Thursday, December 16, 2004

Reds, Blues, and Greens

That Mark Hyman would equate members of extremist environmental and animal rights groups with the likes of Osama bin Laden isn’t surprising, but it’s a dangerous and counterproductive comparison that obscures the real issue.

Despite the illegal and violent actions of the Environmental Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), suggesting that these groups represent a threat just as grave as global Islamist terrorism is factually and ethically wrong. As wrongheaded, criminal, and counterproductive as their actions are, ELF and ALF members have confined their destruction to property. No one has been killed or injured by their actions. To equate the destruction of property, no matter how despicable it may be, with those who take joy in killing their fellow human beings diminishes the heinousness of the bin Ladens and al-Zarqawis of the world.

It shouldn’t surprise us, however, that Hyman would make a distorted comparison such as this to score points against environmental groups. While he focuses on the destructive and illegal actions of radical splinter groups, it’s not simply the tactics of ELF and ALF he and his fellow conservatives find criminal. It’s the very proposition that anything should stand in the way of individuals or companies using natural resources for their own benefit. The idea that nature has any inherent worth beyond the physical resources it provides to fuel private enterprise is anathema to them.

But such a view is out of step with long-held American values, as well as our own best interest. The environment does provide us with innumerable resources, but these resources must be renewable for the sake of future generations. Moreover, the benefits we derive from nature go far beyond dollars and cents. How else does one explain that hundreds of acres of grass and trees occupy what would otherwise be some of most expensive and profitable commercial property in the world? By Hyman’s calculus, this doesn’t make sense. But just let him suggest to New Yorkers that they clear cut Central Park, and he’ll get an earful about the importance of nature to the well-being of people.

Since at least the days of Teddy Roosevelt, Americans have made conscious attempts to preserve our natural resources, both tangible and intangible, for future generations. We’ve come to realize that the environment is where we live, where our children live, and where our children’s children will live in the future. At least most of us have. For some, like Hyman, nature is there to be used up in the name of progress, and so they attempt to discredit the underlying values of environmentalism by attacking disreputable groups associated with the fringes of the environmental movement.

But they fail to realize that if presented with the choice, most Americans will choose the beauty of nature, both now and for generations to come, over the short term corporate profits of those who would use up our resources today and let us worry about it tomorrow. To slightly amend a statement from an earlier Counterpoint, we’re a Blue country, but we’re a Green one as well.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


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