In early May, Sun newspapers carried a nature column by John Riolo entitled “While humans take a time out, planet earth wins.” Riolo speculates on what Earth would look like if humans were suddenly gone.
One of the conclusions was that “Nature reclaimed Planet Earth.”
That the earth would be “better” without humans is one of the truisms of the modern environmental movement, which views the world from the point of view of nature rather than that of human beings.
Of course, the speculation is pointless. In the event that there are no humans, then the earth is not better nor worse, good nor bad, clean nor dirty. Those concepts spring from the unique perspective of human intelligence. If there are no humans, then the earth simply is, no adjectives would exist to describe it.
Riolo adopts a point of view common among environmentalists, that human activity should be judged by whether it is good for the planet. Proof of this is his conclusion that the “timeout,” as he describes it, for the coronavirus results in a win for Planet Earth.
I would offer that the correct moral perspective is to judge human activity by what is good for humans. If we do that, the inescapable conclusion is that human activity has been a moral positive.
People live longer, have a higher standard of living, are freer from disease (even in the current circumstances), enjoy greater political freedom, and are less apt to be killed by the environment than at any point in history. Viewed through this lens, I would say the human race is winning.
Riolo and his kind always seem to imply that the world was a bucolic place that humans with their fossil fuels made dirty and dangerous. The truth is that the world was a dangerous place that humans and their fossil fuels made much more safe.
Much of this progress is due to the bugaboo of the moment, fossil fuels. While they should be considered one of the greatest boons in history, they are currently politically incorrect. Although it is fashionable to demonize them, any fair evaluation of their risks AND rewards would lead to the inescapable conclusion that fossil fuels have been, perhaps, the greatest creator of well being in history.
Riolo hopes we will change our patterns and burn less fossil fuel.
The truth is that the standard of living we all enjoy – heating, air conditioning, abundant leisure time, refrigeration, driving, flying, electronics, our homes – are simply impossible to sustain without fossil fuels. No matter what the Green New Deal folks like to say, it is impossible to replace these fuel sources at any time in the near future.
Using energy wisely is a noble goal. I share Mr. Riolo’s amazement that we use leaf blowers to scatter our leaves hither and yon. Defaming fossil fuels and failing to recognize the unparalleled good that they do is another thing.
We live in a rarified time with matchless opportunities. When we examine why that is the case we should recognize that fossil fuels played an important role in creating that world.
More importantly, we should thank the innovators and producers who made that happen. They looked at the world and made it better. They did so to benefit people, not the planet. We should do the same.
Kevin Loughrey is a part-time resident of Hilton Head Island.