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No Laughing Matter: Chatting with NRO, Wesley Smith Emphasizes the Practical Dangers Posed by Environmental Anti-Humanism

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Kathryn Jean Lopez at National Review Online interviews our colleague Wesley Smith about his book The War on the Humans, and John West's documentary of the same name. Smartly, Kathryn drills him on the practical threat that environmental anti-humanism poses. I mean, we can laugh at the notion of "pea personhood," but where's the real danger in the denial of what Wesley calls "human exceptionalism"? Isn't it confined to a silly but ultimately harmless fringe?

LOPEZ: Who would have humans live at the mercy of nature? To what extent is "environmental anti-humanism" an actual threat to anyone?

SMITH: I think it is an overstatement to say that radical environmentalists want us all "at the mercy of nature." But the movement does promote explicitly anti-human ideas -- they believe we are the "cancer" on the planet.

There is also an implicit anti-humanism in the policy agendas of much of the modern environmental movement. Some of the prescriptions to fight global warming, for example, would fundamentally erode affluence in the developed world, and keep the developing world mired in continuing destitution by preventing those societies from fully modernizing and exploiting their own resources. For example, some fight electrifying the African continent until it could be done entirely with renewables -- which is a long way off. This desire to stifle growth in the West and delay true prosperity from breaking out in the world's poorest areas is both anti-human and a threat to our welfare and thriving.

LOPEZ: You write about people believing fungi and ants are equal to people, but surely this isn't mainstream? Why should we be concerned about these ideas?

SMITH: You are referring to a relatively new advocacy meme in environmentalism known as "nature rights," under which "nature" is granted the "right to exist, persist, maintain, and regenerate vital cycles." In essence, that is a right to life for nature that must be given equal consideration to the rights and needs of humans.

Take a look at the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Nature, which states: "Mother Earth and all beings are entitled to all inherent rights recognized in this Declaration without distinction of any kind, such as may be made between organic and inorganic beings, origin, use to human beings, or any other state." So, you and a fly -- heck, an outcropping of granite -- are equal.

And if there are "conflicts" among the organic and inorganic rights bearers, well, they must be resolved "in a way that maintains the integrity, balance and health of Mother Earth" -- whatever that means. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which has been pushing nature rights around the world, says that conflicts between nature and man must be decided in court. And since nature-rights laws permit everyone and anyone to sue to protect nature's rights, you can bet such laws would keep a lot of attorneys very busy.

"Nature rights" are already here. They have been adopted into law by Ecuador and Bolivia. About 30 American municipalities, including Santa Monica, have enacted such laws. They are supported by the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, and are even proposed for inclusion in an eventual international treaty to fight global warming. I'd say that is moving pretty fast into the mainstream!

And some of the world's most prominent environmentalists make explicitly anti-human statements and propose policies that would harm human thriving. For example, Sir David Attenborough -- he's as establishment as it gets -- has called humans a "plague on the planet." He has applauded China's "one child" policy, even though it has led to forced abortion and female infanticide. So have other mainstream global-warming fighters, as I illustrate in the book. The environmentalist rock star David Suzuki has called human beings "maggots" who crawl around "defecating all over the environment." He made that statement a long time ago, but refused to recant in a recent interview, simply saying, "Humanity is humanity . . . I just wish they'd stop being so human!" Pay attention to what many of the leading environmentalists and global-warming fighters say and you will hear people described as cancer, viruses, AIDS, parasites, etc. It's not healthy.

More on the genuine danger of this way of thinking:

LOPEZ: Does this thinking infect laws involving human life or our medical-ethical thinking and protocols?

SMITH: Absolutely. Most of my work heretofore has been to warn about how the mainstream view in bioethics supports a "quality of life" ethic in which some of us are seen to have greater value than others. This has led to proposals such as permitting the killing of profoundly disabled people like Terri Schiavo for their organs because they are not "persons." The same arguments have been made in support of permitting "after-birth abortion" (infanticide) and rationing health care based on quality-of-life judgments.

Thus, I see a broad connection among issues as seemingly diverse as utilitarian bioethics, animal rights, and misanthropic environmentalism, because each, in its own way, flows out of an explicit rejection of the unique dignity of human life.

By the way, as Wesley explains, the film and book are not simply alternative presentations of the same material in different media: "Each brings a somewhat different take to the same general subject, and in some areas explores different issues. They supplement and complement each other in a way that I think presents a more complete picture." If you've seen the documentary...

you still need to read the book.

I’m now on Twitter. Find me @d_klinghoffer.