Today is a good day. It’s Earth Day. I like nature. In fact, I wish I wasn’t so cooped up in urban areas all the time. It’s suffocating at times. Even though giant cityscape views are quite enjoyable, it’s good to have some balance.
However, environmentalism has come to resemble a religious movement. This view was strongly supported by Michael Crichton, as seen here:
Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it’s a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.
There’s an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there’s a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe.
Eden, the fall of man, the loss of grace, the coming doomsday—these are deeply held mythic structures. They are profoundly conservative beliefs. They may even be hard-wired in the brain, for all I know. I certainly don’t want to talk anybody out of them, as I don’t want to talk anybody out of a belief that Jesus Christ is the son of God who rose from the dead. But the reason I don’t want to talk anybody out of these beliefs is that I know that I can’t talk anybody out of them. These are not facts that can be argued. These are issues of faith.
So, by some strange coincidence, I was giving a presentation on a piece of literature in my English class today. That piece of literature happened to be Jurassic Park. In this novel, the character Ian Malcolm goes on a nice monologue regarding environmentalism, which seems to reflect Crichton’s views. As a supplement to my presentation, I retyped this monologue and printed out copies for every student in the class. Enjoy and happy Earth Day.
“Destroying the World” from Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
They moved Malcolm to another room in the lodge, to a clean bed. Hammond seemed to revive, and began bustling around, straightening up. “Well,” he said, “at least disaster is averted.”
“What disaster is that?” Malcolm said, sighing.
“Well,” Hammond said, “they didn’t get free and overrun the world.”
Malcolm sat up on one elbow. “You were worried about that?”
“Surely that’s what was at stake,” Hammond said. “These animals, lacking predators, might get out and destroy the planet.”
“You egomaniacal idiot,” Malcolm said, in fury. “Do you have any idea what you are talking about? You think you can destroy the planet? My, what intoxicating power you must have.” Malcolm sank back on the bed. “You can’t destroy this planet. You can’t even come close.”
“Most people believe,” Hammond said stiffly, “that the planet is in jeopardy.”
“Well, it’s not,” Malcolm said.
“All the experts agree that our planet is in trouble.”
Malcolm sighed. “Let me tell you about our planet,” he said. “Our planet is four and a half billion years old. There has been life on this planet for nearly that long. Three point eight billion years. The first bacteria. And, later, the first multicellular animals, then the first complex creatures, in the sea, on the land. Then the great sweeping ages of animals—the amphibians, the dinosaurs, the mammals, each lasting millions upon millions of years. Great dynasties of creatures arising, flourishing, dying away. All this happening against a background of continuous and violent upheaval, mountain ranges thrust up and eroded away, cometary impacts, volcanic eruptions, oceans rising and falling, whole continents moving…Endless, constant and violent change…Even today, the greatest geographical feature on the planet comes from two great continents colliding, buckling to make the Himalayan mountain range over millions of years. The planet has survived everything, in its time. It will certainly survive us.”
Hammond frowned. “Just because it lasted a long time,” he said, “doesn’t mean it is permanent. If there was a radiation accident…”
“Suppose there was,” Malcolm said. “Let’s say we had a bad one, and all the plants and animals died, and the earth was clicking hot for a hundred thousand years. Life would survive somewhere—under the soil, or perhaps frozen in Arctic ice. And after all those years, when the planet was no longer inhospitable, life would again spread over the planet. The evolutionary process would begin again. It might take a few billion years for life to regain its present variety. And of course it would be very different from what it is now. But the earth would survive our folly. Life would survive our folly. Only we,” Malcolm said, “think it wouldn’t.”
Hammond said, “Well, if the ozone layer gets thinner—“
“There will be more ultraviolet radiation reaching the surface. So what?”
“Well. It’ll cause skin cancer.”
Malcolm shook his head. “Ultraviolet radiation is good for life. It’s powerful energy. It promotes mutation, change. Many forms of life will thrive with more UV radiation.”
“And many others will die out,” Hammond said.
Malcolm sighed. “You think this is the first time such a thing has happened? Don’t you know about oxygen?”
“I know it’s necessary for life.”
“It is now,” Malcolm said. “But oxygen is actually a metabolic poison. It’s a corrosive gas, like fluorine, which is used to etch glass. And when oxygen was first produced as a waste produced by certain plant cells—say, around three billion years ago—it created a crisis for all other life on our planet. Those plant cells were polluting the environment with a deadly poison. They were exhaling a lethal gas, and building up its concentration. A planet like Venus has less than one percent oxygen. On earth, the concentration of oxygen was going up rapidly—five, ten, eventually twenty-one percent! Earth had an atmosphere of pure poison! Incompatible with life!”
Hammond look irritated. “So what is your point? That modern pollutants will be incorporated, too?”
“No,” Malcolm said. “My point is that life on earth can take care of itself. In the thinking of a human being, a hundred years is a long time. A hundred years ago, we didn’t have cars and airplanes and computers and vaccines…It was a whole different world. But to the earth, a hundred years is nothing. A million years is nothing. This planet lives and breathes on a much vaster scale. We can’t imagine its slow and powerful rhythms, and we haven’t got the humility to try. We have been residents here for the blink of an eye. If we are gone tomorrow, the earth will not miss us.”
“And we very well might be gone,” Hammond said, huffing.
“Yes,” Malcolm said. “We might.”
“So what are you saying? We shouldn’t care about the environment?”
“No, of course not.”
Malcolm coughed, and stared into the distance. “Let’s be clear. The planet is not in jeopardy. We are in jeopardy. We haven’t got the power to destroy the planet—or to save it. But we might have the power to save ourselves.”
God help us, we’re in the hands of engineers.