The Moral Priorities Of Environmentalism

Another bit from the archives:

In a 1998 list serve discussion with a truly amazing group of green building pioneers, we got into a philosophical conversation about priorities at the most fundamental level: what should take priority in our work, the health of the occupants of the buildings we build or the health of the planet?

One of the people I respect most in the world (who shall remain anonymous these many years later) suggested :

“People are born and they die – they may be more  renewable than species which are being completely extinguished.  I’m not arguing for unhealthy homes, just saying that I probably have a different set of priorities in my value system than most people!  In my fuzzy-thinking way, I seem to feel that planetary health is more important than individual people’s health.”

“This is certain to provoke some people.  Can we have a discussion without people pointing out the obvious (that I’m an idiot/android)”

He provoked my response:

I feel compelled to respond to your post. It’s hard to not call you all sorts of names for a proposition that the health of the planet comes before the health of the occupants in the homes we build. Especially coming from such an intelligent guy that I hold in such high regard. I hope I might help focus some of your “fuzzy thinking” and encourage you to examine the full moral logic of your proposition.

The fundamental logic of your proposition would seem to suggest that we leave nature in a pristine wilderness state and not build houses at all. If individuals don’t matter, let them freeze in the rain and snow, right? What the heck are you doing living in such a nice big house instead of a hole in a dead tree? How could we ever build a green building using the logic of your priorities? The act of building at all violates the fundamental principle.

Mark  is absolutely right “until we receive incontrovertible evidence that it is impossible, our goal should be to achieve success with both” the environment and human health. If that is impossible than human health is surely first priority.

When the dinosaurs were wiped out, by whatever wiped them out, fossil evidence suggests that some 75% of then existing species were wiped out with them. Yet the planet and the biosphere recovered and thrived. At least for the next several million years, it always will, no matter what we as people might do. If we kill ourselves off with our own stupidity, life will still go on quite nicely, no matter what other species we might take with us.

I find the extreme environmentalist view that values an idealized nature over human life to be unforgivable form of politically correct evil.

If all of humanity is not sacred, than who is to choose who should live and who should die. Not all too long ago some folks in Germany had some theories about that and acted quite boldly on their philosophical crusade. It plays out today in Bosnia, Uganda and elsewhere. How is a morally vacuous philosophy that values some theoretical ideal of planetary health over humanity any better than other philosophies that breed genocide?

In a previous career I lobbied the government to enhance diversity in agricultural crops rather than risking the systemic collapse of our food supply that global mono-cropping clearly entails. I am not unaware of the sacred as well as the practical human value of preserving the genetic diversity of the biosphere.

But are we supposed to also preserve the Ebola virus in the name of genetic diversity? Is all medicine bad in that it kills off disease causing organisms?

Why be an environmentalist at all except for our deep caring about the threats to humanity embodied in our species’ current reckless path toward human oblivion?

For those of you that might be inclined to engage in the worship of nature for nature’s sake, it is a hopeless, as well as immoral cause. Such cold heartless logic is the reason that so many are opposed to a green political and economic agenda. Until we see our role as helping to protect humanity from it’s own stupidity, rather than saving a planet that needs no savior, we will get nowhere.

No matter what insanity we as people might propose or create, the planet will always survive and thrive.

The most incredible and precious products of life’s evolution on this planet are human wisdom and morality. These are what we must fight to preserve more than anything.

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Filed under Best Stuff, Environmentalism, Fundamental Perspectives, Old Stuff

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