Understanding Environmentalism

In a Dark Wood -

The Fight over Forests and
the Rising Tyranny of Ecology


By Alston Chase

Houghton Mifflin, 1995
Versions of this review were originally published in The Land Rights Letter, December 1995
and The Downeast Coastal Press, January 16, 1996.

Copyright © 1995, 1996, Erich Veyhl, All Rights Reserved

With the latest environmentalist assaults on the people of Downeast Maine -- in the form of "endangered species" listings, plans for greenline "zoning" and massive government land acquisition, and a campaign to strangle the forestry, blueberry and salmon pen industries -- Alston Chase's book on environmentalism couldn't have come too soon. In a Dark Wood -- The Fight over Forests and the Rising Tyranny of Ecology, should be read by everyone concerned with environmentalist policies and impositions.

In a Dark Wood is a highly readable and well-documented account of the origins of environmentalist concepts and values and their role in the corruption of contemporary American science and culture, all explored in the context of what Chase calls: "the fight over old growth forests and threatened species in the Pacific Northwest -- the biggest preservation conflict in history in terms of area size, economic cost, and number of human lives affected."

Pay attention because it's coming to Maine. As Audubon lobbyist Brock Evans, now head of the National Endangered Species Coalition in Washington, DC, said a few years ago: "There are some very distinct similarites between the emerging, what I'll call the Northern Forest Lands Campaign -- which is happening in northern New England right now, and if I have anything to say about it form my national perspective, it will be an even bigger campaign in the next few years than the ancient forest campaign we're just going through right now in the Pacific Northwest."

Chase's book is about fundamental concepts, but it reads with the drama of a well-written novel as it shows how ideas played out in the tragic history of the anti-man preservationist takeover of the rural northwest over the last few decades. It shows explicitly the role that environmentalist philosophical premises and values have played in the goals, tactics and rationalizations of environmentalist militant activists, "mainstream" organizations, foundation funding, academic research (mostly government supported), court decisions -- and ultimately -- entrenched national government policy.

Dark Wood must be read if you want to understand:

  1. Why and how the environmentalist movement for preservationism radically differs from most American's desire for a clean environment and aesthetically pleasing natural areas;

  2. Why appeals to property rights have no meaning to environmentalists bent on "saving" something.

  3. Why the hysterical hype and politicalization of environmentalist "science" is so different from the tradition of reason, objectivity and a desire to know and understand (rather than preach and impose) in the hard sciences;

  4. Why appeals to "free-market economics" without reference to underlying philosophical values or concepts have been so ineffectual as an answer to environmentalism;

  5. Why vague and elastic environmentalist concepts like "ecosystem", "preservation", and "biodiversity" rationalize anything the environmentalists want -- which is always "more";

  6. Why environmentalist government policies and activism trashing the economy and trampling the rights of individuals look so much like fascism;

  7. Why environmentalists seriously seek to revert hundreds of millions of acres into wilderness preserves, displacing rural populations or reducing their populations to "biological resources" living in primitive economic conditions;

  8. Where in history the religious-like force motivating environmentalist fervor comes from.
Origins of Environmentalist Ideology

The environmentalist movement, describes Chase, is fueled by over $425 million a year in foundation grants in addition to other sources of income from private donations, government subsidies, real estate sales, and investment income. He refutes the envrironmentalist's recent defensive media PR claiming that their rural takeovers have "helped the economy", but his primary focus is on the role of the ideas driving the movement.

He is well qualified for the task: He holds degrees from Harvard and Oxford and a PhD from Princeton, and has lectured on environmentalism at Harvard, Yale, and many other universities. He is well known as a nationally syndicated columnist on the environment and for his acclaimed 1986 book Playing God in Yellowstone on the failure of National Park Service ecosystem management policies. In Dark Wood he writes of his purpose:

"An ancient political and philosophical notion, ecosystems ecology masquerades as a modern scientific theory. Embraced by a generation of college students during the campus revolutions of the 1960's, it had become a cultural icon by the 1980's. Today, not only does it infuse all environmental law and policy, but its influence is also quietly changing the very character of government. Yet, as I shall show, it is false, and its implementation has been a calamity for nature and society."

The modern origins of the environmentalist movement, as Chase and other recent writers have noted -- are in mid-19th century Germany, where Ernst Haeckel [1834-1919], a biologist and follower of the German holistic philosopher Georg W. F. Hegel [1770-1831], coined the term "ecology".

Haeckel took the scientific idea of studying organisms in relation to their environmental context and infused it with Hegelian "holistic" ideology. An "ecosystem", in this view of the world, is not a scientific abstraction, but an actual entity with a full-fledged reality and "intrinsic" moral value of its own, and of which we and other living entities are only parts.

The result has been an environmentalist movement based on a bizarre combination of science and ideology that promotes ecological political values interpreted by an elite bureaucracy of "scientists" and coercively enforced by an omnipotent state -- an ideology that is necessarily alien to the American concept of individualism and to science.

Centuries of German ideology, as other scholars (most prominently Leonard Peikoff in The Ominous Parallels) have discussed at length, led in the 20th century to the politics of the totalitarian collectivism of both Marxist communism and Germany's National Socialism, i.e., the Nazis. German National Socialism's elimination of the rights of the individual was influenced not only by Hegelian holistic views submerging the individual into the organic state, but as shown by other scholars (such as Anna Bramwell's Ecology in the 20th Century: A History and Blood and Soil: Richard Walther Darrae and Hitler's "Green Party"), by the early German ecology movement. The Nazis -- the first political "applied biologists" -- were also the first Greens, holding as a central element the "Back to the Land" [i.e., "Earth"] movement and its demands that humans return to their primitive roots as part of an undisturbed nature -- except of course for the elite and their weapons of enforcement.

Dark Wood shows how holistic environmentalism progressed through post Hegelian intellectuals, to the Greens, to prominent American environmentalist writers, and finally to the contemporary environmental movement and culture.

One of the major 20th century American environmentalist figures, for example, is Aldo Leopold [1886-1848], who is openly and frequently revered today by environmentalists for his holistic "land [earth] ethic". Early in Leopold's career in the 1920's he was strongly influenced by the Russian mystic Peter Ouspensky [1878-1947]. Leopold endorsed Ouspensky's "organicist" philosophy, which in turn had been influenced by the German philosophers Kant and Hegel, and became a major force in spreading biocentric ecologism in America. Chase notes that former Secretary of the Interior (and environmentalist) Stewart Udall said back in 1963 that Leopold's ideology is something that, "most of us at Interior would vote for."

Coercion and Corruption of Science in the Service of Biocentrism

By the 1980's and 90's, the ideological ghost of Hegel, in which individuals have no rights because we are only a part of a larger nature, would be used to rationalize the massive destruction of hundreds of millions of dollars of other people's property and to shrug off deaths and injuries with indifference. Chase writes:

"This deep ecological perspective also justified monkeywrenching. As Foreman [of Earth First] explained: "'I am protecting the rain forest' develops to 'I am part of the rain forest protecting myself. I am the part of the rain forest recently emerged into thinking.' When we fully identify with a wild place, then, monkeywrenching becomes self-defense...""

And when mill-worker George Alexander was nearly killed from a tree-spiking incident, "[Earth First's] Dave Foreman announced that he was 'more concerned about old-growth forests.'"

The same rationale, notes Chase, led to a "re-invention of government" in which

"It was inevitable that government would invent a new class of crimes based on the allegation of harm done not to individuals or society but to ecosystems. And this extension of the concept of criminality would stigmatize many never before thought of as felons."

One of the most devastating contemporary impacts of biocentric ecology -- one of the cases in which coercion by saboteurs has been elevated into coercion as official government policy -- is the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In describing the history of ESA, Chase reveals how Congress granted sweeping and vague powers based on unscientific goals that no one understood and which were rammed through by insiders without critical review. "The Endangered Species Act," he concludes,

"did not reflect scientific opinion. It represented the confluence of ancient conceptual streams, one religious, the other philosophical. At the government's initiative, indigenous American beliefs in the sacredness of nature were combined with European theories of holism and monism to produce a new rationale for social engineering."

The alleged justifications for applying ESA in specific instances have been equally scientifically corrupt. Chase shows that a crucial justification for "protecting" the spotted owl, for example, rested on a contrived academic paper published -- just in time to have the planned political results -- by a sympathetic professional demographer, Russell Lande, who was unfamiliar with the spotted owl issue and who had been recruited by activists.

Chase describes how Lande used the wrong mathematical equations to project population levels based on false biological hypotheses and false and incomplete data he had been given by the activists. His paper was "peer reviewed" by activists who had been carefully selected for political purposes. The destruction of rural communities throughout the northwest, including tens of thousands of jobs, for the sake of spotted owl "ecosystem" preservation was the practical result.

Likewise, the "extinction crisis", Chase reports, is based not on factual observation, but speculative assumptions and hypothetical projections from biocentric ideology in the name of science.

More fundamentally, Chase explains the false biocentric premise that "healthy" ecosystems must be -- and would be without human intervention -- in equilibrium. He describes why this false "science" is actually ideology, and how it is used to rationalize government restrictions on human freedom in the name of alleged scientific requirements to "save" nature. Nature changes and evolves on its own, with or without human intervention. Deciding which changes in the landscape and the ecology are "better" is a human value choice, not a scientific mandate.

Yet another environmentalist/government policy corrupting ecological science cited by Chase is the technique, called the "Delphi approach", in which politically sympathetic scientists are polled for their opinions on issues in which they often have no real expertise. The results are used to provide an appearance of objectivity ("the consensus of scientists ...") while in fact "Delphi" simply replaces the objectivity of a individual scientists' expertise with collective subjectivism. (This common fallacy also echoes centuries-old German philosophy and its successors in which collective opinion is substituted for the objective observation and reasoning of the individual mind as the philosophical criterion for truth.)

In the hard sciences such thinking would be rejected as fallacious and dishonest. Yet in environmentalism, both the concepts and methodology are excused by the collectivist premises of biocentric ecology itself.

The result, Chase emphasizes, is not only the destruction of civil rights in America, but the destruction of wildlife and the landscape by management decisions based on bad science.

All this should be sending up red flags in Congress that something has gone drastically wrong and should be fixed before more damage is done. But, Chase notes, ESA has been due for Congressional reauthorization since expiring in 1992 but continues to exist even though it was too controversial to be reauthorized in the last Democratic, let alone the present Republican, Congress.

Congressional "moderates", including self-styled reform leader Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House, have continued to obstruct reform of the Green entrenchment, most recently blocking reform of ESA, let alone its complete deauthorization. They also continue to support Secretary of the Interior Babbitt's new "National Biological Service", which serves to institute "state science" and ideologically motivated "applied biology" -- this time in America -- through the official government sanction of an environmentalist monopoly on what is regarded to be "science" (while subsidizing the environmentalist movement to feed it their favorite theories and hit lists for new land takeovers.)

A New Moral Debate in the Making

Chase's tracing of the role of philosophical values through their practical implementation and their results makes his book a unique and crucial addition to the understanding of the environmental movement. This is especially important today because with Marxism discredited as an intellectual force, most Americans have not yet caught on that environmentalism is the major full blown philosophy now guiding the assault on the American way of life (although both ecology and Marxism come from the same roots, which is why they appeal to many of the same followers). Dark Wood makes it clear that environmentalism is not just a refuge for Marxists who are afraid to publicly identify themselves; it is a powerful motivating force in its own right. Critics of environmentalist militants, writes Chase, have not understood

"what the fight was about. The loggers and their conservative allies believed that it concerned money and jobs, and that they were fighting the resurgence of communism, whereas in fact their enemy embodied the more revolutionary ideas of biocentrism."

Dark Wood's account of environmentalists' corruption of science, and their arrogant destruction and nihilistic, cynical, mocking and vicious cruelty towards human beings, will make any reader with a civilized sense of life livid with rage at what environmentalists are getting away with -- in the name of "science" no less.

Yet the book provides an optimistic sign of hope because it clearly illustrates how environmentalist-caused injustices have succeeded through dishonesty, ignorance, and default -- environmentalist ideologues have smuggled their agenda into American society without subjecting their most fundamental values, concepts and methods to examination by the public or by an often gullible and sympathetic press. As depressing and maddening as the book's message is, therefore, it is also grounds for optimism because it shows clearly that despite contemporary environmentalism's widespread destructiveness, the national debate over environmentalist values and concepts has barely begun.

Chase's main goal is to change how people think about "ecosystems" and other unexamined premises of environmentalism: the premises which underly its goals and tactics, its allegedly scientific concepts and methodology, its claimed scientific facts, and its value system. If the book is widely read, it is bound to do just that.

A serious practical question, however, is: How many more people will be needlessly hurt by runaway environmentalist ideology before the scam is stopped? With Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babitt's recent political decision to list a sub-species of Atlantic Salmon under the Endangered Species Act in eastern Maine -- after reneging on an agreement not to -- time is running out.

Chase has correctly identified environmentalist ideology as an evil idea, but in emphasizing the importance of ideas and values, he writes that his book is "a tale without heroes or villains, in which the bad guy isn't a person at all but an idea", and that the problem is bad ideas mistakenly followed by mostly well-meaning people (who are often portrayed sympathetically in the book). But evil ideas can only be allowed to do harm by real people implementing them. Each of us -- including environmentalist activists and Republican "moderates" who refuse to stop funding the supposedly expired Endagnered Species Act -- is responsible for making his own moral choices based on his own principles and his own willingness or not to think responsibly about his premises and their consequences when put into action.

Readers of Dark Wood can determine for themselves whether they really believe mistakes of this magnitude can be made innocently by "well meaning people" -- whether in Nazi Germany and its cultural precursors, or in America today.