Environmental Success

"'Blue Environmentalism,'" writes theologian and scholar Michael Novak, "is the way we should build on the stunning success of the environmental movement of the past 30 years." "Stunning success"? That's right, though you'd never know it by listening to the scientists that the media feature. But the past century has produced, for the developed world, a string of environmental successes. Novak sites one simple example: replacing the horse with the car. Before the car, city streets were covered in tons of manure -- twelve thousand pounds a year from every one of the 3.4 million horses on America's urban streets. All that waste product led to toxic results in congested urban areas. On hot, dry summer days, when horse hooves and wagon wheels pounded the manure into dust, the dust blew into the air, fell everywhere, and was breathed and ingested by humans. Now, that's pollution. Novak also notes that when the automobile came along, not only did the manure dust go away, but more than 90 million acres of land were freed up that had been used to grow feed for all those horses. And, Novak observes, natural gas and electricity replaced the need to burn wood and fossil fuels. Over the past century, some 500 million acres have reverted to woodland as a result. And wildlife species once on the endangered list are now thriving. When the modern environmental movement really got going, achievements were even more impressive. Clean air legislation sharply brought down six types of air pollution. And today when hybrid cars -- running on gasoline and electricity -- are becoming more and more common on American highways, the free market is again showing its ability to clean up the environment. Moreover, these achievements came about during a time of huge population increase. But if these triumphs come as a surprise, Novak says, it is because "environmental activists of the apocalyptic type never report it, and even get angry if anyone else does." After all, most environmental organizations depend for funding on direct mail with doomsday prophecies. In addition, most environmentalists view human beings as the problem, not a solution. For example, environmentalist Carol Christ says, "We [humans] are no more valuable to the life of the universe than a field [of flowers]." And some radical types advocate killing humans to make more space for other species. By contrast, the Scriptures give us a high view of nature without sacrificing a high view of human life. Genesis teaches that we are created in God's image -- and that we are charged with caring for the rest of God's creation. Novak notes that what he calls "blue" environmentalism "is based on the crucial insight that nature is meant for man, not man for nature. Human beings are made by their unique endowment of liberty to be provident over their own destiny. One important way to exercise this providence is to take care not to foul our habitat." The successes are real. As Becky Norton Dunlop, former Secretary of Natural Resources in Virginia, put it, "Human ingenuity . . . has outstripped even the best laid disaster plans of ecological doomsayers." And, given the chance, human ingenuity will continue to do just that.


Chuck Colson



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