Archive: Who’s to Blame for Environmental Destruction?
This CEH article from 20 years ago debunks (by scientists) the myths of “pristine wilderness” ruined by white settlers.
Note: some embedded links may no longer work.
Who’s to Blame for Environmental Destruction? 11/19/2003
Two recent reports contradict common liberal opinion that the free world is ravaging the environment at the expense of the poor. At least they bring some balance into the discussion and implicate some other culprits.
On this 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Oregon State University scientists have used the famous duo’s journals to gauge the impact of human occupation on the wildlife ecology before and after the white man’s westward migration. EurekAlert, reporting on their work, states flatly at the outset.
It is a myth that vast areas of the West existed in some sort of pristine state, largely unaffected by humans until the 1800s, the research concludes. In fact, the larger wildlife such as deer, elk or buffalo that were hunted by Native Americans appear to have populations that may have fluctuated greatly, up and down, based on the hunting pressure on them decades or centuries before European settlers ever arrived.
The journals of Lewis and Clark provided data points to correlate large mammal abundance with Indian population density, and showed that native Americans had a large impact on the wildlife ecology without the white man’s help. Where Indian settlements were dense, such as in the Columbia Basin, the expedition found so little game there was almost nothing to eat. Another OSU professor, William Ripple, sets the record straight:
Many people have a vision of very little human influence on the land around the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition. That wasn’t the case. The impact of humans, even then, was far greater than most people appreciate. And as we develop ecological theories and management practices today, we must be careful about what we consider pristine. With wildlife in the West, it was not in 1806.
In our present world, which nations are most likely to destroy their biodiversity resources? Those with corrupt governments, reported Nature Science Update Nov. 6. “Corruption undermines conservation when it pays better,” one conservation economist put it. Even when biologists are sent to the rescue, good intentions can fall apart:
Wildlife workers are often badly remunerated, making bribes more attractive. Conservation policy frequently carries relatively little clout with governments and law-enforcement agencies, and the success of conservation projects can be difficult to gauge. All of these factors make projects vulnerable to crooked financial practices.
A UK team headed by Robert Smith (U. of Kent, Canterbury) used a “corruption perception index” to rate conservation of forest and wildlife in several African countries. Among their findings was that “Rhinos, elephants and trees are disappearing most quickly in countries with the worst governance scores.” They found that “corruption explained the trends better than any other factor.”
Not to pick on Africa, NSU pointed out that “The influence of corruption on wildlife goes beyond Africa. Efforts to conserve Indonesia’s forests, for example, have been hampered by illegal logging, supported by corrupt officials despite a raft of protective legislation.” A Nature Conservancy official noted that most conservationists tend to view the problems as biological rather than political. Despite well-intentioned laws, it appears that money talks louder than good intentions.
A press release from Oregon State Oct. 17 agreed that corruption is a curse on agriculture in Africa, along with world “free trade” agreements that undermine local economies’ ability to compete with foreign countries, whose governments can afford to subsidize their markets:
The result is governments and societies that are teetering on the brink of collapse and increasingly unable to reach their goals of agricultural self-sufficiency, even though some of them have millions of farmers and land capable of producing far more than it does.
Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Cameroon and Senegal are cited as countries where corruption is rampant. Larry Becker, geographer at OSU, said it’s time to shift our focus: “Too much emphasis has been put on technical solutions to the challenge of African food self-sufficiency. The real obstacles to food production are political and economic.”
Political, economic, and… moral. Give people freedom and money without morals, and will you have utopia? No, you will have an even more powerful corruption problem. It is countries where high moral standards and the rule of law are intact where there is the best opportunity for a society to flourish, without the temptation to cut self-serving deals. In free countries, where people are able to compete in the marketplace based on their abilities, and where their selfish interests are channeled by the requirement to satisfy their customers better than their competitors can, coupled with a moral consensus that values truth and honesty and punishes evil, there is a working recipe for sustainable prosperity. But prosperity also must be kept in check by a moral standard that sees our place in the world as one of responsible stewardship. Corruption destroys all these things.
These articles help explode the “Dancing with Wolves” stereotype, and the white imperialist stereotype. But it’s fruitless to point fingers here, because all humans are innately selfish and evil. Any society will express its evil fully unless kept in check by the rule of law and beliefs that encourage honesty and responsibility. Most often these beliefs are rooted in religion. The Judeo-Christian tradition, for instance, when followed according to the Bible, teaches honesty, responsibility, compassion and stewardship. This is not to say that Europe or America have not failed, often miserably, to live up to those standards. But at least corruption has usually been viewed as an evil that must be punished.
So despised was corruption in Elizabethan England in the days of the King James Bible, for example, Sir Francis Bacon was humiliated and nearly ruined for taking a bribe. But in many countries, you would be humiliated for not engaging in this evil practice. Ask yourself which countries have the most corrupt governments today, where bribery is a way of life cynically accepted as a necessary evil, then check out their environmental record. Also, dare to ask the politically incorrect question, what is their religious tradition. At risk of oversimplification, consider that a native east Indian living in America has, on numerous occasions, mentioned in casual conversation to this reporter that bribery and corruption are ubiquitous in India, from the top of the government down to the local constable on the street. If you’re thinking ahead that India is primarily Hindu in religious tradition, you need to realize that another religion is dominant, dogmatic, and forceful in India today, at least among the intellectual and political elites who take the bribes: Darwinism.
These articles are noteworthy in that they come from secular sources not particularly reputed as politically conservative. The OSU press release pointed out that the problem is not resources. There are plenty of workers, there is plenty of land, and there is a great potential for productivity, prosperity and self-sufficiency. It is being destroyed by corruption. More than any other factor, corruption was correlated with environmental destruction and poverty. This would have been no surprise to Isaiah or Jeremiah, who understood that “the pleasant places of the wilderness are dried up” because “Their course of life is evil, and their might is not right.” Solomon, also, knew that “The king establishes the land by justice, But he who receives bribes overthrows it.” (Prov. 29:4). This theme runs throughout the whole Bible: corruption ruins the land and its people.
The situation is desperate. The ecology is crumbling. Wildlife is being exterminated. People are starving. The usual political, economic and scientific remedies – subsidies, education, consultants, scientific studies – are not working. This calls for drastic measures. Send missionaries with care packages containing copies of the Bible, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
Note 11/18/23: See also my Evolution News article 9 Nov 2023 about geoglyphs hidden throughout in Amazonia, proving that the “pristine rainforest” of the Amazon was substantially altered by early human inhabitants.