It may take a generation or two, but at some point in the future, policy makers will look back in disbelief at the arrogance and ignorance that permeate the policies of this generation. How profoundly arrogant is it to think that public policy can, or should, "preserve" the environment as it was at some point in the past?
Suppose that policy makers at the turn of the 20th century had decided to "preserve" the environment as it was before America was discovered. Had government been enlightened then, as it seems to be now, and prohibited mining, oil drilling, grazing, and logging, would the world be a better place? Those who drive public policy seem to think so.
Those who seek to "preserve" the environment as it was before humans degraded it, seek to defy the frist laws of nature: change and adaptation. Everything in nature is in a constant state of change. Life is constant adaptation to that change. Species that fail to adapt go extinct. So it has always been, and so it will always be. Efforts to save this species or that, are largely an exercise in futility, and an incredible waste of money and manpower.
The recently announced program to spend $300 million to "save" the bull trout is but one example. Scientists believe that the trout's declining numbers is due to water temperatures that have been rising slowly since the Little Ice Age, and has nothing to do with human activity in the area.
Instead of allowing the natural adaptation of species to the environmental changes, policy makers seek to stop the environmental changes, even to the point of spending billions of dollars trying to control global temperatures.
As global temperatures have fluctuated over the millennia, species have disappeared, and new species have appeared - with no assistance from humans. Future generations may be amused by the motivations for the flurry of policy activity by the current generations, but they will surely condemn the implementation of those policies for the limitations they place on the opportunities available in the future.
In fact, one way or another, future generations will have to undo the damage current policies are imposing on the future. Resources will have to be cultivated and used. If government owns the land, government will direct the use of the resources, and distribute the the produce as government deems appropriate. Land and resources owned by organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, will be extremely valuable, and will provide rich profits to its owners, either from utilizing the resources, or selling the resources to the government.
The people for whom we are supposedly "preserving" the environment will not own it, nor can they profit from it. They can be no more than serfs, or tenants, on land that belongs to others.
Future generations will easily see that current efforts to save the bull trout, or the loco weed, or any of the 2,000 obscure species on agency lists, is a thinly veiled, and often ridiculous excuse to get ownership or control of land into the hands of government, or a surrogate "land trust" organization.
Those who drive environmental policy have convinced the current generation that humans are destroying the environment at every turn; that the environment must be "preserved;" that government must take control of land use away from private individuals, and that the failure to do so will leave future generations in hopeless despair.
Humans are not destroying the environment. Humans change the environment, as does every member of every other species. Nature adapts to the changes imposed by every species. Elephants wreak massive damage to the environment they invade. The species that remain adapt, or disappear. Termites destroy the environment they invade. The species that remain adapt, or disappear.
Humans have far greater sensitivity to, and appreciation for, the environment they occupy than any other species. Nature adapts to the changes imposed by humans. The environment is changed by humans, but it is not destroyed. Humans modify the environment, often improving living conditions for both humans and other species. Species that cannot adapt, however, will disappear.
Extraordinary efforts to prevent the disappearance of the bull trout, or other species, by prohibiting human activity, are ludicrous. Efforts to slow, reverse, or control the direction of global temperature, by prohibiting human activity, are ridiculous. The collection of public policy efforts designed to stop time, and restore the environment to pre-Columbian times will be the object of ridicule by future generations who will be forced to suffer the consequences of current enlightened policies.
Henry Lamb is the Executive Vice President of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and Chairman of Sovereignty International.
This article was originally published in the May 2004 edition of The eco-logic Powerhouse, the print publication of the Environmental Conservation Organization.