Civilization is based on the extraction of the Earth’s resources; our lives depend on them. Many of them are held by governments, and cannot be extracted without significant damage to the environment (mining, logging, hydroelectric dams, etc.), as the environment is a surprisingly fragile system made up of smaller systems.
As stated earlier, many such resources are held by either the government, or by large private corporations – usually corporations that are direct beneficiaries of cronyism. From an anarchist point-of-view, the government is an inherently evil entity that should be abolished. In this event, many of these government-controlled resources, usually on government-owned public lands, would be privatized. In this event, what happens next? Does the world become a field of clearcut stumps and mine dumps, or does it become a wealthy Ecotopia? How would the privatization of all government lands containing natural treasures such as the Grand Canyon, Yosemite Valley and Yellowstone, not end in environmental destruction?
A Rundown of Modern Environmentalism:
For the past 150 years, there have been two competing schools of environmentalism in the United States which have spread their influence across the world. Despite being radically different, the two schools of environmental protection share the same desire to protect wild places. Despite this similarity, these two schools have come to blows with each other on numerous occasions.
The first school is preservationism. This ideology can be summed up as setting aside land and resources to never be touched again. Preservationists advocate the establishment of preserves whose use, at most, may only include low-impact recreation.
The second school is conservationism. This ideology can be described as the belief in wise use and management, but not total preservation, of resources for present and future use. Practical and widespread examples of this include sustainable agriculture, selective forestry and game management. Conservationists typically support the national forest system to some degree but do not always support the national park system, as many valuable resources are unnecessarily barred from use.
As a concept, the interpretation of environmentalism varies from person to person. Majoring in a nature-related field (I am in a two-year Environmental Studies program), but being raised by a family skeptical of modern environmentalism coupled with the inaction by the United States Forest Service on dying timber killed by California’s recent megadrought has led me to believe that the best way to save nature is by privatizing it.
This becomes evident with a local ‘“Tale of Two Land Managers”. One, the Plumas National Forest, has been taking action on dying pockets of trees, but has been weighed down and prevented from quicker and more effective action by regulatory and bureaucratic red tape. The other, Collins Pine Company, is a sustainable timber harvesting company granted almost complete autonomy over their land, allowing them to prevent drought-bolstered bark beetles from infesting large tracts of forest by wiping them out within a much shorter time period. The land managed by Collins is widely spaced and has high biodiversity and is extremely healthy; similar to conditions before the United States Government began implementing fire suppression techniques universally, disrupting natural fire and tree growth cycles, resulting in sickly, overgrown forests.
An Overview of U.S. Public Lands:
The United States Departments of Agriculture and the Interior contain four principal land management agencies (the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife). The USFS controls 193 million acres of timber and grassland; the BLM controls 247.3 million acres of land, which includes the mineral rights of a whopping 700 million acres of public and private land; the NPS controls 84.4 million acres, including 4.3 million acres that are owned privately but managed by the government; and the FWS controls 150 million acres of wildlife habitat. This totals out to a massive 674.7 million acres.
To put this number into perspective, the State of Alaska (the largest in the union) is 424.49 million acres in size. The United States of America is a total of 2.429 billion acres, and the North American Continent is approximately 6.105 billion acres in size. This means that the number of acres owned entirely by the federal government is 1.59 times the size of Alaska, more than 1/4th the size of the USA, and 1/10th the size of North America. This is a truly mind-boggling amount of land.
These four principal agencies are given the task of managing a truly massive amount of land but have managed to prove themselves incompetent, to say the least. Examples of this include the continued policies of fire suppression in the western US, the very contentious compromises between ranchers/loggers and the agencies, and the oft-misused budgets of these agencies which add up to a total of $12.212 billion in tax money.
A shining example of the second point, regarding contentious agreements between land users and the Feds, is the 2016 occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by armed citizens who were led by brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, which involved the armed occupation of the Refuge’s headquarters in protest of the imprisonment of two local ranchers after a land management fire started on their property had burned onto the wildlife refuge. (The Bundy family themselves had been in the center of a conflict when father Cliven had refused to pay fees to graze his cattle on federal land in 2014. After the Bundy family and company refused to allow federal agents to remove cattle from BLM land, an armed standoff ensued, ending in the defusion of the situation and a temporary victory for the Bundy family.)
The occupation ended after armed federal agents arrested the armed protesters at a surprise roadblock, including Cliven Bundy, who was indicted for the 2014 incident. The Bundy group was inbound to John Day, OR to speak at a public meeting. One of the most distasteful events of the arrest was the fatal shooting of LaVoy Finicum, who was driving the lead vehicle in the convoy. The uproar was tremendous and resulted in a strong but temporary wave of contempt for the federal land agencies.
Federal land agencies are incapable of managing public lands in a way that allows the use of its resources while protecting the environment from harm. This has been proven far too many times, especially when said agencies contract resource extraction out to large corporations – and keep all of the money to fund useless government programs, as per usual.
Also, as per the Anarchist ideal, the government (or more precisely: the State) should not exist. If the government doesn’t exist, then neither will these land/resources management agencies. The lands they previously managed will become private property. For a detailed analysis of how/why absolute privatization will effect the most sustainable and efficient use of the Earth’s resources see Rachels’ chapter on “Environmentalism” in his book A Spontaneous Order: The Capitalist Case For A Stateless Society.