Environmentalists and the new millennium

Published February 1, 2000

Pundits, publications, and people on the street have all been, in one way or another, reviewing the last millennium. What concerns me is where environmentalists want the world to go in the new millennium: back to the future.

Consider the “wise use” extremists who would like to see at least 50 percent of the U.S. made off-limits to human activity. They are led in the private sector by such individuals as Dave Foreman, a co-founder of Earth First! and The Wildlands Project and author of Confessions of an Eccoterrorist, and Judi Bari–who the FBI says nearly killed herself when a pipe bomb she was transporting in her car blew up.

In government, Rep. Chris Shays (R-Connecticut) and Vice President Al Gore lead efforts to push the population into dense urban centers, far from where the deer and the antelope (not native to many of the areas they now occupy) roam. What a stunning reversal of the grand age of exploration that lasted nearly a thousand years and took man to anywhere in the world his curiosity called him.

Then there is the reversal of progress desired by those who would like to deny us any practical means of getting anywhere in the first place. These include a wide variety of individuals and groups whose hero is, once again, Mr. Gore—who considers the automobile the single greatest threat faced by mankind.

At the beginning of the last millennium, most folks traveled at a speed of about 3 miles per hour, a little faster if you ran well, owned a horse, or had a strong wind in your sails. Today, the automobile, at 70 miles per hour, routinely whisks whole families cross-country in hours on trips that less than 200 years ago would have taken days, weeks, or months, often at great hardship. Jets take mere hours to span a world few believed existed a thousand years ago. By attaining a speed of 25,000 miles an hour, man has gone to the moon.

Anti-progress environmentalists would have us return to walking. We might be permitted a few horses, if People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals doesn’t object.

Speaking of PETA, do you remember reading about the plagues that used to ravage whole populations? That no longer happens in places where people have access to modern medicine. Polio was virtually eradicated shortly after the middle of the twentieth century, and we have made giant strides in the battle against cancer. We accomplished this by testing drugs on animals. If PETA people have their way, we’d best hope no new diseases crop up in the new millennium.

We read at night by the light of glowing bulbs. Instantaneous communication around the world by phone, fax, and computer is commonly accepted in an America that communicated by telegraph a century ago. We keep warm in winter with central heating systems that don’t rely on cutting firewood or require us to huddle around a small stove. We go about our work productively in virtually any weather. Air conditioning has brought to the sweltering South business, jobs, and prosperity that otherwise would have been impossible.

Our lives and our souls are enriched by music (most of it), television, and movies (most of them), brought to us from around the globe. The diversity we prize so highly is made possible only by the ability to travel and communicate as never before.

Advances in medicine and an ever-growing abundance of ever-more-nutritious food–as well as the refrigeration to transport and make it available year-round–have nearly doubled our life spans in just the last century of the millennium.

If the anti-progress “environmentalists” have their way, the new millennium may well see this progress reversed. All these wonders we take for granted require factories, transportation, communication, and, most of all, electricity. Lots of electricity. Gazillions of megawatts of electricity. All produced and distributed economically by the burning of fossil fuels. Maybe, sometime in the new millennium, windmills, solar panels, geysers, and mice running on treadmills (oops, scratch that one, forgot about PETA) may make some kind of significant contribution to our power supply. But right now, all are pie in the sky.

The world runs on coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear reactions, and water flowing downhill through dams. The anti-progress environmentalists would have none of this. If they have their way, some future generation in the new millennium may sit huddled around their fires in caves, isolated from one another, leading unnecessarily shortened, hardship-filled lives, reminiscing about the “good old days.”