The Straw Man.

Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society wrote an editorial so ridiculous that I strongly suspect he was secretly hired by an evil cabal of industrialists, developers, meatpacking barons and concrete magnates for the sole purpose of making environmentalism look stupid. Go ahead, read it. I genuinely believe that people like Mr. Watson make reasonable environmentalists look nutty by association.

Before making fun of his sacred beliefs, I’d like to share my core premise regarding the environment. This gets technical, so pay close attention:

Humans are more important than all other living things combined and multiplied by a bazillion. Other living things are only important to the extent that humans need or want them.

Call me speciesist, call me anthropocentric, call me crazy, but people are the most important people on the planet. Of course, there are particular exceptions; there are certain people who, were they stuck in a burning building, I’d ignore in order to save the termites. But generally speaking, nature should be preserved, conserved, protected, whatever, only to the extent that it optimizes human happiness and human survival. That might mean having more environmental concern than we already do, or it might mean retooling environmental policy, or it might mean capitalizing and titling more natural resources to avoid abuse of ownerless resources.

My point: when push comes to shove, the other life forms—which Mr. Watson calls “fellow citizens and also Earthlings”—are on their own. That goes for the Earth, too, whose ecosystem Mr. Watson calls a “collective living organism.”

Anyhow, let’s look at excerpts from his article, twist his words and ideas, take things out of context, and give him no chance to respond:

Primitive hominids were well-organized, efficient, slaughter crews…

Hell yeah.

Irrigation systems began to toxify land.

Never mind the upside of irrigation systems, such as the increase in agricultural production, a.k.a. “food.”

Some fifty millennia ago, the entire ecosystem of Australia was disrupted and transformed by humans… Marsupials the size of grizzly bears were obliterated.

Good. Do we really want grizzly kangaroos hopping all over the place?

By the most conservative measure – based on the last century’s recorded extinctions – the current rate of extinction is 100 times the background rate. Harvard conservation biologist Edward O. Wilson estimates that the true rate is more like 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate. We are losing about 200 species a day and remember that the norm is one species per year.
Wilson predicts that our present course will lead to the extinction of half of all plant and animal species by 2100.

Fun with numbers: Let’s assume that we really are losing about 200 species a day, with zero replacement (i.e., no new species). Let’s also assume that there are 2 million animal and plant species on Earth (Watson claims 1.5 million, other articles claim 1.8 million). Two million species divided by a net loss of 200 species per day (assuming a constant rate of extinction, which Watson doesn’t; he argues that the rate is escalating) divided by 365.25 days per year equals 27.4 years. That means that in this worst case scenario, all plant and animal species will be gone by the year 2035.

Now let’s be much kinder to Messrs Watson and Wilson, and assume that 100 new plant and animal species are created per day, bringing the net loss down to 100 plant/animal species. That simply delays total plant and animal extinction until 2062. In order for even half of the world’s plant and animal species to survive to the year 2100 while losing 200 species a day, roughly 170 new species must be created every day. Point? Either Wilson’s and Watson’s extinction claims are hogwash, or they need to be a little more precise, accurate, and intellectually honest when trying to scare the hell out of you.

Species work interdependently to develop mutually beneficial strategies that maintain and strengthen ecosystems.

“Mutually beneficial strategies”—remember that next time you see a lion kill a gazelle, or an owl abduct a squirrel, or bees and hornets at war. The circle of life is one thing, mutual benefit is quite another. Of course some species provide benefits to other species, sometimes deliberately and sometimes incidentally, but let’s not pretend that some species don’t seek dominance to whatever extent they can.

A virus kills its host and that is exactly what we are doing with our planet’s life support system. We are killing our host the planet Earth.

Nature may give us many blessings, but nature also has a tendency to try to kill us. Never mind the other species—what about volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, lightning strikes, mudslides, fires, any number of perfectly natural events that threaten human life? I think a little retaliation’s in order.

I [Watson] was once severely criticized for describing human beings as being the “AIDS of the Earth.” I make no apologies for that statement.

He really should apologize. The Earth does not have unprotected sex with other planets, it does not use intravenous drugs with dirty needles, and its parents were not HIV-positive.

We need to re-wild the planet… No human community should be larger than 20,000 people and separated from other communities by wilderness areas. Communication systems can link the communities.

The last time the largest human community was even as small as 30,000 people was in the Early Bronze Age. That community was Memphis, Egypt, in 3100 BC.

In other words, people should be placed in parks within ecosystems instead of parks placed in human communities.

Translation: he wants humans in zoos. Who would the zookeeper be? I’m sure Mr. Watson would volunteer.

We need vast areas of the planet where humans do not live at all and where other species are free to evolve without human interference.
We need to radically and intelligently reduce human populations to fewer than one billion.

Now I know why Mr. Watson sounds like a raving maniac. Reduce the human population by over five billion? Leave behind a specially selected group who would live in harmony with nature? That’s the villain’s plot in at least three Bond movies. We just need to get Watson a grey jumpsuit and some scars.

We need to stop burning fossil fuels and utilize only wind, water, and solar power with all generation of power coming from individual or small community units like windmills, waterwheels, and solar panels.

…until we realize the windmills are killing the birds, the waterwheels are killing the fish, and the solar panels are hogging the sunlight and killing the plants.

Sea transportation should be by sail. The big clippers were the finest ships ever built and sufficient to our needs. Air transportation should be by solar powered blimps when air transportation is necessary.

If clippers were “sufficient to our needs,” why would anyone have thought to develop any further advances in water travel? Those greedy bastards and their steam engines.

All consumption should be local. No food products need to be transported over hundreds of miles to market.

…unless there’s a drought or blight somewhere. Then we can rush food into the famine-stricken areas by solar-powered blimp. Or horseback. Or clipper-ship. Or we can wrap massive rubber bands around the windmills and fling the food to the starving.

All commercial fishing should be abolished. If local communities need to fish the fish should be caught individually by hand.

Which seems to contradict the very next sentence…

Preferably vegan and vegetarian diets can be adopted.

Why? Aren’t vegetables Earthlings too?

We need to eliminate herds of ungulates like cows and sheep and replace them with wild ungulates like bison and caribou and allow those species to fulfill the proper roles in nature.

After all, some ungulates are more equal than others.

We need to remove and destroy all fences and barriers that bar wildlife from moving freely across the land.

…and into your caves, where they can eat you.

We need an economic system that provides all people with educational, medical, security, and support systems without mass production and vast utilization of resources. This will only work within the context of a much smaller global population.

Wrong. Better education, better medical care, and better economic security have accompanied mass production and vast utilization of resources and an increasing population—and the larger the population has gotten, the closer the world has come to ensuring that everyone has access to those systems. To be fair, it’s possible that the relationship is not causal, but the claim that a much smaller global population is necessary to achieve those particular aims is false.

Who should have children? Those who are responsible and completely dedicated to the responsibility which is actually a very small percentage of humans. Being a parent should be a career.
Whereas some people are engineers, musicians, or lawyers, others with the desire and the skills can be fathers and mothers.

Never mind the insult to the vast majority of parents–I wonder whether Mr. Watson has any children of his own, and if so, whether he’s handed them off to an expert. Or is he one of the very few who are responsible? Imagine that, an environmental expert and a parenting expert! What are the odds? Once again, quis custodiet?

This approach to parenting is radical but it is preferable to a system where everyone is expected to have children in order to keep the population of consumers up to keep the wheels of production moving.

The view that “we have children so that we can buy stuff, in order to keep factories in business” is idiotic and backwards. We don’t consume stuff for the sake of production. We produce stuff for the sake of consumption.

Mr. Watson would allow us to “retain technology, but within the context of Henry David Thoreau’s simple message to ‘simplify, simplify, simplify.’” Here’s the Watson view of simplification: reducing the population to pre-1850s levels, in Bronze Age-sized villages, but without the technology to match. We’d fish without poles or nets, observe vegetarian and vegan diets presumably without irrigation (remember, it “toxifies” land) and definitely without fencing to protect our food sources from the increased number of wild predators he wants roaming around. We’d have nothing faster than solar-powered blimps or horses for emergencies. Actually, horses might be off-limits; Watson doesn’t like domestication of animals.

I suppose it’s possible that we could seamlessly integrate advanced technology into the natural environment in Watson’s future, but that itself would probably require a great deal more technological development than we’ve already achieved. Besides, how would we maintain this technology? Everyone’s going to be too busy trying to catch fish by hand, rubbing sticks together for fire, keeping the bears away from our organic produce and the dingoes away from our babies—that’s if Watson will even let us procreate; we’ll see how strict he is about this 20,000 figure. Shall we kill off the elderly? Have childbearing licensure?

By the way, take a minute to look up how Thoreau died.

I almost feel guilty making fun of Mr. Watson, because it’s so easy and because there really are rational proposals out there for improving the environment–but none of them are his. Again, maybe he’s in Big Business’s hip pocket and deliberately sounds this stupid.

After re-reading Mr. Watson’s editorial, I honestly don’t see how his proposals ensure the long-term survival of the human race. His proposals would certainly make our lives more nasty, brutish, and short, but they wouldn’t help us survive something like the “cataclysmic occurrence that exterminated the dinosaurs”—a.k.a. a massive meteor strike.

What if nature dishes up another one of those–something humans couldn’t naturally have avoided, something that humans simply couldn’t be blamed for? If a meteor that big is headed towards Earth, we’re going to want ways to detect and destroy it. If the sun gets too hot or too cold, we’re going to want (A) to keep the heat out, or (B) trap the heat in, or (C) an ark. Would we, in Mr. Watson’s preferred vision of the future, be able to develop the technology necessary to ensure human survival in those situations?

Probably not. Again, we’d be too busy catching fish by hand and fighting with ungulates over berries.

3 Responses to “The Straw Man.”

  1. Que si Says:
    May 16th, 2007 at 4:56 PMI’m interested in hearing your views on global warming theory. Sorry, let me rephrase that: I’m interested in hearing if you CARE about the global warming theory.
  2. VDV Says:
    May 19th, 2007 at 3:51 PMWell of course I care about Global Warming Theory, I’m just not in love with it anymore. We’re just friends now.

    Why? What did it say? Did Global Warming Theory ask about me? I mean, it’s okay if it didn’t, I’m just curious.

  3. The Questioner Says:
    May 20th, 2007 at 10:46 AMAs a friend make sure to have your quota of CFL.

    Keep in mind that these are the same rocket scientists that do not want to build any new oil refineries or nuclear power plants because of environmental risks, not to mention a tidal harnessing station. Remember that these are facilities run by professionals. But it is ok to give approximately 4 – 5 mg of mercury per bulb to a homeowner with [Moderator: Nothing to see here.] for brains.

    I wanna know when I can get a mercury poisoning vaccine. Say that would be some racket…you know put all this stuff out there knowing that people would be breaking them and not disposing of them correctly. Poison everyone. There is your disease and then invent the cure for the poison. But I digress…

    This is the same crowd that said such horrible things about DDT too. They eliminated its use and in the mean time millions died world wide from malaria related complications. Wait…didn’t the WHO just lift the ban on DDT…what is going on here?

    Is this call for a cull coming from the same group of people who want the US government to save the day in Darfur?
    Are these the same people who cried foul for lack of involvement in Rwanda.?

    I’m confused…

    Oh yeah…and will someone please tell me how CO2 from Earth is getting to Mars?