*Posted by Barry Creamer. This piece originally appeared on Coffee With Creamer On the Web.
In a secular bioethics classroom, I used to observe, semester after semester, as students watched a Sierra Club video portraying the human overrun of the planet. The video is well done and has some interesting information. But the message of the video (roughly translated here) is that the proliferation of the human population is the pollution of the planet. (“Anthropollution” seems like a good word for that view.) Fewer people, fewer problems. (“Popullution Control” seems like a good term for that solution.)
Environmentalism is influentially and disappointingly mistaken when it assesses the existence of human beings as the problem with the world. Surely my concern is exaggerated. Surely I have never heard secular students argue with conviction that we ought to return all societies to hunter-gatherer status despite the apocalyptic impact such a transition would have on the population. But I have. It is no surprise that the Sierra Club praises James Cameron for Avatar, which depicts the economic/industrial/military oppression and destruction of a hunter-gatherer people and pristine planet.
I am no optimist when it comes to people. I believe in the total depravity of man. I believe that all evil in the world, moral and natural, is a product of the behavior of human beings (two in particular, regardless of how indirectly).
But the existence of people is not the problem – their behavior is. An odd inconsistency occurs when human existence is made out to be the problem. I tried to exemplify it in a different post about oil and greenery in west Texas, but the gist of it is this: people are messing up the world. “Messing up the world” means making the world unpleasant for people (primarily as mythically neutral observers), so if the world just didn’t have people (or at least not enough to mess it up) then the world would be a perfect place for people. Unless the arguer becomes some kind of Nietzschean elitist, the argument pretends to represent the interests of the same ones it prescribes out of existence.
But there is no such inconsistency if the focus is moved from human existence to human behavior. “People are messing up the world for people, so if people would just stop doing the things that mess up the world, it could continue to be a really great place for us.” (We can debate all day about which behaviors ought to be changed and why, but at least we would not be debating a fundamental of Christianity which puts humanity at the center of the purpose of God’s creation. That view of the world is called “anthropocentric,” by the way.)
People create a lot of pollution. People should take responsibility for the pollution they produce. And people ought to stop producing pollution with reckless abandon.
But people are not the pollution, no matter how many of us there are.