Ron Arnold on Environmentalism and the Wise Use (Anti-Environmental) Movement

(Some taken from Arnold's "Wise Use: What Do We Believe?")


Dominant Western Worldview

Environmental Movement Challenges Dominant Western World View

Anti-Environmental Movement Accepts Dominant Western World View

1. Unlimited economic growth is possible and beneficial

--Growth not= betterment

--Unlimited growth not sustainable

--Traditional growth is good and sustainable


2. Most serious problems can be solved by technology

--Are environmentalists Luddites or technophobes?

--Technological pessimists?


--Environmentalism advocates appropriate technology


Can technology solve the problems of poverty, starvation, discrimination, crime, species extinction, loss of wilderness, global warming?

--Technological optimists

--Techno-fix mentality?

 --Examples of technological proposals (geo-engineering) to address climate change:

--Dump iron particles into the sea, stimulate algal growth, which take out more atmospheric CO2

-- Inject sulphur particles into the stratosphere in order to suppress global warming by simulating volcanic eruptions?


--Solve pollution problems by engineering species that can withstand pollution (instead of stopping polluting)?

3. Environmental and social problems can be mitigated by market economy with some state intervention

--Skeptical of unregulated market's consequences on environment

--Need env regulations

--Worried about
"Free Market Environmentalism?"

--Little government regulation of the market needed


--Environmentalists are eco-socialists or eco-authoritarians



Environmental Paradigm (according to Arnold)

 What Environmentalists actually favor

 Arnold's "Wise Use" (anti-environmental) movement

1. Growth must be limited

 -Yes limit growth and aim instead for betterment

--Bigger not necessarily better

--Progress involves betterment, not growth

-See "Prosperity without Growth"

 --Do not limit growth; growth is the mechanism of progress.

--In a recession, growth is seen as desirable by nearly all; only way people can see of creating jobs.

2. Science and technology must be restrained

--Why restrain science? Env do not favor this.

--Encourage environmental science (e.g., for restoration)


--Only env. harmful technologies need to be limited

--Environmentally helpful technologies need to be encouraged

Let science and technology flourish according to the dictates of the free market and minimally regulated by government

3. Nature has finite resources

-Yes; we live on a finite planet with finite resources

-We can't keep taking from nature forever; we must learn to conserve and recycle

--Don't believe this

--A resource (not finite) is a natural object (finite) + work and human ingenuity (not finite)

--Human ingenuity & technology can always come up with new ways to use resources

-"Our limitless imaginations can break through natural limits to make earthly goods and carrying capacity virtually infinite"

4. Nature has a delicate balance humans must preserve

Is nature delicate or stable?


There is a debate about the resilience of nature and recent ecology stresses natural instability and disturbance in nature

--Balance of nature is a fiction

--Nature is tough/resilient, not fragile and delicate.


5. Nature knows best

-Human intervention in nature is bad by definition?

-Value of non-cultural?

-Agreed; nature not always good on balance

--Nature is not necessarily good

6. Humans are a cancer on the earth

-Unsustainable human activity is unacceptable; unfair to humans and the earth

-Should fairly share the earth's resources and use it softly and lovingly

--Admit that unavoidable env. damage is the price of human survival

-"Improve the earth for the massive use of future generations"


Additional criticism of environmentalism Arnold makes:

  • Destroyers of the economy, jobs, and private property (with too much government regulation)
  • Destroyers of material well being (pushing life of simplicity)
  • Destroyers of industrial civilization ("Back to the Pleistocene")
  • Destroyers of individual liberty and rights (favor a totalitarian, eco-authoritarian system)
  • Believe their use of the environment is the only legitimate one (environmentalists have a holier than thou, self-righteous attitude -- skiing is better than snowmobiling)

Study Questions Arnold

1. According to Ron Arnold, what are the three basic assumptions of the dominant Western worldview with which the "Wise Use" movement agrees? (Hint: Faith in growth, technology, and unregulated markets.) How does he claim environmentalism challenges this worldview? Do you think this characterization of the environmental debate is fair and accurate? Which side of this dispute do you most agree with and why?
2. Identify and explain Arnold’s criticisms of environmentalism. In what ways, if any do you agree with him? In what ways not? Why?