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The Environmental Creed

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Careful observers often and correctly note that, for many of its adherents, environmentalism is a religion.

Too many environmentalists disregard inconvenient truths that would undermine their faith that calamities are percolating just over the horizon. It might well be that humans' "footprint" on the Earth is larger than ever; it might even be true that this larger footprint creates some health risks for us modern humans that our pre-industrial ancestors never encountered.

But it is undeniably true that we denizens of industrial, market economies live far better and far healthier than did any our pre-industrial ancestors.

Compared to those ancestors, our life expectancies at birth today are about three times higher. Our bodies are cleaner and more free of disease. Our homes are sanitary. We have indoor plumbing and anti-bacterial soap; our ancestors had outhouses. Our clothes are cleaner and, despite recent hysteria, our food supply is safer.

What we almost never hear from self-proclaimed "environmentalists" is recognition of the upside of contemporary life. The commerce and industry that produce all the things that environmentalists ecstatically despise also produce incredible amounts of wealth, health and cleanliness -- not to mention the leisure necessary for modern people to reflect upon and enjoy nature.

Also, too many environmentalists condemn people who don't share their creed. For example, I don't recycle my trash because my time is too precious for me to spend it sorting such items into different containers. I never criticize those who do recycle, but environmentalists point accusing fingers at us nonrecyclers. In environmentalists' eyes, those who unquestioningly disregard the value of one resource (time) in order to spend it on the conservation of other resources (wood, plastic and glass) are righteous while those of us who value and conserve time are sinners.

And just as religious belief sometimes can inspire adherents to commit acts of cruelty against other human beings, so, too, can environmentalism. Such cruelty is vividly revealed in the new film "Mine Your Own Business." This movie is a documentary centered on a small Romanian town, Rosia Montana. A poor mountain village, Rosia Montana was chosen by a western mining company as a site for a new mine -- an enterprise that would have offered higher-paying jobs to the mostly peasant, rural population.

Environmentalists, though, opposed the mine. Among their chief reasons was their insistence that the mine would "destroy" the way of life of residents of Rosia Montana. On this point, the environmentalists were correct: The mine would indeed change the way of life in that town. But as the film documents, that's precisely an outcome that the townspeople wanted.

Their rural way of life -- with chickens scampering along the dirt roads and outhouses rather than indoor plumbing the norm -- was no joy for them. Most of these townspeople welcomed an opportunity to integrate with the modern, industrial, global economy.

The environmental congregation, however, paid no attention. Living in cities far away from Rosia Montana, environmentalists -- against all evidence -- insisted that the townspeople really don't want the industry, jobs and greater prosperity that the mine would bring.

One environmentalist, a Belgian woman, confidently shared her revelation that the people of Rosia Montana prefer to travel by horse rather than by automobile, so the added wealth that the mine would bring to enable the townspeople to afford cars would be pointless.

The townspeople, alas, have very different ideas. Being human, they're capable of thinking for themselves. And when asked if they'd prefer a horse to a car, droves of them looked at the questioner as if he were stupid to ask such a thing. "A car" was the constant and unambiguous answer of each person asked.

In another scene, a local man in his 20s, after expressing his support for the mine, was asked if he shared the environmentalists' concern that the mine would destroy the town's beauty. Looking momentarily befuddled, the young man glanced around his hometown -- at the dirt streets, the shacks, the ever-present farm animals -- and said matter-of-factly that "It is not so beautiful."

I don't know if the mine ever will be built in Rosia Montana; environmentalists are still fighting it. If these environmentalists succeed, it will be yet another example of religious zealotry run amok with sad consequences.

Donald J. Boudreaux is chairman of the department of economics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. His column appears twice monthly.

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