"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Environmentalism vs Evolution–Que Sera, Sera Will Always Win

Environmentalism is the cause celebre of the day.  How you come down on climate change, the preservation of wetlands and seabirds, old-growth forests, coal, and the pollution of air and water is today’s defining litmus test.  While transgender issues, Ferguson, and incarceration get headlines, they quickly fade from the news.  The environment does not, for it is so inclusive.

I asked an environmentalist friend who was frequently invited to speak at colleges throughout the US what was the purpose of his lectures.  He thought for a minute and said, “Well, everything”.      

This inclusivity – the collection of all issues from the spotted owl to the cataclysmic storms predicted in the Pacific – has given the environmental movement widespread visibility and coverage; but has also created social fatigue. We are tired of hearing about it.  The drumbeat has become annoying rather than inspirational. Alarms rung too often are like repeated fire drills.  No one pays attention.

El Nino  


The so-called progress made in certain key areas of environmental protection has little to do with evangelical success, but market realities. Coal is being burned less because fracking and other high-tech extraction methods have increased the supply of natural gas and lowered its price.  The glut of world oil has prompted major oil companies to stop North Slope exploration.  For the time being, pipeline issues are on the back pages because of the precipitous drop in energy prices.

Image result for images coal-fired electric plant


Environmentalists who watch their top issues drop down on the list; and who are discouraged at recent polls (Pew, October 2015) which indicate that although most Americans are aware of climate change, not even half of them considered a major problem.  This figure has remained virtually unchanged over the last decade.

Stark partisan divide over global warming, threat of climate change

By now, however, environmentalism is too big to fail.  It has become a billion dollar industry, and the reaction by many activists is to look for new areas of concern – areas such as the protection of tribal cultures which have a close connection to nature or the religious imperative to protect God’s universe.

These proactive advocates of the environment have been given a boost by Pope Francis who in his latest encyclical has linked the Church’s focus on the sanctity of life with environmental protection.  There is a sanctity to all life, said the Pope, and wanton destruction of the natural world must be considered along with fetal destruction.  The idea is not new of course and reflects the Hindu principle of satyagraha.  All life – animal, vegetable, and human – is sacred and part of God’s creation and must be preserved and protected.

Pope Francis

Although few primitive societies remain in the world, and most have fled the forest for the city, a sub-group of environmentalists have championed tribal people because they are the last remnants of a larger, earlier society which was attuned to nature in ways that modern Man can only surmise.  Hunting, fishing, navigation, medicine – all were carried out based on natural rhythms and cycles.  Amazonian tribes had no use for modern technology because they had learned from nature how to survive if not prosper according to its ways.  A return to these simpler ways would not simply be a reversion, but a spiritual renewal.  By learning and adopting practices that closely linked man to nature would educate him, give him a renewed respect for the integrity of the planet, and would hopefully inspire him to act to save it. 

Image result for images amazon tribes


None of this is likely to happen, however.  The juggernaut of the American economy and the explosive power of electronic, digital technology have joined to create the perfect storm for rapid, inevitable, and certain revolutionary evolution.  Within decades, not centuries, the developed world will be completely transformed by sophisticated, intelligent technology, virtual reality, and genetic engineering.  Once the human genome is fully understood and techniques available to manipulate it, the very nature of human existence will be altered.  Once people transfer their allegiance from a ‘real’ world to a virtual one – that is jettisoning any archaic philosophical notions of what is – the natural world will cease to be relevant. Advanced technology will be required to sustain us while we travel in a virtual universe – one which is personal, highly individual, and irresistible.


My environmentalist colleague has always asked me why I am not active in the environmental movement; and I always recall the assignment the daughter of a close friend was given in 10th grade.  The school was private, progressive, and unremittingly liberal on all political and social issues.  The class was asked to study ‘The Destruction of the Chesapeake Bay’; and the not-so-hidden agenda was to identify all the human depredations which were contributing to its rapid decline.

The young woman did the assignment well and identified the many possible factors which may have contributed to the decline of the oyster population, the unusual migration of rockfish, etc.  She concluded that although there were certainly some factors which could be attributed to man’s activity, there were an equal number which were the result of natural cycles of disease, warming and cooling, etc.

As such she refused to blame man for causing the Bay’s problems.  More importantly and much more significantly, she said that the distinction between ‘man’ and ‘nature’ was false.  Man is part of nature and the environment; and he can be expected to influence and be influenced by it.

Image result for image chesapeake bay


Whatever or whoever was responsible for the decline in the oyster population, something else would replace it.  If not oysters, then clams.  If not rockfish, then mackerel.  Man and Nature were indistinguishable in the course of historical events.

In other words, I said to my colleague, why spend so much time, effort, and political and human capital on the fruitless and impossible task of stopping evolution.  The Bay may be revitalized, full of oysters and rockfish, and home to a growing marine life.  Or not. Man will either be as adaptable as he has always been, adjusting to changes of all kinds, and thriving throughout.  Or not.

Evolution is ineluctable, inescapable, and unpredictable. No one can predict the outcome of any one intervention. The world economy – let alone human society as a whole – is far more complex than the most complex weather system ever studied.  Just as it has been impossible to decipher the billions of constantly changing, interacting forces that determine whether; it is as impossible to predict the course of human events based on current activities.

“So, Que Sera, Sera?”, asked my colleague.

Yes, I replied.  That was certainly one way to express the idea of a universal and inseparable Man-Nature whole governed by the laws of physical, economic, social, and genetic evolution.

My colleague and I easily reached an understanding, but never an accord.  There was no way for a logical positivist and an an irrevocable idealist to ever agree.  We were like Vershinin and Tuzenbach, the soldiers in Chekhov’s Three Sisters who debate whether or not there is such a thing as social progress? Or whether history is nothing but a series of cyclical and completely predictable repetitions.  In other words, we remained friends who granted each other latitude as a friendly compromise, and went on for many decades more arguing the inarguable.

Image result for images three sisters chekhov


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