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A hole in the greenie's holiness

By Brian Holden - posted Thursday, 16 May 2013

An avenue of old fig trees was marked for removal. The bureaucrat said that the trees were dangerous. The residents said that nobody had ever been injured by a falling branch. The bureaucrat responded with: "Council can't make a judgement on a negative result".

What he is saying is that because nothing has happened, that is no guarantee that nothing will happen. So, felling the trees is the manner in which the council manages the risk. But, how can it be managing risk when it has no idea what the risk is? Council knows nothing of the risk posed by the trees relative to an injury caused by a car moving up the avenue. If safety was the issue, an investigation could have concluded it to be 100 to one in favour of closing the road to vehicles rather that removing the trees.

There was no chance that the road would be closed no matter what any proper risk assessment found. The confrontation with the locals had nothing to do with real risk, and everything to do with relative values. Simply put - the protestors valued the trees, and the majority sitting on the local council did not.


The more incensed onlookers would see the confrontation as one more clash of the good attempting to hold back the unholy forces of the system. To the protestors on the day of the show-down, 60 men and women in uniforms and helmets put an oppressive face to that system. But, few of the police would have liked what they were ordered to do and all of the protestors enjoyed the feeling of pride in being an out-gunned warrior in a holy war.

Can any emotion be noble if it is has a role in our personal pursuit of happiness?

How dominant in life is the pursuit of happiness? It is everything. We eat, sleep, work and relate to others in the pursuit of happiness. An altruistic and self-sacrificing individual does what he does as he would be unhappy if he was any other way.

Me, the noble greenie

When I gaze upon a great old tree, I am emotionally moved by its majesty. Surely my emotion is more noble than that of the redneck who looks at a Hummer off-road vehicle and is emotionally moved by the sight of such brute force? Let's look at that assumption in the cold light of science:

A starfish is observed to move in a 'preferred' direction. Even if mindless, we can say that when it moves towards food, its organic self is seeking satisfaction. Way, way back, and down at that level, is where our own emotions got their evolutionary start.

However, if an ethereal biochemist was to construct a schematic pathway of all the molecules (the neurotransmitters and the hormones) in play that gave me my appreciation of the tree and was to construct a schematic pathway of all the molecules in play that gave the redneck's his appreciation of the Hummer, the pathways causing the pleasure in each of us would be identical. Switch them around, and I could not tell which was mine and which was his.


So, the shocking truth is that I have no more right to my experience than he has - anymore than I have a right to life than he has.

It seems to follow that when I become angry about damage to the natural environment, I am really being angry that the chemical pathway for pleasure in my body is being threatened as the natural environment which is its trigger is being threatened. It seems that I am acting in self-interest as much as the redneck is.

The greenie believes that he struggles to save nature so that future generations can enjoy it. Because of this he feels noble. But if all natural areas in their pristine state are gone, then an entire future generation will find a replacement to enjoy. A visit to Seoul or Tokyo is to see how most Australians will one day live - in high-rise apartments within which one can be occupied with the latest on offer from the digital world. The fact that a river 100 kilometers away is so toxic that species of fish which have lived in it for a million years are now extinct will not matter.

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About the Author

Brian Holden has been retired since 1988. He advises that if you can keep physically and mentally active, retirement can be the best time of your life.

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