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Remarks of Robert W. Tracinski at the Earth Day 2000 Countermarch Press Conference

(Washington, DC) The following are remarks by Robert W. Tracinski, explaining the motives and goals of the Earth Day 2000 Countermarch sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Capitalism and the Ayn Rand Institute.

I’m sure that the first question most people will ask when they hear that we’re planning a countermarch against Earth Day is: Why in the heck would anybody be against Earth Day? Earth Day has gone from being an obscure and little observed holiday thirty years ago to being a large, mainstream event, with political leaders and movie stars showing up to pay homage to the environmentalist agenda.

And there’s one main reason why Earth Day is so widely accepted and uncontroversial. People think that environmentalism just means being for clean air and clean water—and who could possibly be against these things. But the actual message of Earth Day is much deeper, and much different. In fact, we believe that the environmentalists don’t really care about clean air and clean water. Their real goal is to destroy technology and to subordinate mankind to nature.

Watch the crowds of environmentalists who will gather on the Mall tomorrow, and notice that they have never met a form of technology they liked. Every kind of new technology is attacked, from nuclear power to genetically modified foods. But they also oppose every old, existing technology, from fertilizers and pesticides to the internal combustion engine. And they always place the blame for every problem on one basic target: the Industrial Revolution.

Now, I think it’s practically self-evident that the Industrial Revolution was an enormous advance for mankind. All we have to do is look at all of the products of industrialism that we use and rely on every minute of the day—and ask ourselves what we would have to do if we didn’t have them.

The essence of the Industrial Revolution was the replacement of human muscle power with machine power. Prior to the 19th century, most work was done by the brute physical labor of human muscles. But the Industrial Revolution replaced that muscle power with power from steam engines, and eventually from oil, coal and, more recently, nuclear power.

The machines created by the Industrial Revolution are often called “labor-saving devices.” But that doesn’t go nearly far enough, because in saving human labor, these machines save time, energy, and effort—and what that means, ultimately, is that these machines are saving our lives. Machines give us back all of the hours of our life that no longer have to be spent scratching out our subsistence through physical labor.

The fact that we are able to eat, without having to spend all day out in the fields toiling behind a hand plow—that’s what we owe to the Industrial Revolution. The fact that we can clothe ourselves, without having to spend all day bent over a hand loom—the fact that we can build houses, without having to spend all day swinging an ax—the fact that we can have the tools we need to work, without having to spend all day hammering away at a hand forge—these are all benefits bestowed on us by the creative minds of the Industrial Revolution. And even the fact that we can turn on a TV in our living rooms, or turn on our computers, or open our door and pick up a newspaper, and we get from these things all the news and entertainment that we need—these, too, are products of the Industrial Revolution.

So for all of these reasons, I think the real question we should be asking is not: Why would anyone be opposed to Earth Day? We should be asking: Why would anyone be opposed to industrial civilization?

We think the environmentalists are opposed to industrialism, not because they care about any real or imagined harms to human life, but for precisely the opposite reason. They are opposed to industry because they do not care about human life. Instead, they want to sacrifice human life and happiness for the sake of a kind of primitive nature-worship.

That’s a radical claim, but let me cite just a few examples to show why I think this is the case. Now let’s assume, for the moment, that all the environmentalists want is clean air and clean water. Then we would have to assume that their favorite form of technology would be the hydro-electric dam. These dams produce electricity without burning coal or oil, so there’s no danger of polluted air. And the reservoirs created by these dams are an important source of clean water. So the environmentalists ought to be crusading for more dams.

But what we actually see is that the environmentalists are crusading against dams. And they boast about how they have prevented the construction of hundred of dams across the world in the past few years. They have even been successful at having a few existing dams torn down. And if you ask them why they’re doing this, they’ll tell you that they did it to preserve the “free-flowing” river and to protect all of the fish that live in it. It is the river and the fish that they regard as important, not any benefits to human life.

Here’s another example. A few years back, scientists discovered a drug called Taxol, which was highly effective at treating ovarian cancer. But this drug had to be harvested from the bark of the Yew tree. The environmentalists immediately protested, because they wanted to protect the trees. They showed no concern for what happened to the women with cancer.

If you think this is just the stance of a few extremists or whackos, consider what Vice-President Al Gore had to say on the issue. He replied that, if you think of it in terms of cutting down a single tree to save a human life, then, yes, there would be no reason to object. But, he said, when you realize that we have to cut down three trees for every life we save, the issue gets more complicated.

Well, I don’t think it’s complicated at all. But that’s because I’m on the side of the humans.

The real message of Earth Day is that technology is evil—and the reason the environmentalists regard technology as evil is that it allows humans beings to dominate nature. Their goal, by contrast, is to make man subordinate to nature.

Here’s how one environmentalist put it: “We are not interested in the utility of a particular species or free-flowing river, or ecosystem to mankind. [These things] have intrinsic value, more value—to me—than another human body, or a billion of them.”

In light of these views, the name of one radical environmental group is admirably exact: “Earth First!” The implication is: humans last. Any philosophy that has such a disregard for human life can only lead to destruction.

If we want to put humans first, where they belong, we have to understand the value of industry and technology and stand up to defend it. And that’s our goal this Earth Day.

And as a matter of fact, I have proposed that we go even farther. As a counter-balance to Earth Day, we should celebrate an Industrial Revolution Day. We should devote a day to celebrating the achievements of industrial civilization.

Isn’t it strange, after all, that we live in a society of heavy industry and advanced technology—we all use automobiles, airplanes, electric lights, televisions, and computers—yet we never take a day to honor the people who made these things possible?

Consider only the basics of life: food, shelter, and clothing. The Industrial Revolution brought such inventions as the power loom and the knitting machine—which made a vastly greater abundance and variety of clothing available to even the poorest people. As for shelter, it was coal, oil, and natural gas that brought a clean, reliable source of heat into everyone’s homes, protecting us from the deadly cold of winter. And it was the logging industry, the arch-villain of the environmentalists, that made it possible for practically anyone to own his own home.

And what about food? A whole array of farm machinery, not to mention chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and now genetically engineered crops—have created such an abundance of food that famine, which used to be a constant danger, is now inconceivable in industrialized countries.

We should devote one day a year to counting the ways in which machines make our lives better and easier every minute of the day. We should recognize how much more abundant, and less expensive, industrial production has made even the most mundane everyday objects, from toothbrushes to toasters to cordless phones.

We have a whole day devoted to a crusade against the alleged dangers of technology. That we don’t take a day to count its benefits is inexcusable.

So we’re not just against Earth Day, we’re for recognizing the enormous contribution made to human life by the Industrial Revolution. Let the other side have their day to honor John Muir and Rachel Carson—but we think people should take a day, instead, to honor the world’s Henry Fords and Thomas Edisons. And we think if people did this, they would begin to see through the environmentalist agenda. And once people recognized the real essence of the environmental movement, once they saw its real hostility to human life—they would reject it.