Thursday, April 18, 2013
When the Left Turned Green
At college in the mid-fifties, a Pete Seeger concert opened my mind to non-Republican ways of thinking – about working people getting their just due and everyone getting a share of the pie. I loved the lyrics of “Roll on Columbia” by Woody Guthrie that advocated technology bringing wealth to all the people.
And on up the river is Grand Coulee Dam
The mightiest thing ever built by a man
To run the great factories and water the land
So roll on, Columbia, roll on
Your power is turning our darkness to dawn. . .
I was proud to identify with a Left that advocated a better world for all.
During the 60s, a couple of books were published, initiating the environmental movement. Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962, making DuPont’s phrase “better living through chemistry” a joke. Carson’s book inspired much needed citizen action to clean up pollution of our air, water, and land.
In 1968, an ugly side of the environmental movement emerged when Paul Ehrlich published The Population Bomb. This book representing the radical, people-negative branch of the environmental movement, implies consumption [not the TB kind] is bad, because there are only so many resources to go around, and the best thing to do is have fewer people using them, else humanity will crash like a neglected fruit fly population in a milk bottle. Ehrlich didn’t take into account that human ingenuity creates resources by finding new uses for existing materials. In the Stone Age, iron ore was just dirt. And the Stone Age didn’t end because they ran out of stone.
Ehrlich stated: “India where population growth is colossal, agriculture hopelessly antiquated, and the government incompetent will be one of those we must allow to slip down the drain,” in other words, die. Despite his callous recommendations, Ehrlich became the guru of the radical environmental movement. However, Black Panthers and Catholics, unlikely bedfellows, understood the problem was one of distribution, not finite resources.
Pete Seeger climbed onto the environmental bandwagon writing songs about the population explosion, species extinction, and pollution in general with such songs as “We’ll All Be A’Doubling” and “The Last Whale” in 1970, and “Garbage” in 1977. These songs focus on people’s relationship with the earth rather than with each other.
As the concern for the planet increased, concern for the ordinary people on it decreased. We all need a healthy planet for our own survival, but there are those, such as Ehrlich and the Club of Rome, who believe humanity is a cancer on the planet.