Visions of human annihilation
Some environmentalists are flirting with the urge to purge humanity, suggests Ron Arnold
Millennial angst used to be the province of street-corner prophets with signs announcing 'The End Is Nigh', but today it belongs to environmentalists. After more than 30 years of media hype, doomsday divinations and global gloom, a vast public is soaking up the message like a sponge. Social analyst Robert Nisbet's assessment is to the point: 'Environmentalism is now well on its way to becoming the third great wave of the redemptive struggle in Western history, the first being Christianity, the second modern socialism. In its way, the dream of a perfect physical environment has all the revolutionary potential that lay both in the Christian vision of mankind redeemed by Christ and in the socialist, chiefly Marxian prophecy of mankind free from social injustice.'
The public message doesn't tell you, but the redemption demanded for messing up that perfect physical environment, unlike Christianity or Marxism, holds no hope for humanity. The present goal of environmentalism, as Nisbet admonished, is 'little less than the transformation of government, economy and society in the interest of what can only be properly called the liberation of nature from human exploitation'.
To liberate nature from human exploitation is a goal with an implicit apocalyptic consequence: not the improvement of humanity, but its end. Of course, the movement's supporters do not endorse that end, but some leading environmentalists clearly see the logical outcome of the argument.
For decades environmentalists have imbibed the poetry of Robinson Jeffers, whose 1926 poem 'The answer' gave Friends of the Earth the name for their news bulletin Not Man Apart ('the greatest beauty is/Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the/Divine beauty of the universe. Love that, not man/Apart from that'). Those who consider Jeffers the poet laureate of environmentalism prefer his more caustic brews, such as 'Original sin': 'As for me, I would rather/Be a worm in a wild apple than a son of man/But we are what we are, and we might remember/Not to hate any person, for all are vicious/And not be astonished at any evil, all are deserved;/And not fear death; it is the only way to be cleansed.'
Some leading environmentalists have long flirted with the urge to purge. However, Ethnic Cleansing For Everybody is not a popular slogan, so most keep mum. But not all. 'If you'll give the idea a chance, you might agree that the extinction of Homo sapiens would mean survival for millions if not billions of other Earth- dwelling species', said a 1991 article in the fringy US environmentalist magazine Wild Earth.
Mainstream publications too have given the occasional nod to total annihilation. Noted eco-writer Richard Conniff admitted in a 1990 Audubon magazine article that, 'Among environmentalists sharing two or three beers, the notion is quite common that if only some calamity could wipe out the entire human race, other species might once again have a chance'.
Unlike Wild Earth's Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEMT, pronounced 'vehement'), Audubon's Conniff paused to reflect that, 'The trouble with this noble and self-sacrificing stance is that it almost always winds up being compromised so that some select group of other people gets wiped out'.
Some environmental leaders envision the millennial farewell as a revenge drama, in which the Earth as Hamlet skewers everybody who hasn't already poisoned themselves, through the law of unintended consequences. This demise was described by eco-writer Rik Scarce in his book Eco-Warriors: 'Most radical environmentalists assume an uncharacteristic air of pessimism
when asked about the world 15 or 20 years from now. Judi Bari [of Earth First!] puts the consensus position succinctly: "I believe the Earth is going to rise up and throw us off...The Earth's failure to be able to sustain this kind of life will cause it to collapse. I'm sure life will survive that, but I don't think that humans will. I don't know if we deserve to."'
Lately even some respectable scientists have come to embrace the Earth-as-Hamlet scenario. For example, David M Graber, a research biologist employed by the US National Park Service, wrote in his book review of Bill McKibben's The End of Nature for the Los Angeles Times: 'Human happiness, and certainly human fecundity, are not as important as a wild and healthy planet. I know social scientists who remind me that people are part of nature, but it isn't true. Somewhere along the line - at about a billion years ago - we quit the contract and became a cancer. We have become a plague upon ourselves and upon the Earth. It is cosmically unlikely that the developed world will choose to end its orgy of fossil energy consumption, and the third world its suicidal consumption of landscape. Until such time as Homo sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along.'
Tom Clancy's best-selling novel, Rainbow Six, recently cashed in on the virus idea in a Götterdämmerung scenario. It unfolds the vengeful tale of a wealthy environmentalist whose pharmaceutical firm genetically engineers a doomsday virus. He hatches a diabolically perfect plan to use it against every last human being on Earth - except for a few hundred immunised fellow environmentalists, who are to live on in a secret fortress and watch nature 're-wild' itself. Will Clancy's dauntless hero, John Clark (the 'Six' or head man, in spy jargon) of Rainbow (his hush-hush international anti-terrorist unit based in Hereford) uncover the plot in time to save the world?
Something is askew when environmentalist annihilation can be contemplated with equanimity as mass-market entertainment. But perhaps that's the only way the public will ever see through the phony health worries, hollow compassion and cod-socialist proposals of so many environmental groups today.
Ron Arnold is author of Ecoterror: the violent agenda to save nature, published by Merril Press
Reproduced from LM issue 116, December 1998/January 1999