The Bigotry of Environmental Pessimism

  • Date: 22/08/19
  • Michael Shellenberger, Quillette

For over 50 years, environmentalists have argued that a significant down-sizing of American living standards is required to prevent environmental catastrophe. They have been attacking the American lifestyle since the 1960s.

Democratic Presidential candidates and the New York Times rightly condemned the use of inflammatory words like “invasion” by President Donald Trump and Fox News hosts to describe the desperate people coming from Latin America to seek a better life in the U.S. Such language is irresponsible and may very well have contributed to the motivation of a man suspected to have killed 13 Americans, eight Mexicans, and one German in El Paso last week. In a manifesto he posted online before the attack, the suspect also used the word “invasion.”

While they are at it, they should condemn the inflammatory rhetoric used by environmentalists, which also may have contributed to the motivations of the El Paso shooting suspect. The suspect justified his mass shooting of people in a Walmart by arguing that “our lifestyle is destroying the environment of our country.” The suspect writes, “y’all are just too stubborn to change your lifestyle. So the next logical step is to decrease the number of people in America using resources. If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can become more sustainable.”

For over 50 years, environmentalists have argued that a significant down-sizing of American living standards is required to prevent environmental catastrophe. They have been attacking the American lifestyle since the 1960s, and Walmart since the 1990s. The El Paso shooting suspect named his manifesto “The Inconvenient Truth,” a title nearly identical to the 2006 documentary about Al Gore’s slideshow on global warming. In it, Gore says: “The truth about the climate crisis is an inconvenient one that means we are going to have to change the way we live our lives.”

Many Democrats and New York Times readers will object that we cannot attribute the El Paso shooting subject’s actions to Gore or to the language he uses. But if that’s true, then we can’t attribute them to Trump and Fox News, either. We can’t have it both ways.

After I made this point on Twitter, some people replied that while the suspect may have had environmental concerns, he acted on his anti-immigrant beliefs. Others said that had he acted on his environmental concerns, he would have shot up ExxonMobil. But such claims demonstrate ignorance of what the shooting suspect wrote, his worldview, and the ways in which it “echoes,” to use the Times’ word, the long history of anti-immigrant, Malthusian environmentalism.

The suspect clearly states that his decision to kill immigrants was, in significant measure, because of their impact on the natural environment. “Of course these migrants and their children have contributed to the problem, but are not the sole cause of it,” he writes. “The American lifestyle affords our citizens an incredible quality of life.”

The El Paso suspect said he was partly inspired by the suspected shooter of Muslim immigrants in New Zealand in March, who also made clear in a manifesto that environmental concerns motivated his anti-immigrant ones. “Why focus on immigration and birth rates when climate change is such a huge issue?” the New Zealand shooting suspect asks. “Because they are the same issue, the environment is being destroyed by overpopulation, we Europeans are one of the groups that are not overpopulating the world.”

It is not surprising that the two manifestos echoed environmentalist ideas. For two centuries, prominent scientists, conservationists, and journalists, have blamed immigrants, the poor, and non-whites for their degradation of the natural environment. Much of what we call “environmentalism” is simply a repackaging of the ideas of 19th-century economist Thomas Malthus. He believed overpopulation of the poor would deplete resources, and that the ethical thing to do was let the poor die of hunger and disease to prevent more hunger and disease in the future. “Instead of recommending cleanliness to the poor, we should encourage contrary habits,” he wrote, “and court the return of the plague.” The British government and media used Malthus’ ideas to justify the policies that led to mass starvation in Ireland from 1845 to 1849.

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