Ayn Rand on Environmental Issues

If you want to understand today’s “green” movement, there is no better resource than Ayn Rand’s farsighted analysis of the movement and its philosophy in the 1970s.

The dinosaur and its fellow-creatures vanished from this earth long before there were any industrialists or any men . . . . But this did not end life on earth. Contrary to the ecologists, nature does not stand still and does not maintain the kind of “equilibrium” that guarantees the survival of any particular species—least of all the survival of her greatest and most fragile product: man.

Now observe that in all the propaganda of the ecologists—amidst all their appeals to nature and pleas for “harmony with nature”—there is no discussion of man’s needs and the requirements of his survival. Man is treated as if he were an unnatural phenomenon. Man cannot survive in the kind of state of nature that the ecologists envision—i.e., on the level of sea urchins or polar bears . . . .

In order to survive, man has to discover and produce everything he needs, which means that he has to alter his background and adapt it to his needs. Nature has not equipped him for adapting himself to his background in the manner of animals. From the most primitive cultures to the most advanced civilizations, man has had to manufacture things; his well-being depends on his success at production. The lowest human tribe cannot survive without that alleged source of pollution: fire. It is not merely symbolic that fire was the property of the gods which Prometheus brought to man. The ecologists are the new vultures swarming to extinguish that fire.


Without machines and technology, the task of mere survival is a terrible, mind-and-body-wrecking ordeal. In “nature,” the struggle for food, clothing and shelter consumes all of a man’s energy and spirit; it is a losing struggle—the winner is any flood, earthquake or swarm of locusts. (Consider the 500,000 bodies left in the wake of a single flood in Pakistan; they had been men who lived without technology.) To work only for bare necessities is a luxury that mankind cannot afford.


City smog and filthy rivers are not good for men (though they are not the kind of danger that the ecological panic-mongers proclaim them to be). This is a scientific, technological problem—not a political one—and it can be solved only by technology. Even if smog were a risk to human life, we must remember that life in nature, without technology, is wholesale death.


An Asian peasant who labors through all of his waking hours, with tools created in Biblical times—a South American aborigine who is devoured by piranha in a jungle stream—an African who is bitten by the tsetse fly—an Arab whose teeth are green with decay in his mouth—these do live with their “natural environment,” but are scarcely able to appreciate its beauty. Try to tell a Chinese mother, whose child is dying of cholera: “Should one do everything one can? Of course not.” Try to tell a Russian housewife, who trudges miles on foot in sub-zero weather in order to spend hours standing in line at a state store dispensing food rations, that America is defiled by shopping centers, expressways and family cars.


In Western Europe, in the preindustrial Middle Ages, man’s life expectancy was 30 years. In the nineteenth century, Europe’s population grew by 300 percent—which is the best proof of the fact that for the first time in human history, industry gave the great masses of people a chance to survive.

If it were true that a heavy concentration of industry is destructive to human life, one would find life expectancy declining in the more advanced countries. But it has been rising steadily. Here are the figures on life expectancy in the United States (from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company):

1900 – 47.3 years
1920 – 53 years
1940 – 60 years
1968 – 70.2 years (the latest figures compiled)

Anyone over 30 years of age today, give a silent “Thank you” to the nearest, grimiest, sootiest smokestacks you can find.


If you consider, not merely the length, but the kind of life men have to lead in the undeveloped parts of the world—“the quality of life,” to borrow, with full meaning, the ecologists’ meaningless catch phrase—if you consider the squalor, the misery, the helplessness, the fear, the unspeakably hard labor, the festering diseases, the plagues, the starvation, you will begin to appreciate the role of technology in man’s existence.

Make no mistake about it: it is technology and progress that the nature-lovers are out to destroy. To quote again from the Newsweek survey: “What worries ecologists is that people now upset about the environment may ultimately look to technology to solve everything . . . .” This is repeated over and over again; technological solutions, they claim, will merely create new problems.


Whom and what are [the ecological crusaders] attacking? It is not the luxuries of the “idle rich,” but the availability of “luxuries” to the broad masses of people. They are denouncing the fact that automobiles, air conditioners and television sets are no longer toys of the rich, but are within the means of an average American worker—a beneficence that does not exist and is not fully believed anywhere else on earth.

What do they regard as the proper life for working people? A life of unrelieved drudgery, of endless, gray toil, with no rest, no travel, no pleasure—above all, no pleasure. Those drugged, fornicating hedonists do not know that man cannot live by toil alone, that pleasure is a necessity, and that television has brought more enjoyment into more lives than all the public parks and settlement houses combined.

What do they regard as luxury? Anything above the “bare necessities” of physical survival—with the explanation that men would not have to labor so hard if it were not for the “artificial needs” created by “commercialism” and “materialism.” In reality, the opposite is true: the less the return on your labor, the harder the labor. It is much easier to acquire an automobile in New York City than a meal in the jungle.