Review of Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism, by Robert Zubrin (Encounter Books, 2012), 312 pages, ISBN- 978-1594034763
There have been many excellent books recounting how environmental zealots have worsened human welfare and the environment alike through wrongheaded thinking. Few, however, meticulously present the philosophical inner workings of such wrongheadedness. In his new book, Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism, Robert Zubrin presents a must-read that explains why environmental activists believe and push such an anti-human agenda.
Cancer Does Not Steward
Zubrin gets right to the heart of the matter by noting radical environmentalists believe humans are a cancer upon the earth. With such a worldview, it is impossible for them to practice good stewardship. After all, cancer cells can never be good stewards of the human body.
Zubrin probes and explains the ideology of anti-humanism, showing some of today’s most fashionable political and social ideas are essentially replays of earlier ideological fads that were used to justify oppression, tyranny, and genocide.
It is said that those without a knowledge of history are condemned to repeat it—thus the importance of this book.
A Rogue’s Gallery of Tyranny
Zubrin says the effort to dissect this monster so it can be understood and debunked is long overdue. He does exactly that with this elegantly referenced, scholarly work in which he traces the roots of anti-humanism from Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) on through Paul Ehrlich in recent years and Al Gore today.
Malthus argued population growth is a blight on the earth and harms rather than benefits the human condition. In his 1879 book Progress and Poverty, Henry George outlined a better view of the human interaction with the environment, writing, “human beings are not simply the consumers of a preexisting gift of nature; they are also the cultivators of the bounty on which they live.”
The twentieth century economist Julian Simon agreed, noting the human mouth comes with a pair of hands and a brain. Simon observed that as the world’s population has increased, the standard of living has also increased and at an accelerating rate, facts which Zubrin illustrates graphically.
On the other hand, Malthusians Paul Ehrlich and President Obama’s science advisor John Holdren in 1971 jointly said mankind was “so many bacteria in a culture dish, doomed to quick extinction unless our appetites can be controlled by wise overlords wielding sterilants to curb our excessive multiplication.” Their predictions of a catastrophic collapse of human well-being by the turn of the 21st century proved to be the exact opposite of what occurred.
Path to Genocide
Zubrin’s brief chapter on Darwin will be very enlightening for the average reader. Most of us recognize Darwin’s contribution to the understanding of evolution of species but are unfamiliar with his dangerously wrong theory that societies advance entirely based on genetics. The theories presented in his flawed book The Descent of Man became the source of much anti-humanism over the years.
Darwin’s cousin, Sir Francis Galton, expanded upon Darwin’s bad ideas by developing the terrible theory of eugenics. According to eugenics, manipulation of the gene pool, often through harsh and barbaric methods, benefits human breeding and ultimately human evolution. Such a theory casts leaders who attempt to breed “master races” as moral heroes rather than genocidal villains.
The story of eugenics in the United States through much of the 20th century will astound you. Zubrin shows how both Nazism and environmentalism sprang from the same seeds and were based in great part on the belief in eugenics.
Population Control Debunked
More than any writer before him, Zubrin clarifies the impetus behind every wrongheaded population control idea and anti-ethnic activity this nation has ever undergone. This includes the suppression of DDT even though it had all but wiped out malaria.
As enlightening as any segment of the book is Zubrin’s discussion of population control. Trends indicate the earth’s population will likely stop growing shortly after the year 2060. Yet anti-humanists continue to push for population control measures, arguing we cannot afford to allow more humans to live on the planet. China’s one-child-per-family requirement serves as a lurid example of the nauseating lengths to which population control advocates will go. Shamefully, mainstream environmental activists who claim to be liberal thinkers frequently praise China’s population control policies.
A more modern campaign to reduce population comes from the environmental organizations that make every effort to eliminate the use of genetically modified grains which offer the world abundant, safe, and healthy food. This situation is well described by Nigerian Minister of Agriculture Hassan Adamu:
“To deny desperate, hungry people the means to control their futures by presuming to know what is best for them is . . . paternalistic and morally wrong..We want to have the opportunity to save the lives of millions of people. . . . The harsh reality is that without the help of agricultural biotechnology many will not live.”
I believe no one to date has so clearly explained the threat of the anti-human movement throughout history as Zubrin has done here. To read this book is to become a warrior on the side of humanity.
Jay Lehr, Ph.D. (leh[email protected]) is science director of The Heartland Institute.