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‘Environmentalism’ versus environmental management

By Pedro Toranzo - posted Friday, 27 September 2019

Nowadays, we cannot deny that significant environmental impacts have originated from poorly managed environmental risks that not only affect cities, companies, countries, and regions but even create perceivable changes at the planetary level. This fact may become the starting point for an upcoming catastrophe subject only to the unstoppable passage of time.

Historically, the recognition, identification and management of environmental risks became a concern only when conditions of economic scarcity emerged. A good example of managing environmental risks is the prohibition on cutting down trees in the Fertile Crescent region thousands of years ago. Similar measures have been implemented in other historical periods.

In a different way, ‘Environmentalism’ now appears as an ideology. This happened not by chance, but during a time of ideological clashes between a totally deregulated free market and the dawn of socialism. It became visible when intimately linked to labour rights and the health issues related to working conditions. Poor working conditions during the industrial revolution in the UK, especially air quality, became the spark that ignited environmentalism. This sort of activism, not yet separated from social rights and still diffuse, was further defined during the 70s, when it was linked to oil pollution events like the Amoco Cadiz oil spill. Environmental activists were even opposed to the military intervention of US troops in Vietnam; issues took on a typical politician-opponent tinge.


‘Romantic' environmental movements also spread, especially in the UK. In the 1870s the concept of 'going back to nature' fostered the creation of conservation areas. But those initial romantic movements were isolated, without an enduring impact.

It is interesting to observe that in the 1970s ‘Environmentalism’ became housed in non-profit institutions in order to obtain funding. The first NGOs, or Non-Governmental Organisations, began to act against against certain targeted environmental risks. They took a negative and violent tone against companies that wielded great economic power like tobacco, oil and mining companies. The environmental messages were always extreme, and rarely promoted solutions to the problems, paralyzing the proponents. Young activists found a new refuge against consumerism and its unhealthy associated habits. Environmentalism was a new way to interpret the voices of the Creator. Mother Nature became a goddess again and Pantheism won the race to overtake monotheistic religions. Even Western "rationalism'', that when de-deified is completely empty of any humanistic content, lost out to environmentalism.

In reality, the problem was not monotheistic religions, nor Western rationalism, nor the pursuit of profit by companies, nor consumerism itself. Culprits were forgetting about our neighbors next door complaining about fumes and annoying noise; future generations - neglected by the indiscriminate and hysterical consumption of resources; and the abuse of natural ecosystems; which are together with culture and innovation, the basis of the sustenance of human civilisation. 

Undeniably, Environmentalism’ was a necessary voice at the beginning. But for those who still preach it, this movement is neither practical nor effective. As activists, environmentalists rarely offered solutions. Rather, they promoted paralysing and non-democratic concepts such as 'Climate Change', 'Extinction of Species' and other apocalyptic messages. 

‘Environmentalism’ is absolute, immature, and contradicts unquestionable realities such as the free market. It overlooks the fact that planet Earth and its resources are scarce and exhaustible, and that this is inevitable. Often ‘environmentalism’ proclaims that nature is 'perfect': another fallacy.

Undoubtedly, perceptions have changed. Africa used to be described as 'wild Africa', an untamed territory full of beasts and aggressive tribes. Nowadays Africa has become a synonym for natural beauty and national parks. Similarly, the word 'forest', which originated from the term 'foris' in Latin. During the Middle Ages it meant ‘beyond the city walls’, an untamed area full of dangers for humans. Today, things seem to have mutated: civilization has been convinced of the opposite. Nature is 'the garden of Eden'.


As a case in point, activism against whaling is ridiculous. Although I do not share a culture with the 'whale eaters', such as the Japanese or the inhabitants of the Faroe Islands, I do not want to impose my culture on them either, since in my country, Argentina, we eat beef at home, with a number of associated environmental risks, while in India cattle are sacred beings. Therefore, I must ask myself who, if not the Japanese themselves, are those who would like to preserve whaling as a sustainable resource the most? Let’s be practical and take the approach that as long as whales have a good price in Tokyo, the regulated market will balance out the number of whales captured, which in turn will help preserve the species. In the same way, if a fleet of whalers went out to sea and only found two whales, the next time this fleet sailed, by simple economy, its numbers would be drastically reduced or perhaps even the operations of the fleet would be halted.

It is interesting to note that very often, within the 'Environmentalist' mind, absolutism and rebellion prevail over concepts such as state, nation, companies, traditional religions and the market economy. Frequently I ask activists: What solutions do you suggest, if you would like to replace those essential facts of human civilisation? The invariable response: a silence only comparable to a peaceful breeze in a national park.

Our civilization has always had a great capacity for change, adaptation and innovation. Today, access to resources and welfare provision has expanded as never before. Of course, this is far from having reached 100% of the population, but it is a landmark achievement. For instance, 80% of the global population now has access to drinking water.

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About the Author

Pedro Toranzo is an Australian living overseas.
He currently is a member of two think tanks: the Environment Committee for CARI and the Argentine National Academy for Moral & Political Sciences (Environmental Politics Institute).
His areas of expertise include waste management solutions, water management, the urban environment, and energy efficiency.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Pedro Toranzo

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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