November 30 was the last day of the Atlantic hurricane season. Those with six-month memory spans will recall that back in May, forecasters at NOAA were predicting "an extremely active" hurricane season, with 14 to 23 named storms and three to seven major hurricanes. The mainstream media was quick to enlarge NOAA's predictions, speculating that storm damage would exceed that of 2005, the year of Katrina. The environmental radicals who populate mainstream newsrooms were licking their chops, panting at the chance to broadcast images of storm victims hanging out on rooftops and to link the devastation to climate change.
As it was, nothing happened. Of the nineteen named storms, none struck the U.S. Aside from some isolated damage in a few Caribbean and Central American outposts (and, uncharacteristically, in Newfoundland), none did major damage.
Oh, well -- there's always 2011, and it's not too early to start prognosticating. The year 2011 will undoubtedly be a highly active hurricane season, with a number of powerful storms striking populated stretches of the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. The devastation will be immense. Maybe we will finally learn our lesson and stop drilling for oil, mining coal, and chopping down trees.
Or maybe, since hurricanes have refused to cooperate, environmental radicals can turn to something else.
An article from Science magazine published in September makes the case that human activity is causing the mass extinction of ocean life. Authored by John Alroy of Australia's Macquarie University, the article claims that human activity is responsible for extinction of marine life at a rate many times greater than that of the past. As Alroy puts it (assuming from the start that a "current crisis" exists), "The current global crisis may therefore permanently alter the biosphere's taxonomic composition by changing the rules of evolution."
Wow. Not just adding or subtracting a few species, but "changing the rules of evolution." Apparently, as Alroy sees it, the extinction of marine species results in the destruction of lifeforms farther up the food chain. At the top of that food chain sits man, whose practice of modern agriculture and fishing threatens his own survival.
According to Alroy's cronies in the mass extinction camp, the advance of science and technology has ushered in the Anthropocene Epoch -- a qualitatively new era in the earth's history. Unlike the Pleistocene Era, during which human beings had practically no impact on the earth's ecology -- they were too busy struggling to survive amid plummeting temperatures and the advance of the northern hemisphere's great ice sheets -- the Anthropocene Epoch promises to be a Dr. Strangelove era, in which nasty George Bush-like cowboys ride roughshod over the earth's fragile resources, upsetting nature's delicate balance. This would be the same balance that prevailed, for instance, back in the Great Ice Age, or in the era 250 million years ago when the brachiopod family of ocean creatures was rendered extinct by changes most certainly not anthropogenic.
For the environmental faithful, however, there is a simple solution to the purported damage that humans do to the environment. It is the same solution environmentalists have been hawking for fifty years, ever since the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. Stop using pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and genetically altered seeds. Stop mining and logging. Stop drilling for oil and gas. Stop manufacturing cars, and stop building suburban homes. Stop consuming meat and dairy products, and stop producing so many flatscreen televisions and everything else that comes out of a factory. And stop having children. Just stop. Stop and stare wistfully off into the pleasant green countryside. Stop and relish your single bowl of rice and locally grown turnip. Huddle there in your damp, chilly cave, warm yourself with your hand-woven linen, and bask in the knowledge that when your brief existence draws to a close, you will have had no impact whatsoever on the earth or its millions of species.
Unfortunately for those species, your efforts at technological self-immolation will have practically no effect. As Alroy himself points out, mass extinction has occurred before in geological history. The fact that humans now have a greater impact on the environment than they did during the age of the dinosaur does not alter the basic equation: throughout the earth's history, species have arisen and then become extinct. The idea that the phenomenon of species extinction can somehow be halted just to please the tender sensibilities of environmental elitists is absurd. And the idea that human activity should be radically curtailed in a vain attempt to halt natural fluctuations in climate or sea life is worse than absurd: it is an irrational form of extremism that serves as the justification for an all-out assault on human liberty.
For the environmental true believer, though, there is too much at stake to allow human liberty to stand in the way of centralized control. The fact is that "environmental crisis" has now been institutionalized to the point where powerful interests demand that the media portray the ecosystem as a fragile structure on the perpetual brink of ruin. In the absence of such fear, vast government agencies would have no justification for existing, hedge funds trading carbon credits would collapse, and generous ethanol, biofuel, wind, and solar subsidies would be withdrawn.
Fortunately for the environmental profiteers, there always seems to be a new scientific theory -- itself generously subsidized by taxpayer money (as is Alroy's research, which is funded in part by the National Science Foundation) -- confirming the need for these parasitical institutions. Now that the theory of man-made global warming has been unmasked as the fraud that it is, get ready for the next-generation justifications for global environmental control. Mass extinction is probably as good a candidate as any.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture.