human and early human eras. What we call "climate change" is a natural phenomenon whose naturalness is not diminished by the fact of human activity having some responsibility for the process--humans themselves being a natural part of the natural order.

The same is true of the industrial system, which, viewed this way, is no more unnatural than the work of termites in deconstructing a house. But industrialism has lasted already for a century and a half, the result of the conscious intent to harness, tame, subordinate, and finally subjugate nature. Just as industrialism's development was achieved by planning of a sort, its dismantlement will require an equal but opposite plan. But as the activists warn, and as most people today recognize, global warming is already upon us. We haven't got 150 years to de-industrialize nor have we sufficient time to consider how that might be done. Yet Representative Ocasio-Cortez claims to have found the means to do so in the few months she's been in office. More likely, her Green New Deal, as with everything else she's achieved in Washington, is simply a publicity stunt. Patrick Moore, the co-founder of Greenpeace, tweeted that removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere would mean removing along with them "all H2O vapour and all CO2 which would mean the eradication of all life on Earth." He added in a further tweet: "Pompous little twit. You don't have a plan to grow food for 8 billion people without fossil fuels or get the food into the cities. Horses? If fossil fuels were banned every tree in the world would be cut down for fuel for cooking and heating. You would bring about mass death."

Evidently, carbon dioxide is a gas that naturally induces mendaciousness and hypocrisy in a certain personality type. Greens insist that their goal is to "save the planet." Yet the future of the planet is in no danger, although certain species do appear to be. Pascal Bruckner, one of the so-called New Philosophers who made their reputation in France during the 1970s and '80s, pointed out recently in Le Figaro that, supposing nuclear world war were to annihilate the human race, the earth would continue nonetheless on its solitary way through space. As many Greens feel little or no affinity for their own species (they prefer Gaia), one wonders what their concern is really for. The obvious answer is the conservative one: unlimited power for themselves. Given the choice between Green tyranny and human adaptation to natural change, the majority of citizens everywhere in the world are likely to choose the second of the two. Homo sapiens has been engaged in exactly that for tens of thousands of years. Doubtless it will continue to do so, once it refuses the grandiose, dangerous, inevitably futile schemes of bureaucrats and technicians, and meets the challenges that confront it head-on through local action based on free initiative.


Chilton Williamson, formerly editor of Chronicles and senior editor for National Review, is the author of 11 books. His novel The Last Westerner, published by Perkunas Press, is out next year.
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Title Annotation:Culture
Author:Williamson, Chilton
Publication:The American Conservative
Date:Sep 1, 2019
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