Green Time Capsule: 1970 Eco Ideas Not Pretty

January 15, 2010 at 12:51 pm

For many of us, being green means being sensible and respectful: not littering when we go hiking, participating in recycling programs, supporting anti-pollution measures.

But the green movement promotes ideas that go well beyond this. What does a peek into the archives tell us about the history of environmentalism, about early versions of the philosophy we’re being encouraged to embrace?

The first issue of the Ecologist magazine appeared in July 1970 in Britain. According to its online masthead, it has been “setting the environmental agenda” ever since. The editorial in that premiere issue fills more than two pages and provides some startling insight.

When humans advanced beyond being hunter-gatherers and began farming, mining, and congregating in cities, it declares, we stopped being part of the balanced natural world and instead became ecological parasites (p. 3).

Once we learned to farm, it says, our presence on this planet became a localized “infection.” The resulting growth of the human population from 800 million at the end of the 1700s to 2.4 billion in 1970, (which the editorial also blames on fossil fuels), is “cataclysmic” and “intolerable.” Humanity and its activities are, therefore, a “disease [that] has spread and is still spreading.”

A few paragraphs later, the editorial goes further. Humanity is “reaching the point” it insists, in which we humans, our food, and the things we manufacture “are all waste. All have long since ceased to play a useful ecological role.”

That’s right. Edward Goldsmith, the founder of the magazine that claims to have set the environmental agenda for the past 40 years, declares in its first issue that humans are parasites, an infection, and a disease. We’re waste products that make no ecological sense. Is that what you see when you look at your family and friends?

Alas, there’s more. At the top of the second page, there’s a reference to “swarming human masses.” Six paragraphs later we read about “the vast urban wastes that we refer to as our cities.”

In fact, it’s difficult not to conclude that Goldsmith is anti-human, moralistic, and authoritarian. He declares that humans no longer “fulfil their correct ecological functions” and that our population has grown too rapidly for society to maintain its “correct structure.” [italics added]

According to him, government should “become a schoolmaster” to “an ever more demanding and self-indulgent electorate.” The education system should provide people with “information which will enable them to fulfil their correct functions as members of their families, communities and eco-system.” Such an education, he insists, should result in people who “attach greater importance to the quality of life than to increasing their standard of living.” [italics added]

Goldsmith thinks it’s OK to tell other people how to live. He doesn’t see education as a means to help us learn how to think – he wants schools and universities to dictate what we think.

Notice that, decades before catastrophic global warming became the reason we are supposed to undertake extreme environmental measures, Goldsmith already believed that eco apocalypse was around the corner.

If humanity doesn’t change its ways, he declares in the second paragraph of this 1970 editorial, we risk turning the Earth’s surface “into a lifeless waste.” In his view, the “population explosion” threatens us with extinction. He says the “planet’s stock of minerals and fossil fuels…is already sadly depleted, and it is only a question of time before it is totally exhausted.” He warns that our technological inventions are “swallowing up our biosphere” and will therefore “collapse like a house of cards.”

Goldsmith insists that “a radical change in our way of looking at man’s relationship to the environment” is necessary [italics added]. Moreover, he believes future population growth – as well as people’s standard of living – should be regulated by the authorities:

Thus, to control population we may have to interfere with “personal liberty”, while to reduce economic expansion we are forced to to curb “the march of ‘progress'”.

In Goldsmith’s brave new world personal liberty – the ability to make one’s own decisions about one’s own life – gets sacrificed. Never mind that humanity has devoted hundreds of years to fighting for such liberty – first by throwing off serfdom and slavery, then by securing universal suffrage and abolishing racial segregation.

Notice that Goldsmith doesn’t say we should try every other conceivable method to achieve his goals. He doesn’t say that curtailing personal liberty should only be discussed if all else fails. Instead, he appears to have little aversion to regarding women’s bodies as state property. (This is a funhouse reflection of the world portrayed in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, A Handmaid’s Tale. In that world, the bad guys are religious fundamentalists. In this case it’s an eco-activist who thinks someone like him should decide whether or not someone like me has a baby.)

As shocking as it seems, this “Godfather of Green” exhibits far more concern for planet Earth than he does for men, women, and children. His mission is emphatically not humanitarian.

As the last line of the Ecologist‘s first editorial explains, Goldsmith wants to “halt the spread of the disease with which [man] is afflicting the biosphere.”

click here for a 2-second sound clip: “They’re ecological extremists”
Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew),
Star Trek Voyager, Season 7, “Renaissance Man

If one follows the above-described philosophy to its logical conclusion, the only way humanity can cease to be an affront to the planet is if the 7-billion-strong human family is reduced to a hunter-gather-sized population.

This would, of course, be impossible to accomplish without interfering with the child-bearing decisions of virtually every woman in every corner of the world.

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Entry filed under: historical perspective, predictions that failed. Tags: , , , .

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