“An Anti-Environmentalist Manifesto” Signals a Backlash

Llewellyn H. Rockwell’s essay “An Anti-Environmentalist Manifesto” signaled the beginning of a new movement to resist environmental regulations and the expanding aims of environmentalists.

Summary of Event

In response to the nationwide observance of the twentieth anniversary of Earth Day Earth Day in April, 1990, conservative journalist Pat Buchanan asked Llewellyn H. Rockwell, a conservative critic and propagandist, to take a critical look at the origins and aims of the environmental movement. The essay Rockwell wrote as a result, “An Anti-Environmentalist Manifesto,” was published in a special quarterly report of Buchanan’s newsletter, Patrick J. Buchanan . . . From the Right, in 1990. Rockwell’s essay helped pioneer three themes that later became staples of the conservative critique of environmentalism and the antienvironmentalist wise-use movement, which gathered momentum in the early 1990’s. “Anti-Environmentalist Manifesto, An” (Rockwell)[Antienvironmentalist Manifesto]
Environmental awareness;backlash
[kw]”Anti-Environmentalist Manifesto” Signals a Backlash, “An” (1990)
“Anti-Environmentalist Manifesto, An” (Rockwell)[Antienvironmentalist Manifesto]
Environmental awareness;backlash
[g]North America;1990: “An Anti-Environmentalist Manifesto” Signals a Backlash[07560]
[g]United States;1990: “An Anti-Environmentalist Manifesto” Signals a Backlash[07560]
[c]Publishing and journalism;1990: “An Anti-Environmentalist Manifesto” Signals a Backlash[07560]
[c]Environmental issues;1990: “An Anti-Environmentalist Manifesto” Signals a Backlash[07560]
Rockwell, Llewellyn H.
Buchanan, Pat
Arnold, Ron
Ray, Dixie Lee

The first theme is the comparison of environmentalism with Marxism-Leninism. Rockwell argues that environmentalism combines the same utopianism, statism, and atheistic orientations as its socialist brethren. Environmentalists respond that conservatives make this comparison only because they are looking for new enemies to energize their constituents after the collapse of communism in 1989. Rockwell asserts that environmentalism represents a threat to free enterprise and individual liberty that is as great as the Soviet challenge to the United States during the Cold War. He is particularly critical of the radical environmental group Earth First! Earth First! and its “ecotage” tactics, such as tree spiking and destruction of road-building machinery to prevent the logging and development of wilderness areas. Ecological sabotage

A second theme developed in Rockwell’s manifesto is the suggestion that environmentalism is a misanthropic religion that represents a direct assault on Christian theology and values. According to Rockwell, modern environmentalists share the same beliefs as ancient pagans who saw gods in the wilderness and in animals; in addition, they add a “New Age” hatred for Christianity, which places humanity at the center of creation.

The manifesto is particularly critical of newly emerging values in the environmental movement, especially biocentrism, a philosophy that attaches equal value to all living things. Rockwell asserts that biocentrism encourages increasingly radical animal-rights activists to sabotage medical research facilities that conduct experiments on laboratory animals, thus slowing or destroying research that is beneficial to humans. Finally, he notes that most environmentalists and animal-rights activists are pro-abortion, again demonstrating that environmentalists care less about human life than about other creatures. From the antienvironmentalist perspective, “the natural order is valuable only in so far as it serves human needs and purposes. Our very existence is based on our subduing nature; it was created for that end, and it is to that end that it must be used.” The theme that environmentalists put nature before people later became a staple of antienvironmentalist activists. Pat Buchanan also used this theme in his speech to the Republican National Convention in August, 1992, characterizing environmentalists as “extremists who put birds and rats and insects ahead of families, workers, and jobs.”

The third theme developed in the manifesto asserts that environmentalists use lies, exaggerations, and pseudoscience to create public hysteria. According to Rockwell, there is no evidence to support environmentalists’ claims that chlorofluorocarbons Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are creating a hole in the earth’s ozone layer, Ozone layer;damage nor is there any evidence to suggest that acid rain is a serious problem. Further, landfills are filling up only because environmentalists prevent the creation of new ones, and public health is in jeopardy because environmentalists have banned many beneficial pesticides, fungicides, and other chemicals useful in preventing disease in humans. Finally, the manifesto asserts that global warming Global warming
Climate change is a carefully orchestrated hoax designed to divert research funds to the coffers of powerful environmental organizations.

Although most of the manifesto is critical of the environmental movement, Rockwell does endorse the need for clean air, clean water, and the conservation of natural resources. He advocates the privatization of all public goods to achieve these goals: “When anything is commonly owned—like air and water—we see all the bad effects of socialism. People abuse the resource because they do not have to bear the price.” Only when private property rights are well established will the proper incentives exist to make sure the environment is not degraded, Rockwell argues. If people had property rights to the water running through their land, for example, they could prevent upstream pollution in the same way they can prevent trash dumping in their yards. Government regulation creates disincentives to protect the environment, and because environmentalists often advocate ever-stiffer regulations, environmentalists actually do more harm than good, according to Rockwell.


The publication of “An Anti-Environmentalist Manifesto” marked the beginning of organized resistance to environmental goals from a new breed of activist with a new quiver of weapons. Whereas most environmental battles before 1990 were fought between industry and grassroots environmental organizations, the manifesto heralded the early stages of an effort to turn the tables on big environmental organizations (the “Group of Ten”) by portraying them as elite, capricious, and powerful members of the establishment who have no concern for the “little guy.”

Perhaps the most effective theme used by antienvironmentalists, developed in the manifesto, is that “people ought to come first.” Later antienvironmentalists such as Ron Arnold of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise in Bellevue, Washington, exploited this theme by arguing that environmentalists who put loggers out of work are the “new pagans” who “worship trees and sacrifice people.” This rhetoric was extremely effective in rallying timber industry groups to fight endangered species protection for the northern spotted owl Northern spotted owls
Spotted owls in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1990’s.

Two factors made this antienvironmentalist rhetoric effective. First, because environmentalists did not sufficiently anticipate the political implications of using a tiny and reclusive owl to shut down logging in the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest, antienvironmentalists were successful in framing the national debate about ancient forests in terms of jobs versus owls. When forced to choose between the two, most Americans had difficulty favoring the owl.

Second, the antienvironmentalist faction known as the wise-use movement Wise-use movement[Wise use movement] used the “people come first” theme to organize a new breed of antienvironmental activists: workers in resource-dependent jobs, primarily in rural areas, particularly in the western United States. Although the movement is well financed by commodity industries—including mining, timber, farming, and fur interests—it has successfully cultivated a grassroots image as the vanguard of resource-dependent jobs. Despite the fact that most job losses in these industries are a result of equipment modernization, adverse international market conditions, and poor management of natural resources, wise-use activists have succeeded in recruiting thousands of activists to fight environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Clean Air Act, and to fight the designation of additional wilderness areas and wild and scenic rivers.

The manifesto’s suggestion that environmentalists are a threat to individual liberty and initiative has also found resonance in the wise-use movement, particularly among advocates of private property rights. These advocates oppose any government “taking” of private property, even though the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution stipulates that owners of property taken by eminent domain have the right to just compensation. Property rights advocates, however, have targeted environmental regulations, most notably those designed to prevent loss and degradation of wetlands, as examples of takings by regulation, because restrictions as to how land might be used could be interpreted as an assertion of public interest on private property.

Although property rights have long been the focus of conservative political groups such as the John Birch Society, only in the early 1990’s did environmentalists become identified as the principal threat to the sanctity of private property. The extent to which property owners can claim a taking of their land by environmental regulation remains an unresolved legal issue, but many in the environmental community, most notably John Echeverria, Echeverria, John chief counsel for the National Audubon Society, have stated that they fear that environmental regulations would be impossible to implement if the government had to compensate all those who might be adversely affected.

Although it has not had nearly the resonance in the environmental movement as property rights or “people matter too” rhetoric, a third theme developed in the manifesto, the characterization of many environmental claims as unscientific scare tactics, is worthy of mention. Perhaps the most vocal and influential critic of environmentalists’ claims was Dixie Lee Ray, a marine biologist and former governor of Washington State. Until her death in 1994, she challenged common wisdom about the dangers of nuclear energy, the degradation of the earth’s ozone layer, and the banning of pesticides such as DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane). Although most of her work was rejected by fellow scientists, Ray was effective in generating skepticism about environmental scare tactics in antienvironmentalist circles.

With polls consistently indicating that more than 80 percent of Americans are deeply concerned about the environment, the wise-use movement and other antienvironmentalists face opposition to their contention that the environmental movement has gone too far. Antienvironmentalists brought powerful rhetoric and effective new organizational maneuvers to the debate in the early 1990’s, however. Although those in the environmental movement initially reacted with dismay at resistance to their goals, this resistance prompted a number of changes in the environmental movement itself. In January, 1993, the Wilderness Society published The Wise Use Movement: Strategic Analysis and Fifty State Review, which recognized the need for environmental groups to pay more attention to the concerns of rural citizens, particularly those who work in resource commodity sectors. The society also established a new program and a newsletter, New Voices, which is devoted to supporting environmental activists in rural areas where wise-use activists are strongest. Because most large environmental organizations, such as the Sierra Club Sierra Club and the Audubon Society, National Audubon Society draw their support from predominantly urban, upper-middle-class constituencies, the response to the antienvironmentalist movement has created opportunities for the environmental community to broaden its message and widen its support base. “Anti-Environmentalist Manifesto, An” (Rockwell)[Antienvironmentalist Manifesto]
Environmental awareness;backlash

Further Reading

  • Anderson, Terry L., and Donald R. Leal. Free Market Environmentalism. Rev. ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001. Presents a good introduction to free market environmentalism, much of which is embraced by the antienvironmentalist movement. Advocates property rights, privatization, and the deregulation of natural resources.
  • Arnold, Ron, and Alan Gottlieb. Trashing the Economy: How Runaway Environmentalism Is Wrecking America. 2d ed. Bellevue, Wash.: Free Enterprise Press, 1994. Provides excellent examples of the themes and tactics of the antienvironmentalist movement. Includes detailed profiles of more than sixty environmental groups from the viewpoint of antienvironmentalism.
  • Cawley, R. McGreggor. Federal Land, Western Anger: The Sagebrush Rebellion and Environmental Politics. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1993. One of the best accounts of the antienvironmentalist Sagebrush Rebellion, a precursor of the wise-use movement. Scholarly and well documented.
  • Echeverria, John, and Ray Eby, eds. Let the People Judge: Wise Use and the Private Property Rights Movement. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1995. Outstanding collection of essays about the antienvironmentalist movement from an environmentalist perspective. Includes essays by journalists, academics, conservation activists, and officials of agencies concerned with environmental issues.
  • Hager, Nick, and Bob Burton. Secrets and Lies: The Anatomy of an Anti-environmental PR Campaign. Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 2000. Analyzes tactics used by antienvironmentalists to infiltrate and discredit environmentalist groups.
  • Helvarg, David. The War Against the Greens: The “Wise-Use” Movement, the New Right, and the Browning of America. 1994. Rev. ed. Boulder, Colo.: Johnson Books, 2004. Discusses the intimidation tactics and violence used by antienvironmentalists against environmentalist groups. Includes a new final chapter titled “Wise Use in the White House, 2000-2004.”
  • Stapleton, Richard. “A Call to Action: Environmentalists Must Learn to Fight the Wise Use Movement by Putting People Back into the Ecological Equation.” National Parks 67 (March/April, 1993): 37-40.
  • _______. “Greed Versus Green: How the Wise Use Movement Employs Corporate Money and Questionable Tactics to Stake Its Claim to Public Lands.” National Parks 66 (November/December, 1992): 32-37.
  • _______. “On the Western Front: Dispatches from the War with the Wise Use Movement.” National Parks 67 (January/February, 1993): 32-36. Three-part series provides an excellent summary and analysis of antienvironmentalist activism by the wise-use movement. Written from an environmentalist perspective.

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