A Question and Answer on Environmental Improvement

My question is with regard to Alex’s use of concepts like environmental improvement. How does this compare with, for instance, a lot of the oil companies’ talk on saving the environment? For instance, Alex talked about energy improving the human environment in the sense of having better sanitation, indoor plumbing, A/C heating etc…. whereas if you look at Chevron’s website here there seems to be a focus on particular ecological issues (e.g. marine turtles) unique to the environment from where the oil is extracted and some talk about biodiversity as well. I would like to ask you if this would fall under the concept of environmental improvement and/or environmental stewardship? Is there a consideration for these particular ecological aspects as part of the big picture on the story of oil (like whales for instance)?” —Michael Philip

Alex Epstein: CIP has a fully humanist perspective on environment. When we evaluate our impact on some aspect of our environment, whether we are talking about the dwelling you live in, the land you live on, the complex ecosystems around the globe, or the atmosphere that surrounds you, the standard of value is: how does this action impact human beings? If we are changing the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere from .03% to .04%, we cannot assume that is bad—we have to look objectively at the human consequences of that change and the human consequences of the action that made it (using cheap, plentiful, reliable fossil fuel energy to improve human life). The same goes for changes to marine turtles. From a humanist perspective, the question of marine turtles boils down to: what are the benefits and risks of any given action toward marine turtles. Marine turtles are neither inherent in nature nor intrinsically a value. In the history of life on Earth, they are a fairly recent development, and will almost certainly go out of existence at some point with or without human beings. If we act to preserve them, the goal should ultimately be positive for human beings. It is important that the thinking on these kinds of issues be precise. Most discussions of environment use worthlessly vague expressions such as: “Turtles are part of the ecosystem and we depend on the ecosystem.” This is the “reasoning” at work in the Chevron text. It is a series of half-truths: turtles are one of billions of species in the ever-changing, competitive, adapting ecosystem . . . if they go extinct other species, and certainly the human species, will adapt. “Saving the planet” is not a valid goal. Who is “the planet” being saved from? Obviously from human beings. This implies that “the planet” is some superior being that comes before human beings. I don’t believe in saving the planet from human beings. I believe in improving the planet for human beings. Most discussions of environmental issues assume that it is best to keep our environment the way it is, and thus any change, such as the extinction of a species, is considered bad. Nothing can be further from the truth. We need to improve the planet.