Ilana Mercer, August 28, 2002

There’s a Joseph Conrad kind of symbolism in the location of the United Nations-sponsored World Summit on Sustainable Development. A collection of central planners has convened in Johannesburg, South Africa, to further centralize control over private property and streamline the distribution of wealth from freer, more prosperous nations to despotic, underdeveloped ones.

The intellectual and ethical impetus for this renewed assault on freedom and prosperity is the repugnant Marxist theory of environmentalism. Conservation is the central planners’ Trojan Horse for a globally coordinated assault on individual rights.

These “watermelons”—green on the outside, red on the inside—adroitly combine elements of socialism with fascism: They want to see an expansion of the “public commons,” their euphemism for nationalization of resources. But they are not impervious to the methods of the Fascist State: Impose on private property owners a globally harmonized regulatory and taxation regime.

The degradation-to-the-environment hypotheticals popularized at the Summit are mutations of Marxism. The theory used to be that capitalism was going to cause the impoverishment of the worker. The exact opposite transpired. Greater economic freedom, especially in developed nations, has enabled those who, in previous centuries would have lived brutishly short and nasty lives, to afford the accoutrements of modernity. The theory now is that capitalism has taken a slight detour—the worker’s demise will indeed follow as soon as the capitalist is through despoiling the environment.

On the ideological interface between socialism and environmentalism, economist George Reisman says this: “The Reds claimed that the individual could not be left free because the result would be such things as ‘exploitation,’ ‘monopoly’ and depressions. The Greens claim that the individual cannot be left free because the result will be such things as destruction of the ozone layer, acid rain and global warming.”

Reds, and now Greens, agree that wise bureaucrats alone have the wherewithal to make decisions for billions of people.

The 20th century was a monument to these decision-makers. A handful of communist commissars replaced with their own commands, and at the point of a gun, the voluntary decisions, valuations and exchanges made by millions of people. To achieve this, governments—not capitalists—murdered roughly 80 million people. The devastation the Reds wrought was not incidental but inherent to the ideology of collectivism and statism.

The Greens harbor similar designs. They are quite prepared for “a major portion of all mankind” to suffer and die “for the alleged sake of the lower animals and inanimate nature.”

Eco-idiots, however, need to be disabused of their romantic view of nature. As Reisman points out, most “resources” in nature are useless lumps of nothing. If not for man, iron, aluminum, coal and oil would lie purposeless and pristine in the wildernesses.

Man discovered that these elements could be used to assuage human needs. Once he identified and ingeniously matched the human need with the material thing, he went on to devise ways to harness the resource. Most “resources” provided by nature become goods of value only when man connects the dots. If not for man, the matter and energy abundant on earth would come to naught.

The ability to discover and transform natural resources into usable goods, as well as to develop “resource-enhancing and sustaining technologies” are the unique province of man.

The environmentalist may sway with Mother Earth’s rhythms but he hasn’t the mental stamina to grasp the pulse of the very thing that feeds him. About the voluntary cooperation between men, about the division of labor, and about the way the price system conserves resources he is ignorant.

No surprise then that for every enlightened suggestion made at the “Heart of Darkness” Summit (such as eliminating protectionism and tariffs), there were lots of foolish condemnations of the supposedly disastrous production and consumption patterns in industrial societies.

The alleged impending severe shortages forecasted, however, are a feature of “public ownership,” the Sacred Grounds of the Summit’s voodooists. Depredation, overuse and wastage are attributes of government-managed resources. The tragedy of the commons occurs when everyone and no one owns the resource.

As we speak, government-managed forests are going up in flames. Lives and property have been lost. This is to be expected. Be it in fishery or forest, communist custodianship removes all the attributes of private property, namely, the incentive to conserve. Lack of ownership is the death knell for the resource. Only when it is owned, and not just leased for periodical plunder, will a forest continue to be a viable and renewable source of riches, monetary and other. The solution clearly lies not in better regulation of a resource but in its privatization.

“The horror, the horror” are Kurtz’s last words in Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness. They capture the counter-civilization, savage-lauding spirit of the South African Summit. The totalitarian, myth-worshipping environmentalists are hostile not only to The Good Life but to life itself.

August 28, 2002

CATEGORIES: Africa, Environmentalism, Literature, Property Rights, Socialism, UN