Heraclitus and friends on the environment

There was a famous ancient Greek dictum: “you can't step in the same river twice.” It was always changing, so it was a new river by the next time you put your foot in again. The response to this was obvious enough that another ancient Greek beat us all to the punch: “you can't step in the same river once.” It's changing while you step in it.

Heraclitus, the author of the first, was sage enough for our purposes, but we'll thank the second author for going above and beyond. Today, we'll apply these lessons to the environmentalist movement. (By “environmentalist,” I mean the bogeyman lefty variety. I am very interested in free-market environmentalism, which is not reflexively anti-progress or economically ignorant.)

While few of its members would admit to it, carried out to the end the movement's position ought to require them to cringe every time a single tree is cut down or a single drop or puff of pollutant is expelled from a machine. Ask one of them: what should we do about new housing? Our options are: build out of concrete, which is a sound material but which requires emission of large amounts of CO2 in the making; build out of steel and glass, which require mines and refineries; build out of wood, which requires some trees to be cut down. Not only that, but where should we build? Should everybody pile on top of everybody else? If not, at some point land will have to be cleared. (Atlanta seems to be leading the charge on this front.)

The environmentalist response is that it's one thing to clear out a new forest, but it's another to clear out an old-growth forest with lots of established niches. One cannot really replace an old forest with a new one; it's not the same thing. And they're right. It's not the same thing. Also, given the luxury of a choice, we ought to try not to clear old-growth forests. But all too easily this slips into a pathologically conservative fear of any kind of change.

The world changes all the time. The environment has always been changing. We direct it now, but it was going on before and would go on if we suddenly disappeared.

So tell your lefty environmentalist friends: relax. Don't try to control everything. Things will always change. You can reassure them that we don't mean we'll go full bore into reshaping the whole world. We still ought to try to minimize our impact where feasible. But not all change is bad. This is one of the cornerstones of a realistic environmental position.

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Have you *really* seen this

Have you *really* seen this tendency now more than at any other time? I know that there is a greater sense of urgency, though, and helplessness. A lot of misanthropes come out of the woodwork at times like this to gloat, I know, but that's all it is.

Actually it's an argument

Actually it's an argument for practically anything and hence means little.

Sounds like a good argument

Sounds like a good argument for gay marraige. :beatnik:

Mandos, I certainly


I certainly recognize that the position I characterized was a "bogeyman" position. I know that not all enviro-types think that way; in fact, I would class myself into the overarching environmentally concerned group. I was only trying to say where I have observed the moderate tendency leading, so that you and I and everyone else can put the brakes on it where we see it.

My last post that hasn't

My last post that hasn't shown up, BTW. I assume it's being held for moderation or something. I think you guys are infringing on my freedoms now. :behead:

Sorry, I meant Randall in my

Sorry, I meant Randall in my last post, not Patri. There are too many of you and libertarians anyway all look alike.

Less trivially, the

Less trivially, the "environmentalists" are a complicated and diverse group far larger than the strawman you present. And there are some indeed who are misanthropes. The remainder of environmentalists fall into a number of categories, at least two of which are significant to this discussion:

1. People who (like me) enjoy technology and civilization and see human beings as a part of nature (and take a "utilitarian" view of the environment) BUT are concerned about issues of overshoot and aren't sufficiently confident in the Holy Market to return solutions that do not involve mass unpleasantness, particularly mass death. And in particular, mass death of the people who actually consumed the least (ie, unequal and unfair distribution of the externalities of environmental degradation, even if it is necessary). :end:

2. People who do not take a utilitarian view of the environment (ie believe it, like it or not, to have intrinsic value beyond human use) but also believe that human beings are a part of nature (ie, can and should consume). I don't strongly identify with this group but I can respect them insofar as they don't go beyond a certain point of misanthropy.

Your evaluation is completely useless to (1), which is really the majority of environmentalist sentiment (really a combination (1) and (2)), even if it isn't the most colourful or often newsworthy. It hardly responds to the larger questions of overshoot. In the comments on this site, I've dealt with that issue extensively.

Your evaluation is more appropriate to (2), but even then, it falls short. You take the sentiment to its "logical conclusion." That's all very nice. There's lots of stuff that if I take it to its most extreme position, sounds absurd, but is otherwise nontrivial. If you believe that the natural environment has intrinsic value, then (2) calls for a mature assessment of what's the best philosophy/methodology that preserves the natural environment while accomodating human activity. ie, how much inefficiency humans should put up with in order to achieve similar functional goals, which are broadly defined under (2) as general contentedness with life + some moral evaluation. (Again, I'm not a (2)ist so I can only defend (2) in broad terms.)

But Patri's argument only applies to the extreme case, so I wonder why he would write it, except perhaps to condescend. Nothing wrong with that, I guess: condescension on your own turf can be fun!

I think it covers fewer

I think it covers fewer bases than either of you imagines. The environment always changes, and its natural change is neutral, so it's not necessarily bad for it to change by our hand. Marriage doesn't naturally and neutrally destroy the family already, as most people allege gay marriage would do.

[...] 7;s not often that we

[...] 7;s not often that we think of far-Left environmentalists (of the bogeyman variety covered here) as reactionaries, but in their devotion to pres [...]

While the "bogeyman lefty

While the "bogeyman lefty environmentalist" position is not a reasonable logical stance nor one whose goals result in a good outcome, it is a reasonable political stance.

The extremists are required to balance out the extremists on the other side, those people who do not care what happens to the natural world after they die. In politics, you sometimes need to take an extreme position to end up with the best outcome.

For what it's worth, the

For what it's worth, the unnamed second Greek was Cratylus.

Thanks, Herr Professor

Thanks, Herr Professor Doktor Long. H.D.F. Kitto didn't name him.