Dixie Lee Ray on the ‘Environmental’ Movement
An interview from the Fall, 1992, issue of Science and the Environment. A Publication of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.
R&L: With the world-wide decline of socialism, many individuals think that the environmental movement may be the next great threat to freedom. Do you agree?
Ray: Yes, I do, and I’ll tell you why. It became evident to me when I attended the worldwide Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro last June. The International Socialist Party, which is intent upon continuing to press countries into socialism, is now headed up by people within the United Nations. They are the ones in the UN environmental program, and they were the ones sponsoring the so-called Earth Summit that was attended by 178 nations.
R&L: Did you have a specific purpose in attending the Earth Summit?
Ray: I was sent there by the Free Congress Committee, headed by Paul Weyrich. Fred Smith and I were sent down as observers, with reporters’ credentials, so we could witness the events. One of the main organizers of the program, Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland of Norway was the assistant executive for the conference. She is also the vice-president of the World Socialist Party. When she was questioned by Brazilian reporters after her talk and asked if what they were proposing didn’t have a peculiar resemblance to the agenda of the World Socialist Party she said, “Well, of course.” That was reported in Brazil but not picked up by the American press.
R&L: Did you see a big influence by the radical environmentalists there?
Ray: Oh yes. No question about that, the radicals are in charge. One of the proposals that did indeed pass as part of Agenda 21 proposes that there be world government under the UN, that essentially all nations give up their sovereignty, and that the nations will be, as they said quite openly, frightened or coerced into doing that by threats of environmental damage.
R&L: Much of the current environmental movement is couched in terms of pagan religions, worshiping the Earth, goddess Gaia, equating the value of trees and people, animal rights, etc. Can you account for how this is accepted in the public forum, when traditional Judeo-Christian religious ethics are basically outlawed from policy making decisions? Do you think the general public is just unaware of the tendency to make environmentalism a religion?
Ray: I understand what you’re asking, and I have to tell you, no, I can’t account for it. It is not classified as a pagan religion. The so-called New Age activities and this are not called religions and therefore don’t come under the prohibition of mingling church and state that we have in this country. It’s almost as if nature worship were accepted without its being considered a religion.
R&L: One could argue that the decline of Marxism vindicates Thomas Jefferson’s assertion that the less government does to the complex order of a national economy, the more likely it is that the economy will prosper and the liberty of its citizens will be secured. In the complex order of the environment, what things are appropriate for government to do in order to protect the natural workings of the environment and simultaneously secure liberty?
Ray: I think it’s appropriate for the government to set standards. For example, to describe what is permitted in the terms of releasing waste products into the environment. I think that it’s appropriate for there to be standards with respect to pollution of the air and the water and so on. I do not believe that the government is in any position to say exactly how every single business and every single activity shall reach those performances. The government should set a goal for a clean environment but not mandate how that goal should be implemented.
R&L: What is the role of property rights in the environmentalism debate?
Ray: There is a deliberate and quite outspoken attack on the whole idea of people owning private property. Mr. William Riley, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has said publicly on a number of occasions that he does not believe that people should have the right to own private property. To use his words, “The ownership of private property is a quaint anachronism.” He has called for a repeal of the Fifth Amendment as it affects the right of private property. There are two laws that have been passed by the Congress that are being used to take property away from people. One is the Endangered Species Act, and the other one happens to be the Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Act has a section, 404, which allows the Corps of Engineers to regulate the water that is navigable. By a series of very twisted definitions, the Corps has adopted the idea, which the Fish and Wildlife and EPA are also following, that any body of water, or any moist land, anything that they can call “wetland” constitutes navigable water.
R&L: So this causes problems where land can’t be developed?
Ray: Not only just that, but actually, they can take property away from, let’s say a farmer, who has a farm pond and uses that to irrigate his land. This has in fact happened, and there is an enormous, country-wide movement being started of property rights proponents to oppose this, but it is very difficult to stop the momentum that the radical environmentalists already have.
R&L: The natural world operates on the principle that for some to live others must die, whether it is predatory animals killing for food, or plants dying as food of herbivorous animals, or micro-organisms dying to enrich the soil and feed plants. Yet much of the environmental rhetoric ignores or denies these processes and makes man guilty for sustaining his own life. Do you have anything to say on this topic?
Ray: I don’t know how they can justify the position, because I can’t understand their motivation. But what you have said is certainly true. Mankind is considered (by the radical environmentalists) the lowest and the meanest of all species and is blamed for everything. They fail to recognize the broad biological principle that organic material is constantly being recycled. Everything has a time of being—a birth, a life span, and a death. The organic material, as the laws of chemistry state, can neither be created nor destroyed.
R&L: Could you describe the progress of environmentalism from its earlier days to the current radical, “Earth First!” type of activists? How did it so obviously drift so far to the left?
Ray: The only way that could have happened was for the misguided and false information, much of it very hysterical or dramatic, like the earth is warming and the ozone has a hole, and all that kind of thing— could not have lead to the passage of laws and regulations that affect everyone’s lives were it not for the cooperation of the press. It is the press that has taken these charges and accusations and blown them up without any kind of skepticism whatsoever—blown them into realities and treated them as if they were true. A simple example:
We have heard recently the charge that supposedly because of the chemical chlorofluoro-carbons that humans make for use as a refrigerant, that molecules of that substance get into the stratosphere, destroy the ozone, and therefore allow ultra-violet light to penetrate. We know that the greatest amount of flux in the ozone in the atmosphere is over the Antarctic, because the sun is down below the horizon during the Antarctic winter. This is background.