Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Earth Day Alternative

I wrote this op-ed for the Atlanta Journal Constitution for Earth Day 2002. The message applies equally today. NP

The Earth is Mankind's Garden

If the welfare of human life was the standard by which we judged industry and technology, there would be no reason to have a day like "Earth Day." Rather than the environmentalists parading their assault on anything and everything that is a mark of human existence on the planet, we would instead celebrate industry and technology as the very means by which mankind has moved into an era of happiness, health and prosperity.

Looking at a figure as basic as life expectancy, it is obvious that people today live a lot longer than they did in the pre-industrialized world of 200 years ago. Today we enjoy such an abundance of foods, medicines and a whole host of labor-saving technologies that if a person from 200 years ago could see us now, he would be amazed that it is even possible that so many human beings can live together for so long and in such splendor.

Yet, the environmentalists tell us the sky is falling. Turning the popular trail mantra "leave no footprint" against all of humanity, the environmentalists say our farms threaten the ecosystem, our cars are destroying the atmosphere and "sprawl" will consume the wilderness. On Earth Day, every aspect of human life and human consumption represents a threat to the Earth.

Notice, for example, that there is not an existing, practical method of energy production that the environmentalists support. Environmentalists oppose gas, coal, nuclear and hydro power. If the environmentalists were honest, they should love nuclear power, for it clearly has the least ecological impact of all the practical means of generating power.

Yet it is nuclear power that the environmentalists despise the most. Consider the argument that the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the 1970's is proof that man cannot properly harvest the power of the atom. In fact, the accident showed just the opposite. Three Mile Island showed that man could build a reactor that could survive a near total failure, including a hydrogen gas explosion within the reactor core and still have no impact on the surrounding environment. While Three Mile Island was still a costly accident, it showed the strength of our science and technology, not its shortcomings.

Yet the environmentalists still cry "foul." Why? Because the real premise behind Earth Day is that mankind is an unnatural despoiler and a threat to the earth. Of all the creatures that live on the planet, it is rational, tool-making, resource exploiting man that doesn't quite fit.

There is an alternative to the environmentalist argument. It is one that says the Earth is man's garden and that man's mind as fully competent to meet the challenges of living in his garden, whatever those challenges may be. It is an argument that recognizes that the ultimate resource is not oil, coal, caribou or even the energy of the atom. It is an argument that recognizes that the ultimate resource is a free, unfettered human mind.

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