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A choice of environment

March 7, 2016

The public choice critique of government proposes that members of a government are motivated more by self-interest than by a desire to find either rational or popular solutions to the problems with which they are confronted. This seems obvious, but let it pass. Equally obvious, though less discussed, is the corollary that the public choice critique applies far more to civil servants than to elected officials, who are both more numerous and more influential than their public counterparts. But politicians and civil servants are not unique in placing their own interests before reasoned solutions. Selfishness is inseparable from humanity. It keeps the human race alive.

With that in mind, consider the argument that in the absence of laws to preserve public land and prevent environmental contamination, individuals and businesses will act on their own to protect the environment from damage. They are no less human than their political counterparts; they are just as self-interested. The mere fact that they are not members of an elected government will not compel them to make a rational decision, or to consider the interests of the planet and the human race alongside their own. Nor will the average individual place even his own long-term interests ahead of his short-term desires, especially, as in the case of an employee or manager being pressured to make a profit for his employer, if his survival seems dependent upon a decision that deliberately neglects a long view. True, there are occasional eccentrics or idealists who are aware consumers, but they are too uncommon to affect the general attitude of a population. Most people, in the absence of restraint, will quickly come to the conclusion that their interests are best served by consuming all available resources as quickly as possible before their competitors can do so. The outcome of such public-choice environmentalism is the destruction rather than the preservation of the environment.

However, there is a method by which a few well-intentioned members of the population, acting as individuals, can effectively prevent environmental destruction. In the novel Lone Star Planet, author H. Beam Piper depicted a legal system in which no citizen could be convicted of murder for killing a practicing politician. Politicians by the very nature of their profession were held to have committed an act of aggression against their fellow men by attempting to curtail their liberties, and political assassination was therefore regarded as a legitimate form of self-defense. The same logic may be applied to cases of environmental damage. Each human being occupies a part of the global environment and is dependent on the correct functioning of that environment as a whole for his continued existence. Anyone who damages the environment is deliberately harming his fellow men and reducing their capacity for survival. Consequently, it is reasonable for the individual to defend himself against such acts of violence. If he burns down a polluting factory, caves in a mining tunnel, or sinks a whaling ship, he is acting in self-defense, since any attack on any portion of the global environment is an attack on himself. All these actions are logically inherent in the right to self-defense. Embracing this right as a part of human culture can effectively protect the environment, and can do so without resulting in widespread acts of industrial espionage. The mere availability of the right will act as a deterrent to resource consumers, who will consider the impact of their actions more carefully to avoid being assailed by outraged members of the public, and who will make small sacrifices in efficiency in order to prevent the total destruction of their enterprises.

The human right to self-defense guarantees the preservation of the environment even in the face of the human hunger which threatens it – provided that the right to self-defense is understood and exercised. One form of self-interest balances another.

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