“The trouble with the eco-crusader is that his false guilt and his false fears feed endlessly upon each other.” With Earth Day coming up on Wednesday, I remembered this line from an old presidential speech. Can you guess who said it?
“From the emotional remorse that we have sinned terribly against nature,” it continues, “there is but a short step to the emotional dread that nature will visit terrible retribution upon us. The eco-crusader becomes, as a result, deaf to reason and science, blind to perspective and priorities, incapable of effective action.”
That’s telling’em, Mr. President. Or it would have been, if Richard Nixon hadn’t let staffers talk him out of giving the Eco-Crusader speech in September 1971.
Fired up by attacks on the “disaster lobby” by Look magazine publisher Thomas Shepard, and uneasy about his own role in establishing the Environmental Protection Agency after the first Earth Day in 1970, Nixon directed me and other speechwriters to produce a warning against ecological extremism that he could deliver as a major address.
Our draft died on his desk amid concerns about political backlash. I kept the file as a historical curiosity – the presidential bombshell that wasn’t. Today, four decades into the age of true-believing green religion, Nixon’s undelivered speech reads prophetically.
So does Shepard’s diagnosis that the environmental doomsayers “are basically opposed to the free enterprise system and will do anything to bolster their case for additional government controls.” So does the denunciation by Prof. Peter Drucker, another source we consulted at the time, of the green fallacy “that one can somehow deprive human action of risk.” The battle lines have changed little in 38 years.
I wish now that President Nixon, a gambler in foreign policy, had risked this piece of domestic truth-telling. One politically incorrect speech from the White House couldn’t have halted the tides of earth-worshipping guilt and fear that still engulf us. But it would have been a start. With braver leadership, sooner, America’s voices for environmental common sense might have been less outnumbered today.