America's first Earth Day, in 1970, was supposedly inspired in part by Sen. Gaylord Nelson's tour of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill.
As he flew to San Francisco, the Wisconsin Democrat — who had already developed a following for his passionate environmental advocacy and liberal politics — read an article about college campus teach-ins being conducted across the country.
“If we could tap into the environmental concerns of the general public and infuse the student anti-war energy into the environmental cause,” he said, “we could generate a demonstration that would force the issue onto the national political agenda.”
Meanwhile in Northern California, a collection of radical leftists labored to put their principles — incorporating the newfound eco-passion — into print. Their pursuit of their ideals lives on today.
They advanced their redistributionist worldviews in the San Francisco-based leftist magazine Ramparts. In 1970, the editors compiled a number of essays by their contributors into a book titled “Eco-Catastrophe,” which explained how environmentalism was part of a larger social cause. The book capitalized on that first environmentalist national teach-in.
In the book's forward, David Horowitz, who was then Ramparts' editor (he is now a major conservative leader), wrote, “This volume of articles … articulates a radical perspective, locating the root of the ecological crisis in the very structure of American society, and pointing to the necessity of a revolutionary reconstruction of that social order as a precondition for any practical and effective reform.”
What did Horowitz have in mind as a “revolutionary reconstruction”?
“What we do need is a redistribution of existing real wealth, and a reallocation of society's resources,” they wrote. “Everyone knows what this redistribution and reallocation should do; the crises of the last 10 years have made it all so obvious: The poor must have adequate income, the cities must be rebuilt to fit human requirements, the environment must be de-polluted, the educational system must be vastly expanded, and social energies now poured into meaningless pursuits (like advertising and sales promotion) must be rechanneled into humanly edifying and creative activities.
“We must, in short, junk the business system and its way of life, and create revolutionary new institutions to embody new goals — human and environmental.”
Radical enough for you?
Another 1970 book by another Ramparts contributor, “The Politics of Ecology” by James Ridgeway, argued that environmentalists should not seek reforms to control pollution.
Instead Ridgeway regarded attacks on problems of pollution as “different ways of attacking concentrated corporate power, thereby opening up the possibilities of revolutionary change, and for reorganizing society and communities on different principles. …”
In other words, environmentalism was and remains another means for radical leftists to undermine American values and freedoms. But there's simply nothing new under the Red banner.
The Democratic Socialists of America today state on their Web site, for example, that they “are dedicated to building truly international social movements — of unionists, environmentalists, feminists, and people of color — that together can elevate global justice over brutalizing global competition.”
And Chris Williams, author of “Ecology and Socialism,” hearkens back to the movement's intellectual heroes to articulate the singularity of the cause.
“Marx and Engels illustrated a genuine concern for ecological degradation based on their analysis of the short-term profit motive at the heart of capitalist industry and agriculture,” he wrote.
“But it's not just their critique of capitalism and its relationship to the environment that is pertinent. Their ecological insights form a useful basis for understanding our interrelation with the environment in a positive sense.”
They haven't given that up. Consider the recent example of what some would call a more “mainstream” environmental activist, Bill McKibben, founder and director of 350.org (the number represents, in climate alarmist parlance, the maximum “safe” amount of greenhouse gas parts per million to avoid global catastrophe).
Frustrated by the failure to pass cap-and-trade legislation this year, McKibben wrote in a piece on CBS News' Web site last month that his patience for “environmental half steps is over.”
“A politician who really cared,” McKibben wrote, “could certainly use, say, the platform offered by the White House to sell a plan that taxed BP and actually gave the money to ordinary Americans.”
So, like those radicals back in San Francisco, today's Green moralists still advocate government removal of earnings from companies (that is, their employees, their investors, their pensioners and those who've invested in it for future retirement or savings) and fanning it out to others who don't deserve it.
It's all designed to stimulate behavior that feeds the inefficient collective, while taking incentives from the motivated individual.
But today it's more buttoned-down. Alternative energy rent-seekers and the politicians who feed them would laugh at the thought that their system of “tax credits” and “emissions markets” has anything to do with redistribution.
But if that's not the case, they need to ask themselves: Why do the socialists love to team with them so much?
Paul Chesser is a special correspondent for the Heartland Institute.