"Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it." --G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

When pro-environment means anti-human

I am happy to report that the following piece has just been published in the BC Catholic newspaper.

By Terry O'Neill

It was less than a quarter of a century ago that then-Pope John Paul II first warned about the multiplicity of societal trends in human attitudes and practices that were producing a “culture of death.” One can only wonder what he would make of today’s even more terminal view of humanity.

Writing in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, now-Saint Pope John Paul II shone a harsh and revealing light on the “veritable structure of sin” that has led to modern society’s embrace of such destructive, behaviours as artificial contraception, abortion and euthanasia.

Today, however, that’s not even the half of it. Indeed, in an increasingly alarmed and virtually pro-suicidal response to mankind’s impact on the natural environment, some thought leaders are disseminating profoundly anti-human, anti-human-life sentiments.

Take Samantha Kelly, a professor of history at Rutgers University. When asked this month by The Atlantic (a pre-eminent American publication) what “one thing” she would change if she could go back in time, she answered, “The invention of agriculture. Imagine: far less environmental degradation and income inequality…”

That may be, but researchers have found that the Earth could support only about 100 million people living the sort of hunter-gatherer lifestyle that immediately preceded mankind’s invention of agriculture. They also found that only 57 percent those 100 million would reach the age of 15 and that the life expectancy of all hunter-gatherers would be between 21 and 37 years.

In other words, Professor Kelly’s ideal, pre-agriculture world would not only see the elimination of 7.5 billion men, women and children from the Earth, but also the consignment of the “lucky” survivors to short, nasty and brutish lives.

And, oh yes, there would also be no more Professor Kellys to pontificate about the problems of world, for it was the adoption of the very invention that she decries that gave birth to modern civilization and, with it, the sort of educational institutions from which she has the leisure to conjure her opinions. Or maybe she would rather be a gatherer of berries and a bearer of multiple babies, most of whom die in infancy.

But one should not be too harsh with Prof. Kelly. After all, she is an out-and-out moderate when it comes to this sort of stuff. For example, in recent months, media outlets have published stories on the “Conceivable Future” movement which encourages participants to consider whether, given the “realties” of the “climate crisis,” they should forego having children.

More extreme are the “voluntary human extinction” and “anti-natalist” movements, the latter of which argues that all human life causes nothing but harm. “Their notion, that having children may be a bad idea, seems to be gaining mainstream popularity,” observes The Guardian.

Such profoundly misanthropic views used to be held only by radical environmentalists such as Stewart Brand, of the Whole Earth Catalogue, who penned these immortal words: “We have wished, we eco-freaks, for a disaster to come and bomb us into the stone age.'

 Not to be outdone, B.C.’s own Paul Watson, he of the Sea Shepherd Society, once declared, “Humans are the AIDS of the earth.”

More appalling yet is this from David Graber, a research biologist with the American National Parks Service: “We have become a plague upon ourselves and upon the earth...until such time as Homo sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along.”

A notorious 1992 Time magazine cover story signalled how such anti-human ideas could be conceived. Entitled, “The Last Eden,” the story described a remote part of an African jungle that was untouched by humanity. This “Eden,” the magazine wrote, would be destroyed by any sort of human activity.

But, surely, this concept turns the Christian ideal of Eden on its head. Where the Bible paints a pre-fall picture of Eden as a paradise where humans and the natural world lived in perfect harmony, Time sees Eden as devoid of men and women. No Adam, no Eve, no anybody.

Most of us hold to some sort of middle-ground, an approach that neither supports an irresponsible exploitation of the Earth’s natural resources nor an irresponsible attack on humanity. Good Christians, after all, know that humans were created in the image of God, and that we are charged to be wise stewards of the Earth.

Nevertheless, one senses that, as concern over climate change grows, the anti-human view is gaining ground, infecting especially the worldview of our young people, and, in so doing encouraging a profoundly pessimistic even nihilistic personal philosophy.

As a life-long pro-life advocate, I see this as a new and threatening front in an ongoing war – a war whose shape Saint Pope John Paul II first described with ominous precision in Evangelium Vitae.

“This situation, with its lights and shadows,” he wrote, “ought to make us all fully aware that we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the ‘culture of death’ and the ‘culture of life.’ We find ourselves not only ‘faced with’ but necessarily ‘in the midst of’ this conflict: we are all involved and we all share in it, with the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life.”