Anti-Human Themes in Modern Environmentalism

When I was a teenager in the 1970s, I enjoyed much of the popular music of the day but paid little attention to the words. It was usually the rhythm and melody that got my attention; the lyrics were more like another instrumental track than something to analyze. As I got older and especially when I became a writer, the words and their message became much more important to me. When I listen to the ’70s music now, I’m surprised by some of the radical, impure, and foolish philosophies we teens of that time “grooved” to.

One of my favorite groups was the Eagles, though I preferred their lyrical songs like “Desperado” to their hard-driving rock songs like “Life in the Fast Lane.” Among their more lyrical offerings was a song entitled “The Last Resort.” It has a beautiful melody and builds from a simple piano accompaniment to a full-on orchestra. I was oblivious at the time to the preachy and even anti-human lyrics.

It was written in 1976 by bandmembers Don Henley and Glenn Frey and reflected the sentiments of the newly emerging environmentalist movement (the first “Earth Day” was in 1970). Its lyrics argue, in effect, that man destroys everything he calls paradise; he ruins everything he sees as beautiful.

Don Henley would later say that “The Last Resort” was one of his favorite songs

because I care more about the environment than about writing songs about drugs or love affairs or excesses of any kind. The gist of the song was that when we find something good, we destroy it by our presence—by the very fact that man is the only animal on earth that is capable of destroying his environment. The environment is the reason I got into politics: to try to do something about what I saw as the complete destruction of most of the resources that we have left. We have mortgaged our future for gain and greed. [1]

His comments convey the anti-human belief that somehow, by our mere presence and capabilities, we destroy whatever is pristine and naturally beautiful. This pessimistic and cynical view of the 1970s has only gotten worse today. Notice also that “the complete destruction of most of our resources” he spoke of still hasn’t occurred more than forty years later. Before I critique any further, let’s examine the lyrics.

The first part of the song describes a young woman from Providence, Rhode Island. To his credit, Henley begins by featuring a young, liberal interloper. She is depicted as one of the dope-smoking hippies who experimented with commune life in the 1960s and 1970s. She sets out for the Rocky Mountains to live like “the red man,” but the presence of filthy communes wrecks the place and “laid the mountains low.”

She came from Providence
The one in Rhode Island
Where the old-world shadows hang
Heavy in the air
She packed her hopes and dreams
Like a refugee
Just as her father came across the sea

She heard about a place people were smiling
They spoke about the red man’s way
And how they loved the land
And they came from everywhere
To the Great Divide
Seeking a place to stand
Or a place to hide

Down in the crowded bars
Out for a good time
Can’t wait to tell you all
What it’s like up there
And they called it paradise
I don’t know why
Somebody laid the mountains low
While the town got high

The second part of the song addresses suburbia. The human plague is depicted as a chilly wind that blows down the mountains all the way to Malibu. The claim is made that we wrecked the deserts, the canyons, and the coast; that rich developers raped the land with ugly houses and neon lights. The natural beauty was appreciated as a kind of paradise by the dwellers, but Henley argues that their mere presence means that paradise is lost, destroyed.

Then the chilly winds blew down
across the desert
Through the canyons of the coast
to the Malibu
Where the pretty people play
hungry for power
To light their neon way
and give them things to do

Some rich men came and raped the land
Nobody caught them
Put up a bunch of ugly boxes
and Jesus people bought them
And they called it paradise
The place to be
They watched the hazy sun
sinking in the sea

Part three laments that, having ruined every paradise in the continental U.S., some now set their sights on Lahaina (in Hawaii). Yes, you too can sail to a far-off land and destroy it the way the Catholic Missionaries did to California! They just had to get in an anti-Catholic jab. To radicals, the Catholic Church is a mortal enemy. Protestants and unbelievers get a pass; somehow was Catholic missionaries that brought “the white man’s burden,” the “white man’s reign.” Catholics are also mocked for singing in our parishes of a paradise “up there.” We’re so awful, though, that apparently if we ever got there, we’d ruin that too just by being there. The lyrics are tinged with the lament of Jean Paul Sartre in his play No Exit: “Hell is other people” So, in this final part of the song, we have all three of the favorite whipping boys of the radical left: humans, white men, and Catholics:

You can leave it all behind
and sail to Lahaina
Just like the missionaries did
so many years ago
They even brought a neon sign
‘Jesus is Coming’
Brought the white man’s burden down,
brought the white man’s reign

Who will provide the grand design,
what is yours and what is mine?
’Cause there is no more new frontier,
we have got to make it here
We satisfy our endless needs
and justify our bloody deeds
In the name of destiny
and in the name of God

And you can see them there
on Sunday morning
Stand up and sing about
what it’s like up there
They called it paradise,
I don’t know why
You call some place paradise,
kiss it goodbye.

Things have only gotten worse severe since this song was written in the 1970s. For too many environmentalists, mankind is the problem; like a plague of locusts, we must be limited or even removed completely.

As I have written here before, Catholics should be aware that radical environmentalists, including climate change extremists, have “solutions” that no Catholic can countenance. Many of them are advocates of abortion, euthanasia, and forced sterilization. They support government involvement in the economy in ways that contravene the principle of subsidiarity, violate the natural rights of the human person, and disproportionately harm the poor and developing nations.

Another problem with the radicals’ stance is that they see can little or nothing positive in man’s role in the environment. We are viewed as an unnatural interloper. We have surely transgressed in some ways against the natural world, and it is right that we work to reduce pollution and waste. However, I do not believe that there is a “climate emergency.” I’ve been hearing similarly dire predictions all my life, but we’re still here! But I digress; I’m neither a politician nor a scientist.

The point is that for all our errors or excesses, humans have also improved and even helped to advance the potential of the natural world. We have increased agricultural yields, driven back diseases, and made many parts of the world more productive and beautiful. We seldom clear-cut forests anymore. We carefully harvest trees, which are a renewable resource, and we replant them. Why is a city or a suburb inherently bad or ugly? Farms are beautiful, too, and collectively they feed billions. Humans have done some wonderful things to unlock nature’s potential and, as Scripture says, to subdue its unrulier dimensions. The Catholic and biblical view is that we are supposed to be here; we are to oversee the world as stewards and extend, in a way, the work of creation.

Contrary to the songwriters’ allegations, we do not necessarily destroy paradise just by being there. We often improve on the created world through human ingenuity, making use of its resources to feed, clothe, and shelter human beings, each beautiful one made in God’s image. We are not enemies of paradise; we are part of it. God gave it for us to enjoy in moderation and with care.

For all the finger-wagging that so many in the environmental movement do, they also drive cars on paved roads and live in homes with electricity, heat, running water, and air-conditioning. They have wood in the structure of their homes, which built on land that likely once belonged to indigenous people. They eat of the fruits of modern agriculture and fly on planes to business meetings and vacation destinations.

All of us can help by polluting less and wasting less, but human beings are important; we are not a plague on planet Earth. God gave us this earth to use with care and reason. Catholics should not accept the radical environmentalist vision in toto. The Catholic understanding of our role in the natural world is stated well in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

To human beings God even gives the power of freely sharing in his providence by entrusting them with the responsibility of “subduing” the earth and having dominion over it. God thus enables men to be intelligent and free causes in order to complete the work of creation, to perfect its harmony for their own good and that of their neighbors. Though often unconscious collaborators with God’s will, they can also enter deliberately into the divine plan by their actions, their prayers and their sufferings. They then fully become “God’s fellow workers” and co-workers for his kingdom (CCC # 307).

Anti-human attitudes have no place in Catholic thinking. Our summons is to live up to what the Catechism so beautifully states. Whatever your views on the condition of the environment and the climate, stay Catholic, my friends, stay Catholic.

I still like the song for its melody and arrangement. The words I can live without, except that they illustrate well the problems we face today in upholding human dignity and understanding our proper role with respect to the environment.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Anti-Human Themes in Modern Environmentalism

6 Replies to “Anti-Human Themes in Modern Environmentalism”

  1. Interesting that as time went on Glen Frey, at the time of his death lived in a Manhattan apartment, had a home in Hawaii, Colorado and an 8,000 square foot, 10 million dollar estate in Brentwood. Don Henley only has two properties, a 16,000 square foot mansion in Dallas and a 40 acre luxury place in Malibu.

    So, I can’t help but think that if “We satisfy our endless needs
    and justify our bloody deeds” without God, we would be even worse off.
    I guess both of these men found their earthly paradise. Pray they find the heavenly paradise.

  2. Now in my late 60’s, I began college in the biological sciences in 1970. This was just as the environmental movement was coming into full swing. Over the past few decades i continued to find most of my cohorts as having anti-human world views. These “biologists” refused marriage and babies, under the pretense of philanthropy and held on to sexual lifestyles antithetical to biology even while being seemingly oblivious to the fact.
    My point is that environmentalism in this form and its resulting anti-human elements have, as a basis a certain self-loathing. After all, if one can’t identify sin as such in oneself, one can easily project sin and loathing upon the human race. Such a world view allows one to continue in a lifestyle incongruous with nature. All this, while laying the sins of mankind upon their ancestors or upon the entire human race and continuing to pride themselves in their own modern and superior thinking.

  3. Father, you are absolutely right about the anti-human themes. I remember visiting a famous aquarium years ago and enjoying the awesome jellyfish displays. But then, above the aquarium’s exit door was a digital counter, counting up the current human population. So after seeing all the beautiful displays, the last thing you left with was the number 6 billion and something and the digits steadily ticking upward. No explanation, but the message was clear. Marine animals, good. Human population, bad.

  4. Has man-kind influenced the environment? Absolutely. 2.5 billion humans inhabiting our planet in 1950. Today it’s 7 billion. Deep down, unspoken is a perverse wish that humanity will “die back” to manageable or “sustainable” levels. So yes, anything and everything that helps that cause (abortion, mandatory family-planning, euthanasia) is A-OK. If they weren’t so religiously-bigoted, they would praise the God of Genesis for thinning the human herd by Flood.

  5. The account of God’s creation, in Genesis, is usually believed to be compatible with science. The main disagreement is, of course, between time as seen with the eyes of the angels and mathematical time as calculated by science. On the six days, God created the world and us. Of course, not us, but our first parents. Science says that God did this through the missing link. That is, God’s creation of our first parents was an infusion of his image in the dust that began with the beginning and was complete only by the end of geological tertiary, by the sixth day. The age of humans is geological quarternian. Earlier geological eras had seen evolution as well as extinctions, which separate the eras. Thus while precambrium I (basically the second day) was the primitive, lifeless Earth, life began with precambrium II (say third day). Primitive microorganisms: archaeobacteria probably condensed from organic molecules in clay minerals. They were dependent on chemicals in Earth and sea, not on sun light. They evolved into anaerobic, facultative aerobic, and obligat aerobic bacteria: which do not tolerate, respectively do tolerate, respectively need oxygen. The former thus produced oxygen, while the latter adapted. The carbondioxide depletion and oxygen pollution in the atmosphere caused mass extinction of many of these bacterias and it also caused the seas to freeze over, so science. Then came precambrium III (perhaps the fourth day, because life grew dependent on the Sun, subjectivistically saw the Sun). Various bacterias formed symbiotic colonies that became eucaryotic microorganisms, which evolved to primitive fungi, plants, and invertebrates. They consumed oxygen and released carbondioxide, and the seas thawed. Then came the socalled cambrian explosion, with the nine great geological eras: cambrium, ordovicium, silur, devon, carbon, permian, triassic, jurassic, cretaceous. (Say the fifth day.) Each of these nine featured evolutionary leaps in anatomies of vertebrates like fishes, reptiles, birds, and complicated invertebrates, beginning in sea and colonizing land, with the help of the tides of the Moon (still fourth day). These eras are divided by mass extinctions. Then came the cataclysm of the well known meteorite impact on Yucatan peninsula (still fourth day: Stars, although end of fifth day). The dinosaurs and many other species went extinct. Tertiary saw rise of mammals, and social insects and modern plants diversified. This is biblical sixth day. Towards its end, great apes had evolved (or were created, if you like), and the now extinct advanced great ape Australopithecus still had 48 chromosomes. Perhaps our first parents (who like all humans had 46 chromosomes) were biological boy and girl child of Australopithecine parents who gave them necessary morals, on behalf of God. Then, quarternian (the seventh day) begins with our first parents coming to age of perhaps six years, when they believed in God. And the account in Genesis is their memory. However, after the events in the garden of delights, quarternian passed through paleolithicum, with Homo habilis (Adam), Homo erectus (Enoch), and Homo sapiens (Noah). The Australopithecus went extinct. So, I simply want to say: Biological species do go extinct. This is part of creation itself. The age of the human being is quarternian, and we are responsibally for mass extinctions throughout. In so being, we are no different from earlier geological epochs, but certainly, we can do better. We have both right to populate Earth and duty to care for other biological species.

  6. The Lord gave us this world. Through our own sin satan has despoiled it, tempting us to do so as well. Some of us do and most of us don’t. We live her for our allotted time and we go on to “meet our maker.”
    The Earth does not need saving from us, we need to be saved from ourselves, individually through our own efforts and finaally by Jesus Christ.

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