Green fundamentalists

Two weeks ago the University Center Breezeway was filled with the sounds of true believers, gesticulating wildly and chanting a mantra that has become the lingua franca of the latest version of the movement. “Who are these fundamentalists?” you may ask. Radical Islamo-fascists? Jews for Jesus? Air Force ROTC? No. They are none other than the Greenpeace faithful, who had returned to entice inexperienced young students into the ranks of the anointed or simply shake down guilt-laden sympathizers to fill the coffers of their secular internationalist religion.

In this world religion, dissention is not tolerated and dissidents are cast away from the fold, so I watched and listened carefully as each recruiter earnestly displayed his or her revolutionary commitment in demonstrative rhetoric. I had my own epiphany years ago as to the true intentions of this cause so I braced myself to endure another assault on reason and human ingenuity.

I’d walked by several times and spoken with the faithful during my last two semesters observing their regular migrations back to UM and, like Canadian or Eurasian migratory loons, they had returned to the fat and ample breeding grounds of South Florida. I notice these annual migrations and the subtle means they use to recruit on university campuses throughout the United States. You may have noticed also and no doubt, a few of you were recruited as foot soldiers in their war by these recruiters to the faith.

The ones I had talked with were not UM students. That’s not to say that UM doesn’t have Greenpeace bishops or imams attending classes, but these adherents were clearly outside churchgoers. So I geared up and reveled in the debate until the point early in the discussion where things invariably turned to nonsense. An attempt at reasoned discussion with a true believer is never an easy task but I thought I’d have a try with a weathered copy of the Skeptical Environmentalist by ecologist and statistician Bjorn Lomborg and another gem called Damned Lies and Statistics by Joel Best.

It seems that Lomborg and Best, now exiled and reviled environmental heretics, reveal much suppressed empirical evidence and data that exists, which challenge the manipulative and deceptive techniques, as well as some of the preconceived notions flouted by these zealots. Much of his primary source data comes not just from other environmental scientists who have been banished to the bowels of their biology and chemistry buildings in order to keep their jobs, but from economists and statisticians as well.

Now, environmentalists have always cast a jaundiced eye at economists because they have a nasty habit of challenging false assumptions using measurable or historical facts. Environmentalists don’t like economists because they inhabit the worlds of the GDP, trade balances and price indices. It is not the more emotionally urgent and easily grasped world of tapped out aquifers or dying ecosystems, favorites here in South Florida. During one part of our discussion, I tried to explain to a few of these ‘green’ ground troops that they were relying on a “fixed coefficients model” that assumes a constant relationship between input and outputs. They measure these over only a very short period of time and assign the cost of environmental harm as infinity in terms of that same measurement. This highly inexact model never allows for technological change or substitution of resources and or application efficiencies that become standard with the passage of but a few years.

Clearly we have pressing issues with pollution, changes in weather patterns and other environmental concerns that require appropriate attention and responses with prudent and rational policies. But these require rational trade-offs using finite resources, not the destruction of capitalism or by herding the whole of humanity into cities. Religious ecological zealots like many in Greenpeace seem unwilling to consider these very real terms because part of their dogma insists that environmental damage is infinite, i.e. irreparable. I had expected a reasonable discussion, complete with some compromise toward workable solutions with these true believers. Nope. They would have none of it and I could see that my presence could easily create some discomfort with the head table apparatchik watching a prospective new labor force and potential funding source being poisoned by my heresies.

Greenpeace displays many trappings of anti-capitalist organizations susceptible to the embrace of environmental mysticism and anti-modern notions of primitive culture. The pull is strong especially when we see the beauty of nature and actually touch its handiwork. But I wasn’t wasting any more of my time. I walked away shaking my head detecting the low ethereal and enchanting hum of von Goethean ‘departure’ and Gramscian ’emancipation’. “K-y-oto…K-y-oto…K-y-oto…Save us.”

Steven Stanley is a graduate student in the School of International Studies.

April 12, 2002


The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami

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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published in print every Tuesday.