Under the slogans "small is beautiful," "nature is better" and "big industry – especially capitalist industry – is bad," reactionary environmentalists oppose most man-made things that make our world a pleasant place in which to live. Nor is this mere sentiment. The hard-core reactionaries really mean it.

What would their ideal world look like? For Rudolf Bahro (founding member and theoretician of the German Green movement), people would live in socialist communities of no more than 3,000, consuming only what they produce and rarely trading with other communities. There would be no automobiles, airplanes, computers and virtually no other modern technology. [3]

For E. F. Schumacher (author of Small is Beautiful), the world was much better in medieval times, when "the movement of populations, except in periods of disaster, was confined to persons who had a very special reason to move, such as the Irish Saints or the Scholars of the University of Paris." [4]

Whatever differences there are among them, reactionary environmentalists are almost always united by a distaste for modern industrial society and what borders on worship of the peasant way of life. They are literally "time rebels," in the words of Jeremy Rifkin (unabashed advocate of extreme green ideology). [5] "In living in the world by his own will and skill," writes Wendell Berry, "the stupidest peasant or tribesman is more competent than the most intelligent workers or technicians or intellectuals in a society of specialists." [6] The book Deep Ecology quotes approvingly the following passage from the Tao Te Ching: [7]

"Let people recover The simple life: Reckoning by knotted cords, Delighting in a basic meal, Pleased with humble attire, Happy in their homes, Taking pleasure in their Rustic ways ...
Folks grown gray with age May pass away never having Strayed beyond the village."

These extreme views appeal to only a handful of people, as does the Earth First! slogan, "Back to the Pleistocene." But many of the values of the reactionaries are accepted by a much larger number of environmentalists. The following is a brief summary. [8]

Anti-Human. Underlying reactionary environmentalism is a preference for nature over human beings. David Brower (founder of Friends of the Earth and former Executive Director of the Sierra Club) suggests that while the death of young men in war is unfortunate, it is no more serious than the touching of mountains and wilderness areas bymankind. [9] "I know social scientists who remind me that people are part of nature, but it isn't true," writes National Park Service research biologist David M. Graber. "Until such time as Homo sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along." [10] "We are a cancer on nature," says David Foreman (cofounder of Earth First! and former lobbyist for the Wilderness Society). [11] "Debased human protoplasm" is how Stephanie Mills (author of Whatever Happened to Ecology?) describes her fellow human beings. [12]

If man does it, it's bad; and if nature does it, it's good — even if it's the same action. Only on that theory can we explain some of the puzzling views of reactionary environmentalists.. For example:

  • While the reactionaries worry about emissions of carbon dioxide and global warming caused by man, they are generally silent about the much greater temperature cycles and carbon cycles produced by nature.

  • While the reactionaries oppose even trace amounts of man-made carcinogens in our food, they are generally silent about natural carcinogens which appear in 10,000 times greater quantity in a normal diet.

  • The reactionaries oppose all man-made nuclear-generated power, although nuclear power (which brings us sunlight in the day and lights the stars at night) is one of the most natural phenomena found in the entire universe. [13]

Anti-Technology. "Not war, but a plethora of man-made things ... is threatening to strangle us, suffocate us, bury us, in the debris and by-products of our technologically inventive and irresponsible age," wrote Margaret Mead in a review of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.[14] But it would be a mistake to believe that the reactionaries oppose man-made things because they can harm the environment. The true reactionary opposes man-made things on principle.

Not long ago there was considerable excitement over the possibility of cold fusion – a way to have all of the energy we want with no adverse effects on the environment. For normal people, cold fusion would be an environmentalist's dream. Not so for the reactionaries. It would be "like giving a machine gun to an idiot child," said anti-population growth guru Paul Ehrlich. [15] "It's the worst thing that could happen to our planet." said Jeremy Rifkin. [16]

Consider the case of John Todd, an environmental biologist who dis­covered a way to mix the toxic sludge that comes out of sewage treatment plants with microbes that metabolize it and produce clean water. Rather than applauding Todd's innovative solution, many of his environmentalist friends stopped speaking to him. "By discovering a solution to a man-made offense," reports Gregg Easterbrook, "he takes away an argument against growth." [17]

Todd's progressive environmentalism was in direct conflict with reactionary ideology, which has an almost theological aversion to technology and industrialization. "It is a spiritual act to try to shut down DuPont," says Randall Hayes (director of the Rainforest Action Network). [18]

Some reactionaries are very specific about the man-made things people should do without. These include 747 airplanes (Rifkin), [19] automobiles (Kirkpatrick Sale), [20] eyeglasses (Joan McIntyre), [21] private washing machines (Murray Bookchin) [22] and tailored clothing (Schumacher). [23] Others admit the changes won't be easy. Mills, for example, wonders what life will be like without toilet paper. ("Every time I have to replenish the supply of this presumed necessity, I wonder what we're going to substitute for it when the trucks stop running.") [24]

Anti-Science. From the beginning, the role of scientific inquiry created tension within the environmental movement. On the one hand, science is needed to clarify the relationship between humans and the environment. On the other hand, the reactionaries tend to approach environmentalism as a religion and are often hostile to science.

Fritjof Capra (author of The Tao of Physics) claims to find in modern physics a justification for a "cultural revolution" which he elaborates in Green Politics. [25] But if physics no longer differs from Eastern mysticism, why bother with physics? Why not jump directly to mysticism? "What .do I miss as a human being, if I have never heard of the Second Law of Thermodynamics?" asks Schumacher. "The answer is: Nothing." [26]

In the ideal world of the reactionary environmentalist, life is simple. Things are to be learned intuitively, not by the scientific method. After all, in peasant communities there are very few scientific labs. "People can then oppose nuclear power without having to read thick books," says Arne Naess (an apostle of the deep ecology movement) "and without knowing the myriad facts that are used in newspapers and periodicals." [27]

Anti-Growth. In the opinion of most social scientists, the best antipoverty program is economic progress. "Industrialization is the only hope of the poor," wrote the British socialist C.P. Snow. [28] Yet although some reactionary environmentalists are former socialists (for whom helping poor people was an avowed goal), in their new intellectual garb the reactionaries have discarded that concern. Poor peasants living in primitive villages, with an average life expectancy of 30 years, are fine just as they are. Industrialization is seen as a threat to the planet, rather than a boon to mankind.

The 1972 publication Limits to Growth predicted that the world would run out of many natural resources. [29] Twenty years later, that prediction has been thoroughly discredited in the eyes of almost all economists. But the :reactionary environmentalists cling to the faith.

"The danger lies not in the odd maverick polluting factory, industry, or technology, but in ... industrialization itself – a 'super ideology' embraced by socialist countries as well as by the capitalist West," write British Greens Jonathon Porritt and David Winner. [30] "We shall attack both the products and the technology, the motivation to work and the motivation to buy," says German Green theoretician Bahro. [31]

Nature is best left undisturbed. The greatest sin is to make the desert bloom.

Anti-Free Enterprise. Almost everyone has come to the conclusion that capitalism is the only economic system that really works. Thus, hostility to economic growth is often synonymous with hostility to private property and free markets.

Capitalism is the earth's number one enemy, says Barry Commoner, who now openly advocates a democratic socialist system — devoid of the profit motive and almost all current technology. [32] "The capitalist mode of production," writes Bahro, is "markedly self-destructive, outwardly murderous and inwardly suicidal." [33] "The plundering of the human spirit by the marketplace is paralleled by the plundering of the earth by capital," says Murray Bookchin. [34] Free markets "take the sacredness out of life, because there can be nothing sacred in something that has a price," says Schumacher. [35]

Being against free enterprise usually means being for big government. Although the original German Green movement favored decentralized approaches, today's Greens are going after power. As a German Green told columnist Alston Chase, "Grassroots democracy sounded wonderful before we were elected to Parliament. But now we are in power, centralized solutions seem far more effective." [36]

And the government favored by the reactionaries is not necessarily democratic. When Stephanie Mills contemplates a battle over whether to allow a golf course to be built, she writes, "The ecofascist in me finds it hard to trust even the outcome of a democratic process. I fear that our culture is so confused and our information systems so polluted with irrealities that people will vote, time and time again, to let the golf course be built." [37]

The Disaster Lobby.[38] Reactionary environmentalists have a financial, psychological and professional investment in crises. Virtually every fundraising letter features a crisis, described in vivid detail, with the implication that if the organizations do not receive large contributions the industrial establishment and technological advance (what the Greens call the "Big Machine") will do irreparable harm.

Reactionary environmentalists are not opposed to crises. They thrive on them. They need them. [39] And this may explain the growing rift between the reactionaries and the scientists. As environmental science becomes increasingly politicized, responsible scientists who question whether the end of the world is near find they incur the wrath of the reactionary environmentalist movement. [40]

Today we are experiencing the unfortunate consequences of more than two decades of predictions of disaster — most of which were ignored by responsible people in the scientific community. In 1969, Don Price (Dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard) said that "the possibility of a complete and apocalyptic end of civilization cannot be dismissed as a morbid fantasy." [41] Philosopher Alan Watts wrote that "scientists of all kinds are warning us most urgently that we are using our technology disastrously, eating up all the natural resources of the earth." [42] The following year, 1970, was especially rich in apocalyptic predictions:

  • "Nothing less than a profound reorientation of our vaunted techno­logical way of life will save this planet from becoming a lifeless desert," wrote Lewis Mumford. [43]

  • Robert Disch (editor of Ecological Conscience) added that "the present threat to the life support system demands changes in values, institutions and societal goals." [44]

  • "The ecology of the Earth's life support system is disintegrating," said Michael McCloskey (Sierra Club). [45]

  • "Modern society is literally undoing the work of organic evolution," said Murray Bookchin. [46]

  • "The institutions we have created are destroying the livability of the whole world," said Senator Gaylord Nelson. [47]

  • Biologist G. Evelyn Hutchison predicted that "the length of life of the biosphere as an inhabitable region for organisms is to be measured in decades rather than in hundreds of millions of years." [48]

  • Not to be outdone, FCC Commissioner Lee Loevinger declared that "if present trends continue, there will be not more than 35 to 100 more years to the end of all human life on earth." [49]

Those predictions were made more than 20 years ago. That none of them shows even the remotest chance of coming true, that by most measures environmental quality in Western market economies has improved, and that this improvement has been accompanied by sustained economic growth has not made reactionary environmentalists any less alarmist.