Fredy Perlman

Jewish Environmentalism

An anonymous writer examines the Jewish contribution to saving the Earth
(Article specially written for the Heretical website)

Overpopulation was once a major concern of environmentalists in America. Their disquiet about population growth led to some prominent environmental groups questioning ongoing immigration. However, environmentalists expressing such views found themselves under pressure not to discuss population growth, and immigration especially. Two organizations which came under such pressure were Earth First! and the Sierra Club.

Earth First!

Earth First! was founded in 1979 and is probably the most radical of American enviromental groups. It is known mostly for its direct action to preserve trees, engaging in tree sits. Its founding philosophy was centred on “deep ecology,” the notion that the environment has value in and of itself, quite apart from its utility to humans. In this view, areas of wilderness are to be treasured purely for being wilderness. Excessive population was seen as a core issue in the maintenance of a stable ecology. These original “deep ecologists” were not racial in their thinking, but rather tended to misanthropy. More people, of any kind, meant less nature.

Saying there are too many people tends in short order to lead to examination of immigration policy and differing reproduction rates, but these topics make some people uncomfortable. One man who became very uncomfortable was a NYC Jew named Murray Bookchin.

No doubt the off-beat circles of NYC were hotbeds of radical rhetoric at the time, and we can be confident that Bookchin, a veteran left-wing activist, had his ear to the ground. When Bookchin heard what environmentalists were saying about overpopulation he was awestruck. Their statements, he said, reminded him of the sorts of things the Nazis had promoted. Taking up the cause, Bookchin joined Earth First! and began speaking out against its founders, particularly challenging the ethos of deep ecology. His idea was that deep ecology be replaced with “social ecology.”

Social ecology proposes that environmental degradation is not related to human population numbers so much as imperialism, racial injustice, class inequality and sexism. Social ecologists see immigration concerns as a manifestation of racism. They believe that environmental activism can only be effective in tandem with activism on social issues.

In 1989 Earth First!’s internal clash of deep ecology versus social ecology culminated in a debate between David Foreman, one of Earth First!’s founders, and Bookchin. The debate has been published in various editions under the title Defending the Earth. Bookchin said:

I also agree that we need to promote a rational solution to the human population problem. The world’s human population needs to be brought into a workable equilibrium with the “carrying capacity” of the planet. Sooner or later, the mindless proliferation of human beings will have to be dealt with. It is absolutely essential, however, that we first clearly identify what we mean by terms like “overpopulation” and “carrying capacity.”

This is where the thinking of some deep ecologists frightens me. We need an understanding of the problem that has nothing to do with gas chambers and racism. I know what it means to face the brunt of a “population control” program. All my relatives in Europe are dead. They were murdered in the Nazi Holocaust. They were slaughtered in the name of a “population problem.” For Hitler, the world would be overpopulated if just one Jew was left alive.

I’ve never believed that people in Earth First! are fascists. I am afraid, however, of certain positions and statements, the tendency of which remind me of things I heard fifty years ago when there was a world-wide fascist movement that used “naturalistic” Malthusian arguments to justify racist population control policies. This abuse of the “overpopulation” issue is not just a distant historical issue, either. The abuse of the population issue is ongoing. Just look at what the Rockefeller crowd is trying to do in the Third World. It is a remarkably dangerous question which has to be carefully and rationally discussed if we are to resist racism, sexism, and genocide. Even deep ecologists like Warwick Fox agree that it is “monstrous” to talk of AIDS as a population control measure or, in the name of “letting nature seek its balance,” refusing to aid starving children in Ethiopia.

So I ask all of you, everyone in the ecology movement, to please be careful about the population problem. This is a hot issue; a very hot issue. Don’t kid yourselves about the objectives of many of those who talk of population control. I went through the 1930s. We paid the price of sixty million lives back then as the result of a racist, imperialist war and mass extermination policy. This sort of thing is not radical ecology. We have to explore this matter carefully and respect the very reasonable fears of women and people of color who have been victimized by population control programs in the past.

It is clear that Jewish concerns were what motivated Bookchin to subvert the founding ideology of Earth First! and replace it with one he considered more benign. Regardless of what one may think about some of the more outlandish proposals made by deep ecologists, it is important to appreciate why the philosophy of social ecology was promoted: Holocaust anxiety.

Eventually the social ecologists succeeded in casting deep ecology out of Earth First! and making social ecology their guiding principle. Earth First! still engages in tree sits and other forms of direct action, as it did in its early days, but its leadership is careful to police what is said on “socially sensitive” topics.

David Foreman and other Earth First! founders drifted away, saying they no longer felt welcome. Later Bookchin lost interest and he too left the organization. Notwithstanding, the ethos of social ecology is dominant to this day.

Noble Savages

Another strand of environmentalist philosophy is anarcho-primitivism. A major influence in this philosophy, if not its notional progenitor, was Fredy Perlman with his book Against His-Story, Against Leviathan! (1983). Perlman said that Western culture is a Leviathan, a culture that is inherently racist and sexist and evil. The Leviathan oppresses the world and is the source of all its problems.

Perlman’s solution is for people in the West to dismantle their industrial infrastructure, abandon their technology and live a primitive lifestyle. The Rainbow Family are adherents to this philosophy. Notable figures in the history of anarcho-primitivism include the Unabomber Ted Kaczynsi and John Zerzan. Due to the activities of the Unabomber and a few other radical environmentalists, something of a “green scare” arose in the late 1990s.

The Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is much better known than Earth First! and the primitivists. Considerably closer to the mainstream, the Sierra Club finds support among a segment of the American middle-class. In October 2004 the Los Angeles Times revealed that a wealthy Californian Jew, David Gelbaum, had been secretly financing the Sierra Club on condition that the organisation refrain from taking any stance against immigration. Gelbaum’s donations to the organisation exceed $100million and his influence on official Sierra Club policy can be traced back to 1994 or 1995. For a while Gelbaum also gave $20million annually to the ACLU, accounting for a quarter of its income.

Putting together all of the above, and in summary, we see a concerted effort to subvert the American environmental movement because it had the potential to conflict with Jewish ethnic interests. Various means were used, but all operated to achieve the same result – neutering environmentalism. Organisations concerned about the future of the natural world have been prevented from addressing the very source of the environmental crisis, human overpopulation.

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