Can Individualism Actually Benefit the Environment?

By Eric Blair
Activist Post

in·di·vid·u·al·ism: Belief in the primary importance of the individual and in the virtues of self-reliance and personal independence; 2. a) A doctrine advocating freedom from government regulation in the pursuit of a person’s economic goals; b) A doctrine holding that the interests of the individual should take precedence over the interests of the state or social group. (Source)

I’m an extreme Individualist for demanding personal freedom and property rights. But I’m also sympathetic to the suffering of my fellow humans and I’m very concerned about the state of the environment. Consequently, the current matrix would pit me against two separate philosophies: the collective good versus individual freedom. Unfortunately, because of this divide, there’s not much discussion about whether what’s good for the individual may also be better for the whole of humanity.

Many environmentalists argue that Individualism, if ever allowed to prevail, will lead to environmental destruction and the corporate takeover of the planet. But, I say look around, hasn’t our collectivized system resulted in just that?  Our environment is being devastated despite an obese EPA and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), while the natural result of collectivism is more corporate-state consolidation, or centralization — which we are clearly experiencing. So, during a time of stunning centralization, vastly devoid of Individualism in its purest sense, the environment declines more rapidly than ever; yet environmentalists continue to suggest more collectivized “solutions”.

In essence, since the ideology of Individualism does not have any genuine influence over the current system, it holds no responsibility for current Too-Big-to-Fail-driven economic collapse, wars for no other reason than imperial consolidation, corporate environmental destruction, the starving of half the world, or a host of other problems that the good-hearted environmentalists say “could” occur under a system of Individualism.

I will leave it to others far more scholarly than myself to debate the ramifications of Collectivism versus Individualism on the economy, poverty, and wars.  My bet is that pure free-market Individualism couldn’t possibly be worse than the current system’s deprivations.  The purpose of this essay is to explore if Individualism may actually be better for the environment than the current collectivized system — as that seems to be one of the most passionate arguments against Individualism.

Some in the environmental movement have been conditioned to worship the greater good over the individual, leading many to spew venom for their fellow man, especially if that man is a “selfish” Individualist. I admit it; I’m selfish.  I’m selfish for wanting clean air, water, and food for me and my loved ones.  In fact, I demand those things for all of my human tribe. But, at this point, who could trust the centralized establishment to provide or protect these for us?  Certainly not with more silly regulations like banning light bulbs and taxing pets because they exhale CO2.

The gospel that “global problems require global solutions” seems blatantly false in terms of clean air, water, and food.  The mantra has recently surfaced as a propaganda slogan for a centralized scheme to combat the global warming theory.  But the fact remains that most environmental problems in terms of provable poisons occur locally and, therefore, they’re best handled with local action.

It seems appropriate to explore just what a society based on Individualism may look like in our modern age.  The concept is described by modern proponents as something like non-coercive anarchy, or a system with very limited local government whose primary purpose is to protect individual liberty, private property, and prosecute violent crime. Violators to those three principles will be dealt with by a court system of peers, not with preemptive regulation imposed by a Federal force.

Naturally, respecting principles of limited government absolves the need for increasing regulation and taxes, resulting in a purer free-market economic system. In such a system, individual freedom reigns supreme, but not to the point where someone has the right to damage the personal property of another, including damaging their body. But all victimless, non-violent crimes will be scrapped from the books under Individualism.

With respect to the environment, questions immediately arise concerning the limitations of property rights under Individualism. The usual argument begins with the question: Should a property owner have the freedom to dump toxins in a river that runs through his land, but ultimately affects his neighbor’s property? The answer is: Of course not, because the toxin dumper is violating his neighbor’s property rights who is indeed a “victim”.

The current system allows for large corporations to buy and appeal their way out of deliberate pollution. Under a system with extreme property rights, those corporations would face criminal charges in addition to providing monetary compensation to their victims.  Incidentally, industrial farming practices, for example, would be criminally liable if they didn’t stop violating property rights by run-off pollution. This, an Individualist would argue, is a powerful deterrent to large-scale pollution.

Let’s take it a step further. Individualism allows for people to make their own decisions in regards to what they consume, even if it could be damaging.  However, one cannot knowingly poison another without their consent, because that would harm personal property.  In other words, we should be allowed to consume any and all harmful products so long as the consumer is not deceived about the effects of that product.  Case in point: we know the harmful effects of tobacco, alcohol, and greasy foods, but we are allowed to consume them.  In turn, we don’t know the harmful effects of GMO foods because our collectivized FDA withholds any warnings. Therefore, if Monsanto and the FDA are “knowingly” harming individuals with GMOs without consent, they should be criminally punished.

Additionally, because of massive consolidation in the food industry, pesticide-soaked GMOs are said to make up 70% of the average American diet, which brings up another important point that Individualism promotes: competition.  The current culture of putting the “common good” above the individual has allowed regulatory commissions to gain unprecedented power.  In terms of food and drugs, the FDA is anything but an agency for the common good, or the individual for that matter. Under the guise of keeping us safe, regulations have systematically increased the barriers of entry for alternatives to Big Ag or Big Pharma. Thus, they actually force us to take their approved poisons, while using SWAT teams to raid raw milk dairies and herbal medicine providers.

What good is the freedom to make choices when a handful of international companies control much of the market and are deceptive about their products? Under a free-market system, there would be no barriers for alternative choices like small-scale organic farms, or medical marijuana; and the best and healthiest options will likely rise to the top because of their effectiveness.  And if our raw milk provider sold us rotten milk, so we have diarrhea for a day and buy from his competitor the next time. There’s no reason to raid his farm with armed Federal agents, as the free market will force him to clean up his operation or he’ll go out of business. Even an all-powerful collective cannot prevent us from getting diarrhea from time to time despite their futile efforts to keep us safe.

Finally, the virtues of self-reliance and personal independence that define Individualism will indeed lead to smaller individual environmental footprints. Jeffrey Green outlined the reasons this would occur in the article Why ‘Self-Sufficiency’ Should Replace ‘Sustainability’ in the Environmental Movement. Conclusively, when an individual strives for clean energy independence and local food self-reliance, they will naturally reduce their impact on the environment. And, significantly, this form of independent empowerment and self-reliance can be extended beyond the individual to neighborhoods, towns, and even counties; but through voluntarism spurred by merit, not brute force dictated by a central authority.  In addition, localities that embrace the concept of self-reliance and independence will be much more capable of adapting to large-scale environmental problems.

The irony is that every environmentalist in America is funding their own poisoning through taxes to the collective for oil and farm subsidies, nuclear power, corporate-run regulatory agencies, and with programs like public water fluoridation. All in the name of the “greater good”. Moving forward pretending that a global tax-subsidy-regulation program is the end-all “solution” for environmental concerns no longer seems to be viable given the evidence of collective actions. Perhaps it’s time that we all become a little more selfish in demanding clean air, water, and food and the liberty to make informed choices. Our ecosystem’s survival depends on it.

9 responses to “Can Individualism Actually Benefit the Environment?

  1. I’m not sure that the problems described can be discussed in terms of individualism vs collectivism; rather, eco-destruction is a direct result of capitalism, with its single value of generating profits at the expense of everything and everyone else.

    Regulatory agencies are captive to business interests whose only value, once again, is profits.

  2. The ecological problems arise from the tragedy of the commons. Resources held in common are able to be overused and exploited to benefit some at the expense of others. Capitalism-profit motive- is but one manifestation. State Capitalism, like we see in China or saw in the former Soviet Union, also devastates ecologies. Ordinary life devastates ecologies also. Each decision to acquire something, or drive, or use water, or eat has consequences. So individuals must accept responsibility also.

  3. If you haven’t read it yet, you need to read “Ishmael.”

    The question asked is: because so much of environmental destruction is due to the continuously growing global population, isn’t it more environmental to let those starving starve?

    It seems to be environmentalist vs. humanitarian when it’s viewed in black and white, but clearly our consciences give us the grey area.

    I think the largest issue at hand is that corporations own information. They own journalists, studies, the government… Until we have wide spread truth telling without a financial-centric perspective, we will forever be faced with these questions.

    • I admit I haven’t read Ishmael, but I reject its premise as you articulate it.

      Indisputably, most eco-destruction is caused by corporations and governments (vis-a-vis war), not by people.

      oh, sure a huge population adversely affects the environment; I’m not denying that.

      just saying that it is corpogov propaganda to assert population is the cause of eco-destruction.

      the eco- impact of one million people will no where near touch the eco-impact of one trident missile, or one week’s worth of glyphosate spraying over crops, or one instance of a nuclear power meltdown, or one chemical spill of dioxin…

      and the list could go on and on.

      wars, chemicals, energy plants, paper mills — these cause more eco-harm than huge populations of people

  4. The problem with the environmental movement has always been its willingness to be satisfied with a regulatory approach. Today, our regulatory and administrative laws are a stacked deck, giving corporations the legal clout while individuals, communities, and nature have taken a back seat. Movement lawyers and corporate lawyers wrote the laws, but the laws written always legalized thresholds of allowable effluents, i.e., pollutants, to be categorized as acceptable “negative externalities” associated with the cost of doing business. On a micro-level, obviously these include air and water pollution; from a global perspective, it defines climate change.

    Instead of playing by the rules as defined by corporate lawyers, through regulatory laws designed to protect corporations, not the people, it’s time to redefine corporations legally and culturally. Revoking the legal fiction of corporate personhood would be a good start.

  5. WW, I am not so sure regarding responsible husbandry in say 1790.
    I suppose one could say that European agriculture practices were not as industrialized then as today, but I imagine the fields and fauna were seen as resources to be exploited. Aristotle argued man is an animal that lives in a polis, in a political community. Our individualism is rooted in community, we are not isolated atoms, “No man is an island unto himself/Each is a part of the main.” Indeed we can even say the concept of individual as understood in the West is obviously fallacious once a series of questions touching upon mutability and mind come into play. Of course the West building on Greco-Roman culture with Germanic ideas and Christian ideology is now only seeing that previous concepts are insufficent. It has a some years to go before it acknowledges the one Self of Indian philosophy.

  6. I know of the Native influence on the governmental structure.

    Agriculture was not influenced “spiritually” by the Native. Land hunger drove Europeans across the Alleghanies and the cutting down of forests and planting surely was not a spiritualized act.

    Now, this is not the place to really go into the Self of Indian thought, however, in brief matter is an illusion and mind is not matter. Indian sages were some of the most individualistic human beings alive.
    The dictum of knowing what the “I” is by enquiry to the source of this “I” requires not a crowd or herd mentality but a mentality distinct and apart from the mass-which is as we always say asleep.

  7. Pity this busy monster man unkind.

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