Because they know that the vast majority of Americans would reject their real agenda, the environmentalists use lies, exaggerations, and pseudo-science to create public hysteria.
EXXON: The environmental movement is cheering the criminal indictment of the Exxon Corporation for the Alaska oil spill, with the possibility of more than $700 million in fines. The one shortcoming, say the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, is that Exxon executives won’t be sent to prison.
Exxon cannot be allowed to get away with an “environmental crime” which despoiled the “pristine wilderness of Alaska,” says Attorney General Richard Thornburgh. But the legal doctrine underlying this indictment is inconsistent with a free society, notes Murray N. Rothbard.
Under feudalism, the master was held responsible for all acts of his servants, intended or not. During the Renaissance with growing capitalism and freedom, the doctrine changed so there was no “vicarious liability.” Employers were correctly seen as legally responsible only for those actions they directed their employees to take, not when their employees disobeyed them. But today, we are back in feudal times, plus deeper-pocket jurisprudence, as employers are held responsible for all acts of their employees, even when the employees break company rules and disobey specific orders-by getting drunk on duty, for example. From all the hysteria, and the criminal indictment, one might think Exxon had deliberately spilled the oil, rather than being the victim of an accident that has already cost its stockholders $2 billion. Who is supposedly the casualty in the Justice Department’s “criminal” act? Oiled sand?
In fact, Exxon is the biggest victim. Through employee negligence, the company has lost $5 million worth of oil, a supertanker, and compensation to fishermen, or the cost of the clean up. The total bill could be $3 billion.
Yet every night on television, we were treated to maudlin coverage of oily water and blackened seagulls, and denunciations of Exxon and oil production in “environmentally sensitive” Alaska. Though why it is more sensitive than, say, New Jersey, we are never told. In fact, environmentalists love Alaska because there are so few people there. It represents their ideal.
Despite all the hysteria, oil is – if I may use the environmentalists’ own lingo – natural, organic, and biodegradable. As in previous oil spills, it all went away, and the birds, plants, and fish replenished themselves.
The Exxon oil spill was hardly the “equivalent of Hiroshima,” as one crazed Alaska judge said. And who knows? Oil might be good for some wildlife. This year, the salmon catch is almost 50% bigger than any time in history.
WETLANDS: One of the great engineering achievements of the ancient world was draining the Pontine Marshes, which enabled the city of Rome to expand. But no such project could be undertaken today; that vast swamp would be protected as wetlands.
When John Pozsgai – an emigrant from communist Hungary – tried to improve some property he found this out. After buying a former junkyard and clearing away the thousands of tires that littered it, Pozsgai put clean topsoil on his lot in Morrisville, PA. For this, the 57-year-old mechanic was sentenced to three years in prison and $200,000 in fines, because his property was classified as wetlands by the federal government.
After ordering a bureaucrat to “get the Hell off my property,” Pozsgai was arrested, handcuffed, and jailed on $10,000 bail. Quickly tried and convicted, Pozsgai’s brutal sentence will – said the prosecutor – “send a message to the private landowners, corporations, and developers of this country about President Bush’s wetlands policy.”
John Pozsgai has a different view: “I thought this was a free country,” he told The Washington Post.
RUBBISH: In Palo Alto, California, citizens are ordered to separate their trash into seven neatly packaged piles: newspapers, tin cans (flattened with labels removed), aluminum cans (flattened), glass bottles (with labels removed), plastic soda pop bottles, lawn sweepings, and regular rubbish. And to pay high taxes to have it all taken away.
In Mountain Park, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, the government has just ordered the same recycling program, increased taxes 53% to pay for it, and enacted fines of up to $1,000, and jail terms of up to six months, for scofftrashes.
Because of my aversion to government orders, my distrust of government justifications, and my dislike of ecomania, I have always mixed all my trash together. If recycling made sense – economically and not as a sacrament of Gaia worship – we would be paid to do it.
For the same reason, I love to use plastic fast- food containers and non-returnable bottles. The whole recycling commotion, like the broader environmental movement, has always impressed me as malarkey. But I was glad to get some scientific support for my position.
Professor William L. Rathje, an urban archaeologist at the University of Arizona and head of its Garbage Project, has been studying rubbish for almost 20 years, and what he’s discovered contradicts almost everything we’re told.
When seen in perspective, our garbage problems are no worse than they have always been. The only difference is that today we have safe methods to deal with them, if the environmentalists will let us.
The environmentalists warn of a country covered by garbage because the average American generates 8 lbs. a day. In fact, we create less than 3 lbs. each, which is a good deal less than people in Mexico City today or American 100 years ago. Gone, for example, are the 1,200 lbs. of coal ash each American home used to generate, and our modern packaged foods mean less rubbish, not more.
But most landfills will be full in ten years or less, we’re told, and that’s true. But most landfills are designed to last ten years. The problem is not that they are filling up, but that we’re not allowed to create new ones, thanks to the environmental movement. Texas, for example, handed out 250 landfill permits a year in the mid-1970s, but fewer than 50 in 1988.
The environmentalists claim that disposable diapers and fast-food containers are the worst problems. To me, this has always revealed the anti-family and pro-elite biases common to all left-wing movements. But the left, as usual, has the facts wrong as well.
In two years of digging in seven landfills all across America, in which they sorted and weighed every item in 16,000 lbs. of garbage, Rathje discovered that fast-food containers take up less than 1/10th of one percent of the space; less than 1 % was disposable diapers. All plastics totalled less than 5%. The real culprit is paper – especially telephone books and newspapers. And there is little biodegradation. He found 1952 newspapers still fresh and readable.
Rather than biodegrade, most garbage mummifies. And this may be a blessing. If newspapers, for example, degraded rapidly, tons of ink would leach into the groundwater. And we should be glad that plastic doesn’t biodegrade. Being inert, it doesn’t introduce toxic chemicals into the environment.
We’re told we have a moral obligation to recycle, and most of us say we do so, but empirical studies show it isn’t so. In surveys, 78% of the respondents say they separate their garbage, but only 26% said they thought their neighbors separate theirs. To test that, for seven years the Garbage Project examined 9,000 loads of refuse in Tucson, Arizona, from a variety of neighborhoods. The results: most people do what they say their neighbors do – they don’t separate. No matter how high or low the income, or how liberal the neighborhood, or how much the respondents said they cared about the environment, only 26% actually separated their trash. The only reliable predictor of when people separate and when they don’t is exactly the one an economist would predict: the price paid for the trash. When the prices of old newspaper rose, people carefully separated their newspapers. When the price of newspapers fell, people threw them out with the other garbage.
We’re all told to save our newspapers for recycling, and the idea seems to make sense. Old newspapers can be made into boxes, wallboard, and insulation, but the market is flooded with newsprint thanks to government programs. In New Jersey, for example, the price of used newspapers has plummeted from $40 a ton to minus $25 a ton. Trash entrepreneurs used to buy old newspaper. Now you have to pay someone to take it away.
If it is economically efficient to recycle – and we can’t know that so long as government is involved – trash will have a market price. It is only through a free price system, as Ludwig von Mises demonstrated 70 years ago, that we can know the value of goods and services.
From his priceless ‘Rockwell’s Anti-Environmentalist Manifesto’